This image is of Peggy (R), then a 19 year-old SNCC member, next to future civil rights icon, Dr. Dorothy Cotton (L), after a 1962 church burning in Georgiathe state that Peggy's great-great grandparents, William & Ellen Craft, famously escaped from slavery nearly 115 years earlier...

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SPECIAL ASIAN-PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH RECOGNITION

May 2021

Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely

Dr. Dorothy Cotton

I've had the privilege of working in the public health sector with diverse communities, including those of Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander descent.  Therefore, in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I'm turning over my home page to a great friend and wonderful ally in the community health world, Lillian Lew to share her thoughts as a Chinese-American on a few things...

MY WEEKLY WORD | GUEST CONTRIBUTOR FOOD FOR THOUGHT... 

by LILLIAN LEW

As an American-born Chinese, I watch with growing concern what’s been happening the last four years in our country, especially politics. Growing up in Texas, I remember a childhood saying “stick and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you”. Having worked in the field of diversity and equity, I realized how untrue this statement is.  Words have power—especially regarding anti-Asian violence...

 

THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT FORMALIZES EXCLUSIONARY ACTS AGAINST CHINESE

When I was young, something I learned from my daddy that not only helped shape me as person, but helped guide my work was the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

 

The Chinese were the first to be brought over to the US in the mid-1800’s, to build the railroads—just as they were the first to be brought over to Hawaii to work the plantations. The newcomers were mostly men. Without women and a chance to have families, many Chinese men spent their free time engaging in activities similar to their single white counterparts, including gambling and revelry, much to the displeasure of the white dominate culture. The presence of Chinese immigrant laborers also generated exclusionary acts to keep them from experiencing true freedom.  For instance, when their work with railroads were over, they were forced into ethnic conclaves that eventually became known as a respective community’s “Chinatown.” Beyond that, Chinese could not just live where they want, were not allowed to own property nor attain citizenship.  Newspapers and magazines labeled them the “yellow peril”, who had come to steal and rape white women. The backlash from the white dominate culture against Chinese immigrants, led to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and “remains the only law to be implemented, to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or National group from immigrating to the US. It was only after World War II, during which China was an ally of the U.S., that the U.S. repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943—six decades later. Only for there to be another flashpoint in U.S. history during the 1990s involving Chinese-American and Chinese immigrants…

COMMUNITY HEALTH ALSO CREATES HEALTHY CULTURAL INTERSECTION

I’m retired now, but my heart is at peace. Even though there was still much to do, I felt through my work in community health, we’d accomplished so much. The response to the acquittals from the beating of Rodney King and the probation for Latasha Harlan’s killing in the early ‘90s—though respectively rooted in police brutality and societal discord—influenced our work in tobacco control. Unfortunately, when fifteen year-old Latasha was killed by a middle-aged Korean store owner (just ten days after King’s beating), helped foster some of the animosity against Asians at the time. So much work was done between the African-American and the Korean-American communities to understand and respect each other. During the same time period, those of us who worked in community health had opportunities to work together with the African-American Tobacco Control Network, the Native American/Indian Tobacco Control Network, the Latino/Hispanic Tobacco Education Network, and the Asian-Pacific Islander Tobacco Control Network. Through this cultural intersection—that was community health driven—we learned so much from one another and took lessons from the Los Angeles Civil Unrest.

 

Beyond tobacco control, work was done around other health issues that impacted communities of color. There were opportunities to advocate for diversity and equity, to be inclusive. We worked on the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare, to expand healthcare coverage to underserved communities. There is a satisfaction when one can do work that impacts the community positively…but that positive impact has been challenged by actions of the last administration.

THE PANDEMIC FOSTERS ANTI-ASIAN HATE BUT MOVING TOWARD A CURE

When I retired in 2015, the campaigning had begun on the 2016 Presidential election. With the election of Donald Trump and his subsequent administration, I became unsettled.  I realized that much of the work and advances by so many of us, began to unravel—indeed, has been going backwards. With respect to community health it was particularly glaring, when the Pandemic hit in 2020, since the United States was so woefully unprepared.  However, instead of leading the American people through this crisis, Trump sowed seeds of hatred. Not a surprise, since throughout his candidacy and presidency, he denigrated many communities and specific individuals. However, in the case of  COVID-19, he went on a protracted effort to shift the blame for his own ineptitude to the Chinese, by utilizing phrases such as the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu”. On national television, he unabashedly and shamelessly singled out and picked on Asian/Asian-American reporters. Basically, he was giving his “base” permission to do the same…  They did, and more… Consequently, anti-Asian hate crimes rose both significantly in 2020, exponentially in just the first quarter of this year, 2021. Heartbreakingly, the current news abounds with stories of Asians/Asian-Americans of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, being violently attacked, and even murdered as in the attacks in Atlanta. These incidents are only the ones that are reported. Like many other communities of color, most anti-Asian hate crimes go unreported, even when there are large populations—such as in California, where there is a long history of anti-Asian violence (including WWII’s internment of Japanese-Americans and immigrants by the U.S. government, as well as deportation).  Though in a distinct turnabout from 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, Congress recently passed an anti-Asian hate crime bill called the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was signed by President Biden last Thursday on May 20, 2021.

 

WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER…

Something else that helped guide me as a person and my work that I learned from my daddy was that “the Chinese got civil rights on the coattails of black people.” Those coattails benefitted many communities of color, as well as the women’s movement.  A great example is that from the Civil Rights Movement came the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and—the Immigration and Nationality Act.  This legacy of intersectionality was very present in 2020, as well as this year.  Historically, there has been a tremendous amount of police violence against African-Americans. Therefore, it was heartening to see that the protests against George Floyd’s murder were multi-ethnic, and largely peaceful. Though Trump tried to deliberately intimidate people from protesting, as in Portland when unmarked vans took protesters away or the Lafayette Park debacle, to which it was great to see multi-ethnic backlash.

 

While I am proud that May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, those of us who have worked long and hard for diversity and equity, must stand together during the entire year, and raise our voices against all hate crimes. We must be just and equitable. And when you feel you’re getting complacent or even apathetic, I ask that you remember everyone throughout history who fought to make sure our democracy was inclusive to ensure it is a government for all of the people, by the people and for the people—not just a few…