ADPI Heritage Month 2022: What We Can Learn from the Theory of Racial Triangulation

Two years ago, ‘Stop Asian Hate’ emerged as a rallying cry and social media hashtag in response to the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. Not only have the hate crimes continued since, but national discussions questioning what people are actually doing to stop the hate crimes, besides talking about them, have become an annual tradition ironically commemorating the creation of the hashtag. People in ADPI American communities throughout the country are understandably concerned for their safety and frustrated by the lack of substantive action. Clearly, the work must go deeper.

There are no shortage of venues and activities for people to deepen their understanding of and advocacy for the vast diaspora of ADPI American communities. One of the most obvious opportunities is Asian, Desi and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

We celebrate ADPI Heritage Month during May of each year. The observation began as a week-long celebration instituted by the President Jimmy Carter Administration in 1978. President George H.W. Bush expanded it to a full month in 1990. May commemorates two particularly important moments in history, the first immigration of Japanese people to the US on May 7, 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad by majority Chinese immigrants on May 10, 1869. ADPI Heritage Month provides a great opportunity to highlight the broad experiences of ADPI communities and share visions and stories of hope.

When it comes to contextualizing the recent spike in hate crimes and providing a path towards dismantling the systems that created such an environment, look no further than Korean-American Claire Jean Kim’s theory of racial triangulation. According to Kim, since Asians and Asian Americans are neither White nor Black, ADPI Americans across ethnicities are stereotyped as both perpetual foreigners and model minorities. As a result of this dynamic, they often serve as the foil or wedge in present and historical racialized contestations between Blacks and Whites.

More specifically, white supremacist culture positions ADPI Americans as America’s designated “model minority”, putting them above other racial minorities on the hierarchy of white supremacy. In other words, Claire Jean Kim argues ADPI Americans are valorized vis-à-vis Blacks and by extension, Latinos and Native Americans too. To take it a step further, the implication of the “model minority” myth is that Black, Latino and Native people could achieve the success of ADPI Americans if they just worked and studied harder.

However, the myth unravels, first, when we recognize that not all ADPI American communities receive the social status that comes with being so-called “model minorities”. The myth centers people of Eastern Asian descent while other communities, statistically, face similar systemic disparities to other minority groups.

The “model minority” myth also falls apart when we look at not just the recent spike in hate crimes spurred, in large part, by former US President Trump’s scapegoating of Chinese people around COVID 19, but the history of institutional anti-Asian hate, such as the 1880s’ Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1940s’ Internment of 100,000 Japanese-American citizens.

Claire Jean Kim’s theory of racial triangulation challenges us to reject the “model minority” myth in favor of building a true sense of community that ensures safety across ADPI American ethnicities.

ADPI Heritage Month at the University of Oregon offers a variety of opportunities to participate in this work while also celebrating the UO and larger Eugene-area ADPI community. This year’s activities include the Asian Night Market, UO Hui 'O Hawai'i Lū’au 2022-Ke Alaula, Longevity: The Archaeology of a Chinese Business in Eugene's Market District presented by the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Ducks After Dark screenings of ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘Minari’, and much more!

We hope you can join us! For a full list of activities and updates, please visit the UO Division of Equity and Inclusion’s ADPI Heritage Month page.