Some people might believe the current Asian hate dates back merely to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, because the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China. Well, this is not true. History demonstrates that Asian hate has existed and prevailed since the first wave of Asian immigration in the mid-1800s.
Chinese immigrants built the Transcontinental Railroad between 1863 and 1869. At the initial project stages, railroad companies were reluctant to hire Chinese workers over white workers. However, a shortage of white workers compelled railroad companies to rely on about 20,000 Chinese immigrants to undertake this arduous, hazardous job. History reveals that without those Chinese workers, the first Transcontinental Railroad would never have been completed.
Shortly thereafter, in 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into federal law, which prohibited all Chinese labor immigration. This act made life incredibly difficult for the existing Chinese community in the U.S. at that time. Why was it so? Well, first, because they were not allowed to leave and re-enter the U.S. Secondly, they were ineligible for naturalization, meaning they could not become American citizens. Chinese workers often had to accept lower wages to be employed. Additionally, they faced social discrimination and racism; broadsides with the inscription “Chinese Must Go!” were commonplace.
The racial prejudice story of early Chinese immigrants to the U.S is not unlike that of other minority groups, including Hispanics, Latinos, Africans, Asians and native Hawaiians. In my view, it takes at least two generations for any new immigrant group to assimilate and be accepted by mainstream society.
Asian Americans today have made huge strides since their first immigration wave. According to a 2012 report by Pew Research Center, over 60% of Asian American immigrant adults between the ages of 25 to 64 have at least a bachelor’s degree. Asian Americans today are the most highly educated immigrant group in the U.S., and are three times more likely to receive a green card based on employer status than any other immigrant group. This is an indication that a large proportion of Asian immigrants get permanent resident status based on their merits and credentials. They often end up in high-paying jobs in science, engineering, finance and medicine.
When it comes to marriage and family, Asian Americans also stand out as a group that strongly emphasizes the importance of a successful marriage and raising children with married parents. Two-thirds of Asian American adults said one of the most important things in life is being a good parent.
As far as crime rate is concerned, the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Program published the Race Profile of Arrests by Offense in 2019. In that report, Asians in the U.S. had the lowest rate of offenses of violent crimes, family violence, vandalism, vagrancy and disorderly conduct.
In the last century, a number of Asian Americans have also entered politics. Since 1974, there have been six governors of Asian descent and another seven who held a state office, one of whom is Vice President Kamala Harris. There are also four Asian Americans who held local offices and 29 who served in the U.S. Congress.
Given these facts, we need to admit that today’s Asian Americans not only are in the fabric of the American society, but also are contributing financially, socially and politically. That said, we need to ask a question: what does it mean to be an American? Does being American mean abiding by the law and following the rules? Does it mean getting good grades in school, getting good jobs and paying taxes? Does being an American mean taking care of your family? Does it mean embracing people regardless of their culture, color, race, religion or ethnicity?
Those who have been involved in the recent Asian hate incidents need to answer this question for themselves first. Then, they need to answer whether Asian Americans have what it takes to be Americans. If they decide to transition from irrational to logical thinking, then hopefully they will admit that Asian Americans are Americans, too.