When Christopher Columbus set sail across the Pacific Ocean, he thought he had “discovered” new land. He didn’t; the land he “discovered” had millions of inhabitants there long before his arrival. After Columbus discovered their value, he subjugated them, tortured them for financial purposes, killed over half of them in the process, and took valuable resources from their lands to Spain. However what happened to the Native Americans was common, and similar events happened on the opposite side of the world, particularly in Asia. The first group of Asians to be forcibly removed from their homes for monetary purposes was the Chinese; centuries ago, 90,000 of them were exported, as slaves, and sent to Peru. Years later, they made America their home, and slowly became integrated into American society. Their influence into American culture is important yet unemphasized.
Takaki, in his work, Strangers from a Different Shore, argues that we need to include Asian Americans in America’s history. Doing so will create a more inclusive culture because society, as a whole, will see their valuable contributions, examine other drastically different, but equally valid cultures, and explore instances where American ideals caused more destruction than benefit, despite good intentions. Continuing the idea of the conquering of the Native Americans, the master narrative of the United States omits the perspective of the indigenous people, and it is incomplete without their perspective. In the master narrative of the United States, the United States is doing the indigenous people a favor by “enlightening” them. While the Native Americans had many skills to learn from the Europeans, they also had many that the Europeans needed to learn from them. However the master narrative of the United States fails to consider the hidden treasures of the indigenous people. For example, the Iroquois solved many social issues that today, as an “educated” society are still unsolved.
In Zinn’s piece, A People’s History of the United States, he pulls an excerpt from Nash, a scholar of American history, who described the Iroquois as a tribe who “through priding themselves on the autonomous individual, the Iroquois maintained a strict sense of right and wrong…” He further elaborates on how, in their society, there were “No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges or juries or courts or jails…”. The master narrative of the Europeans could justify its motives for colonization by omitting this important fact and claiming that it had to colonize the indigenous people who were supposedly savages. Portraying them as intelligent, moral, and civilized people would not be beneficial in their argument for colonization. However, failing to doing so underscores the detailed social structure of the indigenous people. The indigenous people held high moral standards, and deserve to be depicted as so. If these corrections were made to the master narrative of the United States, society’s respect for Native American culture would greatly increase and would make people more likely to be respect of their culture, but other cultures as well. Unfortunately, the story of the United States colonization and the subjugation of indigenous people do not end with the Native Americans. In 1898, the United States, in its effort to conquer the Philippines, conquered Guam.
From the master narrative of the United States’ perspective, it made sense for the US military to capture Guam, because they needed it to help them gain control of the Philippines. However, from the Chamorros’ perspective, the United States’ entrance into Guam wreaked much havoc for the Chamorros living there. Stinson’s video shows how the United States’ entrance made the lifestyle for many Chamorros significantly unhealthier because the United States took away their lands, and therefore their access to healthy foods, forcing them to rely on unhealthy foods, and making the island’s overall health worse. Cancer, diabetes, and heart disease rates, practically at zero before the occupation, dramatically increased, and became the leading factor of deaths on Guam. Whatever the Chamorros were doing before their occupation was working for them, and this is evident due to their lack of cancer, diabetes and heart disease rates before US occupation. In fact, generations upon generations of Chamorros had lived in this way, and this way of life had been passed down for centuries.
Although the United States will never mention this in its master narrative, it is crucial to emphasize the vibrant and healthy culture in Guam before US occupation. Although their culture was very different, it is not any less valid than ours, and it is important to recognize that and emphasize it. When studying the history of America, particularly Manifest Destiny, one most often thinks about the Transcontinental Railroad, the Louisiana purchase, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From a quick glance, it appears that Asian Americans were, in no way, involved with this monumental American task. However, upon closer examination of the Transcontinental Railroad, one will realize that it was the Asian Americans, particularly the Chinese, who got their hands dirty to put in the manual labor required to build the railroad that linked America from sea to shining sea. It was the Chinese, though not seen as a true “American” that helped America accomplish one of its core goal. If they were recognized for their priceless contributions, particularly in American history classes, they would be seen as different, but nevertheless true Americans, rather than strange foreigners. People would see that although the Chinese are not the typical blond haired, blue eyed Americans, they are a fundamental part of our history, and have helped America get to where it is today. The Chinese, and all Asian American groups, if recognized for their valuable contributions, would be seen as an integral part of American society, and no longer as aliens. As a result, America as a whole, would be more inclusive of them because they would recognize their valuable contribution.
The United States and its ideals are anything but perfect and coming from a Vietnamese American family, provides the opportunity to experience this firsthand. In the United States’ master narrative, the Vietnam War was about maintaining Democracy, which would allow freedom and make the world a better place. However, for my family comfortably living in Vietnam before the war, after US involvement, and the significant ensuing chaos, they had no choice but to flee. Unfortunately, this isn’t just something that happened to my family, but to thousands of others as well. It was the Vietnam War that prompted large amounts of Vietnamese people to flee to the US and other countries. It was because the US chose to get involved in the war, that thousands of Vietnamese had their lives changed for the worse. American principles are often correct, but oftentimes they are wrong. While it is important to be firm in our beliefs, it is also important to be open to new ideas. Furthermore, if the master narrative of the United States was rewritten especially in this regard, it would show the difficulties and struggles of the Vietnamese people that brought them to this country. The Vietnamese would not be seen as strange foreigners, but as a strong, hardworking, and resilient group. The serotype surrounding the Vietnamese would be very different, and as a result, would make society more inclusive of them.
By incorporating the valuable contributions of Asians to American culture, it shows that Western traditions aren’t always better than Eastern traditions, and the fact that the presence of Asian Americans in America has been more beneficial than destructive for American society. Rewriting parts of the master narrative will show that there are other different, but equally valid cultures, and provide concrete examples of when American principles weren’t perfect. In doing so, the master narrative of the United States changes, making it more inclusive, especially to new people and new ideas. In modern day times, if America, as a society, can look to the valuable contributions of immigrants, our immigration policies would be very different.