Performance artist Bea Camacho // Enclose video still

>>Toil is the condition of the immigrant in America. Progressives celebrate “hardworking immigrants” as integral to our nation, our melting pot, our covers of college brochures. Immigrants are day laborers or gas station attendants or nurses; they work long hours at thankless jobs, balance family needs here and abroad, they wait and study and are diligent in their pursuit of citizenship.

What if an immigrant got tired?

What if an immigrant was lazy?

I think that’s when they send a federal agent to your local masjid.

>>I don’t have any time to write. I don’t read anymore. I work all day and it makes me self conscious, that I might be offering an unoriginal thought and not know it. The knowing makes the difference.

>>I’m watching a much-lauded PBS documentary about Asian Americans. The funny thing about most of these documentaries is that they all start with the construction of the railroad, as if we were predestined for labor. It’s easy to slip between the perpetual foreigner “Asian” and the “hardworking immigrant.” There is a reason Asians aren’t the face of illegal immigration, and why universities half-assedly rallied around recent attacks on international students.

>>The term “Asian American” is in the news again for two reasons: Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate and a Department of Justice suit alleging Yale’s admissions policy discriminates against white and Asian students. In both, the mythic “American dream” provides thematic structure: in one a half South Asian prosecutor and the self-proclaimed top cop in America, exemplifies it by rising to one of the most important jobs in the world; in the other, THE DREAM IS within arm’s reach, foiled for many by affirmative action, GIVEN TO undeserving black and Latino students, BY THE weak-kneed, unethical leftism of U.S. universities.

To seek acknowledgement in these narratives, Asian Americans simultaneously separate themselves from their black peers, while staking claim on a half-Black woman of potentially extraordinary power. 

>>A New York Times article proclaims that Kamala Harris, as a second generation mixed-race American, is “the face of America’s demographic shift.” This new face is the specter haunting white Americans and we salivate. For some reason, all anyone can talk about is idli and sorrel arriving at the White House.

>Wait, I lied. A third reason Asian Americans are in the news: The appointment of a Vietnamese refugee, Tony Pham, as interim ICE director. Like Harris, Pham is a former prosecutor. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The long arm of the law bends the other way.

>>Harris’s parents met at U.C. Berkeley because of a shift in U.S. immigration policy. World War II tensions and the fight against communism encouraged American officials to pass a series of legislation to ease racist immigration bans, often by replacing them with racist immigration quotas. 

The Magnuson Act was crafted to preserve the allyship between the U.S. and China in the face of Japan’s repeated references to the Chinese Exclusion Act, though its passage still banned Chinese immigrants from owning property. The 1946 Luce-Celler Act allowed Filipino and Indian immigrants, like Harris’s mother, to become naturalized citizens, a gesture to cement Asian loyalty against Japanese expansion.

Often, our advancement in the U.S. is tied to its expansion of power abroad.

>>The melting pot is carefully assembled: war brides and families, U.S. allies, capitalists, highly skilled workers on H-1 visas, refugees from countries you helped destroy. Communists and subversives are strained out. Around the world, it’s soon taken for fact: America is the land of opportunity, with an unparalleled education system.

We are PR fodder for the capitalist state, curated by economic policy and invasion. 

>It’s like, insane, the way I talk, right? This is what happens, when I don’t read.

>>>On the ICE website, Tony Pham’s biography offers that his family was “rewarded with U.S. citizenship” 10 years after fleeing Vietnam. “As a child, Tony took English as a second language to assist his parents in studying for their citizenship tests.”

>>Growing up I often heard that the leaders of tomorrow are being built inside the hallowed halls of Western universities. This is a beautiful euphemism. You never think about the war crimes, just the glory.

What does not get said enough is that we mean this quite literally: globally, universities are the grounds on which a new class of imperialists are built. They moonlight as recruitment centers, laboratories, and ideology factories for intelligence agencies.

>>Naomi Klein notes this: Since its inception, the CIA has recruited from Harvard and Yale, often through the recommendations of professors and administrators. Torture techniques employed by the CIA in Venezuela and the Philippines were perfected at McGill University. Disastrous economic policies that decimated quality of life in Chile and Indonesia were taught to international students lured to American universities by programs funded by the Ford Foundation and the State Department. 

What many immigrants see as the path to ultimate freedom in this country is often the epicenter of the disease that rots their home countries.

>>During British rule in India, missionaries and philanthropists believed they could cure Indian poverty with education, thrift, and job opportunities. They formed leagues: The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor, the Royal Lancastrian Society; the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church Throughout England and Wales.

Quote from the benevolent: “The true cure of darkness is the introduction of light. The Hindoos err, because they are ignorant; and their errors have never fairly been laid before them. The communication of our light and knowledge to them, would prove the best remedy for their disorders…”

>The immigrant actually never stops working, no matter how many exams they pass. If you want to become an American, you must work hard. If you want to stay American, you have to work even harder.

The documentary says some Asian people walked around with birth certificates and letters from white people. During internment, Chinese and Korean immigrants wore patches and pins to distinguish themselves from Japanese Americans. 

