Posted Monday, October 22, 2018 10:19 am
Every working day, economic tensions mount in the U.S. and across the industrialized world. Economic inequality is on the rise. Today, the typical American worker makes just 82 percent of what their typical Mexican worker makes, and just 56 percent of what their European worker makes. In North Carolina alone, the decline in jobs and wages over the past 50 years has seen the value of an American factory worker’s average hourly pay fall from $20.92 in 1968 to just $12.86 today. Although these trends are felt broadly, there is one class of workers who are far more vulnerable: Asian American workers.
The Pew Research Center reports that the median income for Asian Americans is now exactly that of black Americans, and is less than that of white Americans. Most alarming, an Asian American faces the real risk of dying earlier than a white person. Many face illegal or retaliatory workplace discrimination.
Needless to say, harassment and discrimination of Asian American workers is commonplace. The harassment begins at work, where they encounter bullying, racism, oblique discrimination and hostility and are attacked, rejected and harassed at their homes and at their food carts. When surveyed about his experiences over a span of twenty years, Harry Wu, a Canadian Chinese immigrant, had this to say:
“Whites take turns bullying us in stores while avoiding eye contact; we take turns yelling back.We get abused after big ethnic-centric shopping trips and we are afraid of getting kicked out of our homes. I was forced to live with my mother and I was called all sorts of unspeakable names. I was prevented from getting a good night’s sleep and every night, I would throw up.”
In 2016, a prominent Korean food cart in San Francisco created a show of public defiance by serving the Chinese and Korean food carts outside a packed Chinese restaurant. Recognizing discrimination in these calls of ‘banana boy,’ the cart owners opened their business doors to everyone, regardless of race.
Asians in the U.S. face discrimination by age. Workers in their thirties have seen their average earnings fall by nearly 17 percent and their decline is nearly twice that of the overall decline in median wages (12 percent). Half of Asian male workers aged 25-34, who once had the highest average earnings of any ethnic group in the U.S., now earn less than their typical white male counterpart (58 percent).
Growing up, the Chinese in my neighborhood faced equal parts discrimination and harassment. My peers were bullied and verbally attacked. They were denied every opportunity to be students and respected on a par with their classmates. I too faced harassment at school and soon found myself at the bottom of the organization to which my parents had devoted all their energy. As a result, my parents moved our family from elementary school to high school.
I witnessed the behavior of my peers and was affected by it. The first thing they would do when I walked into a class was make me feel completely invisible. As a result, I started getting kicked out of class on a regular basis. I then chose not to go to school on many days, preferring instead to stay home and watch TV with my friends instead. I remember one day that I had an argument with a fellow student and was dragged into another classroom by the hands and placed on a face-down pile of papers. This infuriated my parents who chose to intervene because my behavior was detrimental to school work.
The Asian American community is discriminated against. The atmosphere of fear we see in North Carolina and the nationwide decline in employment opportunities are all reasons why Asian American workers need to stand together and fight for human rights. We cannot allow this to continue. This is not a threat to Asian Americans, who should not be devalued for our ability to improve the world. This is not a political issue, this is an economic issue. Asian American workers should not face alienation from any community in America, not in a state as diverse as North Carolina, but especially not in our time.
Janice Bacerra is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. She works as an associate editor for State Fair Asian American Monthly. Her book “Good Enough Is Not Enough,” is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.