Students are taught a variety of slogans in Asian-American Studies classes. I find most to be misleading, but one that I strongly agree with is the complaint that Asian-Americans are viewed as Perpetual Foreigners. Even one whose family has been in the U.S. for four generations (two more than mine, by the way) is often viewed as “foreign,” and by implication, “disloyal.” This arose in the Wen Ho Lee spy trial, for instance, and though it must be said that Lee did not act entirely innocently, he was egregiously unfairly treated, and it is widely believed that much of the government’s actions stemmed from the Perpetual Foreigner perception.
The issue arose earlier this week in an outrageous news segment on KUOW, a Seattle NPR affiliate. The topic was fine, a look at the fact that many Chinese-Americans support Donald Trump. But KUOW acted irresponsibly by including in the piece a highly provocative quote of, not a Chinese-American, but a foreign student from China:
At the University of Washington campus in Seattle, canopies line Red Square with tables for various Asian student groups. One of them is the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, where senior Haoyu Wang is a member. He’s majoring in political science and plans to attend law school in the U.S. as well.
Wang feels some of that glee at the prospect of a Trump presidency. “We don’t like Trump as a person, but we like him as a tool to kind of bring American down,” Wang said.
He said his views aren’t necessarily typical of his peers at UW. Many students he knows, both Asian and non-Asian, are supporting Clinton, who Wang sees as tough and experienced. But Wang wants to make his career in China, and he thinks a Trump victory would be good for his home country, which is already on the rise.
“We turned the tables,” he said. “So more and more of us, international Chinese students, would like to obtain certain knowledge in the United States and try to go back and serve our country.”
Chinese-American political activists were outraged, and properly so. Not only was the reporter wrong to include an extreme quote by a non-American student from China in a piece on Chinese-Americans, but even more important, the quote furthers the Perpetual Foreigner perception.
Which brings me to Hillary Clinton, who coincidentally wrote a November 1 op-ed supporting Asian-Americans. She opens her piece with a defense of Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who was born in Thailand but later became an American war hero, yet whose heritage was mocked in a recent election debate — Perpetual Foreigner all over again.
Clinton’s comments would be reasonable if not for the fact that they are hypocritical. Clinton has been guilty of using something similar to the Perpetual Foreign notion for her own political gain, just as outrageous. This was in 2008, and the one who she implied was un-American was…Barack Obama. Here is what happened:
In the current election campaign, Donald Trump has charged that the Birther movement, which questions whether Obama was born in the U.S., was actually started by Clinton’s campaign against Obama in 2008. In fact, it had started before that, but a close Clinton adviser allegedly proposed that the campaign use it. He has denied the allegation, but what did occur was that Hillary deliberately chose a campaign strategy in which she would paint the Indonesia-raised Obama as un-American, equally outrageous and entirely contrary to the indignation she now claims to feel for Asian-Americans painted with the Perpetual Foreigner brush.
Speaking of perceptions, polls show that both Trump and Clinton are widely distrusted. In Clinton’s case, the above described two-faced behavior is a perfect example of how that negative perception of Clinton’s dishonesty arises.