‘Collective action’ is aimed at Asian-Americans, who have a history of silence about racial discrimination

In Boston, a Yale student reported a teacher took away her math homework because she was a non-white immigrant. In Honolulu, a local white hair salon told its hairstylists that some of them needed…

‘Collective action’ is aimed at Asian-Americans, who have a history of silence about racial discrimination

In Boston, a Yale student reported a teacher took away her math homework because she was a non-white immigrant. In Honolulu, a local white hair salon told its hairstylists that some of them needed to stop “notifying their customers of ‘recent changes’ for ‘medical reasons,’ ” according to a court filing.

In France, two men called a black man a “faggot” after they found some footage of the man on his phone and wanted his phone returned, according to a lawsuit against them. In Brazil, another man threatened to “shoot and kill” a girl for dating an Asian man.

After months of hearing about similar incidents around the world, a group of Asian-American activists called Une Patronne Infante (“Customers First”) launched an online campaign, reporting on discrimination that they believe may be covered by anti-discrimination laws. The campaign is spreading the word about Asian-American-led conversations and collective action across the country, after a decades-long discussion about Asian-American identity in the United States, says Philip Truong, a Mexican-American author and activist who worked on the campaign.

“When we had these particular issues popping up with Asian-Americans, because of the interest in identity politics, these Asian-American groups did not want to do collective action,” Truong said. “This is on their conscience for decades. We’re trying to create the space for Asian-Americans to talk, to speak, to feel normalized as an ethnicity, to feel validated, and it has to happen collectively.”

The goal of the Une Patronne Infante campaign is to create an open conversation about Asian-American issues. While the topic is difficult to navigate and can be isolating for those who may feel they have no allies, the campaign offers a way to talk about discrimination, whether from a love interest or a school teacher, to help change the power dynamic between an Asian-American and a non-Asian. The campaign is popping up across the country: In New York City, one salon owner reported receiving a note reading, “I am going to punch you in the face,” on her door. At a group of Asian businesses, Vietnamese and Chinese workers joked about “throwing pots” at non-Asian customers.

In a survey conducted by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, nearly 38 percent of the 1,500 Asian-American respondents said they have experienced housing discrimination. More than a third of respondents said they had been called racial slurs on social media.

For many Asian Americans, discrimination in the workplace is not quite as common, but discrimination is still pervasive. Though Asian-Americans are just as likely as whites to receive a paycheck, studies show discrimination in the workplace is often directed toward Asian-Americans, Truong said. This means it has much more of an impact on Asian-Americans, who often live paycheck to paycheck, he said.

Truong and others, like Damien Hart, who acts as project manager for Une Patronne Infante, are working to create an end to Asian-American racism, he said. They hope that this will bring more attention to the topic so that Asian-Americans can be vocal about discrimination and educate others about it, he said.

“I think it is weird for people to imagine some part of the [masculine] brain is preventing them from having a relationship with a person of a different ethnicity,” Truong said. “So this is probably incredibly painful to a lot of people. When they speak up, I think there is relief for them to know that it does not have to be this way. That is why there has been a lot of women to like, jump in and help people learn.”

He said that Asian-Americans are among those that have suffered discrimination the most when it comes to identity politics, and he sees this as an opportunity to open the conversation about Asian-American identity.

Hart said he hopes Asian-Americans stop assuming their experiences are just everyone else’s because they feel like they have no other options. He said that simply talking about discrimination will help to start that movement.

“How can we have our issues talk about?” Hart said. “Because people are not listening to what we are saying.”

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