by Leslie Dozono, Lauren Hipp, Vy Nguyen, and Erin Okuno
In spring of 2019, the Washington State legislature passed I-1000 which allows for considerations like race, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, religion, ethnicity, and citizenship status to be a factor when considering a person for public education or employment opportunities, overturning Initiative 200, which banned those considerations in the 1990s. While many people support affirmative action, there was opposition — including from a vocal group of Asians claiming they stand for equality collecting signatures to take Referendum Measure 88 to the voters in hopes of repealing the new law. This is our response to our community and our ask of our families: decline to sign and say NO to Referendum Measure 88.
Dear Honorable Elders, Aunties, and Uncles,
We are Asians like you. Some of us were born here, some of us are newer immigrants, refugees, or their children. From you we’ve learned our histories, culture, food, and our respect for family. Many of our American stories started because of a belief in access to opportunity and fairness. This is why, as an Asian and American community, we must support each other and our collective people of color community, and decline to sign Referendum 88.
We have seen you fight for us to be understood and seen in America. You taught us the value of hard work, ethics, and fairness. We know you have made sacrifices to help us have opportunities that you never did. We should do the same for future generations. I-1000 will create opportunities for many people who come from communities like ours or whose communities share a similar story and struggle.
I-1000 permits the consideration of race, national origin, sex, or disability to be used alongside other criteria in government/public contracting, government/public hiring, and college admissions. It cannot be the only criteria used, nor does it mean admission or hiring will exclusively favor people who may benefit from I-1000. What it does is acknowledge that throughout history U.S. laws and systems have given white people greater opportunities. This was the real affirmative action, policies that advantaged white people for nearly 200 years before laws were passed to limit this advantage.
The history of exclusionary laws, legal discrimination, and white supremacy is a large part of the reason why Asian immigrants were not allowed in this country even as America kept its doors open to white immigrants from Europe for nearly a century. The impact of this history continues today, though it is not always obvious. Our histories mean that an equal starting line — one with identical culture, language ability, names, or access to education — doesn’t exist.
I-1000’s goals are rooted in acknowledging that Black, Brown, and Native American/Indigenous people have been historically denied opportunities as a result of legal discrimination. Generations have been denied the right to own property, vote, access education and career opportunities, the right to emigrate, and many other rules, laws, and practices solely based on race. Native Americans and Indigenous people experienced having their land stolen, being forcibly moved, and denied their languages and cultural identities. Many people of color survived forced labor and slavery as well as family separation. And lower wages for the same work and rare opportunities to “get ahead” are still common for most people of color.
The history of America is also about the Black and African American communities, along with other communities of color, putting their bodies and lives on the line to advance opportunity and civil rights for everyone. The Black community led the work to change unfair laws on immigration and access to opportunity, leading to changes for the betterment for all of us. Because of their sacrifice, we now have laws barring discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Because of this work, in 1965 immigration laws that excluded Asian immigrants ended.
Communities of color worked together in solidarity to achieve this progress. Our stories are not the same, but we must understand the many histories of American people of color to understand where we are today. Civil rights progress means acknowledging historical wrongs and racist laws that excluded people of color from opportunity. Asians have contributed to and benefited from the civil rights movements of the past. Even if some of us will not directly benefit from I-1000, we have a shared responsibility to address this history of inequality.
Our country is seeing an increase in hate and bigotry directed to communities and people of color. We cannot allow others to use and dishonor Asian communities by contributing to this in any way. We need to stand together and support each other. Asians need to be in solidarity with our Black and Brown neighbors and kin, disabilities justice communities, LGBTQ communities, and many others. We shouldn’t be used as a “model minority” to prove a point. We do not want to be used as a bargaining chip or a wedge to defend unfair systems.
We hope you will continue to share your stories about how you’ve shaped us into the resilient Asian community we are today. We ask that you talk with us so we can share stories about how I-1000 is necessary and will benefit many. Finally, say NO to Referendum Measure 88.
Leslie Dozono, Lauren Hipp, Vy Nguyen, and Erin Okuno are Asian American womxn living and working in Seattle.
Featured Photo: A UW protest of Initiative 200 in the 1990s. Initiative 200 banned employers and educational institutions from considering an individual’s race, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, religion, ethnicity, and citizenship status in public education and employment opportunities.