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Asian Americans often must deal with the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype. People assume that because they are racially Asian, they can’t also be Americans. Well-meaning people ask, “Where are you from?” Others shout, “Go back where you came from!” In extreme cases, Asian Americans have been attacked by people who blame them for the actions of an Asian country–any Asian country.
This is generally due to bias – unconscious associations, or stereotypes, that we pick up from our culture. Sometimes these are harmless. But when applied to people, these stereotypes can have serious consequences. In this case, the assumption is “if someone looks Asian, they must be foreign,” and it leads to Americans with Asian heritage being treated as foreigners in their own country.
When issuing orders to remove people of Japanese heritage from the West Coast, the government referred to Japanese Americans as “non-aliens,” to downplay the fact that they were American citizens. Even today, many people call camps like Heart Mountain “internment” camps, even though internment only applies to non-citizens.
Stereotypes affect everyone. For many people, “where are you from?” is simply small talk. However, for many Asian Americans, when they answer “Los Angeles” or “Chicago” or “Ohio,” people insist, “No, but where are you really from”–as if they couldn’t possibly have been born in the United States.
“When did it become a citizen’s responsibility to prove his innocence, especially when no charges of disloyalty were ever filed nor convictions established?”
–Yosh Kuromiya, Member of the Fair Play Committee
Image courtesy of Densho Digital Repository
“We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”
–Andrew Yang, The Washington Post, April 1, 2020
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore