Professor Bill Ong Hing

Bill Hing tape log 8/1/05
Recorded by Reese Erlich

Total 45.42

.12 This is Bill Hing. I’m a professor of law and Asian American Studies at University of California, Davis.

.35 I am Bill Hing. I’m a professor of law and Asian American Studies at University of California, Davis.

The 65 reform laws were very family oriented. It was about promoting family reunification. The problem with the Fujianese migration is that the Fujianese who want to come to the US don’t have the relatives necessary to /// qualify. ///

The Chinese whom immigrated in the 1800s, much of it was because of famine, poverty and lack of opportunity in China. Much of it was driven by rumors of gold in the hills of California. /// Those that are coming from Fujian have analogous reasons. /// The US continues to have this image throughout the world of this land of opportunity.

Fujian economy has been on the decline for 15 years or more. There aren’t opportunities for young people.

3.24 TO CORRECT 1.45
The Chinese who immigrated in the 1800s to the US desired to leave the country for a variety of reasons.

The vast majority of Fujianese who come to the US today, even under very dire circumstances, their lives often do end up better than what they had at home. If you contrast what is present in their homeland vs. what they have here, it’s relatively better.

The revitalization of Chinatown and other low income areas of New York can be directly linked to the influx of immigrants from throughout the world. The Fujianese who have settled in some previously dilapidated areas of Manhattan, have brought the earnings they make. They’re consumers, they’re residents, they need housing.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Fujianese have actually revitalized many low income neighborhoods.

10 or 15 years ago, going rate for smugglers or snakeheads was $30-40,000. That figure has doubled.

It’s very common to hear that individuals have paid $70,000 or 80,000. I’ve heard figures as much as $100,000. The method of paying off the snakeheads /// sometimes there are employers who will make the final payment for them. In many situations the individuals take whatever job they can find or whatever job was arranged for them with the understanding they would pay off the snakehead over time. /// It really is /// a form of bondage or slavery.

People live in very poor conditions. Scrimp and save. Send money back home if possible. Must live in the US somehow. They are very much in a form of bondage.

The Fujianese that I have encountered in NY and California have a range of occupations.

Very often the jobs they can find are in the restaurant and garment industry, some in hotel. Some are cab drivers, maintenance workers. They go to where others speak their language. By word of mouth, if a critical mass has been established in a building or restaurant, they find an opportunity.

Fujianese workers frequently work for below minimum wage. They’re in an exploitable situation. They cannot complain. If they complain, they’ll be reported to immigration authorities and be deported. They don’t report health and safety and wage violations.

It’s difficult to organize undocumented workers. While the US labor laws do in theory protect undocumented workers. /// 11.12 The US Supreme Court has ruled that undocumented workers are protected by NLRA. However undocumented don’t have a legal claim for back wages.

Immigration authorities have the power of employer sanctions. US doesn’t enforce those laws. Employers know that.

13.30 ****
There’s a trend in immigrant based communities to become more political active, to become more involved in civil society. It would be a misunderstanding to think that large numbers of undocumented migrants would turn to the political process. What we’re seeing is the next generation, or at least the legal immigrant generation.

The movement of mobilization among Latino and Asian communities is definitely on the upsurge. It has brought along some new immigrant communities but not as many undocumented. You see the children or the refugees who are lawful.

Some of the immigrants that came on the Golden Venture were held in custody for many years, 3,4,5,6 years. They were held in different parts of the US. /// The Golden Venture was one of several boats. /// That did open the eyes of immigration and customs authorities that had been focused /// primarily on the southern border.

Given the large number of ships from Fujian, immigration authorities said they have to keep our eyes open for other methods of breaking into the country.

Since that time, they’ve approaches that didn’t exist before, for example looking at large container ships and inspecting the containers very closely. ///

There has been a re-prioritization in looking for possible inroads.

17.50 ****
They’ve pretty much cracked down on these ships coming in.
(Others land in Central America. Some snakeheads have brought Fujianese through southern border.)

