The Asian Registry is an American issue

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt of a day when Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Remembering his wise words on the day dedicated to his memory inspired me to address a current issue that most have never heard about: The Asian Registry.

Under names such as “All Students Count” or “Data Disaggregation,” a few states have passed a law requiring Asian American students to register their ancestral nation of origin or ethnic background. Advocates claim that this will expose the disparity among various Asian nationalities and break the myth of the “model minority.”

The Asian Registry is usually proposed by legislators with an Asian heritage and backed by advocacy groups meant to help Asian Americans. However, if you talk to these legislators and the organization leaders in a private setting, they explain that it is really all about money. Advocacy groups for the Asian-American community have a hard time getting government funding due to the perception that Asians are a well-off minority. By dissecting the small Asian population (about 5 percent nationwide) into finely defined groups, the stories of inequality become more credible.

Rep. Tackey Chan, who proposed the Massachusetts version of Asian Registry, actually wrote an Op-Ed in the most popular Chinese American Newspaper boldly titled: “Asian Registry is a Big Stride Forward towards Better Welfare.”

This title alone seems an insult to many Asian Americans, who value hardwork and financial independence, and did not come to America for handouts — not hundreds of years ago when they first arrived, and not now.

Although this law applies to all Asian Americans, Chinese Americans have most actively opposed it. Ordinary people who never paid much attention to politics are suddenly organizing street protests, distributing flyers, and talking to their legislators. Many are first generation immigrants from mainland China.

I often wonder whether the shared experience in Communist-era China is the cause of the opposition. Growing up there, my brothers and I had to register at school as “small business owners,” though the business belonged to our grandparents and had long before been confiscated by the government. We grew up knowing that no matter how hard we worked or how talented we are, our chance of achievement was much less than those who could proudly fill in “peasant” or “laborer” as their family background.

That preferential treatment carried over to our opportunity for higher education or a desirable career — even prospects for marriage could be affected by family background established generations before, and nothing we could do would erase it. Only the good fortune of coming to America freed us from such categorization.

The Asian Registry, which would require my American-born and raised children to fill in school forms regarding their ancestry, leaves me wondering how this information might affect their educational career. I believe that America is a land of equal opportunity and equal protection, regardless of national origin. To me, the Asian Registry is a cruel mockery of the ideals this nation stands for.

This is not just an Asian American issue. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now requires both Hispanic and Asian Americans to fill in their nation of origin when applying for a mortgage. Common app, a student application “warehouse” for colleges, also demands that applicants of all races fill in their nation of origin.

This is indeed an American issue. Can we ever become a nation where people are judged by the content of their character if educational opportunity depends on our national origin?

I wish that one day the citizens of this nation need only fill in one box to identify themselves: American.

Lin Yang is a Woodbridge resident. 

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