October 24, 2013
Over two decades ago, Mari Matsuda warned Asian-Americans that they were in danger of becoming the “racial bourgeoise” – a weapon to be used against Black and Brown communities. She urged Asian-Americans to adopt the slogan of “We will not be used.” to reject the racial hierarchy and form alliances with Black and Latino/a communities. At times in the debate on immigration reform, I fear that we have failed to rise to Mari Matsuda’s challenge.
An image has emerged in the immigration debate of the deserving, good immigrant – who came here “legally,” is hard working, tax paying, and law abiding as opposed to the bad immigrant – who is undocumented, poor, and has been arrested. Advocacy for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities has focused on visas for tech workers and expanding “legal” family immigration. The role that we have been forced into playing has been that of the good immigrant. Not only has this framing turned us into a weapon against Latino/a communities, it has failed our own communities.
Over two hundred thousand AAPIs have been deported in the last four years, but as they fail to fit the profile of the good immigrant, their stories have been left out of advocacy for our communities. AAPIs are often undocumented, poor, and incarcerated. Over 1.7 million of us are undocumented. Over a quarter of undocumented AAPIs are living below the poverty line. Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders are deported for criminal convictions at five times the rate of other immigrants. When the President talks about deporting “criminal aliens,” he is talking about us. By claiming that tech workers and family immigration are the sum of our interests in immigration, we have silenced their voices.
As the calls for an end to deportations grow stronger, our community is speaking out on its own. Last week, two undocumented Filipino immigrants, Dean Santos and Emmanuel Valenciano, joined arms with undocumented Latino/a immigrants to place their bodies in front of a bus deporting immigrants in San Francisco. Dean cited his own detention and experiences talking to Latino detainees as his motivation to stop the bus. As we move forward, I hope that we join Dean and Emmanuel and take a serious pledge to not be used – not against our own communities and not against other immigrants.