The immigration system today is based on family preference. Because of big demand from former residents of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, there are backlogs that exist in various immigration categories. /// When some body from the Chinese American sees a Fujianese applying for asylum get ahead of the line by /// getting asylum granted, there is a certain amount of resentment. ///

19.45 *******
When the Fujianese began arriving in the early 1990s no the west coast, the Chinese American community was not quick to embrace that. Some did. But others did not because there was the sense they were breaking into line.

Everyone thought that most of the Fujianese coming into the country are coming as economic migrants. I have no doubt some did have some persecution that should be recognized. But in point of fact, many of the claims made were based on what individuals thought might make a good tale to make them apply for asylum.

They’re coming here to make a better life. They’re not ripping anyone off. They’re not getting welfare.

21.20 NAFTA
NAFTA and the end of the /// microfibers agreement in January, 2005, which eliminated the restrictions on foreign made garments coming to the US has drastically changed /// the garment industry in the US. /// A lot of manufacturing that once took place in the US is offshore now. In Mexico and ironically mainland China. As a result many jobs have dried up. The kinds of jobs NAFTA has created are actually higher paying jobs of which many undocumented are not qualified for or won’t get.

There is a clear economic effect. Some predict CAFTA will have as well.

The microfibers agreement that terminated in Jan 2005 had a devastating impact on the garment industry in the US.


23.50 ******
The Asian American movement did start in the 1960s, largely in the Bay Area of California. It came as part of ethnic studies and black power movement. At Berkeley and SF State, Asian Americans who were activists saw what African Americans and Latinos were doing. They had similar feelings.

Much of the curriculum didn’t reflect their experiences. Demands mirrored those of black and Chicano studies. First three Asian American studies were at SF State, UC Berkeley and UC Davis. After that UCLA.

Even the term Asian American didn’t come of age until 1960s. Prior people identified as Japanese or Chinese Americans. ///

What happened in the 70s was that movement evolved into a political movement very much about American born Asian Americans. There wasn’t much Japanese immigration. Beginnings of Chinese immigration. The movement was led by American born.

26.20 ***
What many Asian Americans didn’t realize was that a whole demographic was changing. That change was fueled by the immigration amendments of 1965. Slowly but surely more Chinese immigrants began arriving. Indian. Philippine immigrants.

26.45 ***
In 1970 there were more American born Chinese Americans in the US than foreign born. By 1980 that had reversed and it’s been that way ever since. /// That’s true for every other group except Japanese.

27.15 ********
When the Vincent Chin case came along /// the fact that an Asian American was beaten /// not just because he was Chinese American but largely because of what he looked like. That woke up a generation of new Asian Americans who had not been politicized by the Asian American /// identity movement.

The movement needed something like that to politicize many of these new Asian Americans. They could immediately identify with the fact that someone who looked them got beaten up.

28.52 ********** LINK WITH 27.15
That (beatings) was happening to a lot of Asians in the country. They were victims of hate crimes. They were victims of verbal abuse. They were made fun of. It was something that hit home.

Asians believe in model minority myth. Especially older generation. This is a meritocracy. Go to medical school and everything will be all right. That was definitely the view of the Detroit Chinese American community. Work hard and you’ll do fine.

30.30 *****
When Vincent Chin was murdered, people had to look at themselves. I may have worked hard or gone to university, but some people still look at me as a foreigner. That’s what the Vincent Chin case did to a generation of old timers and a generation of new timers.

31.10 ******
There is a difference in perception of racism based on class. The Asian American community has a complicated psyche. There are Asian Americans who do well. There’s a clear class difference, professionals and business owners who do well. There’s also a clear bifurcation. Because Asian Americans also are among the lowest income in terms of certain classes. It is largely south east Asians. But there are poor working class Chinese and Filipinos as well.

