As the Asian Heritage Month passes away

On campus at UMD, we had few events, of course. We even had Vijay Prasad over to give one of the most interesting talks I have heard of. He would agree too that the observation of the Asian Heritage Month was also one of the ways to normalize the potential dissent.

Well, one of the pitfalls of the multiculturalism is of course that it makes things appear so subtle that it would then look like cultures were made to live by side of each other by default. Subsequently any war and peace are byproducts of a complicated web of interactions.

In essence, the ways of living is clearly left for the people to determine. Culture never belonged to the government anyway. And millions of democracy lovers would want the Government to stay away from controlling culture. So, easy game, baby. Dominant will prevail.

For the rest, we shall observe a month for them. Rest 11 months, the tech-slave Asians live within free American society.

My friend Malik Russell sent the following piece:

EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer, an Indian immigrant, wonders what purpose ethnic heritage months serve in an increasing diverse yet paradoxically less welcoming America. Sandip Roy is a PNS editor and hosts “UpFront,” New California Media’s radio show on KALW-FM 91.7 in San Francisco.


SAN FRANCISCO–Oops, I did it again. May is almost over and I forgot to feel special. It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have nothing to show for it. I didn’t learn to wear a kimono or cook pad thai or read Amy Tan.

Public television and libraries are just bursting with Chinese memoirs and Filipino writers and Japanese origami demonstrations. Growing up in Calcutta, I was just Calcuttan. But with every boarding pass I received on my way to the United States, my identity ballooned — Calcuttan, Indian, South Asian and, finally, Asian. Now I get a whole month, and I’m at a loss as to what to do with it.

Asian Pacific American Heritage (APA) month, Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month are well-meaning attempts at promoting diversity and multiculturalism. But in a San Francisco that’s one-third Asian, celebrating APA month seems a bit like carrying rice to China.

True, San Francisco is a city where Asian political power is nowhere close to representative of the city’s Asian population. Only one Asian remains on the Board of Supervisors, while another high-profile Asian city official, the assessor, recently handed in her papers.

But in May, when the smells of summer are everywhere and barbecues beckon, who wants to talk about dreary things like supervisor races or whether district-based elections, as opposed to citywide elections, work against Asian candidates by splitting the Asian vote.

Only complainers would want to put a damper on the monthly party with the story of the Ratnams. This May, grandparents Rajeswari Ratnam and N.S. Venkatratnam arrived in Los Angeles after a 20-hour journey from India with valid 10-year visas — only to find themselves locked up for 24 hours and then sent back to India. It seems the computer couldn’t find a record of an old visa extension, and their son hadn’t saved a receipt from five years ago. Didn’t someone tell the zealous Homeland Security officer that this was APA month, and to cut the Ratnams some APA slack?

No, it’s much more fun to talk about lemongrass recipes and cute Filipino-American children dancing in ethnic costumes.

This flavor-of-the-month style multiculturalism makes being Asian all about saris and noodles and distracts from tougher, more vexing questions of multiculturalism and assimilation. Why are Asian neighborhoods in beacons of diversity like San Francisco becoming more and more Asian, while white neighborhoods turn whiter? Have all these designated “your month in the sun” celebrations shifted the notion of what it means to be American at all? Last time I checked, soy sauce and tempura were still jostling for space in the segregated “ethnic or foreign food” aisle of my local supermarket.

This photo-op diversity might make the foreign a little more familiar, but it usually remains limited to food and crafts. Foreigners themselves remain just as suspect in the new America, perhaps even more so. I doubt the Minutemen will announce a Hispanic Heritage Hiatus from their vigilantism on the U.S.-Mexico border come September.

Once upon a time, special months helped remind others of who we were. But now the “other” is no longer out there somewhere. The other is us. We go to school with Kims and Garcias, our astronauts have names like Chawla, our doctor is probably a Reddy and the Patriot Act was authored by a Dinh.

With these ethnic months, it’s as if we are telling the Kims and the Reddys that they can claim their heritage for just 30 days a year. Well, at least Asians get May’s 31 days, a friend pointed out. Blacks got stuck with February.

When I was a kid, if we were really good, if we were really quiet, our teachers would let us out one at a time to play for 10 minutes on the little cement patio outside our kindergarten classroom. We’d skip around, one lonely child at a time, in our pristine white uniforms in the baking Calcutta summer, while all the 30 other kids stared out at us from behind their text books, waiting for their turns. Looking back, I wonder what was really in their eyes — envy, or pity?

Sometimes my APA month feels like my time to play on that cement patio again. I wonder what would have happened if all 30 kids had gotten up to play at the same time.

After so many years of this heritage month and that history month, do we, all of us, APA, Hispanic, woman, gay, black, those with months and those without, do we dare ask, “OK, I am proud. What’s next?”



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