Milton Chen: Allies

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When any group is under attack it needs allies. Milton Chen says for Asian Americans, individually and collectively, those allies have changed lives.

This past year, Stop Asian Hate reported more than 6,600 hate incidents nationally against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, more than 40% in California. The AAPI community is responding with unprecedented political activism, grassroots organizing, money and visibility. While we’re standing up for ourselves, we should also consider our past allies and how we can be better allies to others.

My father, Wen-Lan Chen, came to the U. S. at the end of World War II with other Chinese engineers touring coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He was able to enroll at Penn State, thanks to a white faculty member who made room for him, despite millions of returning soldiers enrolling through the GI bill. He found jobs, stayed in the U. S. and avoided persecution in China. That professor changed the trajectory of our family.

My parents knew the racism of motel owners and landlords who refused them rooms. But they reached across racial lines and sold our home to a Black family, helping integrate our Chicago neighborhood.

The School of the Arts in San Francisco is named after Ruth Asawa. During World War II, she and her family were sent to an internment camp in Arkansas. She was denied a job as a schoolteacher due to her race. But at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, she was mentored by Josef Albers, himself a refugee from Nazi Germany, and Buckminster Fuller. Ruth later inspired a love of art among children and families of all backgrounds in the Bay Area.

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John Duong endured the atrocities of a Khmer Rouge camp in Cambodia, landing in Wisconsin in 1981. Catholic nuns arranged housing, his first with indoor plumbing and electricity. The nuns helped clothe him and fill out forms in English. John has founded an investment firm supporting entrepreneurs of color.

As Asian Americans, our future progress relies on standing with others who have known racism and discrimination. This is not always easy or simple. But if hatred is the other virus, solidarity is the cure.

With a Perspective, I’m Milton Chen.

Milton Chen has worked with educational media and foundations and is an author, speaker and nonprofit board member.