America, Auto Bulk, Culture, Data Disaggregation, Development, Education, History, History, Human Rights, Lao, Lao American, Lao Diaspora, Laos, News, Politics, Refugee, Social Justice, Southeast Asian, Timothy Singratsomboune, United States
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Affirmative Action: Opposing Forces

This is part two on a series about how data effects Education and Affirmative Action. Find Part One here.

Crafting a New Identity

It would be nice if we were already supported by the rest of Asian America in the fight against these biases and erasures that hurt Lao Americans, but our community has been holding its breath for that to happen since 1975. The fight is not as simple as data disaggregation, either. We also must make sure that Lao Americans can be viewed completely separately in all social arenas, to combat common biases that group all Asian American groups into a single narrative. The presence of this single narrative impacts how people read empirical data, even when disaggregated.

Disaggregation must entail how we Southeast Asian Americans see ourselves. Our groups can start by distancing our self-identification, business ventures, and even, arts and media from the rest of Asian America. Not in a way that promotes segregation, but in a way that frees us from any reliance on other groups for resources or advocacy. Otherwise, if we don’t, how can we ever be sure that affirmative action gains (or any gains) for Asian America will include us? The hard truth is, we can’t.

Further, if we take into consideration that White women have benefited more from affirmative action than more marginalized Women of Color, it’s not a leap to see that marginalized Lao Americans are being treated with the same scalpel. Hopefully by distancing ourselves from the single narrative of Asian America, we can bring increased awareness to Lao American experiences. This can lead to increased opportunities to build with non-Asian American groups that have similar experiences, and maybe even increased unity within Asian America (after they see how seriously we take ethnic disparities). While difficult, making the hard choice to willingly walk away from the table ensures that a new, better conversation can begin.

Opposition Is Already Here

Luckily, we are amid a major wave of efforts by organizations like SEARAC, who have been pushing for Asian American data disaggregation in education. These efforts are undertaken in hopes that the new data will bring awareness, funding, and improved affirmative action opportunities to Southeast Asian Americans. This has recently been successful in Rhode Island, where SEARAC, local organizations like PrYSM and ARISE, and other local activists have successfully pushed the New England state to start breaking down Asian American data from its schools, by ethnicity.

Unfortunately, Chinese American groups have protested the disaggregation initiative in Rhode Island, despite the benefits that activists have said it will bring Southeast Asian American communities. East Asian-led organizations and protesters claim that the new initiative is invasive because of the data that it collects. But this criticism seems to be oblivious to the fact that ethnic, racial, age, employment, disability status, and geographic data is already being collected (by Google, by the US Census, by job applications, by medical surveys, and by college applications)!

The push back against data disaggregation reminds me of my experiences with East Asian American-led organizations using Southeast Asian American poverty statistics to get grants… and then only using those grants to fund East Asian initiatives. Maybe the leaders of these protesting groups have a similar MO, and view increased visibility for SE Asian Americans as the end of their ability to profit from our struggles. Look, I know that not all East Asian Americans work against SE Asian American progress, but, it is also clear that there is existing leadership that actively work to undermine SE Asian American initiatives. This has yet to be addressed by Asian America.

The controversy around data disaggregation reinforces, for me, the value of Lao America distancing ourselves from the rest of Asian America in terms of statistics and community advocacy. That is to say: I TOLD YOU, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING DRASTIC LIKE GTFO OF THE CONFINES OF BEING A PART OF THE CURRENT ITERATION OF ASIAN AMERICA! Better-resourced communities aren’t advocating for Lao Americans, so let’s band together with other marginalized Asian American groups and start addressing our own needs; beginning with identifying ourselves using new terminology. We aren’t Asian Americans, we are Southeast Asian Americans and Lao Americans. I wouldn’t have to make this distinction in my writing, if Asian America wasn’t already making this distinction by its negligence to its most vulnerable members. WE DIDN’T CREATE THIS DIVIDE, AND WE REFUSE TO PUT IN ALL THE EFFORT TO FIX IT!

If you were wondering, negligence or disinterest by certain Asian Americans toward Southeast Asian Americans is just as negatively impactful as concerted undermining efforts. The “we weren’t aware of the problems” excuse doesn’t add up.

Setting Priorities

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that the fate of affirmative action for high degree-attaining Asian American groups, deserves attention. They shouldn’t automatically be barred from affirmative action due to statistics alone, especially without first having nuanced discussions and analyses.
However, we as Lao Americans can’t hold off on our communities’ needs while waiting for specific discussions to happen. If Lao Americans and other socioeconomically marginalized Southeast Asian American groups are viewed as statistically separate, that doesn’t mean we’re abandoning well-resourced East and South Asian American students. It means that we have decided to address some dire hurdles in our own communities before we can engage in less urgent debates. Because c’mon, a debate involving East and South Asian American communities’ successful enrollments into college (despite their communities’ perceived affirmative action barriers) is not an urgent debate for us.

Urgent debates involve social barriers like: poverty, food deserts, gang violence, linguistic challenges, and a lack of political representation; which, Southeast Asian Americans are far more likely to face than other Asian American groups. Lao Americans must make our plight known, and step out of the shadow of poorly categorized data, that make it harder for us to advocate for better policies. Again, it’s going to take separating ourselves statistically from the rest of Asian America to do this. And again, it’s going to take many levels of social separation to make that statistical separation, stick.

Look, it’s not about abandoning. It’s about being seen for who we truly are and in which space we currently reside.

