Sunday, September 23

Asian Americans should oppose Prop. 187


Dawn Mabalon graduated in June with a B.A. in history, a
specialization in Asian American studies and an attitude. She is
director of SPEAR (Samahang Pilipino Education and Retention
Project). Her column will appear on alternate Wednesdays.

You’ve heard it all already. Proposition 187 would cost
taxpayers more than $15 billion. It violates federal privacy laws.
It requires teachers and health professionals to weed out supposed
undocumented persons. More than 400,000 children will be denied
education. It would cause the spread of disease by denying
immunization to millions of people.


All of this is true, yet I’m offering a different perspective -
I’m against Proposition 187 because it singles out people of color
and presupposes that whites have a right to mandate who can enter
the United States.

It is an initiative which grew out of the "establishment’s"
selfish, ignorant and racist fears of a brown America. I will
further say that any Pilipino or Asian American who believes that
the "Save Our State" initiative is beneficial to the state is
fooling him or herself about immigration, race politics,
California’s economy and the motives driving the authors of
Proposition 187.

Even put simplistically, any move on the part of white
Californians to exclude immigrants is, at the very least,
historically hypocritical. It is ironic that the descendants of
immigrants who displaced and dispossessed the indigenous brown
people of the Americas would now aggressively exclude Latino and
Asian immigrants.

However, it makes sense when viewed in the context of our
racist, capitalist society. The so-called "winners" can now remake
the rules of the game, and exclude whoever they wish from land that
wasn’t theirs less than 100 years ago.

It is especially important for the Pilipino community,
especially the college-age community, to critically analyze the
immigrant backlash. It is easy for Pilipinos who grew up
comfortably to forget their immigrant roots and the struggles of
their grandparents and parents. More than half of the Pilipino
student population at UCLA is foreign born. Those who were born in
the United States were mostly second-generation, which means that
their parents were first-generation immigrants.

The reason the Pilipino community is the largest Asian group in
the state, and fastest growing nationwide, is solely because of
immigration from the Philippines. Between 1965 and 1986, only
Mexico sent more immigrants to the United States. I would not be
generalizing to assume that we in the Pilipino community all have
uncles, aunts, cousins and close family who have immigrated here
within the last 20 years. We all know Pilipinos who are
undocumented, working hard to save money to bring their families
over. In our striving to be oh-so-American, we sometimes forget our
immigrant roots.

The Asian-American community has a long history of racist and
exclusionary immigration policy imposed upon it. The first major
law to impact Asian exclusion was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act,
which prohibited the entry of Chinese to the United States. To fill
the void of Chinese labor, contractors and big business began
targeting Japanese labor. The influx of Japanese families proved
too much for nativist whites, who then pushed the passage of the
1924 National Origins Act.

The act, one of the most offensive ever passed by our
government, decreed that all those ineligible for citizenship
(read: those who are not white) would be ineligible to enter the
United States. The irony is bitter; the descendants of immigrants
who entered North America with no one’s permission feel they now
have the right to regulate immigration.

Throughout the rabid anti-Asian sentiment of the late 1800s and
early 1900s, Pilipinos, who were considered nationals and not
aliens because the U.S. government had taken control of the
Philippines in 1898, were able to enter the U.S. freely. This ended
in 1934 with the Tydings McDuffie Act, which allowed only 50
Pilipinos per year entry to the United States. Additionally, the
act turned all foreign-born Pilipinos into aliens and disqualified
them from public relief. My grandfather distinctly remembered the
fear he and his kababayan (countrymen) felt at that point: "We were
scared we would be sent back home at any time."

In 1935, the government added another slap: It offered Pilipinos
in America boat fare back to the Philippines through the
Repatriation Act. Pilipinos who took up the offer had to agree to
one condition: They could never come back. Prior to 1967, Pilipinos
were not allowed to marry whites and own property. During the 1920s
and 1930s, hatred of Pilipinos and Pilipino labor fueled
anti-Pilipino race riots and public hysteria. Nativists accused
Pilipino laborers (who numbered more than 100,000 by 1929) of
taking away jobs, contaminating the white race by intermarrying and
of lowering wages by taking substandard wages for backbreaking jobs
working in the agricultural fields or in salmon canneries.

The anti-immigrant hysteria has always been a reality for
Pilipinos and other Asian communities, and it is more real than
ever right now. Those Pilipino immigrants who came prior to 1965
were never given credit for their hard work and contributions to
the present society, just as we are not giving enough recognition
to recent immigrants for their labor and sweat. It wasn’t until
1965 that immigration laws, which had previously heavily favored
Europe and literally excluded Asia and Central and South America,
were amended.

Perhaps those of us in the Asian-American community who believe
Proposition 187 has nothing to do with us have been
tricked/lulled/drugged into a sense of complacency regarding our
identity as immigrants, or as the children and grandchildren of
immigrants. Maybe we think that the authors of Proposition 187 were
only talking about Latino immigrants, or those who are illegal
immigrants and aliens.

Wake up. They are also talking about us, our families, our
friends. With the anti-immigrant backlash and Proposition 187, all
of us who are not white are singled out. Whether we are
fifth-generation Chinese or immigrant Pilipino, because our eyes
are brown and our hair is black, we are still foreigners,
immigrants, outsiders to the status quo. With the implementation of
187, those of us even suspected of being illegal immigrants will be
subject to scrutiny. And who are most likely to be suspected of
being non-citizens? Those of us who are not white.

To be brutally honest, I don’t enjoy voting. The lines, the
stuffy little cardboard booths, the funny old ladies in polyester,
squinting at the lists of names. But if there was ever a good time
for the Pilipino and Asian-American community to vote, that time
would be now. The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 8
elections is Oct. 11. To get involved in the campaign to stop
Proposition 187, go to the teach-in on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1
p.m. at the Bear in Westwood Plaza.

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