Trumping anchor babies and birth tourists

Guest Post by Vincent Pham

I'm on vacation! This week, I'm taking a much-needed break to recharge the batteries and get a change of scenery. To keep things going around here, I've enlisted the help of several friends of the blog to submit guest posts on various topics of their choosing. Here's one from Professor Vincent Pham.

In August 2013, Donald Trump jumped into the political scene, spouting China's destruction of the U.S. economy and his distrust of President Obama's claims to legitimate birthright citizenship. The general public and mainstream media counted him out as crazy, figuring such comments would make him a long shot at being a legitimate presidential candidate. Yet, in 2015, we have him hosting Saturday Night Live and near the top of the Republican polls. He's still bashing China and now he's talking about anchor babies and birth tourism.

Seriously, what is going on here? And why should us readers of Angry Asian Man care?

At this time, it seems that the general Asian American population (or at least the readers of Angry Asian Man) know the predominant stereotypes of Asian Americans. Women as Lotus Blossom, Madame Butterfly, and the Dragon Ladies; men as Charlie Chans and the Fu Manchus; the "model minority" myth that spreads about Asian Americans in general – I get the sense that these are pretty well-known (and if not, just check out this shameless plug). We understand that historically, Asians and Asian Americans are often deemed perpetual foreigners (I'm sure most of us have been asked "Where are you from? No, where are you really from? No, where are your parents from?" or have been complimented for "speaking really good English.").

But really, what Trump and others are doing isn't crazy -- although it's much more fun and convenient to say so. It operates by longstanding racial logics, drawing on racial scripts that have been recycled, repeated, and transferred across racial groups. So when Jeb Bush switches anchor babies from Latin@s to Asians, he's letting the audience fill in the blank about the danger that both Asians and Latin@s bring to the United States, whether its through anchor babies, birth tourism, and undocumented immigration.

Even though Trump's and Jeb Bush's "anchor baby" rhetoric on its surface seem to bear little relation to Asian America, they draw on larger racial logics that extend familiar scripts utilized on racial groups, recycling them and reusing them on Asian America (and vice versa). And it's relevant exactly because of how familiar and transferable to racial groups that, while different, pose the similar threats to the U.S. nation. So Latin@ are deemed anchor babies while Asians are birth tourist (and anchor babies). Both are racial others and threaten the U.S. citizenry even as they are formal citizens.

So when you see "crazy" racist talk that doesn't operate logically, it does. It just doesn't operate by our conventional logics. It's a flexible racial logic, one that recycles and recirculates well-worn racial scripts across racial groups. This isn't crazy. It makes sense -- just not to folks like us.

Vincent N. Pham is an assistant professor of Communication at California State University San Marcos. He writes on race, media, and rhetoric. His research is on Asian American and the media. Much of this info comes from this. And of course, our great Asian American bloggers like Angry Asian Man and Jen from Reappropriate already dropped some knowledge about these issues.


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