If you’re born in Michigan, was raised in Los Angeles County and educated at Harvard, the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, you still can be considered not American enough to run for Congress if you also happen to be of Asian heritage. At least that’s what seems to be true in the minds of a number of American citizens in the 39th Congressional District. It’s not the first time Chen has had to face accusations of being a spy from Communist China trying the infiltrate the American political process, nevermind the fact that Chen’s parents are from Taiwan, a country that “communist” China has missiles pointed at. As an American from the same community as these racist haters, I am absolutely ashamed of them as all Americans are. But, I can understand where the hate and fear is coming from. Change is terrifying, and not only has the diversity of that area been increasing by leaps and bounds over the last three decades, they have recently been drawn together with a number of heavily Asian Pacific American communities.
The 39th Congressional District was recently redrawn to combine some heavily Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) communities such as Fullerton, Walnut, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Diamond Bar, and Chino Hills, where local public schools often see up to 60% or higher of students being of APIA heritage. Kids growing up there literally think the American national population is at least half if not more of APIA heritage. An Asian majority is the norm for them. I know this because I grew up there, went to school there, and have professionally educated students from those communities for the past 14+ years.
For “kids” like Jay Chen and me, who went to rival high schools in Hacienda Heights at the same time in the early 90s, the diversity is a given. It’s what we grew up with. It’s what we live now. We’re so used to speaking more than one language and being surrounded by people vastly different than ourselves culturally, physically, and religiously. Chen is fluent in more than three languages, Spanish being one of them. We’re used to going to people’s homes and having steak and eggs in one house, palak paneer in another, and chorizo in the next. We’re used to seeing the local McDonald’s sign in Korean, English, and Chinese.
I remember in high school my classmates and I used to look at all the old archived yearbooks and wonder at the change in the student ethnic make-up. In the 60s, 70s and early 80s, it was predominantly White. Then as the 80s progressed, the yearbook pictures started changing, and by the early 90s, it was an even split of about 30% Hispanic, 30% Asian, and 30% Caucasian. I can imagine the people in the neighborhood who were there since those early, less multicultural times, or kids who come from the families who didn’t adapt too well to the changes around them feeling like their beloved hometown was being “invaded” by these “outsiders”. Waking up one day and finding out that your local congressional district had been redrawn to make it one of the most heavily APIA ones in the U.S. must have been petrifying. So scary in fact that you pull out some poster paper and write “Jay Chen is a Communist Spy” and stick it on a street lamp pole in your neighborhood. So scary that you email Chen’s campaign a string of racial slurs against Asians. Enough fear, in fact, to make you want to leave an anonymous voicemail that personally and racially attacks Chen.
I get it. It’s scary. A face like Chen’s that looks so foreign and unfamiliar and yet speaks English and has the legal right to be elected to govern you.
I guess this blog post is morphing into a message of empathy to the haters. Well, in that case, I’ve got a message for the racist haters:
America exists because of an American Revolution, and revolution is all about change. Revolution comes from being brave enough to change. So don’t be a coward. Be an American. *puts away soap box*