On September 27, the Detroit APALA chapter held a widely attended hearing on Asian Pacific American workers' rights issues and the model minority stereotype. Their experiences with discrimination certainly fit the faced by many other people of color and other groups often targeted for different treatment.
"Unfortunately, many Asian Pacific Americans find themselves being subjected to various forms of discrimination and harassment," said Ying Gee of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. "The problem is many of us have a tendency to either not speak up to defend our selves or not bring the problem to the right people."
The hearing was designed as an opportunity to hear from the public regarding employment related issues, especially those suffered by members of the Asian Pacific American community. Testimonial examples include one woman who alleged her salary was drastically reduced after decades on the job, leaving her no option but to quit. Because she was the only Asian American at that job, and the only person taking a large salary cut, she was left to wonder if her race was the cause.
Another worker testified:
The supervisor would yell at me. One time the supervisor hit me on the top of my head with a gas pipe. I am angry and hurt that I got fired in 2004 and the union brought me back to work under the last chance agreement. Then in 2007, I was fired because I was accused of not putting olives in the salad, when that was not my responsibility.
Several other testimonies related to incidents of discrimination and harassment based on stereotypes of Asian women, verbally mocking Asian languages or being spat upon by total strangers.
"My heart truly goes out to everyone who provided testimony here tonight because of what you have suffered through," added H. Sook Wilkinson, Ph.D., chair of the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission within the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. "Our Commission is designed to serve as a bridge between the community and state government or other entities which could address some of these issues. The Commission may not have all the answers, but if contacted we try our best to assist or direct people to the right place."
Mark Gaffney, President, Michigan State AFL-CIO said "thank you for having the courage to share your stories with the panel today. Labor has always been at the forefront in fighting for social justice for all workers regardless of their race, sex, gender, nationality, disability, religion and your stories highlighted the urgency for labor to continue its work to organize the unorganized."
Both the Department of Civil Rights and the EEOC had staff on hand to hear testimony and get a better sense of any issues that may be best addressed outside of individual complaints.
"It was certainly an eye opening experience for me," said Daniel Krichbaum, Ph.D., Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. "We know that in order for Michigan to move forward, all of our state must be involved in that movement. A rising tide cannot lift all boats if the anchors of segregation and discrimination are still firmly in place."
The testimony collected during the hearing will be used as part of a national report on employment discrimination against Asian Pacific Americans being issued by the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO. Other organizations involved in this effort include the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, Reform Immigration for America, Michigan AFL-CIO and Michigan Department of Civil Rights.