Andrew Yang’s Asian American Superpower

So what was it like, I asked, as he took off the scarf and put on a simple mask and looked like another Asian guy?

“I’ve been to New York and the subway on the street several times when I wasn’t wearing a ‘Yang For New York’ mask and the rest of it,” he said after a pause. “And when someone recoils from you for the first time on the subway, or looks at you a little too long, you think, ‘Well, maybe that was in my head. ‘But when it happens repeatedly, you start to think, “This is not in my head.” And you may feel some level of visibility and hostility or awareness of your presence, but not in a welcome way. It’s like, “I am aware of your presence and am not enthusiastic about it.” And that’s a completely different feeling and a completely different energy. “

But on this sunny street in Chinatown, everyone knew it was the guy wearing a “Yang for New York” mask and being followed by a professional photographer the Andrew Yang: The man with the universal basic income, the former presidential candidate, the possible mayor – a man who also happened to be the most prominent Asian-American political figure in the country. It was as if Yang had created his own racial fame by simply believing in himself as firmly as possible.

“To be honest, I was used to fitting myself into woodwork for most of my life. Because I think this is something of an Asian-American superpower that could be pretty low-key for the past 14 months, “he said. “When I’m obviously Andrew Yang – the scarf, the mask – I get a lot of love, warmth and support. But when I’m not so easy to identify, there is a different energy.”

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The term “model minority” entered the mainstream in a New York Times Magazine in 1966 Article when sociology professor William Petersen drew an indelible line between Japanese Americans and “problem minorities” who had suffered different – and in his opinion the same – types of setbacks.

“For example, when whites defined negroes as inherently less intelligent and thus provided them with inferior schools, the products from those schools often confirmed the original stereotype,” Peterson wrote. “Once the cumulative deterioration has gone far enough, it is notoriously difficult to reverse the trend.”

And yet, he wondered, Japanese Americans had done so less than 20 years after the internment camps of World War II. “By every criterion of good citizenship, Japanese Americans are better than any other group in our society, including native whites. They also set this remarkable record through their own almost uninterrupted effort. Any attempt to hinder their progress only increased their determination to be successful. ”

With that backhand praise, Japanese Americans, and the millions of other Asians who followed them when America’s immigration laws changed, were crammed into a hard-breaking box: how could they prove they faced discrimination when everyone thought they were would be the embodiment of the “Horatio Alger hero”, as Peterson put it? How could they find allies to achieve equality – culturally, politically, socially – if everyone thought they were successful through some ethnic disposition? And if they weren’t successful, weren’t they just bad at being Asian?

There are endless books, essays, films, and shows trying to destroy this idea. But there is also Lots of Asian Americans who fit all the criteria for this myth, and even more Asian parents who push their children to embody it. Andrew Yang grew up one of those children.

With two Berkeley parents, an upbringing in the quaint town of Somers, New York, and an education from Phillips Exeter, Brown University and Columbia Law – a pedigree Mayflower has Descendants would stab each other to get – Yang occupies an elite demographic slot, as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen (no relationship), who interviewed Yang, told me, “Ivy League, East Coast, exemplary Minority of Asian Americans, whether he calls himself that or not. “

“I have some compassion for him because he is involved in a dynamic of the race that he doesn’t want to be involved in and that shouldn’t be trapped in,” said Nguyen. “But that’s just the nature of the breed in the country. If [he] can be a good politician, he has to find an answer to it. Not because he cares, but because other people care. “

I had wondered if Yang had distanced himself from the AAPI community or any trait of a Taiwanese immigrant child on his trip to America, especially after speaking with Peter Kiang, the director of Asian-American studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston .

In the 1980s, Kiang said he worked as an advisor to prep schools in New England, including Exeter – the alma mater of billionaires, diplomats, and the Anglo-Saxon power elite – to diversify their locations to become more inclusive for Asian Americans, in particular for children of immigrants, based on a series of stories in which racism was exposed on the monastery grounds of these schools.

“They were facing this new population and had no idea how to approach it,” he recalled, noting that schools would either try to integrate them into the student body – for example, include Asian American Studies in the curriculum – or simply the incoming class to be stacked with just enough Asians are leaving this new class to fend for themselves, assuming they are model minorities who can increase their adoption rates in the Ivy League.

Kiang recalled a focus group he did with a group of Asian-American students at one of those schools where he asked them if they had any complaints. After the nudge, they admitted they weren’t a fan of the quality of rice – but felt like they had nothing to say about it and instead kept rice cookers in their dormitories.

“They didn’t know if complaints or protests would throw them out of school and whether their parents’ dreams would go away,” Kiang recalls. They had no language, he said, to call white people.

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