The U.S. Airstrikes in Syria Should Be A Call for Pan Asian International Solidarity

By Jillian Hammer, Asian American Affairs Specialist

DISCLAIMER:  The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by ECAASU.

The United States’ sudden launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase earlier this month is unjustifiable and unforgivable. The action is a continuation of the U.S.’s deadly habit of intervening on foreign soil through military occupation. It’s time for us, the Asian American community, to stand up for Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, whose lives have been ravaged by our country’s military invasion.

Few Asian Americans can say that their home countries have not been affected by either the U.S. or European intervention and colonialism. For example. only a few decades have passed since the U.S. rained down bombs on Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Parents and grandparents came to the U.S. with war stories and traumatic memories. Now, Middle Eastern countries are enduring similar deadly techniques inflicted by the U.S. that our families faced. The communities of Southeast and West Asia are linked through the shared experience of being driven from their homes due to the United States and its imperialistic military. 

The U.S.’s attack on Syria under the guise of retaliation against a chemical attack is no different than the Bush administration’s lies of “weapons of mass destruction,” which were spread to justify the invasion of Iraq. Although many of us were children during the Iraq War, we are adults now, and thus it’s our turn to engage in the upcoming anti-war movement. We are at a breaking point in world history. It falls upon on our shoulders to reject passivity and ignorance about what our government is doing abroad. 

I call our Asian American community, a community that is dominated by East and Southeast Asian voices, to express solidarity with the West Asian community. Countries typically described as “the Middle East” ultimately fall under the umbrella of Pan-Asia. Thus, we must express condemnation of interventionist policies in U.S. foreign affairs. We should refuse to limit our work to an United States-centric lens. It’s time for us to broaden our perspective on social justice outside of the U.S., and instead think internationally. U.S. tax dollars are going towards funding deadly attacks overseas; thus we must hold our government accountable.

This is not merely a call, but a demand for action. Asian American student leaders must broaden their organizing scope from merely East, Southeast, and South Asian experiences and provide a space for West Asian students to speak about how Bush, Obama, and now Trump’s war mongering tactics have affected their lives. It’s time to research the history of American and West Asian relations, and host teach-ins with our peers. We must begin deconstructing the complicated relationship between West Asian experiences and America, as they are now irreversibly linked.
 

What is Asian American History?

By Qiang Zhang, ECAASU Spring Intern

Growing up, I had learned snippets of Chinese history. In high school, I heard about the evolution of Chinese dynasties and the communist revolution; at home, my parents read me stories about ancient warriors and grandiose battles. I felt distanced from these feudal lords and warring dynasties, and from the customs and the cultures that I had never experienced.  Yet from these tales and lessons, I created the fragmented conception of my ethnic past.

I learned about American history too--not in brief snippets but in pages of details. While I looked nothing like the European settlers, I could tell you more about the Mayflower than about Su Shi’s legacy. It was no surprise, however, that I knew America better than I had ever known China. I was American by not only my citizenship, but also by the culture I grew up in--a culture that encompassed watching Disney movies, reading Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, listening to Adele, and saying the “Pledge of Allegiance” in classes. I had learned about America, but was I American? 

Not quite. I felt neither completely Chinese, nor fully American. I felt stuck in an identity wedged between the extremes of two nations. And I had learned no history of my past other than the history of China and the history of America, a dearth both intriguing and complex. Was there an intersection that captured the true mark of my heritage?  

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This intersection existed. It started with the Asian immigrants who first came to America in the early 18th century, who faced discrimination as they helped build America’s background. These individuals were the ones who created the  “Asian-American” entity, and an identity that encompassed those like me. Yet the knowledge of this history was excluded in school, culture, and even in my family. 

I never learned about the San Francisco riots, the murder of Vincent Chin, or the Chinese Exclusion Act that wasn’t permanently repealed until 1943. I never learned about the 1790 Naturalization Act, which prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming US citizens; the 1850 People vs. Hall case, which established that Chinese in the US had no right to testify against white citizens; the 1871 Chinese Massacre, which was one of the largest mass lynching incidents of American history. I never learned about the Oriental Public School that the San Francisco school board successfully lobbied for in 1884 because of the Tape vs. Hurley case, or that an Asiatic Exclusion League was formed in 1905 to prevent the immigration of Asian Americans.

Raising the problem of lack of accessibility of our history doesn’t imply we need to entirely restructure the American education system. What it does imply is two-fold: First, the lack of Asian American historical education represents a deeper problem that needs to be changed--there is a lack of Asian American voices within not only the education system, but also within the broader political structure of America. As of 2017, there are only three Asian American senators who are currently serving on Congress. For reference, here is also a map of congressional districts represented by Asian Americans in the 114th Congress:

How can we carve out a space for our identity if we have such a small voice in the process of policy that shapes the education we get? How can we spread information about Asian American history and Asian American issues if our involvement in government is so limited? The dominating model minority myth, the Asian family culture that discourages involvement in nontraditional fields, such as in politics, all contribute to this lack of voice in government. In order to create steps to better policy, to increase opportunities to learn about Asian American history, and to encourage scholars to increase their presence within this field, we need to start with government activism. 

