Minority Report

Candid Conversations on Race, Culture, and Therapy

Asian-American or Never American

The Perpetual Foreigner

In the Asian-American experience, there will be times when you are disregarded as a true American. Two recent news events reminded me of this. A Chinese immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen had her salon raided by Chicago Police, ostensibly for a prostitution charge (later dropped).

In the midst of the raid, the owner Jianqing “Jessica” Klyzek, tries to tell the officers that she is a United States citizen only to have an officer give her this vitriolic tirade which was caught on surveillance video:

Police officer: “You’re not f—— American! I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the f— you came from!”

Klyzek: I’m a citizen, OK?!

Police officer: “No you’re not! No, you’re not a citizen! No, you’re not! No, you’re not! You’re here on our borrowed time. So mind your f—— business before I shut this whole f—— place down. And I’ll take this place and then whoever owns it will f—— kill you because they don’t care about you, OK? I’ll take this building. You’ll be dead and your family will be dead.”

The video was released in May of this year after the owner sued the Chicago police department of a hate crime, excessive force and attempting a cover-up by framing her. Police spokesman Adam Collins said the Independent Police Review Authority is investigating. “The alleged comments, if true, are reprehensible and completely intolerable in our police department,” Collins said.

Yes it’s reprehensible that this happened but what I find equally disturbing is this mind-set of Asian-Americans being perceived and treated as second-class citizens. Maybe not so much in overt racism such as in hiring or housing practices but certainly in the views of mainstream America that we are “perpetual foreigners”. Even if Klyzek spoke good English, I believe she would’ve received the same treatment.

Take for example this year’s 2014 Scripps Spelling Bee Champions. Sriram Hathwar, an eighth-grader from Painted Post, N.Y. and Ansun Sujoe, a seventh-grader from Fort Worth, Texas both Indian-Americans tied for first place. Yet, the social media backlash was caustic.

 • One year I wish an American kid could win the spelling bee.

• Nothing more American than a good spelling bee.. Oh wait all the Caucasians are eliminated!

• “Why are there no American kids left in the spelling bee? I'm ashamed of our kind. Parents - step it up!

• The kids in the spelling bee should only be AMERICAN.

What’s ironic is that Indian-Americans pride themselves on spelling as a means of gaining acceptance in American society. The past seven consecutive winners of the Scripps Spelling Bee are Indian-American. Srinivas Mahankali, is the father of Arvind Mahankali, last year’s champion and said it’s important that his children do well not only academically but especially in English. "The immigrants want to prove that they belong to the mainstream," he says. They are very eager to show that they have "mastered the cornerstone of the culture here — the language.”

But mastery of the language does little to change perception. In fact, this spelling “mastery” may even perpetuate the stereotypes of Indian-Americans as “perpetual foreigners”.

So what are we to do as a society? I think honestly acknowledging our bias is a start. Recognize that we all have stereotypes about people and cultures so that when incidents or experiences do come up, we are cognizant to filter them out through the lens of truth. Because in the end, I’d like to think we’re just as “American” as people from Italian, Polish, Irish, German, or British ancestors.

Related story links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOUgK9T2_Mc

http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/27487657-418/lawsuit-chicago-c...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/30/scri...

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/29/153898668/why-indian-americans-reig...

 

 

Sam Louie is a therapist with a private practice in Seattle specializing in multicultural issues and sexual addiction.
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