Tag Archives: Asian American

Journey from Coerced Sterilization to Misinformation

The dialogue around health and healthcare systems has increased at similar rates to that of the pandemic. Fingers are pointed at the lack of ventilators, hospital beds, and testing kits. 

While it is easy to pick at the chipped paint, the flawed structural foundation becomes glaringly obvious when there is less paint to chip. Much like the horror one might feel seeing a panel of their home infested with termites, America’s structural integrity is threatened by its hegemonic narrative – its own version of termites. Exploration of government policies, in the past and present, is a necessary context for the receptiveness of diverse communities to information from government sources. 

A History of Racialized Care Breeds Distrust

Racism was not a singular one-dimensional vector but a pandemic, afflicting…communities at every level, regardless of what rung they occupied.- Ta-Nehisi Coates

History of racialized care has had an adverse effect on communities of color. Racialized care takes into account your race and subsequently, the healthcare you receive. African American, Latinx, Native American, and AAPI populations are disproportionately subjected to worse healthcare due to income, language barriers, lack of research, and implicit bias from healthcare professionals.

But above all, healthcare in the US is informed and shaped by an oppressive history. Disenfranchised communities have been given reason to be wary of a healthcare system that has been used as a conduit for injustice.

Virginia Hedrick, Executive Director of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health and panelist at Ethnic Media Services April 17th briefing on the impact of Coronavirus on diverse communities, noted the distrust of the healthcare system by Native Americans and their unwillingness to believe in the protocols of the pandemic. And why wouldn’t they be skeptical, considering the “sterilization of Native [American] women existed up until 40 years ago”, Hedrick added.

So what were marginalized populations encountering up until 40 years ago? And perhaps even as recently as 10 years ago?

In the 1960s, President Lyndon B Johnson led the Great Society Project in an effort to eliminate poverty by increasing access to welfare and social services. The backlash came from physicians, white men, who took it upon themselves to lower the rates of people on welfare. No short of a God complex, they believed that by sterilizing women of color, they were helping society – limiting birth rates in low-income, minority families. 

Between the 1960s and 1970s, 25% of Native American Women were sterilized by the Indian Health Service; various government programs formed the Indian Health Service. IHS had found that the average Native American woman had 3.79 children to the white woman’s 1.79 children; within 10 years that number declined to 1.99 for the Native American woman. This was attributed to education and higher income but unwanted sterilization was erased from the historical narrative. In actuality, the decrease in births had to do with the use of coerced sterilization as a procedure to help a medical ailment even if it was unrelated or nonconsensual.

A map from a 1929 Swedish royal commission report.

Latin and African women were targeted starting in 1909 when states started adopting eugenics programs. 32 states rallied together to advance eugenics during which 60,000 people were sterilized. In the documentary, “No Mas Bebes”, a Mexican American woman speaks to the trauma of being sterilized while giving birth to her children. This story isn’t dissimilar to the story of sisters, Minnie Relf and Mary Alice, two mentally disabled African American women, whose mother tried to get them birth control shots and, unbeknownst to her, they were surgically sterilized. Relf vs. Weinberger, a landmark case, revealed that 150,000 poor women were coerced into sterilization under the threat of their welfare being taken away from them. 

Mental institutions and prisons became breeding grounds for such programs and even a law was passed allowing anyone committed to state institutions to be sterilized. Until as recently as 2010, there were cases of inhumane treatment in California prisons and it is reported that 150 Latina inmates had been inflicted with forced infertility

Eugenics was just the start of questionable activity by the US government. It progressed beyond sterilization when marginalized populations became lab rats for large-scale experiments. There are 40 documented studies done on incarcerated peoples and we have yet to know the number of undocumented studies; most studies hurt the recipients and yielded no results.

