dispatches from san fran: why azns should care about what’s happening in arizona

posted by kltw

So I’ve been sitting here for the past two hours thinking of a clever way to introduce myself to readers, as this is the first time I’ve ever written for a blog.  Instead of something dramatic or witty or anything extraordinary, I’m just going to give the basics to save myself another late night.  I’m a Chinese-Canadian hanging out in California this summer, doing work with working class, low-income Chinese immigrants in the San Francisco Chinatown.

When missmsian approached me to write for the invazn, I thought about the plethora of topics that I had accumulated over the years, including pop culture, politics, race/racism, sexuality…etc.  However two recent events helped me narrow down my topic to one of great importance right now; the topic being the bullshit that’s happening in Arizona.

For those of you who aren’t yet aware, Arizona has had a long history of being one of the most bigoted, hateful, and racist states in the union.  With an impressive history highlighted by notable events such as the 1912 enactment of legislation that denied the vote to any persons unable to “read the Constitution of the U.S. in the English language”** , or the opposition to the recognition of Martin Luther King Day, or HB2281, passed just few weeks ago, that bans ethnic studies in schools.  These are just a sample of Arizona efforts to single-handedly deny rights to people of colour.

The one piece of legislation that I will focus on is SB1070, which gives Arizona police the authority to question anyone they feel to be “reasonably suspicious” of entering the country illegally.  Furthermore, if said person is unable to produce the proper documentation proving their status, they will be detained or deported.  Needless to say, this is a terrible time to be in Arizona as a person of colour.  This law is designed specifically to fight the so-called blight of “illegal immigration”; what it actually does is criminalize people for being brown.

So why should Chinese people care about this? After all, all of us exist in the racial hierarchy as the “model minority”, where we don’t make trouble and assimilate perfectly into mainstream society. Right?

WRONG…The fact that a model minority exists hurts both our own community as well as other communities of colour (perhaps the topic for a future post?).  A lot of the opinions coming out of the Chinese community here have mostly painted a bleak picture about our understanding of the plight of undocumented peoples, and in this case, people in the Latino community.

Not only has the reaction to SB1070 been indifferent at best, supportive at worst, Chinese folks have actually talked about going to Arizona to take over the jobs that are being vacated by deported workers!  This type of mentality has demonstrated the utter inability (and sometimes refusal) to connect the dots between the treatment of different communities of colour by the state throughout history.  Chinese people need to look no further than this past century to see the denial of our right to opportunity and existence through the Chinese Exclusion Acts.

I had the opportunity to see the result of this kind of legislation first hand on my visit to Angel Island; at the time, it was the immigration centre (read: immigration detention facility) on the West coast and the “Guardian of the Western Gate”. Carvings of Chinese poems can be seen on every wall, decrying the conditions of imprisonment and expressing the pain of isolation and emotional suffering.

The spirit of the Chinese Exclusion Act lives on to this day, in the form of SB1070.

The same rhetoric could heard then and now: talking about immigrants taking American (read: white people) jobs, about corrupting American values, about taking over.

The same kind of work was done by immigrants then and now: working in the underground economy, for less than minimum wage, in sweatshop conditions.

The same kind of consequences borne by the immigrant communities then are the same ones that are experienced today: broken families, living in fear, continually oppressed.

This is why we need to stand up against this bullshit, because in this cycle, who knows when our own communities will become the targets once again.  I hope everyone takes some time to get to know the history of injustice done to each of our own communities in order to better appreciate the experiences of immigrants in Arizona right now.  For more information about SB1070 and the struggles in Arizona, you can check out Alto Arizona.

They first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Pastor Martin Niemoller
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