Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

ASIAMERICANS IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: "Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Present, Visualizing the Future" (First of a 3-Part Series)

"Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Present, Visualizing the Future"
(First of a 3-Part Series)

In 1973, Asian Episcopalian clergy and lay leaders, with the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Winston Ching as first Asiamerica Missioner, gathered in San Francisco, California and organized their work into “Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry.” Over time, EAM has evolved into a three-fold ministry: ministry to Asian immigrants in the United States; ministry to Asian-Americans or Americans born and raised in the United States from Asian ancestry; and ministry of bridge-building to churches in Asia, especially those belonging to the worldwide Anglican Communion and churches in concordat with the Episcopal Church.

In 2013, with the leadership of the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara (its second Asiamerica Missioner) and the EAM Council, the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries celebrated its 40th anniversary and “remembered its past, celebrated its present and visualized its future.” 

 On September 30-October 5, 2015 the EAM Consultation will be held in Seoul, Korea. Set to coincide with the celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the Anglican Church in Korea, the theme is “Celebrating our Partnerships; Uniting our Missions.” The Consultation hopes to put in practice the lessons learned in America and set into motion a closer, broader and deeper partnership with Asia.

This article narrates the immigration history of Asians in the United States; the beginnings of Asiamerica Ministry in the Episcopal Church; the lessons learned and the challenges Asiamerican Episcopalians face in the context of growth and diversity in American Church and Society.

The first Asians who set foot on American soil were Filipinos during the era when the Philippines was a colony of Spain. They were “slaves” serving as crewmen in the Spanish Galleons plying their trade from Manila to Acapulco. Maltreated by their masters, a dozen or so Manila men or “Luzon Indios” as the Spaniards called them, jumped ship and settled in the bayous of Louisiana and established the Malong Village, circa 1573-1587. 

Narrative accounts from Marina Espina say that they engaged in shrimp drying industry, intermarried with the Cajuns and Native Americans, and their descendants participated in the war for American independence in 1776 under the command of French buccaneer, Jean Baptist Lafitte. Nothing has been written about them in American history textbooks.

Chinese Immigration
While the early Filipinos were ‘accidental migrants,’ the first intentional Asian immigration actually came from China. In 1849 James W. Marshall, an American contractor who was constructing a saw mill for John Sutter at Coloma in Sacramento Valley, California accidentally struck gold. The news of the “Gold Mountain" ( Gam Saan in Cantonese) spread like wildfire in Kwangtung  Province in southeast China, electrifying a few hundred Chinese adventurers to make their way to California. In 1851, another batch of 2,716 Chinese braved the rough ocean to get to America. By 1852, that figure increased nearly tenfold, around 20,026.

While Chinese adventurers came to California with “Gam Saan on their minds,” what was in the minds of their American recruiters was different. Among other cultures, it was the Chinese who provided cheap labor for dynamite blasting. They decided that the Chinese physique and agility were perfect for the job.  Dynamite blasting of the mountains was a very risky job and many Chinese lost lives and limbs in the mining industry. 

When the” gold fever “subsided and the mining industry became stabilized, the Chinese laborers moved to other areas such as agriculture, trade and manufacture ---and especially in the building of the transcontinental railroads which also used dynamite blasting.

Japanese Immigration
The Chinese immigration was followed by Japanese Immigration. Japanese Americans, known collectively as the Nikkei (“of Japanese lineage”) are perhaps the only ethnic group in the United States who couched their immigration history and evolution in terms of generational groups. This is largely due to the fact that while other Asian immigrations were “open-ended” and ongoing, the Japanese Immigration began in 1885 and practically stopped in1924. In other words, the Japanese Americans today are generally offspring of those early immigrants. Most of the Japanese who entered the United States after 1924 were tourists, businessmen, entrepreneurs and brides of American citizens rather than immigrant families or groups.

The following are the words that describe each generation of Japanese Americans: (1) Issei or the first generation Japanese immigrants who arrived between 1885 to1924. Many of them became naturalized U.S. Citizens; (2) Nisei or the second generation, American-born Japanese and offspring of the Issei; (3) Kibei or the Nisei who were educated in Japan; Sansei  or third generation, children of the Nisei; and the Yonsie  or the fourth generation, progeny of the sansei.
The Issei  were young, unmarried sojourners who first dreamt of making money and return home to Japan. They first settled in Hawaii and worked in pineapple plantations. A large number also moved to California, Oregon and Washington---and only few returned to Japan. 

