Cultural Literacy: Indira Gandhi

For the first day of the observation of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2021 at Mark’s Text Terminal, here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Indira Gandhi. This blog will feature materials related to Asian culture, geography, politics, and personalities for the entire month of May.

By any measure, Americans of Asian Pacific descent have experienced a difficult year. At the beginning of 2020, on January 23 to be exact, the Museum of Chinese in America suffered a fire in its building at 70 Mulberry Street in Chinatown in Lower Manhattan. Fortunately, the original estimates of the devastation proved to be overestimated, and the Museum is on the mend. I attended a professional development day at the Museum several years ago. It was one of the best of such things, a twice-yearly obligation of employees of the New York City Department of Education, that I had the good fortune to encounter. Godspeed to the good people at MOCA in restoring the museum to its original state.

Unless you live in a cave, you are no doubt aware of the rising anti-Asian bigotry in the United States. This has prompted a long overdue public discourse on racism towards Asian-Americans. I particularly appreciate the inimitable Ronny Chieng’s takedown, from way back in 2016 but which has lately been trending on YouTube, of Fox News bro Jesse Watters, who visited Chinatown in that year to “report” for the execrable Bill O’Reilly show. The work of Asian feminists who are speaking frankly about the cultural and political history of fetishizing Asian women, another long overdue discussion, arrives at a propitious moment; maybe these thinkers will forge change in this area of our public life. I’d like to think that making an understanding of the term “Orientalist tropesde rigueur for high school students before they graduate from our secondary institutions might take us some distance toward recognizing this problem in our society.

I lay the blame for much of the rising anti-Asian violence on the last president of the United States, a man who wore his bigotry on his sleeve throughout the benighted four years he malingered in the White House. Calling a virus–and the last time I talked with my friends in the academic and professional genomics community about this, they assured me that viruses, unlike humans, have no ethnicity–the “Kung Flu” is an obvious slur, intended, it appears, to bait the kind of bigots who immediately began parroting it. Likewise, COVID, caused by a coronavirus, is not a “Chinese Virus,” though that particular lie and slur has contributed to violence against Americans of Asian descent. The president bought himself a mendacious Barbie doll who stepped up to defend him and his trashy mouth. Even NBC News, not exactly an institution of the woke left, spoke up on the president’s appalling rhetoric.

Man, I am glad he is gone. I’ll stipulate that anti-Asian racism has a long and sordid history in the United States, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the World War II internment of the Nisei, to our current ugly moment. But for a president to rile up his or her followers with racist slurs? Well, if you can defend that, I’d like to hear why. Actually, on second thought, never mind. Everyday life offers up a smorgasbord of degrading ignorance and stupidity; I don’t need to go looking for it.

Finally, my sympathies–which I understand is more or less useless–to Americans of Asian descent everywhere. And my deepest condolences to the friends and families to the victims of the Atlanta Massacre. The perpetrator, by the way, was a professing Christian (how that works escapes me) who I don’t doubt for a minute was motivated by the racist, anti-Asian rhetoric that is clearly au courant in the United States.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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