The Asian-American Conundrum of Peter Liang

The Asian-American Conundrum of Peter Liang

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When the Asian-American community identifies itself, the tendency for division within the group suggests a lack of unity. With the Chinese-Americans cornering themselves off as a separate entity, flushed with a myriad of different dialects, and the Korean-Americans claiming complete sovereignty from everyone else, it's clear that Asian-Americans of varying descents dislike the coupling of all East Asian backgrounds into one identifiable culture. Of course, when we witness the phenomenon that is Jeremy Lin and the social acknowledgement that is Fresh Off The Boat, every Asian-American wants a piece of the pie, as to immediately latch onto the previously disdained, general, definition of being an Asian in America. The verdict of Peter Liang has sparked much of the latter, with hundreds of Asian communities rallying behind a single cause: to advocate for a person we consider as one of our own. This sort of conundrum speaks volumes about the state of Asian-Americans. Beyond the lack of political voice and the passivity that defines our race, the constant debate of whether a person even wants to be identified as an Asian-American undermines every action we take. The people around us will often label us as Asian, not American, and correlate us to the millions of Chinese take-outs around the country. That stems directly from our own unwillingness to immerse ourselves as the culture we all, in some related way, represent. The Black Lives Matter movement has garnered immense support from the African-American community, not because we have certain stereotypes towards them, but because they have suffered and survived together. On the other hand, Asian-Americans prefer to be recognized as inherently different. Koreans hate being called Chinese and the Chinese hate being associated with Taiwanese people.

Such a gap in our own culture, if we even dare include all of Asia in the discussion, represents the root of the conundrum that is our support for Peter Liang. In convenient matters, we all want to hold onto our Asian heritage, because a pride still exists somewhere. It's easy to call the justice system a sham when it threatens someone of our race but only so long as fighting for our culture does not create a disadvantage for what I truly define myself as, be it Japanese or Vietnamese. In this sense, we are an incredibly broad group of people that desire both individualism from our general definition as Asians, as well as the benefit of being considered from one background, despite our tendencies to do so otherwise in most instances. Needless to say, having the best of both worlds borderlines insanity.

When Chris Rock decided to make the Oscars a play on political correctness and the resurgence of race as a major topic in America, none of us should've been too shocked at the jabs towards the Asian community. People wonder why weren't the Hispanics targeted but the answer is quite obvious and that's because of the prevailing belief that Asians are exactly what the accountants shown on TV were: intelligent, innocent, and timid. Unlike our minority counterparts, Asian-Americans are usually valued neighbors and members of society, both for their apparent hardworking attitudes and, more evident, their lack of a track record filled with boisterous noise.  Ironically enough, this isn't a good thing, because it precisely allows for events like the Oscars to create a disparaging shot at our race. Imagine the outrage had the same skit been done towards members of the African-American or Hispanic community, but instead targeting things they're often associated with. I don't think I need to describe how that would turn out.

The verdict of Peter Liang was an easy thing to brush off for the police department, or rather the publicity around their group. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that it seems as if little to the NYPD offered him little support, and as furious protesters claim, yes, Liang was used as a scapegoat, but perhaps not for the reasons most people would expect. Liang's positions as a rookie, Asian, police officer offered the perfect sacrifice of appeasement to murders related to the NYPD. Much like the Japanese concentration camps and the damage caused to the Korea community during the LA riots of 1992, Liang's demise will go down in history as a headliner for a few weeks, but forevermore silenced. In comparison to the media attention given to cases like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, the attention surrounding Asian-Americans seems minuscule.

That's exactly how the NYPD, and quite frankly the government, wants everyone else to view the situation. Had Liang been a white officer, his verdict and conviction would have caused an incredible amount of outrage and dare I say an African-American Liang would have been acquitted in order to appease the black community. None of this goes to claim injustice because black people are in the national spotlight and Asians generally aren't. Instead, the focus needs to center itself on the lack of political power and voice the Asian-American community currently has. We're usually passionate for a month, maybe two, but eventually fall back into the mold that Chris Rock uses to mock us: hardworking, innocent, and timid members of society. No longer can the Asian-American people sit quiet, and if the members of other minority groups believe in the common theme of injustice towards the underrepresented, the conclusion is clear: we need to support one another.

Somewhere down the line, the Asian people of America lost their identity or maybe they never had one. In times of controversy, we really only know how to do one thing: band together underneath an umbrella that includes all of Eastern Asian, but quickly dissemble as soon as the downpour turns into a drizzle. There's something I envy about the black community and that's their perseverance and passion to fight for vindication. I'm not sure if the Asian-American community will ever get there but I do believe the instances of Peter Liang's verdict and Chris Rock's ignorance can serve as catalysts for a stronger unification of everyone who considers themselves Asian. The light at the end of the tunnel tells us our culture is absolutely vital, whether Korean or Chinese, but the world around us sees as one thing and it's this:

Asian-American.

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