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The Asian American Experience In America

We must do better. And we can. Asian Americans are here to stay, and their numbers will only continue to grow.
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Asian Americans have been the fastest growing demographic group in America for almost two decades. Unfortunately, Asian American representation, and depictions of their cultures, in media, pop culture, and politics have not kept pace with the broad acceptance of Asian Americans into American society. In a year in which important debates about race have ignited across the country, the silence surrounding the Asian American experience is deafening. Those who choose to continue to overlook, or even marginalize, Asian Americans do so at their own peril.

Just this past weekend, Jeremy Peters of the New York Times, in his piece 'Donald Trump is Seen as Helping Push Asian-Americans Into Democratic Arms,' insightfully wrote: "On paper at least, Asian-Americans seem like perfect Republicans...a lot of them, having fled oppressive Communist governments, found comfort in the Republican Party's aggressive anti-Communist policies. But in what could be a significant realignment of political allegiance, Asian-Americans are identifying as Democrats at a quicker pace than any other racial group."

Yesterday's release of the 2016 National Asian American Survey reinforces Mr. Peters' observations. The survey's authors note that "Asian Americans are more than twice as likely to identify as Democrats than as Republicans" and "In terms of vote choice among registered Asian Americans, Clinton enjoys an almost 4-to-1 advantage over Trump." Mr. Trump, to his own detriment, has done nothing to staunch the political bleeding. His constant verbal assaults on the Chinese and his calls for mass deportation of immigrants and Muslims is not entertainment; it is a distinct policy possibility for a demographic familiar with the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment during World War II.

An off-script presidential candidate is not the only offending party to marginalize Asian Americans and their growing power in American society, however. Media and Hollywood also clamor to ignore and offend. According to the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the University of Sothern California, more than half of Hollywood projects fail to feature Asian Americans. Unfortunately, as with Mail Order Family (a show about a single father who orders a mail-order bride from the Philippines to help raise his daughters) which NBC put into development last week and quickly canceled after public outcry, one almost holds her breath when Asian American roles are called for. If the character is not marginalized or overtly stereotyped in the development of a show's storyline, the chances of the character being "whitewashed" are high. One has to look no further than the recent castings of Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, and Tilda Swinton in the roles of traditionally Asian and Asian American characters.

And it's not just Hollywood. Offensive depictions can also be found in media coverage of Asians and the Asian American community. Fox News' recent segment of "Watter's World" on the "O'Reilly Factor" featured a "reporter," Jesse Watters, who went to New York's Chinatown to sample political opinion about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When Mr. Watters began to interview passing pedestrians however, he quickly devolved into what salon.com called "a burning dumpster fire of racist stereotypes and lazy attempts at humor at the expense of Chinese Americans."

We must do better. And we can. Asian Americans are here to stay, and their numbers will only continue to grow. Asian Americans add to the rich and diverse fabric of American life, and they will continue to assimilate. How they do with respect to political, media, and pop culture preferences however, will largely depend on their treatment by traditional institutions and industries.

Congresswoman Grace Meng represents New York's Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She recently passed into law legislation removing the term "Oriental" from the U.S. Code wherever it appeared referring to a person.