Saturday, January 06, 2007

First Baby of 2007 is Asian American—and Already Being Excluded...

I don't know if you guys have heard about this story; I just saw it myself in today's New York Times. (And for those of you who read my mailblog Instant Yang, yeah, this is kind of a recycled post. But topical!) Here's the gist: At the end of last year, Toys 'R' Us announced a heavily hyped contest to bestow a $25,000 savings bond on the first American baby born in 2007. Doctors and hospitals were encouraged to submit candidates (with the winning hospital getting a $10,000 grant to be used for prenatal education programs). But when Yuki Lin, the midnight-born daughter of two restaurant workers from Brooklyn, NY, won a draw to break a three-way tie, contest officials declared her entry invalid--because her mother is not currently a legal resident of the U.S.

The stipulation of legal residency was made in the fine print of the contest rules, and of course, Toys 'R' Us is perfectly within its rights to enforce it; most contests, though not, it seems, state lotteries, have similar legal residency requirements, though arguments have been made that the winner wasn't Mrs. Lin, but her daughter, who is undeniably a U.S. citizen. (Except to the woman whose baby ultimately was awarded the prize, who declared herself and her child "100% American" and stated that "the baby of an illegal alien is an illegal alien," even if the law says otherwise. (Heck, Mexican American U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admits that he himself may be the grandson of undocumented immigrants.)

Yuki and her parents have become something of a cause celebre among Chinese Americans, who've been circulating a petition and pointing out that voiding her victory is another sign of the U.S.'s increasingly toxic attitude towards immigrants of all backgrounds and statuses. Coming on the heels of last year's dramatic protests and abortive reform debates, one wonders how much more frequently we'll be seeing this kind of issue rear its head. Well, one doesn't wonder; one is absolutely sure that—like 70-degree days in the dead of winter—we'll be seeing a lot more of these issues arising in the near future.
Update: So, yeah, Toys 'R' Us not only backed off, they decided to provide three $25K gift cert prizes—one for each of the babies born at midnight on January 1, 2007: Yuki, born at New York Downtown Hospital in Manhattan, Yadira Esmeralda, born at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, on Long Island; and Jayden Swain of Gainesville, GA. Which, by the way, means they inadvertently scored a multicultural trifecta: Asian American, Latino, and African American. Now, if only they'd realized this and made the decision from the outset, they could have parlayed this into major New American Mainstream goodwill. As it is, this was a good, but late, save that probably still has some Chinese Americans feeling a bit ornery.


daddy in a strange land said...

Damn, Jeff! You beat me to it. :) Just found out about it via Daddy Types:

daddy in a strange land said...

Toys R Us backed down in the face of the uproar--they're giving all three "finalists" the bond.

Anonymous said...

I am a Chinese American woman. I don't see a problem with Toys "R" Us following the rules. Feeling Entitled just because you are a minority can be dangerous. The same rules would apply if an non-resident of China won.

Anonymous said...

What is it with AAs who are so afraid to demand the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution?

Since the bond is granted to the baby and not the mother, I don't see how Toys R Us had any legal standing to make conditions based on the immigration status of the mother. The 14th Amendment doesn't even mention a citizen's parentage, let alone the nationality of those parents.

The US recognizes jus soli. We have one of the most generous interpretations of right of soil in the world. It is largely responsible for the success of the US as a nation state in the 20th Century.

The Chinese-American community wasn't asking for special treatment for the baby. They were demanding that Toys R Us correct what was a denial of her rights. She ended up receiving what was rightfully hers, not some kind of special handout from the "real" Americans--because she IS a real American.

The idea that the legitimacy of a person's citizenship could be questioned because of the immigration status of his or her parents is dangerous. It suggests that there are "classes" of citizenship, some more legitimate than others, and this is an idea that undermines the whole idea of the US.

Anonymous said...

I just read World Journal's coverage of this and it was an Asian attorney who heard this on the news, got mad, and fought for the prize on the parents' behalf. The parents were apparently just relieved the baby is healthy and weren't keen on making a fuss. The mom said she'll tell her daughter one day that it's important to fight for your rights and not be content to just let things be.

World Journal article (in Chinese):

Anonymous said...

"...Entitled just because you are a minority..." is a interpretation that makes me bristle. We are entitled to equal treatment. Seems like the "100% American" was the one feeling entitled. ten feet of steel -- always like what you got to say. teach on.

Anonymous said...

My criticism wasn't of the parents. It was of the "anonymous" who suggested it was dangerous for the Chinese American community to make a fuss, and who apparently thinks that "feeling entitled" to basic rights is somehow dangerous.

What's dangerous is not challenging those who don't see citizens as true Americans because these citizens are immigrants or the offspring of recent immigrants.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly what I'm co-signing, ten feet. I'm with you in reacting to anonymous. Sorry if I was unclear.

Anonymous said...

