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Looking Back To Move Forward
Not long ago I wrote about the challenges of racism in this country. In the days since, we’ve seen peaceful protests spread around the world. I am relieved that the violence has subsided, but I remain heartbroken over the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, both known and unknown. My heart goes out to the Black community, whose demands for justice are finally being heard.
My heart also goes out to Asian American small business owners who have been caught in the crossfire, suffering looting and property damage. Some had barely begun to pick up the pieces during the pandemic before everything they worked for was destroyed overnight. My inbox is overflowing with stories from these men and women. They cannot afford this type of damage. Some have PPP loans just to stay in business. Now they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. Opportunities that were once so promising have shriveled like a rose in the hot summer.
As for the recent spate of anti-Asian racism, we’ve been fairly subdued in our reaction to stereotypical scapegoating. We’re seen as trouble when in fact we’ve done nothing wrong. We simply want to be called good citizens.
Many of you know about our complicated history in this country. For those who don’t, it extends back to the 1850s, when we arrived as indentured servants from China to help build a railroad that would connect the East with the West and kickstart an era of unprecedented trade and commerce.
Like most Americans, we all came from somewhere else, but our arrival was not met with open arms. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act—the only U.S. Iaw to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race. Believe it or not, for the next sixty years, Chinese immigration was banned. “Yellow peril” hysteria was so strong that Chinese immigration declined from 39,500 in 1882 to only 10 in 1887.
It wasn’t until 1965, thanks to the achievements of the Black-led civil rights movement, that large numbers of Asians were finally allowed to arrive with their families. This law, which gave preferential status to engineers and scientists, also created the modern generation of Asian Americans we know today and stereotypes we continue to struggle with, like the “model minority” myth.
Fast forward to now. We’re the fastest growing demographic in the country, and we’ve impacted nearly every corner of American life, from helping to transform Silicon Valley into what it is today to making our mark on the silver screen. For anyone who’s interested in learning more about our struggles and our historic contributions, I highly recommend the five-part PBS series “Asian Americans.”
While we’re no longer celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I wanted to reflect on our history in order to connect our past with our present. While Asian Americans have enjoyed many successes, anti-Asian sentiment is still alive and well. So we will be talking about this in the weeks ahead in the public square. We seek a better understanding of who we are-- Americans who want a better future for our children and those who come behind us. Freedom from the bonds of prejudice in school, at work and in business, will be a good start.
Nevertheless, we must reflect on the past in order to move forward.
Before I wrap up this letter, I want to leave you with some heartwarming news that recently landed in my inbox. Earlier this month, our Southeast Regional Chapter delivered 3,000 meals to brave and tireless healthcare workers and security agents at Grady Hospital in Atlanta. In the next few days, they’ll deliver meals in Charlotte, North Carolina as well . I am honored to call them my friends and colleagues.
As we celebrate USPAACC’s 35th anniversary (I still can’t believe it!), I’ll be blogging more about the history of Asian American businesses and their impact on American innovation and prosperity. I’ll also share stories from our 35 years of service, and hope you’ll follow along.
Until then, I wish you safety and solace.
Yours in friendship,
Susan Au Allen
National President & CEO