In Many Asian-American Communities, Trump Ban Follows History of Persecution

By Russell Jeung 2-03-2017
Photo courtesy Rev. Tim Tseng

Just before the presidential election, Rev. Dr. Tim Tseng's Taiwanese Christian church was targeted: “Nazi swastikas and the word, ‘Die’ were etched into two of our windows.”

“Even though my church is evangelical, we’re still considered a foreign race,” Tseng, pastor of English ministry at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church in San Jose, Calif., said. “It doesn’t take much to resurrect the way Chinese and other Asians have been portrayed in the past – you know, ‘the foreign peril.’”

Tseng, a leading historian on Chinese-American Christianity, believes his church was singled out because of its large Chinese signage.

Right after the election, vandals also graffitied “KKK” on a Korean American evangelical church just a few blocks from my home in East Oakland, and a Korean Presbyterian Church in Buena Park, Calif., was vandalized in December.

I am not surprised that Asian-American Christian churches and people have been targeted. Just as Muslims, Latinos, women, and other minorities have been bullied in the wake of Donald Trump’s rise, so have Asian Americans been victimized.

When President Trump declares China as America’s economic “enemy,” he villainizes Chinese people, and by extension, Chinese Americans and Asian Americans. Steve Bannon, counselor to the president-elect, has insinuated that Silicon Valley had too many CEOs who were South Asian and Asian American.

Trump’s election is a cue to some that outright hatred has become valid and that xenophobic hostility has been normalized.

Indeed, these incidents reflect a huge spike in hate incidents: 867 reports just within the 10 days following the presidential election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Of these, 32 percent were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment.

This anti-Asian xenophobia is both individual and institutional in that it shapes our governmental policies. Although Japanese Americans as whole were unjustly incarcerated in World War II, an act deemed unconstitutional, Trump and his advisors employ historic internment as a rationale for detaining current minority groups.

Furthermore, Trump’s refugee, immigration, and healthcare policies disproportionately and negatively impact Asian-American families.

His recent executive order banning refugees tears families apart. More than half of the refugees resettled to the United States last year came from Asia, and they now cannot reunite with family members who languish in refugee camps.

Policies to crack down on immigrants threaten the Asian-American community, as Asian Americans are the largest immigrant group to the United States. Over 10 percent of this population does not have proper documents, meaning that more than 300,000 Filipinos may be deported as a result of Trump’s actions.

If the Affordable Care Act is rolled back, Korean Americans and Pacific Islanders will be among the communities hit the hardest. Before the ACA, one out of four members of these groups lacked health care.

My own family has long swallowed the bitterness of such policies, which the United States is now repeating.

As refugees from war, my great-great grandfather fled China to the United States in 1868 with his family. After making their home, building a business, and raising a family in Monterey, Calif., for four decades, my great-grandparents were forcibly removed — along with a community of 200 other Chinese Americans — in 1906.

Their landlord, California Gov. Leland Stanford, Jr. prioritized his own economic interests over concern the welfare of the people.

Later, the United States government detained both sides of my grandparents on both sides on Angel Island, as it racially profiled them as undocumented aliens.

Today, my own children — including my refugee foster daughters baptized Christian — and I mourn over how America treats anyone considered “foreigners” and “strangers.” When we first heard of Trump’s election, my young son wept quietly as he thought about the fate of Syrian refugees, mostly children like himself.

Paradoxically, the Bible said that we no longer bear such identities, but we are “fellow citizens with God’s people.”

I wonder about the four out of five white evangelicals who voted for Trump. Will they side with their whiteness, or will they join their fellow citizens of God’s people and denounce these heinous, racist acts?

Professor Russell Jeung teaches Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. His spiritual memoir, At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus Among My Ancestors and Refugees Neighbors (Zondervan 2016), develops an Asian-American theology of exile.

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