-Timothy Singratsomboune, tsing1991@gmail.com

 

6 Comments

  1. so you were fine with us uniting with asian groups when it was beneficial, but now that you see a place it hurts us you want to divide and find other groups to unite with (south east asians).

    first of all, that is the most disgusting use of tribalism i seen in a while. how can you use entire peoples for your benefit and jump ship when it doesn’t suit you anymore. you deserve to drown overboard.

    second you can’t fix identity politics with identity politics. you’re just going to burn that first bridge and any group you meet with with know you as a user, so they won’t unite with you or if they do it will be just to use you, like BLM is doing with you. as soon as they got what they wanted from you they will throw you out. which is fine because you planned on leaving as soon as you got what you wanted from them because as soon as this new south east asian unity gives you negative gains you will burn that bridge and move on to the next group. you are cultivating a negative mentality within our own community and every group that interacts with you will feel that and think that of the rest of us.

    the solution to identity politics isn’t more identity politics. it is standing on your own feet as a human being and being something others can look up to. no where does that involve using groups of people for your benefit and abandoning them once they are detrimental to you.

    people shouldn’t look at you as see a laotian, that is looking out for laotians or what ever other ally group you find useful at the time. that will only make you look like a user. people should look at you and see a good person, that is laotian and they will take that perspective and carry it over to other laotians and asian people and human beings. we need to return the faith we had in humanity.

    laotians used to value culture, not group identity. you might see them as one, but you are very mistaken. a laotain would help a hmong not because they share the same country or both asian or south east asian, but because they are both humans and laotians were raised to help others. they are raised to help others because they would just as much help a thai, or a american, or a african. maybe your lao culture mutated into this disgusting tribal hateful divisive mentality that looks out for who ever can help you out and sacrifices those who aren’t useful and attacks those outside of you for simply not being your tribe or useful enough.

    it is clearly about abandoning others for the space we “currently” reside. that space will change as it always does and as you reidentify with what ever group you see as useful and abandon those you decide aren’t useful. you are burning bridges and giving all laotians a bad reputation.

    simple, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and realize 2 out of 3 aint bad. work with what you got. don’t cry about what you don’t because you are wasting valuable time doing so.

    these asians you deem to be detrimental to our identity didn’t waste time complaining, they broke their backs working in horrible conditions and made lasting value. 100 years ago chinese came over as indentured servants worked themselves to death in mines, building railroads across the entire country, and planting explosives. they got screwed over by literally everyone and now they have some of the highest socioeconomic value in the country. i argue, their “conservative” values and mentality got them there.

    your solution is to use as many people as possible and reform your tribalism to the point you become powerful enough you’re happy, even though you constantly attack and despise the powerful groups. basic logic seems to disprove your solution. as soon as you burn a few bridges no one will group with you in any meaningful or constructive way and you will just make us all look like lao nationalists that will use and attack anyone we deem “othersiders” or unuseful.

    • littlelaosontheprairie says

      Hi Chanthalee,

      Thanks for chiming in. While we appreciate and respect diverse perspectives on our platform, we will not condone threats of violence and harm (e.g. you deserve to drown overboard) against our community— especially to our writers. You have been warned and if it happens again, you will be banned from Little Laos on the Prairie.

      This is an example of a path forward. The beauty of being sentient is that we all have our vision of how to help our community, and world. The reality is—there will be conflicting views of how we achieve this. Please remain respectful.

      -The Editors

      • how was that a threat? i didn’t say i would push him. i pointed out he was willfully jumping overboard within a analogy then he deserved the coincidences of such decisions. no where was i saying within the analogy that i would push him overboard, attack him while he was in the water, or make it so he drowned, so i don’t see how that was a threat. also analogy is figurative to begin with, not literal, there is no water to drown in…. your writer advocates armed resistance to police officers, and you give me a warning for making a analogy that involves figurative water?

        it is clear you are priming the “waters” because you don’t like descending opinions. the answer is easy, use better logic while writing your opinion pieces.

  2. Bunyuen Suksaneh says

    Is there so little diversity among Lao-Americans that they can be considered collectively? For instance, how do the needs/ disadvantages of those who marry outside of ethnic Lao differ from those who don’t? And what about those who came from Laos but have an identity separate from ethnic Lao?

    • littlelaosontheprairie says

      Hi Bunyuen,
      You raise some great points. I don’t believe the author is saying there lacks diversity amongst Lao Americans. Especially considering that Laos itself was originally populated by a bunch of different tribes. What we are focusing on here, however, is how our diaspora (when it occurred/how it occurred/etc.) gives us a very different scenario than that of many other Asian groups. It is that difference that has us where we currently are–which is not as affluent or nearly as successful as everyone would have everyone else believe. Sure, there have been benefits from being lumped with a successful group, but with increasing data and information, we are finding out that, to truly stand next to the group we’ve been lumped with (only because of geography and physical appearance) we actually need to make even larger leaps and jumps.

      So, to put it more concisely–while there are definitely Lao people that have married outside our race and there are definitely other ethnicities from Laos, for the purposes of this article and the scope it seeks to address–they aren’t a large factor in identifying our needs as a collective group. When we have addressed the needs we all share–then it will start to make sense to deep dive and see other areas of improvement

      Thanks for engaging and keep it coming!

      –The Editors

  3. Timothy S says

    Bunyuen, I love that sub-topic. I think if Lao Americans and other Southeast Asia Americans had more of their own separate platforms, then sub-groups of Lao people and other ethnicities from Laos would have more opportunities for a platform. It can be very hard for Mien and Khmu Americans to get a platform in the large, unequal Asian American group, but they could get easier access to platforms if Southeast Asian Americans made more of their own.

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