May 3, 2004
May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. Every year, observances bring visibility to the cultures and accomplishments of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, and while there is much reason for pride and celebration, there is also much reason for concern.
Although President Bush has continued the tradition of proclaiming May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, his commitment does not extend beyond these celebrations and proclamations.
In June 2003, he chose to close the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, first established by President Clinton as a way to increase participation by Asian/Pacific Americans in government programs in such sectors as employment, health and human services, education and housing.
Such a decision reflects the myth that Asian/Pacific Americans do not experience racism. It also ignores what can be learned from the voices and experiences of this group of peoples.
Asian/Pacific Americans are among the fastest growing populations in the United States and are incredibly diverse, with more than 40 ethnic groups and various socioeconomic classes, religions, ages, genders, sexualities, disabilities, languages, colors and educational backgrounds. Some were born in the United States, some immigrated and some are refugees. All, however, deserve the human and civil rights that the United States has struggled so hard to develop for its people.
Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month can be an opportunity to learn from some of those struggles. For example, barely 60 years ago, during WWII, the U.S. government rounded up more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent, many of them U.S. citizens, and placed them in internment camps throughout the continental United States. Racism was a prime factor, since only Japanese Americans (not German or Italian Americans) were interned.
Today's leaders seem not to have learned from this tragedy. In the name of national security, they have detained people -- some of whom are U.S. citizens or residents -- who are primarily Muslim, Arab and South Asian. Despite disagreement over the necessity and legality of their detainment, many are being held indefinitely and without such basic civil rights as due process of law. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case of American citizens who are being detained indefinitely by the military as enemy combatants. The court is expected to make a decision this summer.
This month is more than a time to sample the foods and festivals of Asians and Pacific Islanders. It should be a time to recognize their contributions and preserve their rights.
Kevin K. Kumashiro is director of the Center for Anti-Oppressive Education and a senior program specialist at the National Education Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.