May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month because it is the month in which the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States in 1843 and when the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 with the majority of tracks laid by Chinese immigrants. It is also the month Congress enacted The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 which banned Chinese laborers and nearly all other Chinese from immigrating into the United States and made Chinese immigrants and even their American-born children ineligible for citizenship. In 1943 the exclusions were lifted but set an annual immigration quota of 105. By then Japanese-Americans were being interned in camps in the United States following Pearl Harbor. There has since been often severe anti-Asian sentiment and violence.
As an American born Chinese or “ABC” from Manhattan I moved to Austin in 2017 with some anxiety about the loss of my connection to the Asian American community in New York and the City’s Chinatowns and other neighborhoods filled with people, culture, foods, and goods from Asian countries. I found my way in Austin to areas with pockets of businesses and people of diverse Asian ancestry and adjusted to the sometimes fancy and fusion approach of Chinese restaurants. At times I felt like an immigrant in my own country. (I was once told I was a guest in this country.)
As Executive Director of Musician Treatment Foundation, I strive to increase awareness of our mission generally and to reach all professional musicians who cannot afford critical care for their upper limbs. Outreach seemed particularly daunting at first when it came to Asian American musicians because I was relatively new to Austin and live music and gatherings were so limited during the Covid pandemic. Luckily Austinites are so incredibly friendly, informative, resilient, and supportive that I’ve discovered many – but not all – of the amazing AAPI talent here in Austin. Let me invite you to discover some of the AAPI artists and venues in Austin for yourself and to catch well-known artists on tour as well as those in your own hometown. If you’re not ready to go out yet please go to Netflix for the enlightening and inspiring documentary by Suzanne Joe Kai about the legendary Ben Fong-Torres Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres
Irene is Executive Director of Musician Treatment Foundation and a former attorney who has held senior legal and nonlegal positions in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private companies. She is also a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.