Numbers can hide a whole lot …

by Eri Kameyama

My plane from Dallas, Texas to Baltimore/Washington DC was stopped at Birmingham, Alabama with some passengers getting off at Birmingham and others getting on for DC when I saw my friend posted on his facebook the Pew Research Center’s publication titled “The Rise of Asian Americans.” As soon as I saw the title, I thought, “uh oh. I hope it isn’t as bad as I think it’ll be…”

As I skimmed through the graphs and data presented in this article on my tiny iPhone screen, showing Asian Americans as being successful, happy, non-discriminated, and progressing in America, I felt myself wanting to yell and go off on a rant right then and there to someone, anyone, about how problematic this depiction of our communities was.

I had just completed my duties as a teacher’s assistant for a course taught at UCLA called “Contemporary Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities” where we read articles like Claire Jean Kim’s Racial Triangulation, which illuminated how Asian Americans were valorized above the “falling behind African Americans” and yet kept ostracized from civic engagement through the idea of “perpetual foreigner.” We also learned that as Asian Americans who are in this “racial middle,” we could either choose to blend into and conform with white-American oppressive systems, being the so-called “racial bourgeoisie”  or we can fight alongside our black and brown brothers and sisters in seeking social justice (Mari Matsuda, We Will Not Be Used.) We learned that the model minority myth IS a myth and does more harm than good to our communities.

So when I saw the Pew report, these theories and ways of understanding the unjust world came flooding back, as if giving me a reality check saying “You aren’t free from educating, yet!” The way that the data was presented turned a blind-eye towards all the disparities that many Asian Americans face still today. Where are the voices of all the low income families whose children are even working multiple jobs to support their education? What about the immigrants who lost everything they had worked for in the LA Riots, 20 years ago, losing hope in the American Dream and had to thus re-immigrate to Korea? How can we be sure that having an Asian face is or is not helping us get jobs in this land?

I challenge you to look critically at the data presented. What are these numbers really hiding? What voices are being ignored? What is our role, as Asian Americans, in demanding a fair representation of our communities, identities, feelings and aspirations in the United States?