Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From Lobsters to the Declaration of Independence

Subject: From Lobsters to the Declaration of Independence
By Amy Wong Mok, Board Member, 80-20 Initiative

It happened a few weeks ago. My Dragon Boat Race coach and I were celebrating the success of our 8th Annual event in a Chinese restaurant in Austin, Texas. We are both Asian women (she is from Singapore and I am from Hong Kong) who love seafood and on that occasion we decided to have a lobster feast. We ordered two dishes,clams with black bean sauce and lobsters with ginger & scallion sauce. The dishes were quite big and filled up a table that was big enough for four.

We were enjoying the delicious flavor of the crustaceans while reflecting on the excitement of the event and the team spirit that brought out our Austin community and we were enthusiastically planning to organize an international competition next year. All of a sudden, a middle-age Anglo man walked past our table and made a remark that was too loud to be missed:"It is a lot of food." I truly believe that he had no ill intent but nevertheless, he took the liberty to express his observation to our face.At that moment, I had to think very quickly to respond and not to react. I replied simply with a smile, "Do we look like we cannot handle it?" He responded with embarrassment, "Oh, it is I who could not handle it." In response, I offered to explain, "There is not only meat but a lot of shells in these dishes." He nodded and walked away.

A few days later, I sat down with my sister/confidante, an Anglo American from whom I have learnt a lot about activism in the woman's movement. I told her the incident at the Chinese restaurant and I asked her, "I felt a sense of intrusion when that man came to our space and made that uninvited comment to us. Did I overreact?" She gave me a pensive smile and asked me, "Amy, would you go up to two white men, in a French restaurant and tell them your observation about their unusual culinary habit to their face even though it is an honest observation?"

Her answer was a reassurance to me. My Anglo sister affirmed my awareness of condescending mistreatment, no matter how subtle. She taught me that it is the insidiousness of racism and class that fosters an environment where abuse and mistreatment are taken to be normal, even if unthinkingly by the offender. She validated my feelings, taught me to trust it and defend it. It is my grounding to fight for and protect equality and justice for all, including us Asian Americans.

There have been a lot of wrongs done to Asian Americans, as far back as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of the Japanese American during the Second World War and as recent as the gross mistreatment of Wen-Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist who received an apology for his mistreatment from a conservative judge and James Yee, a Chinese American Muslim Chaplain at Guantanamo Bay who was accused of treason but got his charges dropped when the government could not substantiate the case. My own enlightenment of the ugliness of racism was the Vincent Chin case. In 1982,Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced Ron Ebens, a supervisor at Chrysler Motors and his stepson, Mike Nitz to a three-year probation and a fine of $3,000 for the crime of bludgeoning Vincent Chin to death with a baseball bat, after Ebens and Nitz mistook Chin for a Japanese American whom they blamed for the loss of auto industry jobs in the US! At the sentencing, Judge Charles Kaufman was quoted as saying, "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail ... You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal."

As Americans, we have inherited a great tradition. As we celebrated July 4th recently, I reread the Declaration of Independence and it struck me again when I read,

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

These are simple words that define the heart and soul of our great nation. Yet, our nation is a work in progress. Every generation of Americans, including you and me must strive to perfect and safeguard the attainment of the noble goal expressed in those simple words.

We must ACT to ensure and protect equality for all. In February this year, the Board of 80-20 passed two resolutions:

  1. Increase the number of Asian American federal justice appointments. To represent adequately the Asian American population in our country, we should have 39 federal court justices. We have only 6, a big gap to narrow down.

  2. Increase the number of Asian American executives in public and private establishments. Executive Order 11246 was signed by President Johnson in 1965 to ensure the number of minority and women in executive positions in colleges/universities, government agencies and private businesses. Asian Americans are left out in the enforcement of EO11246.

We must step up to the plate and do our parts for ourselves and for future generations. We will not always be there to protect the rights and assure the safety of our children or grandchildren. We can start today to creating a more just and fair society for them by holding our government accountable. It is time to walk the walk. We need you more than ever to press on with our fight. Your commitment of $10, $100, $500 or $1,000 is an affirmation to the hard work and many voluntary hours of service of the board and the volunteers.

Please visit our website at to view the facts about the mistreatment of Asian Americans and join us
in our fight for justice for all. Act now.

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