Many people, like Representative Steve King, only think of European and Western history for the development of civilization. But when King does this, he encourages the erasure of certain events and emphasizes others, misconstruing the reality of history. His view of the world becomes a mediated account. It credits the West with innovations that originated from these so-called “other subgroups”.
The blatant xenophobia is ironic given all the contributions made to Western society from other countries, as well as how rather than given credit, cultural appropriation deemed certain ideas more acceptable than others. While rewriting history can be an effective way of putting forth narratives and ideas that may have been overlooked, such as the rewriting of feminist Asian American history Shawna Yang Ryan puts forth in her novel, Water Ghosts, Steve King’s social commentary promotes nothing but ignorance.
A clear example of the ongoing issues of appropriation and injustice stems from the the 1875 Reciprocity Treaty, which allowed Asians to participate in labor in Hawaii, ending up with their maltreatment as plantation workers in the duty free sugar exploitation. The plantations were held up by the Asian workers, and would have been unable to have achieved such power and success without their labor. The railroads in America have a very similar story, with little to no recognition of Japanese and Chinese immigrant labor in a grueling industry that racialized them as disposable outcasts, forced them into business ownership and laundromats, restaurant businesses, and ultimately any low paying job in order to attempt to survive.
Asian immigrants faced barriers to exclude further immigration, such as the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and anti-miscegenation laws that prevented Asian immigrants from having sexual relations and settle on American land. However, the picture bride system used by Chinese and Korean immigrants allowed for Asian women to migrate to America, finding domestic work and setting the grounds for family life in America amidst previously male dominated bachelor-style homosocial Asian communities (Lee). However, in our modern-day multicultural nation, Asian-Americans who have lived in America their entire lives are still seen as immigrants, told to “return home” despite never having left the country in the first place. This is exemplified by the nation-state’s treatment of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II, where Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens residing mostly along the West Coast were asked in loyalty tests to fight for the American military and assumed internees’ allegiance to the Japanese emperor, asking them to forswear their obedience to a figure and nation that some had never even known (Mark Villegas Lecture July 21). These are only a few historical examples of how those deemed “Others” were the undervalued, underappreciated, and underrepresented backbone of Western culture.
In our presentation, we decided to address the irony of Representative Steve King’s statement, where he credits the basis of civilization to stem from purely Western civilization. By using visual representations, we are able to show extensive information of the age of Eastern civilization, as well as the numerous contributions from these groups. King tries to credit the United States as a part of the development of civilization, but as one of the youngest countries in the world, he discredits the majority of the Middle East, where Mesopotamia can be found, and China, with its thousands of years of history. Furthermore, we used the work demonstrated by immigrants into the United States as the foundation of how the United States was able to develop so rapidly. It critiques how blindly King spoke when he chose to ignore the amount of influence other societies had on Western Civilization throughout time. Much of Western culture can be traced back to the involvement of Eastern influence, proving to be contrary to King’s opinions. His views are a display of the idea of the Oriental problem, where whites view those of other races as different and problematic, as an Other, while simultaneously reaping the benefits of their labor and claiming it as their own. Michelle Obama recently delivered a powerful line in her speech at the DNC, that she “[wakes] up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” Similarly, Americans wake up every morning in a nation that was built off of not only the hard work, but the innovation, provided by minorities.
Obama, Michelle. “Remarks By The First Lady At The Democratic National Convention.” Democratic National Convention. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 25 July 2016. Speech.
Shawna Yang Ryan, Water Ghosts: A Novel. Penguin Books, 2007. 20 July 2016.
Shelley Sang-Hee Lee, A New History of Asian America. Routledge, 2013. Print. 20 July 2016.
Vasquez, Pedro Moreno. “10 Magnificent Contributions Of Native Americans.” Xpatnation.com. XpatNation, 08 Aug. 2015. Web. 20 July 2016.
Villegas, Mark. “Japanese American crisis, citizenship, and WWII.” University of California, San Diego. Solis Hall, La Jolla, CA. 21 July 2016.