The US Public Health Service worked on a study with Tuskegee University to observe the natural history of untreated Syphilis for 6 months. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, lasting 40 years during which the patients were purposefully misinformed, misdiagnosed, untreated, and eventually, forgotten. 600 impoverished African American men, 399 with Syphilis and 201 without, joined with the promise of free healthcare; healthcare which was inaccessible to the black diaspora due to their race. Without informed consent, those with Syphilis were not told of their condition. Instead, they were led to believe they were being treated for “bad blood”. To make a bad situation worse, the free treatment the patients were receiving was no treatment at all. By 1947, penicillin was discovered as a cure but was not given to these patients for another 25 years. Not a single one of the patients consented to the experiment and many died without ever knowing their actual cause of death or that their death was preventable.

Racialized disparities in health factors in the omission of and lack of care given to minorities. Asian Americans were less likely to be asked about their lifestyle, mental health, and doctors did not understand their background and values. The same study, additionally mentioned that Asian Americans felt their doctors did not listen, spend as much time, or involve them in decisions about their care. Significantly, not much is documented about Asian American health until the 2000s. 

Lack of Access Presently

Genoveva Islas, Founder of Cultiva La Salud and panelist for EMS, is confronting the plight faced by the farmworkers in Fresno. Fresno has 1% of the farmland, provides 25% of the food we’re eating in California, yet the farmworkers don’t have personal protective equipment, health insurance, savings, or retirement funds. A majority of these farmworkers are left out of the CARES Act and their housing and food security are in question. “We need a just and fair immigration system”, Islas advocates, putting the spotlight not on the lack of healthcare, but on our immigration policies that leave immigrants and undocumented people at a disadvantage. She wants to ensure that the pandemic is not a time when those who are already being exploited are driven to the fringes of society without access to basic human rights. 

Distrust is the Seedling and Misinformation is the Byproduct

COVID19 has brought with it an onslaught of news, statistics, and warnings, both fake and real. Minority groups are struggling with effectively parsing and using this information given their inconsistent histories with the US government and healthcare systems. 

Virginia Hedrick reminds us that in Native American populations, the myth is that the Coronavirus “was here in December and that now, there is herd immunity.” Many within Native communities believe that homeopathic remedies have the ability to heal and protect someone from COVID19. 

Another reporter at the EMS video briefing expressed that African American populations are taking social distancing and Coronavirus information lightly. 

One only has to look as far as their WhatsApp groups to find confusing and misleading information and anti-Asian propaganda.

A doctor on the frontline at the University of California, San Francisco, and EMS panelist, Dr. Tung Nguyen, acts a buffer to inaccurate information:

People within your network may be struggling, sifting through information and misinformation (real and fake news) about COVID19. The onus is on our communities to understand that American history is rife with instances of disinformation and misinformation. Discerning what information is relevant requires collective work.

And right now, more than ever, action must be taken against an infodemic that is percolating through the pandemic. 

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


Featured image is a poster for a 1971 rally against forced sterilization in San Francisco, CA designed by Rachael Romero. (Library of Congress)

7th Grader Fights Anti-Asian Sentiment

The coronavirus is our generation’s distorted empathy quotient. As this life-threatening disease ravages low-income and minority communities, it becomes the world’s responsibility to protect our society’s most vulnerable. And from the mass-anxiety of COVID-19, the best and worst of society has bled into our daily lives. On one hand, GoFundMe is flooded with pages raising money for coronavirus victims. Young teenagers are distributing groceries in working-class neighborhoods while retweeting instructional videos for public safety. But the less endearing side to this narrative is also the most difficult to confront; Coronavirus concerns are being transformed into socio-political dog whistles for xenophobia and hate crimes.

Since the outbreak in January, New York City alone has reported 248 cases of race-based discrimination. On March 14th, a young man stabbed a family of three because they were of Asian-American descent and thus ‘spreading the virus’. A Chinese-American couple in Minnesota reported finding a derogatory and racist note left on their door. Without necessary precautions, our country may succumb to paranoia and racism before it caves into COVID-19. 

OCA letter signed by Teens For Vaccines.

