Editor’s Note: In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked some of the speakers at the recent rally against violence against people of Asian descent to submit their speeches as columns. This week’s column is from Dr Joon K.Shim, the program director for Bassett’s Medical Center’s General Surgery Residency Program.
I am grateful for the opportunity. Thank you for coming. It’s Asian American heritage month. Stand tall and be proud. My message today is a prayer for hope.
I like to talk to you about the term Asian Americans. Many people think Chinese is synonymous for Asians the same way Kleenex is for tissues. Many people don’t understand that we’re a spectrum of many different nationalities. There are so many qualifications weighing the “we” in Asian America. It’s a unique condition that’s distinctly Asian.
There is the stereotype of the “Asian nerd”—a tech geek, good at math and science, but socially awkward and passive. But Asian Americans are struggling economically like many other Americans. Asian Americans are struggling with staggering unemployment and Asian Americans accounted for nearly 40% of Covid-19 deaths in San Francisco.
Then there is the stereotype of an Asian woman, portrayed as exotic and beautiful, but also submissive, obedient, and fragile. Furthermore, Asian Americans are often treated as “perpetual foreigners” and always being asked, “Where are you really from?”
COOPERSTOWN – When at least 250 people gathered May 3, on the lawn of the Otsego County Courthouse to show support for the area’s Asian-American population, and then stayed for an hour to listen to speeches during a rainstorm, many of the speakers marveled that the rally was organized by a 15-year Cooperstown Central School freshman, Cate Bohler.
They were not alone in their surprise. Bohler and her mom, Jeannine Webster, told The Freeman’s Journal on Friday, May 14, that they were surprised, too.
“I kind of feel like I didn’t really realize what I was doing,” Bohler said. “I think it was when I was hearing the speakers speaking and then it started raining and people stayed mostly.”
“All of the young people involved learned a powerful lesson about community,” Webster said. “Looking back I am not really sure how it came together.”
Editor’s Note: In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked some of the speakers at the recent rally against violence against people of Asian descent to submit their speeches as columns. This week’s submission came from SUNY Oneonta Professor of Anthropology Sallie Han.
Thank you to the organizers for inviting me to take part in this gathering and to all of you here today for being present and taking a stand for truths and against lies and myths. Our commitment to truths brings us together, Asian and Black and White. Lies and myths manipulate and divide us.
Let me speak a little truth, or at least my truth, about what it means to be the American born daughter of Korean immigrants in this moment. Because I am also a professor of anthropology, I sincerely believe in the importance and necessity of learning and particularly of the study of humanity as a foundation for the understanding and unity that we need. Because I am standing here at this gathering today, I know that I am not alone in desperately wanting to find the ways toward righting the wrongs of the lies and myths.
I want to speak a little truth against one specific myth, which segregates people like me from the rest of American society by holding up Asians as a “model minority.” Some of us might already know this term—the model minority myth—and be familiar with the concept. Others of us might not have realized that this is the name given to set of assumptions that are likely familiar to a lot of Americans. All of us, I hope, can learn to question and criticize it. The model minority myth goes like this:
Of all the ethnic minority groups represented in the U.S. today, it is claimed that Asians are the highest achieving and most successful.
We’re good at math! We become doctors or work in tech! We’re living the American dream! Our tiger moms put pressure on us, but we’re otherwise uniformly uncomplaining and non-problematic.
Some claim it’s due to traits in our genes. Others claim it’s due to “Asian” culture.
On surface, this myth seems like it might be a “positive” one, but I think all of us understand that true freedom comes from justice and equity and our recognition of unhappy truths and our rejection of even the happiest lies. Like every other stereotype, the model minority myth conceals a diversity of experiences. It distracts us from the histories and circumstances that make the American dream realistic or not for every one of us. I can assure you that Asians do not inherit a math gene and particularly as a cultural anthropologist, I can assure you that the values of learning and teaching are foundational to every human culture. The chances that I would have attended and graduated from college as well as earned a doctoral degree likely have less to do with my being Asian and more to do with the fact that both of my own parents, too, graduated from college and earned medical degrees.
Over time, I have come to understand that the model minority myth is not so much about lifting up Asian Americans, but more about putting down other Americans. The model minority myth barely conceals a condemnation. If Asians are the “model,” then what about the other “minorities”?
The model minority myth is one that in fact my parents and their closest Korean immigrant friends and their families and even myself at one time embraced and aspired to. The fact is it felt good not to be seen as “bad.” It was about as close to acceptance and being valued as it seemed possible for us to imagine.
The minority myth was alluring, I think, because the alternative was to be invisible. Indeed, invisibility is a strategy for being where we are made to feel we do not belong. Try not to draw attention.
Get along and get by quietly. Do not speak up to avoid being spoken about or worse, acted against.
For me, the myth of the model minority is that it makes us free to be visible. We are not. I am not free from the fear of harm to myself or to the people I love.
The model minority myth also extorts from me the high price of my silence. The awful, hard truth about the myth is it invites my complicity and participation in the institutionalized racism that threatens harm to me. It is a lie that divides Asian and Black and other racialized communities from each other and divides all of us as Americans from each other.
So, this is our moment. Let’s build a new model for a new majority acting in coalition. Here. Now. We can speak and listen to each others’ truths. Together.
About 250 people attended a rally Sunday, May 2, at the Otsego County Courthouse, to support the community’s Asian American and Pacific Island residents.
The “Otsego Rally for Solidarity with Asian Americans” was organized and run by a group of Cooperstown Central School freshmen, including 15-year-old Cate Bohler, who said she wanted to speak up to support her friends or anyone who is being harassed.