In the year 2006 many successful Asian Americans think they can continue to improve their status /// if they work hard. Unfortunately many of those dreams /// are shattered. Often they run into glass ceilings. Often they will be spat upon for no apparent reason.

A few years ago a prominent member of the SF Board of Supervisors, Tom Sheh, he was pushed around and spat upon on the street and told to go back to China.

I’ve interviewed Asian American Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, 80-90% who are successful, they are the first to admit they ran into glass ceilings. They couldn’t reach the higher echelons of HPs or Intels in Silicon Valley.

It’s a rude awakening for many.

Others who are self employed, whose children get into Stanford and Harvard, continue to believe race isn’t a problem in the US. There is a bifurcation in the Asian American community /// as to whether Asians are subject to racism.

34.55 WEN HO LEE ****
The Asian American community still continues to emphasize math and science. Even at UC Davis where I teach, the vast majority are in math and science, not liberal arts and humanities. They can’t just blame it on their parents. Many believe that’s where their future lies.

So when Wen Ho Lee, by all accounts a hard working, serious engineer who never had any problems in terms of being accused of being lazy. He was never accused of being uncooperative. He had very typical hard work ethnic. When he was accused of spying for the Chinese government.

36.30 ******
Initially the Asian American community didn’t know how to react. Some thought maybe he was a spy. Others thought, no he couldn’t be. The reaction was initially mixed.

But eventually the evidence did reveal over months in the trial and the time spent in jail in solitary /// . When it was revealed there wasn’t any evidence.

It became very clear to the Asian American community that he had been profiled. That woke up the science community in the various Asian American communities. Most people aspired to work for the government or some high tech firm /// which often security clearances are necessary.

At the time of that revelation, many A-A were upset that could happen to them again.

38.15 ***********
The US as a country we make mistakes. We made a mistake regarding Japanese Americans. We made a mistake with Wen Ho Lee. The Chinese American community and others forget those lessons quickly. It passes with time. Many people think let’s go back to work. But I worry. (GO TO N. KOREA BELOW 39.55)

Just like the spy plane incident /// When the US spy plane landed in China and it was revealed that the US was spying on China and the Chinese would not readily return the plane, there was a backlash against Chinese in the US. Radio DJs were mocking Chinese accents. The famous comedy group Capitol Steps did a routine with fake buck teeth and horn rimmed glasses to a lot of laughing from the journalists.

39.55 ******
We forget how that reflects racism. I worry if something happens with regards to North Korea /// we’ll have another incident of making fun of Asians in the US. /// Other Americans look at that and say it’s ok to make fun. Other Americans say /// if I can do that I can start shoving them around.

The history of Chinese in America in the 50s hasn’t been told very often. People were interrogated. Newspapers were focused on. People were investigated because they might have some sympathy for the communist government in China.

41.45 *********
There are striking similarities between that era and what the can and does happen in the US today. For example, post 9/11, the racial profiling and investigation of south Asians, Muslims and Arabs is very analogous to what happened. I feel that kind of thing can happen on the heels of Wen Ho Lee and spy plane. If there’s doubt that some group’s sympathies might lie abroad, /// our allegiance, our loyalty can be questioned.

There’s a strong analogy between what happened to Wen Ho Lee being held in solitary confinement without access to the medical care he needed. He actually developed more severe medical problems while in confinement and what has happened in Abu Graib and Guantanamo. And analogous to what happened to J-A in WWII.

43.22 **********
In time of what our nation or policy makers believe are crises or breech of national security. We shoot first and ask questions later. It’s sad but true.

I was so proud that Fred Koramatsu that he filed an amicus brief in the Guantanamo case. He had strong ties with Wen Ho Lee. They saw the similarities to what happened to them and what’s happening today.

Fred Koramatsu was a J-A who refused to report for internment in WWII. His case went to the Supreme Court. 40 years later, evidence surfaced that the government lied about J-A posing a national security threat. Supreme Court overturned Fred Koramatsu’s case.