By Justine Calma
When I see an Asian man in the media I am usually confronted with one of two stereotypes. The first is a kung fu hero saving the day. The second is the goofy, but lovable, oddball nerd. Now that we’ve conjured up images of Jackie Chan and Sy’s “Gingham Style” music video – let me introduce you to some of the Asian American men I know.
Gene is Filipino American. He is 26 years old and struggling to work full time while studying at community college. As a student in high school, he never had counselors who encouraged him to go to college. His parents are immigrants working hard to keep their home and figure out their citizenship status. They don’t have the time or resource to help Gene navigate the education system. Gene’s parents also take in his cousin Alvin, who just got out of a 9-month stint in jail and is trying to get back on his feet.[pullquote]What few people know is that Southeast Asian men are the fastest growing prison population in the United States. The rate at which young men of color in the United States are being incarcerated is a glaring example of racial injustice. A higher proportion of African Americans are incarcerated in California today than blacks were incarcerated in apartheid South Africa. Latinos are the largest group incarcerated in California state prisons – but what is usually portrayed as a black and brown struggle is actually much larger than that.[/pullquote]
If I was the Governor of California I would take money out of prisons and put it into education. I would also make sure that resources are going to all the communities that need them. The model minority myth that portrays Asian Americans as high achieving does not represent the diversity of experiences felt by members of this community. There are undocumented Asian American immigrants. There are a lot of Asian men in prison and jail, and more in detention camps at risk of being deported. Many poor and working class Asian American youth are not college-bound.
The problem with ignoring the barriers a community faces is that it robs that community of the resources it needs. We cannot begin to solve a problem unless we are aware that the problem exists. That’s why as Governor of California, I would highlight the state’s failing education system and how it has tracked under-resourced youth like Gene and Alvin out of universities and into prisons. While California’s education budget has decreased by 30 percent in the last 20 years, its prison budget has increased by 40 percent. That type of spending illustrates a government that is more invested in the imprisonment of its population than the education of its youth.
A high school counselor in California serves an average of 810 students. If Gene’s school was well-funded instead of crowded and under-staffed, his counselor might have had time to show him the track to a university. If his cousin Alvin had state-funded scholarships to attend college, maybe he wouldn’t have had to hustle on the street to make money after his father’s death. Maybe he would have felt a diploma in his hands instead of his hands in cuffs. That’s the difference I would want to make as Governor.
By Alyson Bryant
I care about the future of California and the safety of my city and my community. I care about the opportunities available within them. Being a 23-year old young adult, I now understand and recognize what is lacking and can be improved in California and my community. I care about the public resources available to my community and I.
According to Think Outside the Box, there’s a $10,000 difference in the salary of new teachers and prison guards. The average salary of a new teacher is $35,000 and the starting salary of a new prison guard is $45,000.
[pullquote]If I was the governor of California I would invest the money I saved from cuts to prison and jail construction, pre-trial justice, sentencing reform and the death penalty. I would use that money to invest in a few things like K through 12 education, college opportunity public safety and social services by cutting funds from prison and jail construction. Investing in education would make my community and California a better place.[/pullquote]
In the past, California has tried many different ways. But facts show our money should go toward education –not on building new prisons. We come to find out that locking people up doesn’t improve public safety. There are much less expensive and more effective ways of keeping our communities safe, such as alternatives to incarceration, like restorative justice and drug rehabilitation.
Money could be used to pay the salaries of 4,750 additional teachers and counselors and also help with critical repairs in some of the most needy schools in California. It can also help invest in college opportunity for young adults by funding Cal Grants. I would also invest in the public safety for out youth by creating violence prevention opportunities that gives them a positive outlook on their lives, academically and personally. Six thousand young people hospitalized in California each year from some form of violent injury.
I could make a difference for all those in California, and my community, by giving hope to those who have once committed a crime and offering them counseling and drug treatment so they can make a positive transition back into society. I could also make a difference in the lives of the elder by improving their public resources and by investing in K-12 education to make a difference in our youth’s lives– Because they are our future.
Every tax dollar funneled into jails and prisons takes funding away from other services and needs, including K-12 and higher education. California currently allots $10.7 billion to its criminal justice budgets.
VoiceWaves asked its new youth reporters how they would change the system by entering the Think Outside The Box Contest, a project of the ACLU of California whose objective is to engage voters, youth and young adults around the California budgeting process.
The youth were asked to answer questions like, “What do you care about?”; “What would you do with the money saved if you were Governor of California?”; and “What kind of difference could you make?”
Every week, VoiceWaves will continue to showcase two youth entries.