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Round Table: The Concerns of Asian-American Leaders About Their Community

August 15, 1993| Compiled by Gloria Lau ; Times community correspondent

* Dan Kwong

Santa Monica

P erformance artist

"One thing that the arts can do is give public voice to some of the inside experience of what it means to be Asian in the United States. The arts can communicate things on a visceral, human level that can touch people.

"When I go and see various Spike Lee films, one of the things that moves me the most--whether or not I care for the particular film--is that here is an African-American filmmaker producing feature films about the African-American experience. When is it our turn?

"The decision of whether Asian-Americans become the subject of feature films is not going to be decided because the people in power (say) "It's time for the Asian voice to be heard." It will ultimately be decided if they think they can make money. Given that that's the driving force behind it, it will always color the work that they wind up producing because they're always going to go with the popular, commercial, generally stereotypical ideas.

"There's this great illusion that Asian-Americans are the model minority. But the fact is that Asian workers in this country, on an individual basis, still earn less than whites. The majority of Asians are of the working class.

"Another fact is the invisibility of the oppression. We're not perceived as being affected by racism. That's the basis of the model minority issue. Asians are perceived as being the successful minority. If you're not successful, the question then becomes 'What's wrong with you? Other Asians are successful.' So the invisibility almost becomes part of the oppression."


Marion C. Fay

Mid-City resident; attorney

"Asian-Americans should feel that their contribution to local and civic groups is important. They should be proactive and contribute to the community. Asians, I think, have a tradition of seeing their roots in family and not wanting to be that involved in things beyond that. . . .

"They don't see themselves as part of a political movement or political power bloc. The idea of creating blocs of political interest and seeing that as a goal is foreign.

"You have to be willing to work for things you believe in and be willing to stick your neck out, and you have to support your candidate with money. What I'd like to see is Asian-Americans getting out there and participating. It's a two-way street."


Michael R. Yamaki

attorney and former police commissioner

"I think when we talk about racism against Asian-Americans, it is very much more institutionalized than overt. But this generation is finding out that there are many glass ceilings. . . .

"But if you look at what we see on TV and the movies . . . you don't see Asian-Americans portrayed as bosses. The Asian-American certainly can be doctors and dentists and engineers and eggheads and stuff like that--the intellectual ones. But can they be portrayed as supervisors? I don't think so.

"I had the wonderful opportunity to be the first Asian-American police commissioner of the city of L.A. The Asian-American community is forever spoiled, you might say, because now they know what they've been missing. They had more access to information and a better chance of getting a response out of the Police Department, which is very important to them. . . .

"One of the biggest problems is that Asian-Americans aren't considered Americans. For example, if someone on the street asked you what you are, in this country if you're Asian you're expected to say 'Chinese,' 'Japanese,' 'Korean' or whatever ethnicity you've descended from. But if you asked what they are, they'll say, 'I'm an American.' They don't define where they're descended from."


The Rev. Ron Chu

associate pastor, Young-Nak Presbyterian Church, Cypress Park

"There are a lot of things churches can do. Churches, especially Korean churches, need to encourage their congregations to participate in society politically, socially and whatever else. Most Koreans are very quiet. They keep their thoughts mostly to themselves. Since the riots last year, a lot of young people are starting to come out and make their voices heard. But still they don't have the support from the majority of the community, which is still first-generation Koreans.

"Most Korean churches don't have much power--even here. We have 6,000 attending members. That's a very large organization. If we had someone who knew how to work in the political realm, I think this church could play a very influential role in the politics of L.A. or in the surrounding cities. But (the members) have no intention of doing that. To most of the folks, what's going on in Los Angeles just doesn't bother them. It's just not their problem. And that's what churches need to address to change the attitudes of apathy and open their eyes to what's going on in the community."

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