Transcript of Nick Lee's Remarks from Rally Against Anti-Muslim Hate (12/16/15)
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Posted by: Nick Lee
Thank you all for coming out today. It is very powerful and inspiring to see so many supporters from different communities come together to condemn this hateful rhetoric. I feel honored to speak in the shadow of this beautiful memorial and on behalf of OCA, an organization that has stood against racial injustice since 1973.
Asian American history tells us that we cannot stand by while hateful rhetoric is used to demean and exclude Muslim Americans. For me, what hit home was hearing a call for a new Muslim exclusion act and a thousand uninformed voices agree with them.
I was born long after the Chinese Exclusion Act, but it is central to my family’s history and I am conscious of it even today. When my Grandfather immigrated in 1929, he was not accepted with open arms by America. He was shunned and rejected. He was forced to work marginal jobs as a laundryman or a cook, what they used to call “coolie” labor, because people never thought that he had the intellectual capability to do any better.
Though my grandfather faced racism constantly throughout his life, the racism that most profoundly affected him was legalized and codified in the Chinese Exclusion Act. This racist law, passed in 1882 and upheld until 1943, was xenophobia and racism of the worst kind. It completely barred any legal means of immigration from China and forced generations of Chinese Americans like my grandfather to come to the US with no papers and no opportunity to become citizens.
Politicians of the day whipped up anti-Chinese sentiment by claiming that they came to destroy the American way of life, that the Chinese were dirty, filthy, and uncivilized. In their view, the Chinese were a threat to the security of this nation because they were simply too different to become “real” Americans.
This should sound familiar, because it is exactly the same kind of bigoted logic applied to Muslim Americans today. These are lies created by politicians to score cheap political points off the backs of innocent Muslim Americans. They falsely equate a religion of peace with evil and Muslim Americans and refugees with terrorists.
In times like these, when hateful rhetoric is the norm and understanding is the exception, it makes me sad that my adult life begins in such a space. However, in these times I remember that my grandfather didn’t love America for what it was; he loved it for what it could be.
America was a place where even though my grandfather had only a 6th grade education, in one generation his son went to Yale and Columbia Law School, and later became Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. In another generation I stand here before you with the full rights and privileges of citizenship, a college degree, and all the opportunities in life I could hope for. America stood for hope and opportunity, promise and possibility.
I, and many other US-born Chinese Americans, are privileged by the fact that we are here and do not have to carry the same burden as our fathers and grandfathers. Though our community may still face many challenges, the Chinese Exclusion Act is barely a memory in the mind of most. We are in a position of privilege to help others by speaking out about our history of persecution in order to fight back against the oppression of others. Everyone deserves a fair and equal chance in America like my family got, but this can never happen while we continue to single out minorities and force them to live in fear.
So shame on the powerful who prey on the weak. Shame on those who wish to capitalize on tragedies for political gain. Shame on those who stir up hatred and incite violence to get ahead in the polls. But most of all, shame on us when we see something and say nothing. Every time we stay silent and refuse to speak up for those who face the same persecution today, we turn our back on our ancestors like my grandfather, who had to endure exclusion from American society because of racism and bigotry.
I am confident that the arc of the moral universe is long, and that it bends towards justice; but I am also equally confident that it will bend a whole lot faster if we stand in solidarity against hate. It gives me great confidence in the future to see all of us here today because it shows me that there are many others fighting for justice. Let me tell you that OCA stands unequivocally against anti-Muslim hatred and stands with the Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian communities. Our ancestors deserve no less and we all deserve so much better.
Thank you for being here and thank you for this opportunity to stand up to hate.