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College of Social Work

Episode 5: Anti Asian Racism in the U.S. - Part 2

*The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not represent the College of Social Work or the University of South Carolina.* 




Kirk Foster: And it strikes me there are … um you raised the murder of Vincent Chen in Detroit again um beaten to death by two white men with baseball bats who mistaken who mistaken him for a Japanese immigrant and there...  they were angry at the rise of the Japanese auto presence of the Japanese auto industry in the United States.

And again, if we look back to another, another incident as Vietnamese immigrants came to the United States and settled in Texas and really began to flourish in the shrimping industry. Again, there were attacks against Vietnamese immigrants, around these you know around coming into, take jobs if you will away from away from Americans in particular white Americans.

So, I'm struck by this, that we have these we have what I might call inflection points in our in America's history of anti-Asian racism that are tied deeply to this notion of economics to this to these notions of jobs and who has the right to certain jobs it's almost like this inalienable right um to hold certain jobs.

I'm reminded and I share this um, I share this story often with my students, I'm reminded of a south park episode, and I don't know if you or any anyone who's listening today has ever watched south park but there's... there's um there's a series of episodes where these aliens come in from outer space it's very clear that the riders are taking a social commentary on how the us approaches immigration.

And a lot of the residents of south park start yelling at this meeting you know they took our jobs they took our jobs. And as I think about...  as I think about these moments right that you recounted that, I recounted um it seems that they are tied in some way to economics to... to jobs. and you know there's no there's no real question in there, um it is just, uh... you know when you when you mentioned uh Vincent Chen, I was reminded of the um you know the Vietnamese shrimpers um experience in Texas and...  and how those two are so linked um together in in interesting ways.

Dr. Van Tran: I'm glad you brought up the Vietnamese experience because once again you have a very, very marginalized southeast Asian refugee group who came with very little resources um and yet they are often targeted in similar ways compared to Chinese and Japanese Americans. And that really again highlighted the universal experience and shared experiences of many, many Asian Americans in the U.S. despite diverse national origins. But back to immigration and economic impact on the native born in this case specifically jobs and employment opportunities... and here I come back to the social scientific evidence to inform this debate because too often these perceptions are often just that-- perceptions and not reality the most recent kind of national academies of sciences engineering medicine study on the economic and fiscal impact of immigration.

Summarize basically the last two decades of fighting on this question. What is the economic and fiscal consequence of immigration on the United States? And with the exception for some very small and negative impact on jobs and wages of the native-born high school drop-out population and of prior immigrants who are in the U.S.

The impact of immigration is positive... both in the short term and long term overall.

And that I think is the takeaway... which is to be sure there is some small groups of U.S. born Americans who are negatively impacted in some regions of the country, and we must do something about that.

But the short-term and long-term consequences of immigration and the many benefits that it provides to our country are often not fully appreciated and discussed. And people often invoke this notion right of … fear of the others who might otherwise take away jobs.

But the truth is many, many immigrants across the country take on jobs that U.S.  born native workers refused to do. For example, after Katrina the rebuilding of New Orleans was on the back of Latinos immigrants. Who were the very people who went into the basement of these damaged homes and retrieved bodies of dead individuals.

This is no easy work, and yet they were central to that revitalization effort. Back to New York city, immigration once again brought tremendous prosperity to New York city. A city that in the 1970s was in decline and decay much like the rest of the urban settings across the country. It was immigration that came to New York city moved into its diverse neighborhoods rebuilt these neighborhoods block by block housed by house created not just economic opportunities for themselves in the forms of co-ethnic kind of businesses and institutions, but also providing employment opportunities for others.

In the case of Korean um government shop owners who often hired Latino workers as their shop floor workers so that's summarizing where we are which is this perception which is endemic is simply false. because our economy is not fixed in size, and it could expand to not only accommodate the newcomers who are arriving, but it also could be expanded by those very newcomers who are entrepreneurial in their spirit who can create jobs for both themselves but also for the natives.

 And that's the narrative that we don't get told often enough.

Kirk Foster: And I'm glad that you are telling that narrative here, and um you know that's ...that's an important narrative that needs to get out.

I again I'm, I'm struck by something you said and that is it reminded me of... you said that you know so many immigrants still come to this country with little resources... and as many of us think back to our families who came to this country, they all came, well not all but most, came with ...with little resources. And now it seems that the that the attitude or the, the prevailing um you know the, the prevailing assumption is that um immigrants are getting ahead at the expense of someone else. Rather than as, we would tell the story we've been white Americans tell the stories of our families when they came um you know to the us from Europe with very little. They worked hard they saved their money they were able to buy land.

And so, I'm struck by these two very different takes on what is the same narrative coming to this country with very few resources working very hard to provide better for yourself and for your family and to gain some to gain some sort of economic and social mobility.

And again, you know this how, how the narrative is portrayed differently from what it was um generations ago to... to the way it is today.

Dr. Van Tran: With one caveat... and that is the experience of black Americans in the U.S.  

To be left on the sideline for far too long. Mostly due to racial discrimination in housing employment and in other arenas of life that would generally develop. But that comment you just made also point to one universal theme in the American experience, which is that most of us came from somewhere and we have mostly benefited from the opportunities that this country has offered us.

And I think that in some corners of the country, people are making arguments we only should admit the good immigrants... those who come with English speaking skills, significant financial resources, high levels education, because they integrate better into our many communities across the country.

And that argument is misguided because the spirit immigration to the United States has always been about providing opportunities to those who otherwise deny those very opportunities. Including opportunities for education, for free expression, and that I think should always be one important criterion that guides our immigration policy moving forward.

And that I think is an ethical commitment that we have the rest of the world, and this is nowhere more vivid than refugee emissions. Refugee missions you know is really our way of saying to the rest of the world that we shall provide refuge to those who need.

