Many immigrants, including Chinese immigrants, came to this country to pursue the “American Dream”–they believed in a land of opportunity with good jobs, a better education for their children, and a place where hard work was rewarded. However, many have found that the American Dream is far beyond reach. Immigrants seeking opportunity instead found racism, exploitation, and a system that often cares only about the rich and powerful. Often, they work long hours at 2 or 3 jobs, experiencing wage theft or work injuries, and they still cannot afford to send their children to public university. They do backbreaking labor, and they still do not get paid the legal minimum wage. The median income in Chinatown is just $21,500 a year, where 1 in 2 restaurant workers do not get paid the minimum wage, and unemployment is far above the national rate at 30%. Meanwhile the richest 1% in America owns over 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the average income for the top 1% is $1.1 million. The rest of us (the 99 percent) make $31,000.
Low and middle-income Chinese immigrant families have always suffered numerous inequalities in this country. We have fought against displacement and discrimination, and struggled for basic rights like the minimum wage. While the rest of the country may be just waking up to the inequality of the system, we have seen it firsthand. While the rich get richer, our communities continue to suffer from unemployment, low or no access to healthcare, and poor living and working conditions. This makes us a part of the 99%.
Since the Occupy Wall Street Movement began just a little over a month ago, hundreds of occupations have cropped up nationwide and throughout the world, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Locally in San Francisco, many have joined the movement and formed Occupy SF with encampments set up at Justin Herman Plaza and outside of the Federal Reserve. America boasts that it is a democratic, free country, where people have the right to freedom of speech, but in the past few weeks San Francisco police have been arresting protesters and trashing their possessions. While the mainstream media tells us that the Occupy Movements are mostly white, hippies, and lacking a clear message, this is not true. Throughout the country, people have been inspired to join these movements because they reflect the feelings of everyday people that the current system does not work for the majority of Americans, and they are demanding change.
Right now the American Dream is under attack by the 1% and the banks that profited from the economic crisis. Recently, Bank of America introduced new fees, charging account holders $5 a month for using their ATM debit cards. Premium account holders are exempt from these fees. We were promised that the bank bailouts would save the American economy, but these ATM fees are just another example that shows how the middle class and low-income families are being squeezed, while the rich are protected. The banks blamed people for making bad decisions resulting in foreclosure, but it was banks like Bank of America who engaged in predatory lending and now they are trying to get the low-income and middle class to pay even more in fees.
But there are other solutions, such as restoring taxes on the rich. In 1961, households with income over $1 million were taxed 43 percent. Today it is just 23 percent. Claims that the wealth of the top 1% will “trickle down” to the rest of us have proven false. Increasing taxes on the wealthiest in San Francisco, and across the country, would be a first step towards addressing the extreme inequality for the 99%.
For the past few weeks, CPA has conducted phone surveys with thousands of Chinese voters, and the overwhelmingly majority support this idea so that they and their children can achieve the American Dream. They believe that everyone should pay their fair share so that we can all live with dignity, provide for our families, and help our children have a better future.
On October 30th, the 99% will occupy Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. The Asian community is part of the 99% and we are taking a stand. For decades, we have fought for our dignity and our rights, and today we demand that the 1% pay their fair share. We are students, teachers, cooks, waitresses, mothers, janitors, social workers, and we are the 99 percent. Join us on October 30th from 10 am to 3 pm at Portsmouth Square, with a program at noon. For more information, please call 415-391-6986.
Supervisor Eric Mar
Alex T. Tom, Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association