To discuss the implication of such violence, I had a chat with 7th grader, Arin Parsa, a Davidson Young Scholar and founder of Teens for Vaccines. A strong proponent for public health and safety, Arin reached out to OCA, a national organization dedicated to preserving the rights of Asian-American Pacific Islanders. On March 31, Arin’s Teens for Vaccines co-signed OCA’S letter to President Trump, the FBI, and the DOJ demanding the urgent creation of a Task Force via Executive Order. This Task Force, Arin hopes, will allow the FBI to increase data collection and the DOJ to prioritize prosecutions against COVID-19 hate crimes. But his efforts extend well beyond preventing prejudice. Deeply concerned about PPE shortages (Personal Protective Equipment) for health care staff and senior citizens, Arin is raising awareness for sophomore Aditya Indla’s GoFundMe campaign to 3D Print Face Masks for healthcare professionals. When we spoke with Arin about his efforts, he discussed both his inspiration and ambitions for the near future. 

KN: First of all, your contributions to public health and safety amid the COVID-19 outbreak are absolutely amazing. What drew you to establishing Teens For Vaccines?

Arin Parsa: Thank you for the kind words! I founded Teens for Vaccines in August 2019 when herd immunity in California was falling dangerously below 95%, a risk for yet another measles outbreak. The bill, SB 276, had to be pushed through to stop fraudulent medical exemptions to vaccines. 

I was inspired by Ethan Lindenberger, an Ohio teen, who fearlessly testified in Congress about his decision to vaccinate himself despite his anti-vax mother’s beliefs. I spent my summer in NY at a research camp to truly understand what makes people anti-science. I found that, although skepticism was legitimate during the smallpox era, it had no standing in the modern world. Many are swayed by misinformation on social media about vaccine safety and vaccine ingredients (e.g. derivatives of pork, fetal strain from the 1960s), spread by a highly vocal anti-vax minority funded by alternative medicine practitioners and anti-government interests. Millions are being made by peddling dietary supplements as a replacement for vaccines. Sure, science isn’t perfect, and there are rare cases when vaccines are not suitable, but deliberately misleading vulnerable parents and religious communities, putting entire neighborhoods at risk, is deplorable. Over 140,000 have died from measles globally when we have a vaccine for it. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us.

KN: For those who are unaware of your cause, would you like to explain the purpose of Teens For Vaccines? As the response to the coronavirus develops, what is the group’s primary goal for the future?

Arin Parsa: Teens for Vaccines is about educating teens on vaccine safety and minor consent laws from trusted sources, and connecting teen advocates worldwide. I recently connected with an HPV Vaccine advocate from Ireland! 

Education empowers us from falling prey to misinformation and rhetoric of medical freedom and anti-government messages. Amplifying the voices of immunization coalitions, doctors, and epidemiologists is a huge endeavor, whether in our local communities or through social media. In fact, as we speak, anti-vaxxers are denying the COVID pandemic, questioning social distancing, and peddling false cures.

Teens for Vaccines is also anti-hate since a lot of teens like Ethan face dire threats when they go against the anti-vax lobby. A huge realization I had a few weeks ago was the extreme racism suffered by Asians. Teens feeling isolated, alienated, spit on, hit, yelled at, and attacked is not good for their mental health. Suicide rates among the teen demographic are at dangerous levels. Teens for Vaccines is first and foremost about teen health, and I sought out OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national organization to co-sign their letter and demand action from President Trump, FBI, and DOJ. 

KN: What do you hope to accomplish with the creation of an Anti-Asian Hate Task Force via an Executive Order? Why a Task Force, specifically? 

Arin Parsa: A Task Force will put a light on the escalating violence against Asians, sending a very strong signal throughout America that we will not tolerate the insidious hate that is riding on the coattails of this pandemic. Being a history student, I know racism is a deep-rooted belief. As much as we want to change people through messages of empathy and solidarity, sometimes only fear of consequences will stop such people in their tracks. A federal task force, working together with local law enforcement, can bring in swift action in collaboration with the FBI’s deep data collection programs, and DOJ prioritizing prosecuting hate crimes.

KN: Do you think government authorities are not taking swift action in ensuring the security of minority communities — including Asian-Americans — during this outbreak? How do you think their action — or lack of it — impacts the current socio-political climate?