The Essei lived a migrant life where they found abundant work in agriculture, on the railroads, in small businesses, domestic service, lumber mills and canneries. Many also found employment in the mining industry, partly due to the halt of Chinese immigration resulting from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. With their natural talent in agriculture, Japanese immigrants also gravitated towards farming. By 1910, many agricultural workers in California were Japanese. After the devastating earthquake in San Francisco in 1906, the Japanese survivors regrouped and began to migrate to other states as far as Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.

Korean Immigration
The Japanese immigrants were followed by the Koreans. Korean immigration to America happened during the time when China and Japan were competing for dominance in Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Japan emerged victorious when it defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and then proceeded to invade and occupy Korea. The Koreans resisted Japanese invasion but were no match for Japanese military forces who then occupied the peninsula. 

Japanese colonization of Korea, instead of promoting its avowed “Korean welfare and prosperity’” destroyed Korean culture and national consciousness. The Japanese overhauled the Korean school system, replaced Korean language classes and expunged Korean history and culture from their school curricula. The Japanese colonizers also stripped Koreans of their lands, confiscated crops for Japanese consumption, and prohibited Koreans from engaging in commerce. 

With Japanese domination heavy on their back, the news of jobs awaiting Koreans in Hawaii became to them like “honey in the rock,” a divine answer to their cry for deliverance. From the standpoint of Hawaiian sugar plantation owners, however, the arrival of Korean immigrants would neutralize Japanese laborers who were beginning to show discontent. In a move reminiscent of the theory of “divide and rule,” white Hawaiian planters exploited the anti-Japanese sentiments of Koreans to undercut the threat of Japanese labor strikes. 

Korean immigration was also tinged with religious connection. Recruitment of cheap Korean labor was done by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association through the American missionary movement in Korea. Horace Allen, the American ambassador to Korea and William Deshler, the chief recruiter, engaged the services of Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries to entice their Korean Church members to go to Hawaii in order to “become better Christians and be blessed with prosperity.” Posters and newspaper advertisements would portray Hawaii in the biblical image of “a land flowing with milk and honey and rice,” a compelling incentive to Koreans suffering from Japanese control of their homeland. 

In 1902, a total of 121 Koreans arrived in Honolulu. Over the next two years, they will be joined by over 7,000 more. This trend came to a halt when the Japanese government (in firm control of their Korean colony and obviously in response to bad report from the Japanese in Hawaii), prohibited Koreans from going to America. This ban was lifted when the United States and Japan signed the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in 1907.  In this Agreement, Japan agreed not to issue passports for Japanese citizens wishing to work in the continental United States, thus effectively eliminating new Japanese immigration to America. In exchange, the United States agreed to accept the presence of Japanese immigrants---and their Korean colonials---already residing in America, and to permit the immigration of their  (Korean) wives, children and parents; and settled agriculturists.”

The Korean War that took place in the aftermath of World War II divided the Korean Peninsula into North and South, the North going Communist and the South going under the protectorate of the United States. This precipitated the next wave of Korean immigration to America. Many Korean women took advantage of the War Brides Act of 1945. Approximately 150,000 Korean orphans, left parentless by both WW II and the Korean War, also came to the United States and were adopted by American families. Korean professionals, business persons and students likewise followed.

Intentional Filipino Immigration
Although Filipino feet were the first to have stepped on American soil as earlier stated, it was not until the turn of the 20th century that intentional Filipino immigration to the United States really happened.  In June 12, 1898, the Filipino people after three hundred years of being a colony of Spain, succeeded in their revolution for independence and declared their first Philippine Republic.  It proved short-lived, however, because instead of surrendering to Filipino revolutionaries, the Spanish colonial government ceded the Philippine Islands to American government for twenty-million dollars. Overnight, the colonization of the Philippines changed from Spanish hands to American hands. 

It was in the context of Americanization of the Philippines that Filipino immigration to America happened.

Filipino immigrants came in four waves. The First Wave Filipino Immigrants were two distinct groups---scholars and laborers; the Second Wave Immigrants were U.S. Navy personnel and war brides; the Third Wave Immigrants were professionals and their families; and the Fourth Wave Immigrants were the Filipino veterans of World War II who fought alongside the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). 

