"Are you in the Chinese Air Force?" 'the
elegantly dressed lady sitting next to me asked.For a moment I was
left speechless. We were at an awards dinner, and I was wearing my
blue U.S. Air Force uniform, complete with captain's bars, military
insignia and medals. Her question jarred me and made me realize that
even Air Force blue was not enough to reverse her initial
presumption that people with yellow skin and Asian features are
somehow not Americans.
Unfortunately, this was not just an isolated incident. And now in
the wake of the rising tensions between the United States and China,
we must be even more vigilant to ensure that Asian Americans are not
caught in the cross-fire.
I have had strangers come up to me and attempt to mimic the Chinese
language in a derogatory manner. I have been told countless times
that I speak "good" English. I have been asked why someone like me
would be interested in watching NFL football. On any given day; if I
walk around with a camera, I will be mistaken for a tourist from
Most of the discrimination I have encountered centered on the view
that I am not a part of this great nation, even though I grew up in
Ohio, graduated from law school in Washington, D.C., and received my
commission in the U.S. Air Force in 1991. Sometimes the
discrimination is subtler than a blatant headline or a hate crime,
but it still can be insidious. After the bombing of the Chinese
Embassy, a news station sent a reporter to get "the Chinese American
response." It was clear the reporter was attempting to elicit some
sort of anti-American sentiment. The erroneous' presumption,
however, is that Chinese Americans are somehow linked to the
government or nation of China. This subtle linkage, when carried to
an extreme, is the same insidious rationale that justified the
interning of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II.
And when Asian Americans are improperly linked to a foreign country,
that linkage fundamentally calls into question our loyalty.
I fear this burden of having to prove our loyalty will only increase
in the wake of the Cox committee's report. I do not know whether Wen
Ho Lee, the Chinese American scientist who was fired from Los Alamos
National Laboratory, is guilty of espionage. But I do know that the
more than 300,000 Asian American , scientists, and the more than 10
million Asian Americans in this country, are not guilty of anything
more than having an Asian surname.
A recent news article reported that an Asian American lab employee
was asked if he had "dual loyalties"; that snickering broke out when
.an Asian American was introduced to lead a session on computer
security; and that many Asian American scientists now express fear
that they will face discrimination on the job.
America is a nation founded by immigrants and built on the ideal
that anyone can be an American ff he or she believes in the
principles and values of the Constitution. Indeed, the Vietnamese
American immigrant who does not yet speak "good" English but is
starting a small business and believes in freedom and democracy is
much more American than a fifth-generation white separatist who blew
up a federal building because he had a problem with federalism.
Let us also never forget the Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd
infantry battalion, the most highly decorated combat unit in World
War Il, who gave their blood to this country while their families
were kept in American internment camps.
It is time to reverse the irrational and insidious presumption that
Asian Americans are foreigners, have dual loyalties or are somehow
linked to the government of a foreign country.
As an officer in the U.S. Air Force, one day I may be called to give
my life for my country. It would be a shame if some people still
question what I mean when I say "my country."
The Washington Post
Saturday June 19,1999