COVID-19 has allowed racists in this country to find a way of targeting Asian Americans to dramatize the fear of “foreigners” that bring tragedy to this country. They are folding this attack into what they have already done to Native Americans, African Americans, Muslim Americans and Latinos.
Latinos have a duty to respond not only because an attack on one set of people is an attack on all of us but also because Asian blood runs in our veins. In some sense, their plight is also part of the Latino story.
MAFO, a national farm workers advocate organization, held two conferences in Colorado seeking to understand and find solutions to the lack of a stable migrant farm working community that the growers can rely on to harvest their crops. Among the growers attending was Robert Sakata Jr. from the Brighton area Sakata Farms and who is President of the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Association. I got to know Sakata in our conversations in Colorado and New Mexico. His father’s story is well known for his success in building Sakata farms from the original 40 acres to the giant enterprise that it is today despite a history of discrimination.
Robert Sakata Sr, built a farm business in California only to lose it all after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that led to the interment of his family in Utah. It is after World War II that the father came to Colorado to live the success story of a model American.
During our conversations, I remembered that as a boy my migrant worker family labored in the fields of a farm next door to the Sakatas. It was a time of transition to the City of Denver where I was raised.
In my time in Denver I attended Garden Place Elementary in Globeville, Horace Mann Junior High and attend d one year at North High. When we graduated to Horace Mann we took our basketball along and on that journey added a friend David Takeda to our roster. Over time, I began to reflect on the history of our country and its people. The best theory about the original settlers has Asians coming to our shores by traveling across the Bering Strait to Alaska or sailing along the western side of the hemisphere to populate North and South America. That means that Indian people have Asian origins. It also means that most Mestizo Latinos share the same theoretical beginnings.
This concept received more clarity during the Chicano Movement when the 1925 essay on “La Raza Cosmica” by post-Mexican revolution Secretary of Education Jose Vasconcelos was highlighted as a model for the new universal race made up of the four classifications we have today. Furthermore, one of the prominent characteristics of this idea is that Europe and Asia came together in the Mestizo world of the Americas.
We had an opportunity to visit Japan a little less than a decade ago. In walking the streets of Tokyo and taking trains to landmarks, there were two moments when I “saw” an uncle passing by. It made me think of the irony that a people that reside so far away from our personal and family awareness are nevertheless ingrained in our blood. It made me think of the fact that even though Latinos are a multi-ethnic and multi-racial people, our Asian ancestry in this regard is strangely silent.
We hear that Asians in America are descendants of immigrants. We do not hear the notion that they were here first.