Wang Ling-chi: Fear­less fighter for civil rights BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHANG JUN in San Fran­cisco junechang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Wang Ling- chi’s name re­sounds in San Fran­cisco and be­yond. On the one hand, he ex­cels in aca­demic achieve­ment as an ex­pert on Asian-Amer­i­can his­tory and the founder of the eth­nic stud­ies pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­ni­aBerke­ley. On the other hand, he is even more well-known as a mi­nor­ity civic ac­tivist who has been serv­ing his fel­low Chi­nese whole­heart­edly for more than 40 years.

Wang, 76, said he never gives up on things he be­lieves are right and does not mind be­ing mis­un­der­stood along the way. “I’m so used to crit­i­cism and con­fronta­tion,” said Wang.

Most re­cently Wang was iden­ti­fied by the Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can com­mu­nity as an ar­tic­u­late sup­porter of Se­nate Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment No 5, or SCA-5, a pro­posal that many Asian-Amer­i­can families re­gard as pro­mot­ing racial dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The pro­posed amend­ment pro­poses to al­low such public ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions as the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (UC) and the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity (CSU) sys­tems — and even K-12 schools — to use race, sex, color, eth­nic­ity or na­tional ori­gin as a con­sid­er­a­tion in en­rolling stu­dents or hir­ing em­ploy­ees.

Seem­ingly in agree­ment with the mea­sure, Wang sat at a town hall meet­ing as a pan­elist on March 2 in Cu­per­tino, say­ing mea­sures should be taken to change the cur­rent univer­sity ad­mis­sion pol­icy, which he thought put too much em­pha­sis on SAT scores and grade­point av­er­ages.

“Merit should also in­clude lead­er­ship, vol­un­teer­ing, spe­cial tal­ent,” he said, adding that he thought there was a lack of di­ver­sity on UC cam­puses.

“As ben­e­fi­cia­ries of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, we Asian Amer­i­cans should re­mem­ber to give chances to ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing those from the so­cio-eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged families. In other words, when drink­ing wa­ter, don’t for­get its source,” said Wang.

How­ever, Wang’s re­marks were mis­con­strued as proof of his “be­trayal” of Asian Amer­i­cans’ core val­ues and drew fire. “Look at our so-called com­mu­nity leader,” yelled some­one in the au­di­ence point­ing a fin­ger at Wang. “Can we be­lieve that he would stand up for us and fight for our rights?”

Wang has stood up and fought for mi­nor­ity im­mi­grants since 1969 when he and sev­eral com­mu­nity ac­tivists and stu­dents es­tab­lished Chi­nese for Af­fir­ma­tive Ac­tion (CAA) to ad­vo­cate on be­half of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans who are “sys­tem­at­i­cally de­nied equal op­por­tu­nity in many sec­tors of so­ci­ety”, as the CAA creed puts it.

CAA achieved so­cial changes in the civil rights sec­tor. It chal­lenged so­cial norms to ad­vance equal­ity, cre­ated coali­tions that bridged tra­di­tional bound­aries and pri­or­i­tized the needs of the Chi­nese com­mu­nity’s most marginal­ized mem­bers.

In the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor alone, CAA fought for and won the right for thou­sands of Chi­ne­ses­peak­ing stu­dents to at­tend public schools in the law­suit Lau v. Ni­chols in 1974.

The civil rights case, brought by Chi­nese Amer­i­can stu­dents in San Fran­cisco who had in­suf­fi­cient English skills, claimed they did not re­ceive spe­cial as­sis­tance in school due to their in­abil­ity to speak English.

Find­ing that the lack of lin­guis­ti­cally ap­pro­pri­ate ac­com­mo­da­tions ef­fec­tively de­nied the Chi­nese stu­dents equal ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, the US Supreme Court in 1974 ruled in fa­vor of the stu­dents.

Wang also spent five years in the 1980s hound­ing the chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem to get him to re­vise ad­mis­sions poli­cies which Wang called “dis­crim­i­na­tory and bi­ased against Asian-Amer­i­cans ap­pli­cants” and apol­o­gize in public for the past wrongs.

