The importance of ethnic new media for filling out the conversation
As my children scurry around excitedly before our neighborhood’s annual Memorial Day Parade—decorating their bikes, finding bags for the candy the Girl Scouts will throw, thinking about doughnuts in the park, planning to barbeque with friends afterwards — I remind them to be respectful, that Memorial Day is not just about the parade, that it is actually a very somber occasion, one that honors the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedom in America, and that although we do not glorify war, their great-grandfathers and grandfathers were all in the military.
Yet, every year when parade organizers ask if I want to bring a group of Chinese School kids to march or lion dance in the parade, I hesitate. I worry. I agree only if I can get a big group of parents to walk with the kids, as security, just in case someone thinks people who look like us do not belong.
Of course, I know that people who look like us do belong. My grandfather trained in Texas (with Connie Chung’s dad!) and flew alongside General Chennault’s Flying Tigers during the Sino-Japanese War. Another friend’s father was a South Vietnamese medic during the Vietnam War who took care of wounded U.S. servicemen.
All Asian Americans take pride in the achievements of the celebrated all-Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment and 100th Infantry Battalion, the two most highly decorated units during World War II while their parents were locked in concentration camps in the dessert. A Chinese American from Oakland, California, was the first person drafted for World War II.
Actually a very high percentage of Chinese Americans were drafted during World War II because women were not allowed to immigrate then, so Chinese Americans at that time were almost all single men with no dependents. Filipino World War II veterans fought for 60 years to finally obtain their veterans benefits. Asian Americans of all ethnicities continue to serve in the U.S. armed forces, including four-star General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
But there is not always time to explain. The other person may or may not be willing to listen. The other person may or may not understand. It takes longer than a soundbyte to fill in all the gaps.
This is why I write for ethnic new media.
I want to write about the stories, people, and issues that are not always included in the mainstream narrative. I want to talk with those who have the same background understanding that I do so we can get on to more interesting conversations. I need to trust that my news sources can see. I want to be challenged by different points of view. We all have a lot more in common than we realize.
When Taiwanese American scientist Dr. Wen Ho Lee was arrested for espionage in 1999, the evidence cited all made sense to the mainstream media who did not challenge it (The New York Times later apologized). To them, it made sense. To me, none of it made sense. I scoured newspapers from around the world, but no one asked the questions I knew needed to be asked. This is a danger of an undiversified media (and education and business and government). The federal government apologized, too.
This month, Senate Republicans used a filibuster to block a vote on the nomination of UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. One of the many crazy arguments against him was that this son of Taiwanese immigrants wants to turn America into Communist China. Sigh. Where to even start?
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.