Most of my family history is not really that known to me. My parents rarely discuss their childhoods with me, except for little bits here and there (the general themes are that of poverty, not enough food, cockroaches, lack of education, and lack of parenting). My grandparents on my mom’s side died before I was born. My grandpa on my dad’s side died 12 years before I was born, and my maternal grandma was the only one I knew, but she passed when I was nine years old. What I did not learn until my college years is that my dad was not the only person in my family to serve in wars representing the U.S. (for those of you who do not know my basic family history, my dad served in the Vietnam War — or what the Vietnamese more correctly call the American War — and this was how he met my mom in Central Vietnam); his dad, Alfred B. Wong, also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed in Okinawa, just years before my dad was born. Two generations of my family have served in wars that the U.S. was involved in. And now 75 years after WWII has ended, many of these Chinese Americans are being recognized as Chinese American World War II Congressional Gold Medal recipients. I’m sure that by now, the vast majority of those who served have now passed, so their families have applied for the recognition. The real gold medals will be put on display this year at the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C., but one replica will be given to each family who applies to have their family member who served recognized. My uncle, my dad’s younger brother, applied for my grandpa’s recognition with the appropriate documents to prove of his service, and it looks like regional ceremonies will be held across the nation to recognize these families for those who cannot make it to the main ceremony in D.C.
What makes me sad, though, about this recognition, is that I do not think anyone in my family has really, deeply thought about what any of this actually means for our family or for any other family of color who has served in any war representing the United States. I was not born early enough to see or know my grandpa, but what I do know of him is that like pretty much ALL immigrants who come to a country where they knew no one and had no money, he worked extremely hard to get the little he could to support his family and then, his family’s families. What would he feel if he were still alive today, knowing that his second eldest son served in the Vietnam War (which he did live to see), that his grandchildren somehow continued to get discriminated against in this country he actually fought for, simply because of the color of their skin, the shade of their hair, the shape of their eyes? Is this the “reward” that his family and people who look like us should get after two generations of service, after decades of hard work to assimilate into a country that will see us as perpetual foreigners? How would he react today, knowing this country is under a leader who believes immigrants like himself do not deserve to be here, that they leech off the system and just expect handouts? It doesn’t matter if you have served and risked your life for your country: people here do not appreciate you more. People generically say things like “support our troops.” That is all a superficial mask: what the majority of these people genuinely mean is, “support our (white) troops.” This was found time and time again across pretty much every major war when people of color, from Asian to African American, have fought for this country. Cabbies wouldn’t even take them back home from the airport when they finished their services abroad.
And what is arguably worse: that my grandpa’s youngest son, who is trying to claim recognition for his dad’s service in WWII, is actually xenophobic against Chinese immigrants who looked just like him and his wife, my uncle’s parents, has actively accosted and harassed these immigrants at the border, and now wants to avoid all “Asian restaurants and establishments” or Chinatowns and the like because he does not trust that they do not have the Coronavirus? What is worse — racism against another kind, or racism against your own kind?
Rest in peace, Grandpa. It’s probably best that you did not live to see this day.