By JACL National Staff
During the early 1990s, Japanese Americans and Asian Americans were targeted and became unwitting victims in the wake of a spate of “Japan-bashing,” resulting from an economic downturn coupled with a strengthening Japanese economy and their purchase of iconic American properties such as Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf course. It was a time that created justified anxiety for Asian Americans due to an increase in hate crimes directed at Asian Americans.
Donald Trump recently mocked the Japanese business style when he commented on negotiating with Japan by saying, “They don’t say ‘Oh hello, how’s the weather?’ They say, ‘We want deal!'” This follows his inflammatory comments on immigration: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”
These comments on immigration have devolved into claims about so-called “anchor babies,” a negative term that creates an image of people crossing borders to give birth so they will be shielded from deportation. In defending the use of the term, Jeb Bush recently said, “Frankly it’s more related to Asian people.”
JACL is deeply troubled by the coarsening of public discourse where it is affecting public perceptions about ethnic communities, including Japanese Americans and Asian Americans. A dimension of this is driven by Trump’s persona and his debate comment on political correctness, where he said, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
Regardless of how the notion of political correctness is abused, it adds a veneer of civility, which keeps discourse from degenerating into a barroom brawl. Many do not make distinctions between Asian Americans and the actions of Asian nations, which causes our communities to remain mired in the myths and stereotypes that continue to portray Asian Americans as foreigners.
JACL’s concern was captured in a recent exchange between Univision journalist Jorge Ramos, a Mexican American, and Trump, which resulted in a Trump supporter confronting Ramos saying, “You were very rude, this is not about you. Get out of my country. Get out.” The danger for Asian Americans is when indelicate and thoughtless phrases are acted out in crude and misinformed remarks. It’s even worse if they turn into hate crimes.