Yesterday, I had an online discussion with Professor Oiyan Poon and Giles Li about the ongoing controversy regarding Asian American data disaggregation. As we know, to be an “Asian” includes an extremely diverse group of peoples with a wide range of histories. Asian Americans will not only inherit that same diversity and complex history but also add a more diverse history on the context of their immigration. Just one small immigration sub-group like Taiwanese Americans will have a different socio economic class depending on whether their family history came to the US for graduate school after the Chinese Exclusion act was repealed or if they fled Taiwan in 1979 fearing war and coming as non-English speaking immigrants.
As the discussion progressed, I learned that the group which was most against data disaggregation were Chinese immigrants from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) who were extremely nationalistic and predominately wealthy. Their motivation was supposedly based on their selfish concern over their interests being violated by affirmative action.
Data disaggregation would start to categorize Asian Americans in to smaller categories such as Khmer, Hmong, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Samoan, Hawaiian, Korean, etc. This would allow for immigrant groups who suffered more economic disadvantages to partake in the social programs designed for those who suffered these disadvantages rather than being categorized with wealthier east Asian groups. Now why would wealthy people begrudge that? It didn’t make sense to me. Wealthy people from those groups don’t even partake in these programs, why would they care if others do?
Then Professor John Cheng reminded me of one more group that would get disaggregated which might offend PRC patriots. Taiwanese Americans would be counted separately from Chinese Americans.
As we know, the PRC is currently threatening to go to war to “recover Taiwan.” Yet, Taiwan has a vibrant democracy voting in a female president and taking steps towards marriage equality usually unheard of in most Asian societies. For Taiwanese Americans to be counted separately from the Chinese American demographic would affirm one more reality that the Taiwanese identity is a distinct separate identity.
This sense of Chinese nationalism may be one of the primary reasons for the resistance to data disaggregation for Asian Americans. As we know, this kind of resistance is not reflective of reality. As a society that supports self determination and self identity, data disaggregation of Asian Americans will let people further understand the diversity of the Asian American experience.
Let us not let pressure from another nation’s desire to conquer other territories interfere with how we in the United States execute our domestic policy.