Not enough slots compared to the need that is out there. But this is one way in which we can restore dignity and life and hope to those who have been excluded from every single opportunity to thrive and to just make a living and to be alive.

Kirk Foster: This takes me to the last my last point, and it expands as you have um, you've talked about Latinx immigrants and Asian immigrants south Asian immigrants and an African American experience. Part of your research focuses on forced migration, and so we see the firsthand effects of this forced migration on the southern border of the United States.

And so again if you could help our listeners understand this phenomenon and, and why our response to migration from central America into the US ought to be more than building walls and detention centers.

Dr. Van Tran: Forced migration is probably one of the most urgent topics right now around the world because we have had a significant number of individuals who have been displaced by war by violence, and by climate change. And the numbers of people who are displaced... are significantly higher than any of the combination of the current capacity for those countries that could offer the refuge that they have for both refugee and asylum admission.

And this is increasingly problematic because the issue of forced migration is also compounded by the fact that a significant majority of these individuals who are either displaced within their country, but oftentimes to neighboring countries um of theirs are in what we call protracted situation. Meaning they have lived in refugee camps for at least 10 years with no hope for a better future or an eventual return to their home country which has been ravaged by war and by climate change.

So, this really raises a question, what are our obligations to these you know forced migration flows?

How do we stem the flow how do we control our borders assuming that we believe in some form of law and order and control?

And that I think is vividly on display on our southern board in particular because of the significant arrival of central Americans. Many of them arrive as minors unaccompanied by any parents.

And there is very clear that the pressure migration the pressure for migration is greater than and they fear of... blocked mobility and opportunities that they might face at the border between the U.S.  and Mexico.

And in fact, we look at the data on migration for Latin American countries to the U.S. The major sending forces are no longer Mexico which it is no longer Mexico which is the country that we often think of but many of them came from central Americans.

And their gang violence has ravaged entire neighborhoods and the young people there are fearful of even living there or returning.

This to me is another humanitarian concern, and this to me needs to be framed within the context of the broader environment, in which force migration is happening instead of the often discussion about illegal immigration. Who cross our border broke our law and therefore should not be given any change to a better life.

One question does remain... which is do we have the capacity to absorb and to integrate significant numbers of displays displaced individuals from Latin America? 300,000 people, 3 million people, what about 10 million people? Where do we draw the line?

And I think that is where the discussion should be headed and I don't think we're having that conversation right now because I think a line is zero or an open border the reality is somewhere in between, and we can also more importantly help intervene in a thoughtful and sensitive way.

In the conditions of the standing country because the long-term solution to any immigration problem or significant flow is the resolution of the conditions in descending countries that force people to flee for their life.

And the one single reason why people do not turn back or look back or go back to where they came from is simply because there's no life there to go back to. And therefore, the only path forward … is to move forward despite uncertainty the insecurity that they will be facing once arriving.

And I think that there's a very strong case to be made for women and children to be shielded from violence and its impact. And I think that's where we ought to invest as much resources as we can to help them create a new life.

But can we do it alone?

The answer is no. We need an international community that would help shoulder the burdens of forced migration and we need to come up with very, very effective solutions to prevent further loss of the human habitat due to the tremendous shift in climate change we saw just over the last 10 years alone.

And that's why climate change itself seemingly unrelated to forced migration should be fall front and center of in our policy agenda.

Kirk Foster: These are all amazing stories and... and thank you for sharing them with us. One aim of this podcast is to give listeners tools to make a difference in their own communities. So, what advice do you have either generally about advocacy for immigrant communities or specifically about anti-Asian racism that little... little nuggets or tools that our listeners might take away so that they can affect change in their corner of the world?

Dr. Van Tran: I think we are at a very important moment where every racial group is struggling with a unique problem. Black Americans are struggling with the racial justice movement and, racial justice movement on black lives matters Asian Americans are struggling with hate incidents and Latin Americans are struggling with deportation and detention.

And this highlight the share struggle across groups and the only way we can move forward, as far as I can tell... is create mutual understanding respect um that I alluded to earlier in the episode. And that can only come about through genuine interactions and engagements with cultural and social differences.

At the most local level at the most individual level where people can come to appreciate that despite their many, many differences their shared humanity is more important than the divisions that they might perceive. Among them New York city once again offers a great example, I often describe New York city as a city with millions of moments of civility. Because we do not have the racial riots on the scale of you know Ferguson um and we do not have the racial conflicts of Charles view. People by and large interacted with each other harmoniously every day on the streets of New York city without any particular incidents with the exception once again of the spike in anti-Asian racism over the last year. So, I would say educate get involved um educate yourself and also educate others about the major issues of our time. Get involved to create what I call cross race and cross-class coalitions that can bring about change because I don't believe in change as the result of any individual effort. Change is a collective …. endeavor that works best when every group is involved and here, I draw lessons from the civilized movement. Whereby not only black Americans stood up and said this is no longer acceptable to us but also many, many progressive well-meaning liberal white Americans share the same sentiment that the racial exclusion that we saw for many, many centuries in this country was no longer acceptable.

And which must change, and I think we are at the moment of that change. Um, so if you are interested in getting involved, I'm sure you could find a local organization or community chapter where you can be connected to a broader set of people and initiatives that can help create infrastructure for broader change. Not just the local level, but also for shipping the national debate.

And this is all the more consequential, I would argue in this moment of great division not just racial but also socioeconomic.

And unity can only come about through the engagement with others.

And that I think is the beginning of understanding and respect.

Kirk Foster: I think that's a fantastic way to wrap this up Dr. Tran. Thank you for joining me today and to those of you out there listening thanks go out and make a difference.

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