race and space

Hidden in Plain Sight

The story of race relations depends on who is telling the story.

In 2016, long after historic surveys were completed and properties were protected in West Austin, the City finally funded a historical survey for East Austin. It was demeaning on several levels, not the least of which that historically significant projects had already been bulldozed in the name of maintaining a narrative that people in East Austin did not care about history. Another reason for the late survey was that it could reveal a story of East Austin in a way that failed to include pain: tradespeople living their lives and owning businesses, families owning homes for generations, and a racially integrated space which had occurred without a Supreme Court decision. In the wake of anti-Asian violence, many people have painted a story of Asian people as being constant targets of hatred and disdain by other politically designated races, despite this violence being incited by a former president and carried out by a disgruntled young adult. Truthfully, most oppressed people tend to live in close proximity, and the precedent of racial integration in East Austin proves that racial hatred was stoked by fear of unity.

People tend to forget that segregation was legalized after the rise of successful independent communities. The Standard City Planning Enabling Act and the Standard Zoning Enabling Act happened after the destruction of Tulsa and Wilmington to ensure that there would never be a threat to the dominant narrative again. Until that point, people tended to live where they could form successful communities, and learned to cooperate without excessive intervention. The Chinese Exclusion Act ended after World War I, which makes the Asian ownership of a household in East Austin pretty significant since it happened in 1920. People set down roots where they feel safe, and the ownership remained in the hands of the Lung family until 1968, and the family restaurant remained open until 1974. While the house was located in the historically Chicano district, borders do not really exist when all parties are threatened with racist violence. Under no circumstances would a business owner invest in a community where family would feel threatened by Black people, especially since the 1928 Master Plan had already been enacted and segregation was already in place.

Racial dissension has been cultivated by people who had something to lose if the oppressed unified, and because Black people were considered the lowest of the low, more people worked to keep the races separated by comparing Asian people to everyone else. In 1966, Asian people were touted as the “model minority” within the United States, emphasizing hard work and dedication to family. This was, of course, at a time when race riots were breaking out across the country in response to violence largely aimed at Black and Latinx communities, before rising prominence of the American Indian Movement. Because of how the Philippines were colonized by the Spanish, many Asian people were thought to be Latinx, proving how much the dominant narrative needed race to sustain its power. Natural integration was such a threat to the dominant narrative that it capitalized on parading its enthusiasm of the Asian population, despite the existence of internment camps that were separated by a mere generation. Therefore, inclinations appeared to be squelched once Asian people were falsely held above others, and physical segregation within the built environment continued to alienate groups from one another.

Basically, the dominant narrative needs people to hate each other and view others as threats because no one enables a desperate, grasping narrative that demands constant validation. It needs people to believe that everyone would naturally segregate because if they would live meaningful lives regardless, what was the point of segregation? Who needed segregation for actual harmony? The long-term precedent of an Asian family in East Austin refutes the idea that people of different politically assigned races cannot coexist, which is why there has been very little press about this at a time when anti-Asian violence is on the rise and the racial reckoning of Black people is upon the country. Those who are begging for unity would do well to recognize what had been done to divide, lest the same ideas be repeated to cause the same results.

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