The First Wave Filipino Immigrants (1906-1940) came as “nationals” of the United States. The students called “fountain pen boys,” came as scholars in prestigious American universities to be trained for American democracy. Many of them went back to become leaders of the Philippine government while others remained as pioneers in various professions. The laborers came to work in sugar cane and pineapple plantations in Hawaii and farmlands in California and others as cannery workers in Alaska. By 1930, there were 45,208 Filipinos in the United States.

The Second Wave Filipino Immigrants (1946-1960) came to the United States at the aftermath of World War II. Noted for their gallantry and valor fighting alongside the American soldiers against the Japanese Imperial Army, the Filipinos earned the favor of triumphant America. As a result, many of the Filipinos were received by Americans as “little brown brothers” and many Filipinas became war brides of American GI’s. Unlike the First Wave laborers who had to endure the heat of the sun in Hawaiian and California farmlands, the Second Wave immigrants settled in American urban areas, finding jobs as navy crewmen, cooks, taxi drivers, waiters and maids. 

The Third Wave Filipino Immigrants (1965-1990) came to the United States in surging numbers following the passage of Immigration Act of 1965 which increased the immigration quota for professionals and skilled workers needed for the revitalized American economy. In an instant, the term “brain drain” was heard in Philippine vocabulary as doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, nurses, teachers and clergymen immigrated to the United States with “green cards and green bucks” in their minds. The declaration by Marcos of martial law in the Philippines on September 21, 1972 further exacerbated the flight of professionals and political activists seeking asylum in the United States.

The Fourth Wave Filipino Immigrants (1990-2000), though small compared to the other waves, are worthy of mention because they represent the Filipino cry for American justice. They were the remnants of the 142,000 soldiers of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) who heeded President Franklin Roosevelt’s call to serve under General Douglas Mac Arthur and to repel the Japanese Imperial Army. Recognized for their valor and gallantry, they were promised U.S. citizenship, with all its rights and privileges but it took over fifty years for that promise to be fulfilled. In 1990, around 26,000 aging and disabled Filipino veterans came to the U.S. to receive their American passports. At the ceremony in San Francisco, they were verbally recognized for their role in the U.S. victory against Japan in World War II but in contrast to mainstream American veterans who receive full pension and other benefits, they were only given Social Security supplemental checks, barely enough for their food and lodging in overcrowded housing.

South Asian Immigration
At the risk of categorizing this vast plurality and diversity into one term, “South Asians,” we now move into the history of immigrants from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh, Nepal and Bhutan. While history notes that “a traveler from Madras (South India) visited the United States as early as 1790,” it was not until the last quarter of the 20th Century that South Asian immigrants came in large numbers to America. 

Asian Indians are currently the largest South Asian subgroups and the third largest of the pan-Asians, next to the Chinese and Filipinos. Pakistanis are the second largest South Asian group while Bangla Deshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese and Bhutans follow far behind. 

What is distinctive of South Asian, and particularly Asian-Indian immigration history is the fact that they generally immigrated to the U.S. due to career advancement and scholarship needs rather than economic or political needs. Significant South Indian groups also did not come directly from India but from the Caribbean Islands. They were in the Caribbean as indentured laborers and when U.S. immigration was allowed, they proceeded to the U.S. mainland.

Between 1890 and 1900, only 696 Asian Indians entered the country as immigrants. But in 1902, Indian students from (then) British-controlled India came to the U.S. universities to pursue courses in engineering, medicine, agriculture and manufacturing. The years 1907 to 1910 saw the greatest number of Indian student arrivals. From the 1970’s onwards, many more South Asians came and established their careers and became successful particularly in the advent of the computer industry era. 

Today, Indo-Americans occupy relatively the same level of economic of success as the Jewish Americans. Asian Indians, and generally South Asians, also are some of the most religiously diverse Asian immigrant population: they are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians.

Southeast Asian Immigration
Finally, and again at the risk of categorizing these diverse ethnic groups into one term, “Southeast Asians,” we conclude with the history of immigration from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Hmong, and Burmese communities. What is distinctive of these populations is that most of them begun as war refugees and ended up as settled and upwardly mobile immigrant communities.

