Thursday, February 17, 2005

Point Six - The Forgotten Point

I'd briefly forgotten that Eric had e-mailed earlier and said that I could quote or post from his e-mail, and I replied that I would do so and respond to his remarks. Here's what Eric said:

As regards part 3: one of the things I want to add to the characterization I was making about the non-centrality of Asian-Americans to the American imagination of America is that part of it comes from a natural historical bias towards the East Coast. There, given the relative lack of importance of Asian immigrants and the relative importance of both European and African immigrants and slaves (and the relations between them), and given that the East Coast corridor has been the central site of the American definition of self (1776, the colonies, etc) and of its population and cultural centers through the 1800s, the lack of centrality of Asian-Americans to the "American" story (as it is taught in schools or produced in television shows or political speeches) is actually, if nothing else, comprehensible (if not historically accurate).

What that means, of course, is that some of that will change as the US changes and the stories it tells itself about itself change. For instance, kids growing up in the West get a lot more information about Asian immigration, the railroads, the exclusion acts, etc, in grade school than do East Coasters; likewise they're more likely than East Coasters to have a broad experience of Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans... (and of the differences inside those categories).

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I find the second paragraph hysterical. (Not laughing at Eric here, but at the school curriculum.) I grew up in southern CA, took all the advanced social studies and history classes, and learned absolutely zilch about Asian immigration, the railroads, or the exclusion acts. I don't think I knew I was Asian-American till I graduated from high school. Maybe I didn't check enough boxes growing up.

I don't think that things will change unless Asian-American activists make a concerted effort to challenge the textbooks and curriculum. For any Asian-Americans out therethinking about doing that, though, here is a disclaimer: be prepared to have people in power roll their eyes and dismiss you as a "special interest group" out to establish a separatist agenda. It is a move that I call "a technique of power," in which people in power establish their dominance and then consolidate their hegemony by making a claim of objectivity. But as a political science professor of mine aptly put, all groups are special interest groups. So the group that wants to keep the under-inclusive history textbooks and curriculum is a special interest group in and of itself. They will be left with the primary argument that there just aren't that many Asian-Americans demographically, which is an argument of power that would parodoxically undermine their claims in favor of objectivity and the morality of equality and inclusivity.

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