Arin Parsa: No one realized how quickly deep-rooted racism would come to the surface. It is not that the government isn’t doing anything about it: the FBI has warned of a surge. President Trump, after having said “Chinese Virus” tweeted that he didn’t intend to use it derogatorily. But, it is clear that more needs to be done than just condemning the acts. 

The Asian demographic is a huge contributor to America’s scientific and technological advancements. Lack of immediate action can lead to an extremely fractured America and potential intellectual drain out of America. 

KN: Despite the mass-anxiety of a global pandemic, how do teens cross boundaries and establish solidarity with other ethnicities and groups? 

Arin Parsa: The power of the internet can truly be harnessed in these times. Joining diverse groups through social media of their choice,  whether it is Discord, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, we can reach out and understand others. Teens can join the r/StopAntiAsianRacism, follow @BurntRiceBunch to show support to Asian teens who are suffering.  Empathy is about listening and can be really powerful, so responding with thoughtful comments can go a long way.  I also welcome everyone to TeenOpinions.org to write and show solidarity. Music is a universal language, so joining online concerts such as One World: Together at home on April 18 can build a feeling of togetherness. Locally, in our communities, we can make a difference too. Even a hand wave and a smile to the ones in your neighborhood can be extremely uplifting. 

KN: It’s wonderful that you’re so involved and politically self-aware. Any advice for other teenagers who want to support society’s most vulnerable during this difficult time? 

Arin Parsa: Thank you. First and foremost, respecting the shelter-in-place orders itself is a show of support to those who are most vulnerable. Protecting ourselves is protecting others. Checking out state and county websites are great places to know how we can help: sewing masks (with mom’s help if needed) or using a 3D printer if you have one, creating care packages, writing thank you emails to hospitals,  making yard signs of hope, doing grocery runs for our elderly neighbors, or simply calling a senior center and enquiring are ways we can help. Having a sense of purpose and togetherness can help us get through these difficult times.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Student Intern for India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Asian Diaspora Considers Their Identities

Bhutanese, Mongolians, Burmese, Nepalese among fastest-growing but invisible sector.

As the 2020 census begins in earnest, representatives of Nepalese, Burmese, Bhutanese and Mongolian immigrants joined census officials and community organizers at a briefing for Asian American media to discuss the high stakes of getting an accurate count for their communities.

Together with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, these and other immigrants from Central, South and Southeast Asia represent the fastest growing sector of Asian immigrants to California over the last decade. Yet they are too new to have formed the civic organizations or media platforms to make their presence felt in the broader Asian American landscape.

Speakers agreed that being counted in the 2020 Census would change that.

Some 20% of Californians identified as Asian American-Pacific Islander in the 2010 census, said Hong Mei Pang of Chinese for Affirmative Action, which co hosted the March 5 briefing along with Ethnic Media Services.

“More immigrants come to the United States from Asia than from anywhere else,” Pang said. “But the Asian American community is not monolithic, and without an accurate count, these newer waves of Asian immigrants will be invisible.”

Stephanie Kim of United Way Bay Area echoed Pang’s point on the opening panel: “We have diverse needs requiring data and approaches customized to each community. If one of us is not counted, we all suffer from the undercount. If every one of us is counted, we all benefit.”

Linguistic and cultural isolation are challenges common to every recently arrived group. But speakers pointed to some immigrants’ experiences in their home countries that make them especially fearful of being counted.

Robin Gurung of Asian Refugees United, born and raised in Nepal, recalled how the Nepalese government used a census in the late 1980s to divide the country between native Nepalese and people of Bhutanese origin. He and his family were deported to Bhutan along with thousands of others. “So in the United States, there’s still a lot of worry and questions about the census – like what are the benefits, and what do we need to be careful about?”

“When they hear the word ‘census,’ it’s like a nightmare,” agreed Ganesh Subedi, of the Bhutanese Community Association of California. His community’s fear of government intrusion, he said, caused it to be vastly undercounted in the 2010 census.

Among its population of 45,000, he estimates, only 19,000 completed the census questionnaire.

