Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Divide

Since the founding of the United States of America, people have immigrated from far and wide corners of the world into this land known for its fundamental rights of freedom and roads paved with gold.  The opportunities provided by the U.S. have, and continue to bring in a variety of cultures, which in turn has shaped our extremely diverse nation.  Today's issues with immigrants have resulted from a combination of both past and present events, and involve a number of ethnic groups from all over the world.  For class today, we focused primarily on Asian-American immigrants and their struggles in Philadelphia.  

There was no in-class discussion today because we went on two different field trips!  The first being a visit to Philadelphia's China Town, and then after lunch we headed out to West Philadelphia to visit the Philadelphia Folklore Project.  Personally, the only knowledge I have of injustice toward Asian Americans is what I have learned in the history books at school, so it was very interesting to actually go out into these areas and learn to understand their feat from primary sources.  

We had a visiting professor by the name of Domenic Vitiello who, as stated in the syllabus, is an Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at University of Pennsylvania's School of Design.  This morning Domenic led us around China Town and we observed the economic structure of the only concentrated Asian-American community in that area.  We noticed how the community was structured so that the occupants did not have to leave China Town to survive if they did not want to.  Domenic was telling us about the many development projects that were once possible threats to the community, and how this caused the people to organize and fight back against these projects.  The justification for tearing down churches to build more urban complexes was that there was nothing going on in China Town and therefore those developers were free to "rejuvenate" the land.  This lack of respect for Asian-Americans' cultures was also discussed when we visited Asian Americans United (AAU) and spoke with Ellen Somekawa.  This organization that she works for is actually a public school which provides the necessary services for English language learners, and it lies just outside of China Town.  Their official mission statement is that "AAU exists so that people of Asian ancestry in Philadelphia exercise leadership to build their communities and unite to challenge oppression."  Although it is a small school with only 450 students, it is one of the only public areas in that neighborhood, as that area lacks any parks or other open spaces that are designed to bring young people together.  Ellen talked about the injustices that Asian Americans in that area have faced in just the last decade, as well as how inhumane the police and other members of that area have responded to having immigrants from Asia come into "their" area.  Overall, the social system in place oppresses Asian Americans throughout that area to such great extents that they are actually dehumanized in a multitude of situations.  This is why I think that it is so important for organizations like AAU to exist because, like Ellen was saying, if the people of China Town want to maintain and even possibly expand their community, they need to be able to mobilize their citizens so that they can counter that dehumanization and speak out on their own behalf.  

During the second field trip, we learned about serious long-term hate crimes against Asian-American students in South Philadelphia High School.  While this issue exploded in 2009 and drew a lot of attention from news stations, the information regarding this story was quickly recreated and twisted into something that the students no longer related to.  As a way to avoid spreading misconceptions about this event, the woman working the exhibit we went to asked us not to photograph the texts or write about the story, as it takes away from the truth of the matter.  The We Cannot Keep Silent exhibit however, tells the journey the students went through to achieve justice, but through their own words.  They were a large part of creating the exhibit in the first place, and they were the final deciders on what to keep as well as what they felt was not relevant to their fight.  We only spent about half an hour there, but I made sure to read up on every section of the exhibit, and I found that these students used a lot of the tactics we talk about in class to fight back against the oppression they faced.  This trip and the visit to the AAU opened my mind more to the everyday struggles that so many people face and how people really fear for their lives on a daily basis.  This is such a terrible and frightening thought that I cannot possibly understand because I have not faced such extreme injustice in my life.  Tomorrow, we are with Domenic again, so I hope that we have time to go into further detail about what we saw and learned during out two trips today.

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