Newsflash: Non-Asian Americans Still Can’t Tell Us Apart!


In a stunning revelation, the Committee of 100 just published a report about Chinese Americans and Asian Americans stating that Americans who aren’t Asian can’t tell us apart.  What’s interesting to note is that this group had done a similar study back in 2001 and found that the findings in 2009 were almost identical to the ones in 2001.

Among the surprising findings is that 74% of non-Asian American survey respondents believed that Asians comprise more than 8% of the American population, with 40% of those respondents believing that we are more than 16% of the American population.  We’re actually only 5% of the population.

Another incorrect belief is that 51% of respondents believed that 25% or less of the Asian American population is American born.  The correct percentage is only 30%.

It points to a classic theory in Asian American studies called the “perpetual foreigner”, which has its roots in an 1897 case of United States vs. Wong Kim Ark, where the judge ruling against a Chinese immigrant fighting to obtain naturalized American citizenship stated that Asians are “strangers in the land … incapable of assimilating.”  It’s a belief that has persisted today, and which was one of the reasonings behind many of the exclusion acts that prohibited Asian immigration before World War II, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean, and ultimately with Filipinos as well.  It also spurred the anti-miscegenation laws which prevented Asian men from marrying non-Asian women pre-World War II in a blatant attempt to remove Asians from the United States by stopping them from having legitimate children, with legislators knowing that the differential ratio between Asian men and women often was 15 to 1 or more in some places.

To help white Americans tell Chinese and Japanese Americans apart after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, Time Magazine wrote an infamous article in 1941 entitled “How to Spot the Japs from the Chinese.”

Unfortunately, it seems non-Asian Americans still can’t tell us apart and they actually might need this article.

After North Korea fired a missile over South Korean and Japanese airspace, angering the United States, this far-right “Christian” blogger somehow manages to conflate geishas, “immoral sperm banks” and the attack on Pearl Harbor,  blaming this on the Chinese.  Mind you, Christwire is widely known as a satire website, but the reference hits home. And the Chinese were the ones trying to stop the North Koreans from doing this, lady.

Almost makes me wanna go wear my coolie hat, strap on a queue, and start singing “Turning Japanese” while cooking adobo just to confuse the hell out of everyone.

(Image via HOW TO SPOT A JAP (1942). Hat tip: Erin Skinner, via twitter)

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About Efren

Efren is a 30-something queer Filipino American guy living in San Francisco. In the past, he was a wanna-be academic even teaching in Asian American studies at San Francisco State, a wanna-be queer rights and HIV activist, and he used to "blog" when that meant spewing one's college student angst using a text editor on a terminal screen to write in a BBS or usenet back in the early 90s. For all his railing against the model minority myth, he's realized he's done something only a few people can claim--getting into UCSF twice, once for a PhD program in medical sociology which he left; and then for pharmacy school, where he'll be a member of the class of '13. He apologizes profusely for setting the bar unintentionally high for his cousins. blog twitter
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