The Legacy of MLK Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement

“¦and to all those who worked, sacrificed, and died before 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was legislated.

Growing up as a nerd in training under the tutelage of quasi Tiger parenting I did not think about history or politics.  Politics is a dirty subject in my family due to the rancorous history of Taiwan, especially to my pre WW II born parents. (Even among Chinese we Taiwanese are known to struggle with identity and cultural issues, and politics makes the tangled mess knottier.) It was a sheltered and somewhat cloistered existence.

All I knew was: Daddy and Mommy both studied stateside in the early 60’s, then returned home to Taiwan, got married, then Daddy left for a job in the U.S., and Mommy and I followed when I was a toddler.  Throughout my young childhood I met scores of other doctor “uncles”, their wives, a few doctor or nurse “aunties”, and their kids who passed through our house or we met at dinner parties where our parents gleefully chatted in Chinese and left us stranger kids in a room together to suddenly make friends.  Thank goodness for TV, the reliable ice breaker and electronic babysitter.

But now I am discovering the meaning behind my immigrant past, am reeducating myself by trying to follow my 8th grader’s history curriculum, reading on my own.

1965 was the year my father arrived and worked in a hospital in the coal mining town of Pottsville, PA.  My mother and I joined a year later, arriving in 1966.  Oddly enough we were not the only Taiwanese or Asians there.  We had a small community of “hometown” friends who had studied at the same medical and nursing school as my parents (Taiwan University’s nursing school was part of the medical school back then).  There was  an Indian doctor friend too.  Our lives were very pleasant and happy.  I was treated royally as an exotic, but the attention was positive and nurturing. My painful experiences with racism began after we moved to the big city, Baltimore, in 1968.

In my extended family–and this is just my story, a SINGLE story–we frame our immigration tale in terms of privilege.  “We came here because so-and-so worked for it and earned it academically/professionally.”  But what’s missing is the other history, the history of our adopted land.  It’s too narrow a viewpoint IMO.  I don’t begrudge the older generation parents of not encouraging this exploration.  I’ve come to understand they have their own ghosts from the past which still haunt them. And due to traditional East Asian customs, those ghosts will remain behind a locked door, forever rattling and banging, but my older generation relatives are not able to face those ghosts, to set them free.

1965 was the year when official quotas were dropped from colleges and universities, and unofficial ones in work places.  It’s just hit me how I’ve benefited from these two pivotal years in American history.  It was an exciting time living here.  My family missed the bloodshed and rode in on the wave of the struggles’ after effects, enjoying its benefits.

So y’all can blame or thank MLK Jr for having Hello Kitty yowling on your tumblr and other corners of teh interwebz.

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