After 9/11, my dad bought a flag and my mom joked about reverting back to her Hindu surname. The more progressive papers tried to explain the difference between Sikhs and Muslims to white people.

>>It was a reorientation for the Bush administration. Under the threat of terror, universities welcomed intelligence agencies back onto campuses and into curriculums. Federal money was funneled into Arabic language programs, intelligence studies blossomed as a field, and covert agents now roam the Harvard campus unchallenged, where students and professors from China and Iran are of special interest. 

John Yoo, a Korean American lawyer educated at Harvard and then Yale, authorized the torture of suspected terrorists, largely Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East. Methods included sleep disruption, sensory deprivation, and other techniques perfected on college campuses, funded by the American government. 

> The much-lauded PBS documentary does not mention this.

>>In 2018, I was surprised to hear that Yoo, the torture administrator, had joined the fray with the Pacific Legal Foundation filing a suit arguing that the de Blasio administration’s attempts to diversify New York City’s public specialized high school system violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The campaign for equity had been MET by vocal opposition from a portion of Asian New Yorkers, a group that seemed to range from second generation test prep business owners to working class first generation immigrants. 

Friends on the left were frequently ambivalent about this niche case, as the anti-affirmative action contingent grew louder, more visible, radicalized. I lose a lot of sleep thinking about this.

>>The Asian American Coalition for Education, the group alleging that Yale discriminates against white and Asian applicants, had previously signed on to Yoo’s case against de Blasio, which argued that expanding a class-based admissions program that increased Asian attendance at elite public schools, was meant to discriminate against Asians. 

>The underlying grievance is this: That desegregation efforts are band aid solutions that punish hard-working Asian immigrants, many of whom are impoverished.

By this formula, the definition of the hardworking immigrant narrows. There are few hardworking Latino and Black immigrants, it seems. Nor are there many hardworking Asian immigrants: Cambodian, Hmong, Laotians don’t count. Indo-Caribbeans definitely don’t count. Immigrant shrinks to become an affirmation not of a people or a condition, but of labor. An immigrant is that which can be extracted from endlessly.

>>Gifted and talented programs for advanced students are often pointed to by anti-affirmative action advocates as the solution to segregated learning, not the problem. During the Cold War, public funds were invested into the expansion of gifted and talented programs as “gifted” children were primed to become national resources who would compete with other foreign powers on an international scientific stage.

In second grade, I tested into the school’s gifted program. I was given a test and asked to shade in fractions on drawings of bread, though we hadn’t learned fractions yet. My mother, forced to stay at home and mete out workbook exercises to her children, had just broached the subject with me.

>My mother had won entrance to the University of Guyana when her father arranged for her to take care of the household instead.

>>Education, particularly in the realm of science and mathematics, plays a central role in Asian American discussions of “The American Dream,” but higher education is decreasingly important to American students in STEM, who often reject higher education in favor of tech startups and other ventures. The supply of labor that keeps experimentation and innovation alive on college campuses are often foreign students, working on projects funded by the military.

I hope one day we’ll get bored of work.

>>(Online, the anti-affirmative action contingent has determined that I am a fake Asian.)

>>As diversity becomes an important talking point, the executives of hegemonic power found in colleges, intelligence agencies, and the heads of multinational companies come to see diversity as a tool to be weaponized.

In the 1940s, Japanese internment camp prisoners were acknowledged as good soldiers. During the tech boom, upwardly mobile Asians helped open foreign markets up to American imperialism. Now John Yoo yaps about equality to funnel the right type of diversity to top schools, into the open mouths of the wealthy.

>>Some of the first British schools set up in India were meant, in part, to appease Indians with positions in government and make them more amenable to the thought of rule. By the 1820s, a British education was prized as the pathway to money, status, and stability and Indians themselves advocated for dismantling culturally-sensitive education. Western curriculums and the English language were the way forward.

>>I love that anti-affirmative action advocates in New York keep talking about poverty in Asian communities through: ”60% of the students at schools using SHSAT come from a family qualifying under federal anti-poverty guidelines for free and subsidized lunch.” “Half the students at the specialized high schools qualify for free or subsidized school lunches.” The figures are always wrong somehow, in addition to being a fraction of what the rest of New York City public school students face.

>>An Asian man I know from high school expresses disgust with white people who criticize him for working at Goldman Sachs. “Who are you? What do you do? I’m supporting my parents.” 

The creeping hysteria in his voice reminds me of the little laugh my dad gave when his work encouraged him to bike to work instead of drive a car. “You know how long I had to ride a bike everywhere?” He shared the bike with a friend and I remember him explaining the complicated routes devised to ensure equity.

We have all worked very hard for modernity.

>>In Guyana, my parents were gifted British biscuits and milk at school. Later, my father studied in England with Guyanese and Malaysian students. He returned home and worked for the sugar corporation, newly nationalized after independence and left to flounder. 

>>The through line of this documentary seems to be that Asians are punished for working hard, but we must persevere for love of country. It makes us more American than the Americans—an assertion bold in its paradox. When Americanness is reduced to a state of mind, it is easy to overlook that citizenship is an agreement drawn up by the wealthy to hoard resources.

