To white suburbia:
I have often been repeated the same narrative, circulating somewhere around the “American Dream”.
I understand; upward mobility is achievable. After all, our families have achieved it.
We cruise through suburbia, measuring successes by our employment-status, by the price of our house, the price of our car, by our town’s education system. Our certificate to suburbia is a bright, shiny badge, a utopian reflection of status displaying that we Immigrants have “made it”.
Polished. The badge sits on our chest, the frontside polished bright and white-washed while the behind rusts a color we cannot see. It grows orange and soon redder, the rust infiltrating our melanin into an embarrassed blush if we dare step outside this perfect image of prosperity. Frankly, I deem this a fear garnered by the insecurity of losing what we have accomplished, possible by any slight misstep. “Blend in”, “follow the norm”, “go with the flow”. Understandable… yet no one relays the cost of our comfort.
Redder than the rust, than our melanin blush, is the history that borders our newly-homed towns. Prior to our immigration, redlining was an abundant part of the making of our current surroundings. Due to the profiling of race concerning economic capabilities, redlining prevented the leasing of higher property values to Black families, eventually segregating the socioeconomic prosperity of Black Americans. Although abolished in the 1960s, redlining contributed to today’s racial wealth gap, seen most abundantly between the prosperity of different neighborhoods.
The comfort we reside with now is unfortunately white-washed, but, we must not forget that our history differs. Asian-Americans were subject to redlining as well. However, today we hold equal shares in homeownership to the overall US population.
Indian families began immigrating en masse to the United States in the 1980s, our abundance doubling almost every ten years. The primary entryway to our now-suburban lives was the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Celler Act) which repealed immigration quotas prioritizing European immigrants. Prior to this, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 barred immigration from the continent of Asia. In 1952, this quota loosened placing a numerical cap on Asian immigrants rather than a ban.
Although the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 allowed our mass immigration to the United States, we are truthfully in gratitude to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks. From kindergarten, us first-generation Asian-Americans have been hearing these names. I was repeatedly taught (as expected of the American US History Curriculum) that these pioneers “fixed racism”, that “Black communities are now equal”, and most commonly (yet implicitly) that racism was simply “black and white”. These powerful voices that we celebrate and their stories that we memorize were far more complex than taught. I was never taught that Martin Luther King fought not just for the usage of the same bathrooms and water fountains but was a self-proclaimed, “democratic-socialist” in an era hindered by a communist-phobia amidst the Cold-War. Not until my sophomore year, already aged 16, was I taught that he was not “loved by all” (in fact over 60% of Americans constituted a disapproval rating) and received countless threats against his life. That days before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee Dr. King was bombarded with death threats yet he persisted and attended. That Dr. King traveled to Memphis to support the strike of African American sanitation workers, part of his activism for the multi-racial working class. This advocacy, this radicalism, the white-washed stories, and numerous undermined names eventually led to the passing of the Civil Rights of 1964, which opened the doors for our Immigration Act the following year. The life I have in this country today is because of the truthful work of Martin Luther King and so many others. The history of racial minorities in America was this radical.
As prevalent today, this fight is far from over. As protest progress and unrest grows at the mass murders of innocent Black Americans, I have heard a lot of bias from Desi communities. It ranges from “I’m not interested in politics” to “we are also marginalized.” Our history, our nice cars, our perfectly manicured towns, our town’s great education systems are benefitted from the oppression of Black communities in America. Their fight paved our way here, and we are wholly indebted to fight for them as well. In a nation built on the silencing of minority voices and still driven to do so, their triumphs are our triumphs, and their sorrows are ours. Are we not a community of color as well? Are we not alien to the struggle of racial minorities in America?
So please, let us elevate Black voices, let us listen, let’s fulfill our duty as non-white Americans.
The “American Dream” undermines the systematic oppression of communities of color. Yes, we have risen. However, we are thanking a construct rather than our true history. I want to hear a new narrative where we acknowledge our history, our fellow family of melanin, and rewrite it to stand by them as well.
With love, a Desi that stands in solidarity