Sunday, December 12, 2004
UPDATE In an update to the below situation that occurred at my library. Many of ya'll asked me what I said in response to the librarian. Like I told Moye, I hit her with my "rat-tail" or "queue." --- As I attempt to pump out my second 20-25 page paper, this time on Chinatown circa 1900, I've been a little angry -- not at the racism and prejudice experienced by the early Chinese pioneers per se (The anger there is rooted at a deeper, fundamental foundation). What I'm angry about -- as I've uncovered stories that give a face and voice to the early Chinese immigrants -- is a statement or comment by a librarian in the special collections department of the library here at Columbia. In the middle of the semester, I asked her about the possibility or existence within the collection of any diaries, letter, art, anything of the first settlers of New York's Chinatown. I told her I am attempting to provide a counter-narrative to the one found in the dominant discourse of the Chinese immigrants which is seeped in scandalous tales of opium obsession, seducing white girls and gambling. Too often in history books and in popular culture, the Chinese have been presented as non-distinguishable "others." The individual does not exist: even their names were often ignored by the white patrons of the laundries, who preferred to just call them all "Mr. Sing" or "Mr. Loung" or simply, "Charlie." I'm digressing. The librarian in the collections department responded to my query, "Hmmm...well...I don't think they would have kept diaries...because well, they didn't speak or write English." Basically, this lady who was supposed to be an expert on old American documents just spouted off the most typical racist shit. And this happened at Columbia University - an elite institution attracting students, professors, scholars from all over the world - located in New York City - home to a significant Asian population and that little community off of the Canal Street subway stop on the 6. If I was researching a topic on any of the European immigrants, say the Germans, I doubt her discouraging response would have centered around the lack of the English language abilities of German immigrants. And my encounter with that lady makes my paper all that more necessary. I'm really frightened by the direction of education in this country. And no, I'm not referring to the attempts by the religious right-conservative wing pushing a religious agenda in the public school education system. I'm referring to the continuing willingness by many in this country to accept if not embrace a completely twisted, if not false historical discourse which continues to perpetuate and marginalize the socio-economic contributions of entire groups of people. That librarian needs to head back into those files and do a little reading of her own. Okay, now I need to expand this to 20 more pages.