“As a young Asian-American girl, hearing people call COVID the China virus is hurtful,” Bohler said, reading from her prepared statement about why she wanted to stage the rally. “It is more than hurtful. It is harmful. It perpetuates anti-American sentiments and racism.”
Speakers included the students, as well as local officials, including Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh, Cooperstown Police Chief Frank Cavalieri, Otsego Town Supervisor Meg Kiernan and Otsego County Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, who said he thinks he is the county’s only elected official of Asian descent. Lapin’s mom is Japanese.
“The deep-seated nature of systemic racism requires us to make continuous choices and take continuous actions to advance anti-racist ideas in the public space,” Lapin said.
The League of Women Voters of the Cooperstown Area would like to applaud Jaina Bischof, Cate Bohler, Charlotte Feury, Riley Fillion, Elizabeth Hughes, Olivia Lowenguth, Maya Pandit, who, with the support of their families and friends, organized the Otsego Rally for Solidarity with Asian Americans on Sunday, May 2, in Cooperstown. These students’ activism is fully aligned with the League of Women Voters’ goal to create a stronger, more inclusive democracy.
Such outstanding civic leadership and teamwork is an inspiration to all of us to commit ourselves to combating racism through character, intelligence, and compassion. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child; in this case it is these teenagers who have raised the Village of Cooperstown to a new level of community engagement with this highly charged issue. With the shining example of these students to light our way, let us continue this important and good work of making Cooperstown, as Dr. Namita Singh put it so well in her speech at the rally, the “all-American village” of this century: one that celebrates our nation’s diverse cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious roots and on these strong foundations remains a thriving, vibrant community.
Co-president, Cooperstown Area League of Women Voters
In response to the rising number of hate crimes directed at Asian Americans since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, local teens are planing a Solidarity Rally for Sunday, May 2, according to a media release.
Otsego Solidarity Rally for Asian Americans will be held at 2 p.m. in front of the Otsego County Courthouse at 197 Main Street.
May is Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage month, according to the release.
Students involved in organizing the rally have created a window display at 149 Main Street, Cooperstown, to highlight the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The exhibit will be on view throughout the month of May.
Cate Bohler, one of the 15-year-olds, said in the release, “I want to organize this rally to see how people come together to fight against racial injustice. My biggest goal is to help people become aware, educate them about things they might not know about. The rally is a starting point for action.”
Speakers will include Otsego County Board of Supervisors Danny Lapin and Meg Kiernan and Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh.
One of the joys of living in our part of Upstate New York is the ability to recognize and appreciate some individuals who truly make our world better, and who, in a larger populated area, might go unnoticed.
In this particular case, I would like to thank and congratulate Liane Hirabayashi and Lynne Mebust for the success of the “Looking in the Mirror: Cooperstown Reflects on Racism” programming made possible this year via Zoom and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Cooperstown Area and The Friends of the Village Library.
The ability to participate in this important series from the comfort of our homes, and to view at a preferred time through Zoom – all recorded and available through the Village Library website – was a truly brilliant concept.
I am sure that all speakers who shared their expertise so generously would not have been willing to travel on our wintry roads to attend a live event.
Participation was high, technology worked! Our community has a better understanding of racism and now has some tools in our toolbox with which to combat racism here and in the larger world.
A few years ago, Angel Garcia had just completed what he described as an anti-racism mural, “balanced with positive imagery,” at New York City’s Dual Language Middle School on West 77th Street.
“The theme idea was to create a mural that would explore the topic of racism – and healing,” said the Brooklyn artist, who will be creating a mural in Pioneer Park this summer in connection with the Keith Haring exhibit that opens May 29, Memorial Day Weekend, at The Fenimore Art Museum.
He was leaving the school soon after it was completed, and there, in front of the mural, “was one student explaining the imagery to another. They were using the mural to educate each other.
“It was beautiful moment,” said Garcia, now 29, a prolific artist whose opus to date includes 10 public murals in New York City and many individual canvases.
The Fenimore’s president, Paul D’Ambrosio, said the idea of commissioning a mural downtown in connection with muralist Haring’s exhibit came out of staff brainstorming during the grant application process.
“Everybody loved the idea,” he said. “We couldn’t put the (Haring) artwork downtown. But we could create one.”
A wooden wall will be built in Pioneer Park’s left-hand corner. After the Haring exhibit closes, the mural will become part of The Fenimore’s permanent collection, D’Ambrosio said.
Locally, Ibram Kendi Recalled For Honesty, A Gentle Disposition
By MIKE FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Before Ibram X. Kendi was Ibram X. Kendi, he was Ibram Rogers and he taught at SUNY Oneonta.
Kendi, a history professor and now director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, has built his academic career on the study of racism. He views racism – rather than race itself—as a defining feature of American history and argues in his writing that this history is an ongoing “battle between racists and antiracists.”
This past year has been Kendi’s moment in the spotlight. With every new book, he has risen in stature, becoming – in a span of eight years since he became Kendi – a public intellectual and media go-to for commentary on race issues.
Kendi (then Rogers) came to Oneonta in 2008 as a 26-year-old graduate student. He got a one-year teaching fellowship, a joint appointment in SUNY Oneonta’s History and Africana & Latinx Studies departments. This gave him time to finish his dissertation, said professor emeritus Kathleen O’Mara in a Skype call from her home.
At the time, O’Mara chaired the ALS Department, and she remembers hiring him. From the beginning, “his honesty rang through, because you know, you’re used to, in academia, all these people who promise you the world,” said O’Mara. “We were struck by his honesty. He didn’t budge. He was honest, he told us straight up, ‘This is where I am, this is how fast I work. You know, I find writing easy, and I will get it done in a year.’ Okay? And he did.”