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Anti-Asian Racism: Book Interview with Dr. Joe Cheah
I asked my friend, co-author and co-editor of Book Series Asian Christianity in the Diaspora, Dr. Joseph Cheah why he wrote his new book, Anti-Asian Racism: Myths, Stereotypes, and Catholic Social Teaching.
Dr. Cheah: An obvious answer has to do with an unprecedented level of anti-Asian hate incidents and crimes prompted me to use my platform to write this book. If truth be told, however, I would have written something about the Asian American experience even if COVID-19 never took place.
It is difficult to describe what it feels to be an Asian American to those who are not part of the experience because the pervasive and destructive stereotypes that are part and parcel of the Asian American experience often takes place at the level of subtleties. These toxic stereotypes are perpetual foreigner, yellow peril, and the model minority myth. Those who are not part of the Asian American experience may feel compelled to admit to hearing our stories and our experiences with a defective interior ear. Nevertheless, it is important to tell our stories even if few are listening because our stories are our gifts and contributions deemed essential to the fuller understanding of what it means to be “American” in our nation-state and what it means to be “American Catholic” in our Catholic Church in the U.S. Our stories and experiences are some of the missing pieces necessary for the attainment of authentic racial justice, which cannot be achieved until stories of all ethnic groups are included in the fabric of Americanness. This, in a nutshell, is the primary reason why I wrote this book.
Me: These toxic stereotypes are well-known and well-analyzed in Asian American Studies. So, what’s new in my book?
Dr. Cheah: There are a few, but I mention one that relates to this holy season: to demonstrate that Jesus himself was no stranger to these stereotypes. Luke tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which is located in Asia. Therefore, from a geographical standpoint, Jesus was Asian. While he lived in a culture, time, and place very different from the contemporary America, the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk, Lk) depict Jesus as being quite familiar with the three destructive stereotypes experienced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) today. Jesus knew what it was like to be perpetual foreigner.
Growing up in a rural, backwater town of Nazareth, it's reasonable to assume that Jesus spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent. He knew what it was like to be treated as a foreigner. He had experienced the pains and hurts that come with being an object of laughter and ridicule. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that he made a foreigner the hero in his parable of the Good Samaritan or told his disciples not to prevent a man from casting out demons in his name simply because he was an outsider. From infancy to adulthood, Jesus’ life was the life of one who was in peril. The Yellow Peril experience was familiar to him because there was never a time when Jesus’ life was not threatened. And he was also the model minority in that he was an extraordinary preacher, teacher, and healer. Jesus served as a model for AAPIs because he knew what it was like to live in a liminal space of neither here nor there.
"What a much-needed book in this time of yet another rise in anti-Asian sentiment! Cheah is the perfect theologian-author to write it, having been in the forefront of the struggle against anti-Asian racism for many years. His succinct yet profoundly insightful theological contextualizing is a tour de force."--Julius-Kei Kato, King's University College at Western University.
"Cheah challenges the politics of exclusion of AAPI in racial discourses in churches, academia, and elsewhere by examining how Black and Asian Americans are racially positioned in American society and how their histories of oppression and liberation are interconnected. Through his discussion of toxic stereotypes he offers ways of building bridges, forming communities, and cultivating an antiracist society. It is essential reading for students, teachers, and those engaging in pastoral ministries." --Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion; author, Spirit Life
"This is clear analysis of Asian Americans' complicated and subordinated racial position in the U.S., and more importantly, an invaluable theological application of how Catholic Social Teaching relates to the racism that Asians and Pacific Islanders face, and how readers can meet Jesus amidst our communities."--Russell Jeung, San Francisco State University; cofounder, Stop AAPI Hate.
Thank you Angela Nevitt Meyer!! What a thrill to be included.