When Ivan Tsang left his native Hong Kong to enroll at the University of Southern California, he was motivated by more than SoCal’s mild climate. More than his studies, even. He was looking for a place to belong. And on USC’s melting pot of a campus, Tsang thought he had found it.
“I chose USC for the sole purpose of escaping the reality of racism, hoping to settle in a much more contemporary and diverse community,” he wrote Sunday on Facebook.
“I guess I thought wrong.”
Tsang’s dream shattered around him Saturday night when a fellow USC student allegedly hurled eggs at Tsang and called him racist and homophobic slurs.
“Ching chang chong motherf—– gay,” the other student allegedly yelled repeatedly while trying to pelt Tsang with three eggs, according to Tsang’s Facebook post.
The university quickly denounced the ugly incident.
“Early Sunday morning a member of our USC community reported an incident of discrimination and prejudice that was threatening and unconscionable,” Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry said in a statement sent to students Sunday night, according to the Daily Trojan. “An undergraduate student notified us that while sitting outside his campus residence he had eggs thrown at him accompanied by racial slurs. This act was shameful and will not be tolerated at our university.”
The Los Angeles Police Department is also investigating, according to the student newspaper.
The incident comes six months after another alleged episode of racism towards Asians on the same campus, when someone at a USC fraternity hurled a drink at the student body president and called her an “Indian piece of s—.”
The two incidents touch upon a longstanding problem of racism towards Asians and Asian Americans in the United States — an issue already in the news recently with Chris Rock’s controversial Asian jokes at the Oscars and the contentious manslaughter conviction of a Chinese American policeman in New York City.
At the same time, the defiant reaction of both USC students also highlights the growing impatience that Asian Americans have towards racism.
Discrimination against Asians in America dates to at least the mid-19th century, when indentured Asian laborers, primarily from China, toiled towards their freedom in gold mines or on the transcontinental railroad. Pejoratively called “coolies,” these Asian immigrants were often confined to cramped, impoverished neighborhoods — known as Chinatowns — and suffered sporadic bouts of anti-immigrant violence, such as the lynching of 17 Chinese men in Los Angeles in 1871.
For the next century, the United States government would also actively discriminate against these immigrants. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which stayed in place for 60 years and “remains the only federal law ever to exclude a group of people by nationality,” according to the New Yorker. And in 1923, the Supreme Court ruled that South Asians could not become naturalized citizens because they were not white.
The problem was particularly acute in California, where most of the Asian immigrants settled. In 1913, the state passed the Alien Land Law, that stripped many Asians of their businesses and property, according to the New Yorker.
“What have I made of myself and my children?” wrote an Indian immigrant in his 1928 suicide note in San Jose, according to Erika Lee’s “The Making of Asian America.” “We cannot exercise our rights. Humility and insults, who is responsible for all this? Me and the American government. Obstacles this way, blockades that way, and bridges burnt behind.”
Legalized discrimination against Asians peaked with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, before waning with the civil rights movement and the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965.
Physical and verbal abuse towards Asians continues to this day, however.
Even as the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted a soul-searching debate over discrimination towards African Americans, many Asian Americans argue that they suffer similar slights in silence. “Racism Against Asians And Asian Americans Is Prejudice You Can Still Get Away With,” ran the headline of a recent op-ed by an Asian American researcher at Yale.
That argument was reinforced when Oscar host Chris Rock included crass Asian jokes in an otherwise powerful monologue about American race relations late last month. And when NYPD police officer Peter Liang was convicted in February of manslaughter, thousands of Chinese Americans took to the streets to protest the verdict, arguing that there was a double standard since so many white cops have been acquitted for similar shootings.
The discussion over discrimination towards Asians and Asian Americans has been most intense on American college campuses, especially in California, where roughly 11 percent of the population is Asian. On university campuses, the percentage is often twice that. (At USC, about 18 percent of students are Asian, according to school data.)
In 2011, a white student posted a three-minute video to YouTube in which she complained that Asian students were using their cellphones in the library to call family members following a deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
“The problem is these hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every single year, which is fine,” Alexandra Wallace said, at one point mimicking people speaking an Asian language, according to the New York Times. “But if you’re going to come to UCLA, then use American manners.”
Wallace’s video caused widespread outrage, and she later apologized.
The issue has resurfaced several times since then, however, including twice at USC.
In September, USC’s Indian American student body president Rini Sampath was walking home from a friend’s apartment when someone allegedly leaned out of a fraternity house window, threw a drink at her and yelled: ‘You Indian piece of s—!”
“It makes me wonder what would have happened had it been someone else,” she wrote on Facebook the next day. “That’s an aspect that concerns me. It just makes me wonder: ‘Is this how they see us first and foremost — for the color of our skin?’”
On Saturday, that someone else turned out to be Tsang.
Tsang was relaxing near the communal fireplace at Cardinal Gardens, a USC student housing complex, when a male student in a cap began shouting “Ching Chang Chong motherf—– gay.”
Suddenly, an egg splatted on the ground near Tsang.
“At first, I was just going let it go,” Tsang told the Daily Trojan, “but then they came back and threw a second egg at me. And this was clearly aimed at me.”
“The ‘ching chong’ is still there,” the man allegedly said, according to Tsang.
A third egg and more epithets followed.
Tsang, a sophomore studying business administration, told the student newspaper that it’s not the first time he’s been racially abused since moving to southern California. But he was shocked because it happened in what is supposed to be a protected, communal place.
“I was sitting there because I was truly comfortable. I had no fears,” he told the Daily Trojan.
Tsang complained to USC’s Department of Public Safety about the incident.
On Sunday morning, he also excoriated his attacker in a scathing and sarcastic Facebook post.
“Good morning people,” he wrote. “I usually don’t do shout-outs, but this morning I want to give a wonderful shout-out to the men of Cardinal Gardens, room F552, especially to the guy in the cap….
“Although I was quite satisfied sitting quietly in front of the Cardinal Gardens fireplace enjoying my own company and the warmth of the fire, you had to add color to my night by throwing not 1, not 2 but 3 eggs aimed clearly at me, while constantly calling my beautiful name, ‘Ching Chang Chong motherf—– gay’ and other assorted words.
“I’m surprised you even noticed I was Chinese from so far away on your balcony. Perhaps you were probably not drunk or high?” he wrote. “Anyhow, I don’t have much left to say except that you guys have taught me a valuable lesson about racism and ignorance at USC.”
Like Sampath before him, Tsang took to Facebook to vent about discrimination on campus. Other Asian and Asian American students have gone further, however, taking their complaints to court. Last year, 64 Asian American organizations filed a joint complaint with the Department of Education, accusing Harvard of racially discriminating against Asians in the acceptance process. Asian American students have filed similar lawsuits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, according to the Economist.
In his Facebook post, Tsang said he didn’t blame his school for the ugly incident — so long as it didn’t happen again.
“I’m confident to say though, that this obviously does not represent the USC community (unless, of course, more of these incidents show up),” he wrote.
He even had the humor to poke fun at his heckler.
“I look forward to your eggs again,” Tsang said. “Next time, I would like them sunny-side up please.”
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