What is the difference between immigrants and refugees?  The main difference lies in the circumstances surrounding their departure from their countries of origin and their arrival to their host countries. Immigrants customarily leave their homeland on a voluntary basis and have a choice as to where they are going to settle. In contrast, refugees generally flee their countries for fear of genocide, military or political reprisal, ethnic violence or cultural persecution and war dislocations.

Refugees have little or no time to prepare for their journey and seldom knew which place they would end up in. A refugee’s exile is resolved in one of three ways: one,  repatriation into another country willing to accept the refugee; two,  acquiescence or re-assimilation into the home country; and three, permanent resettlement in a third country. 

Of all countries in the world, the United States has become the beacon for the world’s refugees, ironically because of its involvement in many wars and conflicts that generated refugee problems. For instance, by virtue of the Displaced Persons Acts, America opened its doors to 400,000 refugees, primarily from Europe in the 1940’s. In the 1950’s, by virtue of the Refugee Relief Act, America swung open its gates to 2,800 Chinese fleeing Mao Tse Tung’s China’s cultural revolution. In the 1970’s, following the end of the Vietnam War and the atrocities in Kampuchea, America opened its doors for permanent resettlement of  Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong and other Southeast Asian refugees. 

By 1975, the U.S. admitted over 130,400 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. The U.S. Refugee Act would further increase the quota to 50,000 per year. By1998, some 1,342,532 Southeast Asian refugees were admitted and resettled in various places in the United States. As former refugees became U.S. citizens, they would normally petition their families and relatives through the Family Reunification Act. They would also be free to settle in any other areas they choose.

How are the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian refugees generally received by mainstream America? The blow by blow coverage by American television of the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and the dramatic helicopter rescue of the South Vietnamese war survivors from the U.S. Embassy grounds, immortalized in the Broadway Musical “Miss Saigon,” awakened American compassion to the plight of the war victims and refugees. 

Upon their arrival in Camp Pendleton, California, the first Vietnamese immigrants were immediately flown in U.S. military aircraft to reception centers. There, they underwent interviews and physical examination, given identification cards and registered with volunteer agencies who took charge of their resettlement processing. With their basic needs met, refugees were given free lessons on American culture and taught the English language. Thereafter, they were resettled, mostly in California, Texas, Washington, Virginia, Massachusetts and Minnesota. They were given food stamps and reasonable welfare checks and given references for jobs and employment. Voluntary and religious organizations became hosts to many refugee families. 

The Hmong and the Karen refugee groups are worthy of further mention in the sense that their coming to the United States has political and religious significance to the United States respectively. 

The Hmong were a tribal group in the highlands of Laos, China and Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, many of them were conscripted by the American CIA as spies, soldiers and allies. It is said that without the Hmong cutting the Vietnamese supply in the Ho Chi Min Trail, the Americans would have lost the War earlier. After the Vietnam War, the Hmong were in danger from possibility of revenge and genocide from the Viet Cong and they were repatriated by the American government, mostly in Minnesota.

Like the Hmong population who lived in the jungles, the Karen people are also hill tribes in the Burma-Thailand border. They compose some 5 million people or approximately 7% of the total population of Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country which recently turned into Communist Myanmar. Because they were clamoring to become an independent state and because they are Christians, the Karen became the target of persecution by the central Myanmar government. Hundreds of thousands of Karen Burmese became refugees in Thailand and they are repatriated by their host countries---notably Australia and the United States---partly because of this religious overtone.

Many Southeast Asian refugees in the U.S. managed to survive and adjust to the new culture in a way and at a rate faster than the early Asian immigrants. Over a relatively short period, they built successful communities such as “Vietnam towns” in Orange County and Silicon Valley in California; “Cambodia town” in Olympia; “Laotian town” in Fresno; California and “Hmong town” in St. Paul’s, Minnesota. While it is true that any Southeast Asian refugees managed to survive, it is also true that a lot more of them, especially the less-educated first-generation Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong, suffer from poverty. They also experienced diseases such as the “sudden death syndrome” as a result of past trauma of war and violence.(TO BE CONTINUED)

The Rev. Dr. Winston Ching and The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara
EAM Collage
Chinese Railroad Workers
Filipino pineapple plantation workers and farm laborers
Korean Immigrants
Japanese Interment Camp

A celebration of South Asians in Fremont, California
Fall of Saigon and influx of Southeast Asian refugees to the US

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