Many years ago my cousin married a man in the Air Force and for much of his career they moved from base to base. Their son was born while the family lived in Tripoli, Libya (Northern Africa). When he was about 10 the family lived in Southern Virginia and his classmates asked him where he was from. But when he told them he was born in Africa they refused to believe him. “You can’t be from Africa. You’re not Black.” Full disclosure: they didn’t use the word “Black” but you get the point.
In 2006 Virginia Republican Senator George Allen ran for reelection. As is the custom, Mr. Allen’s opponent hired a young man to follow his campaign and report back. The man, S.R. Sidarth, was born and raised in Virginia but was dark skinned as his parents immigrated from India. When Mr. Allen learned of Mr. Sidarth at a rally he said this to the crowd: “This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent… Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”
Both groups assumed that your skin color was determined by where you were born and that you have to be white to be a “real” American when biology tells us that skin color is determined by our DNA. And our Constitution tells us that a person is an American (citizen) by either being born here or by becoming naturalized.
I’m writing this now because of recent violent incidents against the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) communities over the false belief that COVID 19 is their fault. They are often told to “go back to where you belong.” Because of the shape of their eyes they are perceived to not belong.
But immigrants from China have been coming since the 1850s and their story is nearly identical to the European immigrants around the same time. They worked hard at jobs that others wouldn’t take, they raised their families, and wanted nothing more than a better life.
The next Asian person you meet may well be a 4th or 5th generation American. And even if he’s not, COVID 19 didn’t come because he was Asian, but because the virus found a host. The virus spread because of Americans who refused to take precautions (mask, distance, etc.). It may be easier and more fashionable to blame Asians, but the only way out of this pandemic is to stop the spread of the virus, not find someone to blame.
By the way, I “look like” an American but two of my four grandparents were born in Canada.