In 2012, the Nepali Association of Northern California tried to collect census-type data on its own, the association’s former director Prem Pariyar said. But fear got the best of the community and the effort failed. Meanwhile, the community kept growing (http://facts.aapidata.com/nationaldata/) – by some 222% between 2010-2016, according to data compiled by Karthick Ramakrishnan of U.C. Riverside’s Center for Social Innovation.

“This is a great opportunity for us to establish our community,” Pariyar said. “We don’t want to lose our chance at being represented.”

Population growth of their communities was a common theme at the press briefing.

Myat Soe Mon, of One Myanmar community, spoke about ethnic cleansing in her country based on information the government gleaned under the pretext of conducting a census. “But here,” she said, “our population is growing. We have to keep moving forward.”

“The census data says we are just 32,000 Mongolians living in the U.S.,” noted Urtnasan Enkhbat, a student from Mongolia who wrote her senior thesis on Mongolians in the Bay Area. “We are a lot more. We have close to 10,000 just in the Bay Area.

Our numbers are growing rapidly, but it’s difficult to learn about us – we have no community centers or channels for communication.” She recently told a group of fellow Mongol immigrants, “We live in the U.S. But without data, we don’t exist in the U.S.”

Almost every speaker raised the issue of confidentiality as a further barrier in promoting the census.

Sonny Le, a refugee from Vietnam who has worked as a Partner Specialist for the Census Bureau since the 2000 Census, was quick to respond. Personal data collected by the census is forbidden to be disclosed to anyone for 72 years, even other government agencies and law enforcement, Le asserted. Penalties for violations run to a quarter million dollars and five years in prison. Nor has the data been breached.

Yet even among the Hmong, well-established now as the seventh largest population of Asian Americans, with a 13% increase between 2010 and 2016, the census is still an unknown.

“People my age had never heard about the census before,” said Tammy Vang, a Fresno-born daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos who works as a community organizer for Hmong Innovating Politics.

As the youngest speaker at the briefing, she also raised what for her is a deeply personal concern about the census — how to identify oneself in terms of gender.

“There is still a deep stigma attached to LGBTQ issues in the Hmong community,” she said, holding back tears. “The single binary choice on the census only makes it harder.”

Summing up the energy among attendees in the room, Gurung had the last word about the importance of the census: “We have to make ourselves visible. There’s nobody (else) out there who will.”


Originally published here.

U.S. Bank Recognizes Young Artists in San Francisco

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year, we celebrated the occasion in San Francisco with an integrated marketing campaign, including sponsorship of the Asian Pacific Fund’s “Growing Up Asian in America” art contest.

Community Development Regional Manager Michelle Brega served as a judge for the contest and presented the awards on May 5, 2018, on behalf of U.S. Bank. “It meant a lot that we made the commitment,” she says. “I’m thrilled the bank sponsored the event.

“I was misty-eyed the entire ceremony as I juggled both the themes of the day and the emotions that it evoked,” she continues. “The youth voices were moving, powerful and optimistic. They spoke on complex themes and shared deeply personal stories.

One of the contest winners, Emma Li, was moved by the gender inequities she sees in the world, from kids’ movies to Congress. Her artwork, titled “Women of the Future,” symbolized her hope for what’s to come.

“We still have a long way to go for women to reach parity with men, even in the US,” Emma said in her acceptance speech. “It is reflected even in popular kids’ movies! In The Smurfs, male smurfs outnumber the girl 100 to 1. At school, I discovered that women have a much lower average salary than men. There has been no woman president, and less than one-fourth of the US congress are women! In addition, in US universities, only 24 percent of full professors are women.

“I have a dream that someday there will be a female president, a woman astronaut on Mars, more women winning Nobel prizes and all people of all genders having equal opportunities,” she continued. “Finally, the glass ceiling will be shattered!”

The winners inspired Michelle and reminded her of her own childhood, growing up Asian in Maryland. “I did not feel as confident or supported as these children do today. I am overjoyed that they’ll carry their communities into the future with such passion and optimism, and hope all of us will support all of our youth in their commitment to make community possible.”

See more of the winning entries here.