I Fear Donald Trump Will Stir Up The Racism My Parents Faced As Asian-American Immigrants
A recent survey conducted by three Asian American NGOs revealed to me the most unsurprising result ever: Most Asian Americans dislike Donald Trump. The poll of more than 1,000 Asian Americans showed that only 19 percent of Asian Americans view Trump favorably. The new survey reveals a corresponding point: 62 percent of Asian Americans view Hillary Clinton favorably.
As an Asian American, I see Trump's unfavorable image as a no-brainer. Trump's racist and xenophobic policies are offensive to me and my family. For one, there's his stance on immigration, such as calling for a total immigration ban on Muslims and building a wall between the United States and Mexico. Then, there's Trump's approach toward American minorities, spewing ignorant, taco bowl-wielding phrases like "I love the Hispanics!" Finally, Trump has made is clear he's no friend of East Asia in his constant rhetoric that China "rapes" America, as well as his proposal to abandon the United States' strategic commitment to Japan's defense.
Even though much of Trump's anti-immigration and xenophobic rhetoric isn't necessarily directed at Asian Americans, it hits home for me. My parents, like three-quarters of the Asian-American adult population, are immigrants. They emigrated from China to the United States with only a hundred dollars in their pockets. They battled everyday racism and slurs like "gook" and "chink" before Trump even came onto the scene, so the fact that his platform reinforces such prejudice doesn't exactly get him on their side. To them and to me, Trump's bigoted rhetoric isn't new at all. He's only distilling the racial discrimination that all minorities have faced since forever.
Xenophobia is a particularly scarring wound in Asian American history. Here's a crash course: The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. It was like the proto-Trump ban, and it lasted into the mid-20th century. Then, there were the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Then, there was the killing of Vincent Chin in 1982 at the hands of Detroit auto workers, reportedly angry about the failing U.S. car industry compared to Japan's (Chin, himself, was of Chinese origin). As Frank W. Hu wrote in The New York Times in 2012 around the 30th anniversary of the Chen attack, "History also teaches us that before Asian Americans were seen as model minorities, we were also perpetual foreigners. Taken together, these perceptions can lead to resentment. And resentment can lead to hate." In short, Asian Americans are all too familiar with facing racism and ignorance from our fellow citizens.
However, these findings that Trump is not, in fact, popular with Asian American voters may be surprising to some because, on the whole, we have demographic qualities that appear to fit a Republican voting profile. As the highest-income, best-educated, and most conventionally familial group in the country, according to the Pew Research Center, we would, presumably, support Republican platforms like lower taxes and nuclear family values. So, why are so many Asian Americans anti-Trump?
That question is even more intriguing when you look at Asian American voting trends. Back in 1992, only 31 percent of Asian Americans voted for the Democratic presidential nominee. In 2012, it became a whopping 73 percent. That's a massive demographic shift in just two decades.
The thing is, other racial and ethnic minority groups have made the shift from right to left, as well, over a similar time period. Muslim Americans, many of whom are South Asian Americans, also experienced a dramatic shift from Republican to Democrat support in the past two decades. According to a report by PBS's Frontline, in 2000, 78 percent of Muslim Americans voted Republican in the presidential election. In 2011, the percentage of Muslim Americans who "lean toward the GOP" was a measly 11 percent.
So, despite what other characteristics seem to suggest Asian Americans would vote for the presumptive Republican nominee, I feel the impact of racial offenses, uh, trumps them. I'm often asked questions such as, "Where are you really from?" (New Jersey, holla' at me!) that challenges the idea that Asian Americans are actually American. Trump himself made this microaggression when he asked an Asian-American college student who grew up in Colorado at a rally last October, "Are you from South Korea?"
As an Asian American, I'm decidedly anti-Trump for a number of reasons, not least of which is because I believe these microaggressions can grow into something much bigger and harmful under a Trump presidency — and I know the history of anti-Asian sentiment in this country is not all that distant.