I came across this inspiring essay in the official publication of the Journal of UMass Amherst Asian American Student Association. However, it has worthwhile things to say to people of any background about the importance of individualism. It also illustrates how America's core values are being reborn through its immigrants, as many people born in America would not speak with such wisdom.
by Peter Cai
A professor somewhere once bragged to his class about giving Asian students full credit for participating in his course, despite not speaking in class. His reasoning? He said that he recognized that Asian cultures did not value speaking out, and that he was being equitable and fair in respecting that.
When we encounter things that are unpleasant or unfamiliar, we should never hide behind our cultural identities like come convenient shield. The professor eventually rescinded this policy, as he drew the ire of the other students in the class, including Asians.
Somewhere else, a prominent Chinese businessman ran for ward council three times in his hometown, a city that had pockets of town approaching 50% Asian-Americans. He lost overwhelmingly. It did not take much digging to find out why: the Asians did not vote.
Why do Asian Americans regard politics (and speaking out in general) with so much apathy today? Some may simply find it convenient to quietly ignore the call of duty. Many people prefer to not waste time in what they see as mostly a formality that does not affect their day-to-day lives. After all, what is one vote? Still others follow a Chinese adage: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." And nobody wants to support a cause only to discover that it was the losing one. The result? Dismal Asian turnouts.
The apathy stretches back millennia. China was never a democracy. In ancient times, those who spoke out against the will of the emperor were killed. Nobody wanted to be the nail that stuck out. As late as the twentieth century, life was a communal affair where everyone shared in the toil and possesions of a rural collective whose sole purpose was subsistence farming. And without the allure of capitalism, few people had reasons to draw attention to themselves.
One exception was Mao Zedong, who seized power in the middle of the last century and killed tens of millions of Chinese citizens during the Great Leap Forward - the most ambitious and fundamentally flawed econonmic plan in the history of the world, where citizens starved to death in their own fields, even as their poor harvests were being exported as "surplus." Unbelievably, all of Chairman Mao's constituents went to great lengths to hide this fact, at one point secretly importing grain to show Mao an example of a successful field. HIs party lavished him with praise for his stunning success.
Throughout all this, nearly everyone, from his top advisers to his lowest peons, was complicit. Those who spoke out were jailed or murdered. Today Mao's story highlights the very worst of socialism and the forms of government that derive power arbitrarily, without input or consent by the people.
There are, of course, similar stories of tyranny at the hands of military dictators and their like from other parts of Asia. Most are still monarchies or oligarchies (masquerading as socialist republics) - with the notable exceptions of India and South Korea, which are democracies.
Today's generations of Asians do not worry much about political reform. Native Chinese worry about their job prospects and about electronics and fashion trends. People that are on average 300% richer than their parents were have little to complain about. And Big Brother is always watching: the press is controlled, the internet is filtered and political dissidents disappear without a trace. There is no revolution coming to Communist China, or North Korea or Vietnam.
Asians have a long and powerful cultural heritage - and yes, it is one that discourages individuality and nurtures the notion of a collective good at the expense of all else. It is a culture that was forged from generations of governance by tyranny, indoctrinated with the barbaric principle that the individual is less important than the welfare of the State, and that somehow these two ideals are at odds. Many Asian countries have a history of suppressing freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and perpetuating the hoax that someone else knows better than you do, that humans are not capable of governing themselves.
But today, here and now, we are in America. We have freedom of press and freedom of speech. Let's not blame our history and culture for our shortcomings. As Asian Americans, we must not subscribe to the fallacy of apathy and complicity with our government. We must always question its every move, debate its every intention, and do our duty as citizens to ensure that the spirit of democracy and liberty is not swept away by excuses and indifference.
We must vote.
And when the time is right, we must vote Asian Americans to the honor of public office - not simply because they are Asian, but when and if they are the ideal candidates, so that those nations to which we trace our ancestry will look at us in awe from across the ocean and follow our example.
A clever chalkboard ad in front of Sam's.
A candidate at the farmer's market.
I like the way the doors have been restored at the Academy of Music with all that ugly grey paint removed.
I'm slightly irked by this sign saying thankyou for the Community Preservation Act funds.
Since the CPA only has whatever funds the public gives them, why should we thank ourselves for spending our own money?
I went to Hampshire College today to see an outdoor performance by Vermont's Bread and Circus. They've been playing a lot in the area recently.
The show is heavy on lefty propaganda, but it will make you laugh regardless of your ideology.
They had a good turnout and the weather was just gorgeous.
Lay your cards face up and play your last broken-hearted hand.