Wang’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­cov­ered a set of “se­cret” ad­mis­sion poli­cies in prac­tice, which was not only used to break down SAT ver­bal scores to fil­ter ap­pli­cants, but also raised the GPA thresh­old for au­to­matic UC ad­mis­sion from 3.7 to 3.9.

“Both mea­sures were tar­get­ing Asian Amer­i­cans,” said Wang.

In 1984, Wang called on the chan­cel­lor to re­vise the pol­icy. “The school de­nied it, so I called na­tional and lo­cal me­dia and con­tin­ued my fight un­til one day in 1989, the chan­cel­lor sent the vice chan­cel­lor to meet with me and asked what it would take to get me to stop,” Wang re­called.

“Two con­di­tions: One, th­ese poli­cies I’ve de­fined as dis­crim­i­na­tive should be dropped; two, the chan­cel­lor and the univer­sity should pub­licly apol­o­gize to Asian Amer­i­cans for their wrong­do­ing,” Wang said.

“‘The first, con­sider done,’ replied the vice-chan­cel­lor right away,” said Wang, adding the chan­cel­lor ad­mit­ted the ad­mis­sion pol­icy was wrong and apol­o­gized for the harm it had brought to the Asian Amer­i­can families.

Asked how he was able to en­dure five years of ar­du­ous bat­tle against an in­sti­tu­tion he worked for, Wang said “be­cause I knew I was right and I re­ally don’t give up when I be­lieve I’m right”.

Wang said he could have ded­i­cated his whole life to do­ing re­search on the OldTes­ta­ment, Semitic lan­guages and Mid­dle East­ern cul­ture if he hadn’t taken an African Amer­i­can stud­ies course in the mid-1960s. Wang had just re­ceived his bach­e­lor’s de­gree in mu­sic and com­po­si­tion from a small col­lege in Michi­gan and was a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Chicago when he chose to take cour­ses on Martin Luther King and Mal­colm X, Black pi­o­neers in the civil rights move­ment whose mes­sage in­spired him.

“The two ac­tivists have both in­flu­enced me deeply,” said Wang. “I just don’t be­lieve that when peo­ple are be­ing un­justly op­pressed that they should let some­one else set rules for them by which they can come out from un­der that op­pres­sion.”

Wang vis­ited San Fran­cisco in 1966 and made a stop at Chi­na­town. “It had the dens­est pop­u­la­tion in that con­gested neigh­bor­hood,” said Wang.

“Be­cause of their very limited English, [im­mi­grants] ended up in Chi­na­town and a lot of prob­lems arose such as hous­ing, em­ploy­ment, gam­bling, street gangs and drugs,” said Wang.

Wang could not help but as­so­ciate the mess in Chi­na­town with the ghetto neigh­bor­hoods of the Blacks, and re­al­ized that Chi­nese Amer­i­cans, just like other mi­nor­ity groups, had been sys­tem­at­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally de­nied equal op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Wang de­cided to trans­fer from Chicago to the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Berke­ley, a Mecca in the 1960s for ac­tivists ea­ger to bring change to so­ci­ety through the civil rights move­ment. In 1969, Wang re­ceived his doc­tor­ate, started teach­ing at Berke­ley, ini­ti­ated CAA and got ac­tively in­volved in com­mu­nity af­fairs.

Al­though much progress has been made, Chi­nese Amer­i­cans still have a long way to go be­fore even­tu­ally re­mov­ing all racial bar­ri­ers and be­com­ing main­stream, said Wang.

“Fun­da­men­tally, se­ri­ous racial prob­lems still per­sist in the US,” he said.

CHANG JUN / CHINA DAILY

Wang Ling-chi, a renowned civil rights ac­tivist for Asian-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, said he never gives up on things he be­lieves are right. He led Chi­nese for Af­fir­ma­tive Ac­tion, fight­ing for equal ed­u­ca­tion rights for chil­dren of new im­mi­grant.

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