LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The current wave of protests over police brutality against African Americans in the United States have prompted action in the form of protest, firings and even legislation. But there is also a lot of quieter soul-searching going on. We're going to focus now on other minority communities, such as Asian and Latino Americans, who are grappling with their own relationships to systemic racism. While many are committed to supporting this moment, some are also wondering where and if they fit in and what their role should be.
With us today to discuss that are Jay Caspian Kang, a Korean American writer whose work can be found in publications like The New York Times and Vice. And William Garcia-Medina, a black Puerto Rican educator and doctoral student in American studies at the University of Kansas.
Welcome to you both.
WILLIAM GARCIA-MEDINA: Hello.
JAY CASPIAN KANG: Hey.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: William Garcia-Medina, there has been a lot of talk within the Latino community - which is very diverse - about what our role is. You, obviously, come at this from a particular perspective because you are Afro-Latino. What has this moment made you think about and discuss?
GARCIA-MEDINA: In our communities the issue that we have that at least this generation or at least what the current events are sparking is the idea of racial mix in Latino communities. People will say things like, well, I can't be racist because I'm mixed.
And one of the big moments where everyone was basically on top of this issue was when the white Puerto Rican Alex Michael Ramos was found guilty of malicious wounding in Charlottesville at the parking garage when he started beating Deandre Harris with a white supremacist group. And before Alex Michael Ramos was convicted, he went on a Twitter rant saying that he's not racist because he's Puerto Rican.
And so the question that a lot of Latino communities and activists and writers are having - what does it mean to exclude yourself from a racist vitriol or from systemic white privilege by claiming that you're not white? But also, you know, hanging out with the Proud Boys. And so it's pretty clear to us right now that we're having conversations on how to combat anti-blackness but not using racial mixing as the antidote to that issue.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Jay, there's been a historic relationship and tension between the African-American community and the Korean community.
KANG: Yes, the LA riots is generally thought of as being kicked off by what happened with Rodney King - the verdict and the beating itself. But there's also other flashpoints, and I think the biggest was the killing of Latasha Harlins by a Korean American storekeeper. The storekeeper Soon Ja Du was ultimately convicted but was given probation, and so that was sort of a confirmation and a thought that perhaps Asian Americans were also, you know, exempt from the law when it came to killing black people. And so, you know, like, that has been litigated and relitigated for the past 28 years. And one thing that I have noticed - that the conversation is stuck.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And do you have thoughts on that?
KANG: I do. I - you know, I think that it - what it comes down to is the type of politics that is just about self-examination to try and find problems within oneself and to try and emerge out as this pure being, I guess would be a way. And that within - if you can be a model for that, then perhaps you can teach your parents to not do that. And it just seems, at some point, that the ask is not particularly politically active, and so then it just becomes navel-gazey, in a way.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you mean that really sort of putting our own communities' house in order isn't really the point of this moment?
KANG: Yeah. I do not understand the need to step back and say, well, let me make sure that my brain is clear and pure before I step out on the street. If you step out on the street, that is more of a statement, in my opinion, to go to the protest than to do any type of self-examination, especially the type of self-flagellating examination that happens in public, usually on social media.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: William, as a black man, do you see this fight as your fight, too?
GARCIA-MEDINA: Absolutely. And not only me, but a lot of other Afro-Latinos - we tend to think about black issues as very much connected. I do see the killing of George Floyd, you know, terrifying for myself. I understand the fear.
But also, I do think about ICE terrorizing black immigrant communities. We - we're looking at Bahamians that are not able to go to the United States and find refuge after Hurricane Dorian. We're documenting on Haitians protesting against TPS. So even though the mainstream media has a way of making a movement look like it's about one thing, at the local level, when I talk to people, it's about a lot of black issues.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. I have seen a lot of discussion about that and also about, where was everybody when they were caging children and separating families? - the idea that one pain is equal to another. And I've also seen a lot of pushback on that idea. And that's, I think, what Jay is saying, which is, like, at a certain point, every community has their pain. But is this not about this particular issue and this moment that could actually affect change for everybody?
KANG: Well, that's how I feel, but I don't think that it should be - I think it should always be centered in the black experience. You know, what I have seen from going to some of these protests where I live in Northern California, the young people are trying to think about it in a way that is not what you would expect, which is instant co-option and that the white concerns go straight to the front.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: William's point seems to be, also, though, that, you know, as an Afro-Latino, these issues are interrelated, but they are different, and they also deserve acknowledgement. And different communities in this country are treated different ways. Is that a representation of what you're seeing, William - that you are worried, perhaps, that the issues specific to your community might get overshadowed?
GARCIA-MEDINA: I guess some folks could ask the question, you know, that will say, well, you know, in the '70s and '80s, you know, bilingual reforms in schools took place because of the Mexican American civil rights movement, you know? The difference is that, you know, there was a lot of collective empowerment. For example, we had the American Indian movement. You know, we had the Young Lords. We had the, you know, Asian American - we had the Yellow Peril. We had the, you know, Chicano movement.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But you think maybe there's space for other groups to also push other issues at this time, and that collectively could lead to more change.
GARCIA-MEDINA: Well, yeah, I think that's what we're discussing. How can all of us come together when there's so many issues that are affecting our communities in different ways? I guess you can walk and chew gum. You know, I guess maybe you can partake in the movement and also say, hey, let's have this conversation now on Haitians and TPS, you know?
I agree with Jay. Like, doing nothing and just kind of not participating in a worldwide movement doesn't really do much either. You know, you could say, OK, now that we're talking about George Floyd, you know, can we talk about other black immigrants that ICE is criminalizing as breaking the law, as - I think that being in those spaces and bringing them up - you know, you may get looked at a little weird at the moment, but you have to be in the movement. You have to be there if you want to impact change.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's William Garcia-Medina and Jay Caspian Kang.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
GARCIA-MEDINA: Thank you for having me.
KANG: Hey, thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIKTOR KRAUSS'S "OVERCAST")
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