Another reason for government activism can be understood if we conceptualize the problem as a societal structural disease. The issue with Asian American rights is that what we are facing is not a collection of single issues that require isolated, independent pathways to solve, but rather a collective problem of a cultural system perpetuated by society. The different issues within Asian American rights, of creating more opportunities to learn Asian American history, of overcoming the model minority myth, of breaking the stereotypes associated with Asian Americans, cannot be viewed nor addressed separately, but must require an integrated approach that lies within government policy. This area is able to affect all areas of society, and most importantly, create laws and legislation that can restructure the current, accepted culture in which stereotypes have become internalized. 

Ultimately however, the holistic improvement of society cannot come with a single step. But the way in which we can promote change starts with the steps of better activism and increased involvement. Through it, we can hopefully usher in a brighter, better America, in which where future generations will no longer have to ask the question, “What is Asian American history?”. 

The Generalization of Language: A Double-Edged Sword

By Kevin Koo, ECAASU National Board Advocacy Coordinator

Healing, violence, trauma—these are some of the words that have entered my vocabulary recently. I’ve noticed that as these words are starting to become more widely used, they are also becoming substitutes for a wide array of feelings, almost as a “catch-all” type of word. Disclaimer, this is not to say that these words should not be used or do not have place in our day-to-day vocabulary. They most certainly do. The way that trauma and violence are used in place of more detailed and often emotional descriptions is extremely valid and often vital to our ability to cope with our daily lives. Sometimes they are used specifically because of their ability to carry across a specific feeling without having to explain all of the details—it’s hard to unearth all of the associated emotions and experiences every time you want to talk about something. But what I want to bring attention to is an unintended effect of this use: the tendency for these words to minimize our very real and powerful experiences. Also, words like healing, violence, and trauma are difficult to outright define— everyone comes upon them in different circumstances, and therefore defines and uses these words in different ways. So when we do use these words, there’s a chance that what we’re saying and what somebody is hearing are two completely separate things.

For example, what is healing? How do you personally define it? Is it the process of moving on, of complete resolution? Is it the process of being content with the current situation, or of being able to cope with something that will always be a part of you? When can it be used? In which circumstances? When we talk about the healing of a wound, what is considered healed? When the wound is gone? If there is a scar, is the healing incomplete? What if the wound is open, can there still be an ongoing healing process? Can you tell indigenous people to “heal” when they are still actively being removed and erased? Tell Black communities to “heal” after the loss of a loved one, when the systems of policing and incarceration that target them still exist? What are alternatives to this? More accurate descriptions? What do you really wish to communicate in that instance?

What is trauma? When you tell another person that you’ve experienced trauma, what does that entail? What of your experiences are actually carried over through the word “trauma”? Is the trauma associated with your racial identity similar to the trauma associated with your gender identity or queer identity? Is the context provided along with the word trauma enough to fully encapsulate the power and magnitude of your experience without diluting it? Who are the ones who will understand what you mean, and who will not? What about violence? Used often hand-in-hand with trauma, do they carry similar weight? Is the violence enacted upon the body physical or mental, or perhaps a combination of the two? Is one equal to the other? What was the severity of the act? Can the severity even be judged, and do you want it to be? Yes, to be specific about our experiences is to re-open wounds, to delve deep into remembrance, and to re-live pain—none of which we wish to do needlessly. But we also know that there are times where we might decide that this vulnerability is worth it, if it means validation, understanding, and community. What can we do to ensure that these experiences and memories are heard and noticed by others, and passed on to the next generation so that this vicious cycle does not needlessly repeat?

This isn’t to say that every word we use in our vocabulary is lacking. We are continuously forging new words— new tools to express ourselves and to tackle systems of power. White supremacy. Whiteness. Heteropatriarchy. Intersectionality. These words have undoubtedly arisen out of a lack of tangibility, a need for definition and clarity. But language can also be a double-edged sword. Our tendency to use terms such as trauma, violence, and healing as another door between us and our feelings can also minimize and downplay the realness and importance of our experiences when sharing with others. This is not to invalidate the use of trigger warnings, or the paralyzing heaviness that comes with remembering and reliving such experiences. This is also not to deny people their limitations, or to push them beyond their boundaries.

Instead, this is to imbue people with the knowledge that this issue exists, and to empower them with the choice to act accordingly depending on their current situation, emotional state, and capacities. Not just in our speech but in our writing, our art, and any other mediums through which we express ourselves. This is to ensure that when our lived experiences or others’ lived experiences are threatened and invalidated, our lives are not reduced to a mere word that could not possibly encapsulate the magnitude of it all—the sprawling sea of our pains, our fears, our sadness and rage, our hope and helplessness. This is to ensure that our lived experiences are communicated, heard and supported, are passed on; that these experiences are there for others to identify with, bond with, and learn from; to break cycles of oppression, to dismantle systems, to build communities from shared experiences— or at the very least, to be understood and know that we’re not the only ones.