I just watched Asian Americans, a documentary series by PBS, a few days ago. It took me through the hardships of Chinese railroad workers 150 years ago to strikes led by Filipino grape farmers to the brutal murder of Vincent Chin and to one of the longest student strikes in U.S. history. Over the years, Asian Americans have not been able to get recognition for the deeds that they have done, justice for unfair working conditions, and even basic living conditions, all while working so hard to make America the country it is today. PBS’s documentary highlights some of the biggest trials that Asian Americans have faced as a people.
I was startled to see some more obscure events such as the student strike, but not at all when I saw the part about the railroad workers. I had heard about the railroad workers before, and had even entered a drawing contest about the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad. However, one thing was universal, no matter if I had some background in the historical event: I had never known the full extent of the hardship, the prejudice, and the injustice involved.
The railroad couldn’t have possibly been built without Chinese immigrants sacrificing their lives for every mile of the track laid down through the American wilderness. Still, they got paid less than the Irish workers and were omitted from the ceremony of the connection of the two sides of the railroad. The Chinese workers worked faster and harder than any other people, yet they did not receive the appreciation that they deserved. In those times, Asian Americans had never been accepted, and in some ways, we still aren’t.
During World War II, Japanese American people were arrested and sent to internment camps simply because they were Japanese and Japan was one of the enemy countries. Families were split apart, children grew up feeling insecure in the camps, and they were deprived of the justices that made America renowned throughout the world. Many of them tried to prove their loyalty to America by joining the army. Many of them died. Except this wasn’t a question of loyalty: it was a question of race. Even though many Japanese Americans joined the army, their families were still detained in camps and had their freedoms taken away. Many of them joined the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a segregated regiment with only Japanese Americans. They eventually became one of the most decorated regiments, finally celebrated for their courage and heroism. I once thought that Roosevelt was flawless, a perfect representative of our country, but now I know that everybody has their own limitations when the documentary talked about him signing the Japanese concentration camp order.
Everyone wants to know their own history. During the Cold War, many colleges did not teach minority history in their classes. The students started protesting, requesting Asian American courses. Mexican Americans joined in, and soon, most of the campus was alive with hope for a way to embrace and spread their own cultures. The police and the school did not agree. They responded with brutality, waving their batons while arresting strikers for no reason. The strikers still worked despite the fact that they could be put in jail, killed, or seriously injured. Finally, they succeeded after many months of carrying on the fight. Their legacy still lives on today. Because of them, people all over America now embrace their ethnicity and culture.
Back then, Asians couldn't do anything, whether it was buying houses, going to school with other races, or getting white collar jobs. Even acting in Hollywood was considered an impossibility, though a handful made it. At first, Asian actors could only act out the villains, making Americans even more biased. But in the flow of time, more and more people had the chance to act as the heroes of society. This inspired many people to stand up for what is right. For example, Bruce Lee was a very accomplished actor who made other Asians want to be movie stars.
Now, the situation is becoming much better. Asian Americans are not being bullied so much, and some are even being celebrated for their successes. Asian Americans have stood up for themselves from the very beginning, when they first came to America. Now, the hard work of our ancestors has finally paid off after all these years. History has taught us many lessons. One of them is to never underestimate a race.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a lot of unjustified criticism because of the fact that it came from China, especially from the 45th president, Donald Trump. Trump liked calling it the Wuhan Virus and the Kung Flu, acting as if it were China’s fault. Because of this, many of us are being scapegoated. I think this documentary series is doing an excellent job of reinforcing the past in our minds, so that history may not repeat itself by having Asian Americans being looked down upon again.