This past weekend, some friends and I went for a good ride up into some hill country. By the time we got back home, we’d put about 200+ miles on our bikes. As with many of the rides that take us out of the urban areas and into more rural/country roads, where the rolling hills and twisting curves appeal to most bikers’ senses, we come across many smaller towns and communities. Asians on big bikes tend to attract attention. Most of the time, people just stare simply because a group of big bikes are an attention grabber, with all the chrome, noise, denim and leather…and on top of it all, ridden by Asians. I have to admit, if I was in a cage, stopped at a traffic light, and saw any group of bikers, let alone Asians, pull up on some heavy metal, I would be checking it out too.
And, as usual, the further we go out of the city limits, the more rural the communities, the harder the stares become…actually, a lot of times, it’s more like a sneer. The simple sense of amusement, amazement, or curiosity is not so much present any longer. No, the stares seem to exhibit resentment, distaste, and sometimes even hostility. Apparently, Asians, or perhaps, minorities in general, aren’t good enough to ride Harleys/cruisers. The “look” screams out, “Oh No, Not the bikes, Not the Harleys!”. It’s as if we were taking over one of the final frontiers left where the average white man can still call his own.
Bikers are a very special group of people. I’m not referring to just the outlaw outfits, but all bike riders in general. Though they’re often clad in black leather, denim jackets, bandanas, adorn facial hair, tattoos, etc., they have a very special relationship with most town folks. Many country diners and local bars welcome motorcyclists. They symbolize a time gone past, modern day cowboys, they’re simply Americana. It’s a very unique subculture that to this day, remains almost exclusively white. Having to accept Asians as fellow bikers is probably as jagged a pill as the one the ‘upper crust’ had to swallow when Tiger Woods first walked out on the green.
My fellow Americans/Bikers, don’t take it so hard or personal, the winds of change has been blowing for years. Remember when basketball was a white man’s game, then African Americans took over…well, meet Yao Ming. Remember when baseball had but a handful of Latin Americans…now, we got Asians playing professional baseball, …. right-handed pitcher Akinori Otsuka, Japan, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, Korean, closer Danny Grave, Vietnamese American, and on and on. Need we talk of Hollywood; Jet Li, Jacky Chan, Lucy Liu, John Wu…and so many more. That’s just sports and entertainment, how about real contributions to government, science, art, military, etc.. “What have Asians contributed to this country, the U.S. of A., that makes them feel they have the right to claim themselves Americans?” you may be asking. I’ll just point out a very few examples;
Did you know or were you aware –
- Who was the chief architect of the USA Patriot Act? Former Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Viet D. Dinh
- Who the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was designed by? Sculpture and landscape artist, Maya Ying Lin
- That one of the astronauts that died during the Shuttle Columbia’s tragedy was an Asian woman? Aerospace engineer, Kalpana Chawla
- In 2001, who was in charge and assisted in creating an urgently needed…. Thermobaric weapon……to effectively defeat tunnels and caves being used as terrorists hideouts, in order to spare United States Armed Forces from the bloody prospect of tunnel-to-tunnel combat against the Taliban in Afghanistan? Nguyet Anh, Director of Science and Technology of Naval Surface Warfare Center
- Who was the second woman to ever anchor a national news program? Connie Chung, journalist
- That one of the first Black Panther Party members, who eventually was promoted to Field Marshall was Asian? Richard Aoki, civil rights activist
- Who the Mission Specialist who lost his life as one of the astronauts on the Shuttle Challenger was? Astronaut, Ellison Shoji Onizuka.
- Who Ford Motor Company’s Chief Program Engineer on the 2005 model year Ford Mustang program was? Hau Thai-Tang, chief engineer
- Who the co-founder of the world's most frequently visited Web site is? Jerry Yang, chairman and CEO of Yahoo
- That as of 2006, Asians/Pacific Islanders make up around 4.5% of the U.S. population. Yet, 6.3% of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks were Asians/Pacific Islanders.
- The 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army was an Asian American unit composed of mostly Japanese Americans who fought in Europe during the Second World War. The families of many of its soldiers were subject to internment camps. The 442nd was a self-sufficient fighting force, and fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, southern France, and Germany. The unit became the most highly decorated military unit in the history of the United States Armed Forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients.
- And…did you know, Bruce Lee, was born in San Francisco, CA. Though he grew up back in Hong Kong, he was back in the States by the time he was 19 years old. Bruce died in Hong Kong at the age of 32, but his body was brought back and buried here in the U.S., his birth place. Martial artist, philosopher, instructor, actor, cultural icon.
There are just too many examples of Asian Americans and their achievements and contributions in our government, politics, science, education, art, entertainment, businesses, etc., to mention (just google it sometimes, you’ll be surprised at what you learn). Just like the many nameless Chinese whose contribution to the transcontinental railroad would not be acknowledged until only recent times, the many past and current contributions of Asian Americans have made and are making everyday to every aspect of American life will likely not be acknowledged by their fellow Americans.
For some inexplicable reason, the color of our skin (the yellow man), our facial features, our physical appearance is too much of a barrier for other Americans to accept. Whether you are black, white, or brown, when was the last time someone walked up and asked you, “where are you from?”…and they don’t mean what side of town or what state, but “what country?”. Yet, Asians get it all the time even though many of us are 2nd, 3rd, even 4th generation Asian Americans. It’s as if, unlike other ethnic groups who by simply being born here has earned their birthright as an American, Asians remain outsiders, foreigners in the eyes of their own countrymen.
A prime example would be my son, nieces, and nephews. They were all born here, have been raised here, and will probably continue to live out their lives right here. They don’t even speak their parent’s native tongue. English is their first language. When and if they travel anywhere outside the U.S., they consider themselves visitors on vacation, not expats coming home. They will have families here, raise their children here, pay their taxes, and most likely breath their last breath here….what makes them any “less” American than anyone else?
Look at the current presidential candidate, Barack Obama. He’s an African American (yes, I’m aware his mother is white, but the child automatically inherits the race of the minority parent) who’s father was from Kenya. That nearly makes him a first generation American. I bet Mr Obama doesn’t have people asking him, “where are you from?” in reference to his country of origin. Yet, my nephew’s daughter, Laura, who was born here as her father was, will probably still hear that question raised more than once in her lifetime…..aahhhh, assimilation is not the same for all.
But hey, with a woman and an African American running for the 2008 presidency, who knows, maybe our nation is growing with the winds of change and there will come a time when being an American will no longer be associated with someone’s skin color, but rather their commitment, loyalty, contribution, respect, and support for their country and their fellow countrymen.