>>Dan Golding writes about an Iranian student who met with the FBI to discuss Iran’ nuclear war program winning a spot in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a less than one-in-a-hundred chance. “In a 2012 poll of staff at U.S. universities who work with international students, 31 percent reported that the FBI had visited students within the past year.” 

>As funding for universities diminish, global campuses, intelligence-funded projects, and money from foreign students become an increasing necessity. With the pandemic closing in, something’s gotta give.

>>There is a widespread grievance that Asian Americans are invisible. It seems to be the preferred mode of analysis today in discussions around anti-Asian discrimination, but there is often little acknowledgement that, like the concept of Asian American, the model minority myth was born out of anti-imperialism.

Model minority was promoted as anti-Communist propaganda, meant to distract from the racial barriers black, indigenous, and other people of color faced. The recognition of this myth was meant to rework assumptions about work ethic, upward mobility, and the limited rewards of capitalism, but today’s anti-affirmative action advocates frequently invoke criticisms of model minority to leverage the value of hard work.

>>We seem to be the biggest champions of our own invisibility. By The Asian American Coalition for Education’s own advocacy, the most vulnerable among us will continue to be obfuscated. They, along with other anti-affirmative action groups, advocate against collecting disaggregated data about Asian Americans, which would break down results by ethnicity for clearer insight into our communities. 

>Differentiating between an Indo-Caribbean and someone from the subcontinent seems to be in the realm of caste-stricken matchmakers, anyway; an order for the divine, not the quantitative.

>>Yes, I watched the Indian matchmaking show. Love is often for the wealthy and well-off, I’ve found. 

The glossification of Asian romance into aspirational entertainment worries me in the same way the anti-affirmative protestors worry me, which is to say, on an obvious, yet deeply unintelligible level.

>>Shocking audiences with the news that Asians are capable of love, sex, and family seems more about the affirmation of capitalism in an increasingly globalized world than an affirmation of personhood. The first generations of Asian immigrants were men forced to live in bachelor communities, whose lack of family aroused suspicion from white Americans and were mocked for being feminine. Now, Asians are presented as units of heterosexual desire and all cultural differences—from street food to casteism— presented as variations on a theme. 

These inclusions come from a fundamentally conservative reading of representational politics: Both cultural practices and deep seated biases are aestheticized beyond investigation, so that we can be read as “just like everyone else.”

>>Somehow the disposability of brown women is reaffirmed on Indian Matchmaker: an Indo-Guyanese woman is spurned for being diasporic, a darker woman is said to be “not photogenic,” a mother is told she must settle because she’s been divorced. 

On my 25th birthday, I watched Kumail Nanjiani, set fire to a box of photos full of Indian women to prove his love to a white woman in his feel-good movie, The Big Sick

I cried through the whole thing. 

> I never wanted to be white, but I do remember desperately wanting to be the “right kind of Asian.”  Personally, I think it is an act of self hate to seek anything from a subcon and I have had to battle through my animosity toward the Indo-Caribbean woman on Indian Matchmmaking as others mooned over her good humor and charm.

>>Tools of imperialism covered thus far: The Ivy League, romance stories, film. Tests, in general. The Big Sick.

>>Notably absent from the raved-about PBS documentary: Indo-Caribbeans. Brown faces. 

>The PBS documentary is funded in part by the Ford Foundation btw. 

>>Once, at an aunt’s house, I failed to shower to her exacting standards. She rubbed me down vigorously and ranted about being twice as good. But then she said: “They’ll look at you, you know. They’re watching you. They’ll see any little thing out of place.”

America teaches us that we have coherent value as an exploited class, but fails to mention that before we were laborers, we were a spectacle.

>>The project of colonialism convinces us that we consistently need to perform. Indian civil servant exams stripped native Indians of language, culture, and a sense of independence. Chinese laborers were tricked into captivity by American businessmen, after escaping the brutalizing effects of the Opium Wars. All the women in my life rub themselves raw in the shower and hope to disappear.

>>The scope of the documentary, which relegates American imperialism to the past, cannot comprehend this.

>Just read a report that John Yoo is helping Trump bypass Congress to institute new immigration and healthcare policies. Another report claimed he “boasted” about meeting Trump. Obsessed with his maniacal energy, which deconstructs so many of the fictions around race and Asian Americans.

>>After the Trump administration launched a 2017 investigation into Harvard’s admission policy, the Asian American Coalition for Education released a statement saying, “It is long overdue to the Asian-American community, who follows the laws, works hard and has been making tremendous contributions to American economic prosperity and technology leadership in the world. We expect that the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education will take concrete actions to help restore the spirit of the American Dream: reward individual efforts and merits, and treat all individuals equally.”

>>STOP TAKING THEIR TESTS! The injustice is not in the rejection of our work, but in the need for acknowledgement in the first place. Why are we wedded to the story of our suffering?

What if the goal is not to grant wider access to opportunities that encourage wealth hoarding by various types of violence, but to eradicate the possibility of such a development altogether? What if there was no American Dream?

What if we all lay down and everything was fine and no one died?

(Not if John Yoo has anything to say about it.)

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