Toys R Us would have had supporters either way they decided to handle the issue. Looks like they erred toward denying a U.S. citizen her rightful prize. Too much too late, T.R.U.!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, 10 ft of steel-- exactly!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I heard a bit of DSL's interview on WNYC radio. I haven't given it a complete listen, but it's available on the website.

daddy in a strange land said...

Thanks, 10-Feet! It's a blur now, so if I didn't reference your comments as what "one of our commenters said," know that I meant to! :)

thisislarry said...

DISL, have you gone multimedia????? you rawk! and I can say I blogged with you way back when....

Anonymous said...

hey Ten Feet of Steel,

according to this news article

the parents HAVE to be "legal residents" in order for them to win. The parents aren't, so they aren't entitled to the prize money. As black and white as that. This has nothing to do constitutional rights like you are saying. Nobody's denying that the baby's full American because she's born on American soil. Rules are rules. Just because you are a minority doesn't mean everything is racially motivated.

Let's be clear in making the argument that Toys-R-Us is NOT denying an "US citizen" of her prize money. They are actually denying an "illegal resident" couple of a prize that they weren't even qualified to win in the first place. What's wrong with that? Toys-R-Us is a private company, and this is a rule they have established. You play, you follow the rules. How American!

In case you start yelling that I am a red neck, I am actually Chinese American.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a better question. Shouldn't the parents be deported like other illegal immigrants? Shouldn't INS be all over them by now?

Anonymous said...

I'm a Chinese-American who agrees with Jeremy C. Send the illegal aliens home! My relatives were stuck on the waiting list from 5-15 years before being allowed to enter the U.S. legally.

InstantYang said...

Jeremy C.,

First of all, no one is "denying" anyone anything. If you take a look at the update to my post, Toys R Us generously decided to give prizes to all three babies born at midnight on January 1.

Secondly, as you point out, Toys R Us is a private company. As such, this contest was a humungous PR boondoggle. They're not being altruistic here, regardless of the "We Love All Babies!!!" language they used in announcing the three-way prize. They're trying to win goodwill and customers.

From that standard, the only one that matters in this particular case (again, we could all argue differently if this were a true issue of civil liberties being denied--though I suspect people's opinions wouldn't change that much), Toys R Us acted out of plain stupidity. Here are some rules for PR if you're a giant corporation.

1.) Don't announce you have a winner before you're sure the winner adheres to your rules.

2.) If you do, and a hidden problem emerges, try to correct the problem in a way that doesn't frame you as "giant corporation vs. baby and working class parents." You can talk about right and wrong all day, but this is just plain bad situation management.

3.) When you correct the problem, make sure that the correction makes you look even more like a good guy than the original promotion did. Note: This is the only part of the process that Toys R Us actually got right. But a little late, and overwhelmed by the earlier bad publicity.

As far as whether a U.S. citizen born to an undocumented mother "deserves" to win a prize from Toys R Us, my personal belief is that if TRU doesn't check for green cards when parents are buying stuff at their stores, they shouldn't be so picky about who gets to win their savings bonds.

And Jeremy C. and Anonymous...I assume you never eat in Chinatown, buy American-made clothing, or eat fruit grown in the U.S., right? Because all of these are business categories that are currently fundamentally dependent on undocumented labor.

I'd love to see the same people who want to "send the illegals packing" engage in an organized boycott of all industries that benefit from cheap "illegal" labor--that would send a much less hypocritical message than focusing attacks on the workers themselves. But, hey, that actually requires sacrifice, so I doubt that'll ever happen.

Anonymous said...


I believe your argument is out of emotions, but not from a legal stand point. There's no law stating that a private company needs to check for green cards before selling products to a customer; there's no law against bad PR move, either. And just because you feel they "should" get the money, doesn't mean they are entitled to it. I realize you are just making a point but the argument is so far fetched I can't even follow.

Your argument of that I should give up on all things provided by cheap illegal workers is almost like saying we should all give up drinking, otherwise we will be supporting the drunk drivers..and that means you want to kill innocent kids, because that's what drunk drivers do. But then, that would require sacrifice on YOUR part, right? You see how stupid this argument is?

Just because I use the products, that traditionally have been supported by illegals, doesen't mean I "support" the illegal aliens. I support the great American capitalism, I'll find the cheapest fruit, food, or any other services I need. Because that's what we AA's do, we like a good bargain! However, if I were in the situation of hiring workers to work for my company, you bet your sweet rice I'll check for their legal status.

I think when we, the minorities, argue about equal rights,it would serve us a greater deal if we can take the emotions out of it. Just my humble opinion.

great blog, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

taking the title of the first, if the baby was, baby born in America in 2007 would be right but not winning the prize money provided by toys are us.

It's just a waste for those who had to go through hell to get a resident card just to qualify for SOME of the benefits in America.

Anonymous said...

"I assume you never eat in Chinatown, buy American-made clothing, or eat fruit grown in the U.S., right? Because all of these are business categories that are currently fundamentally dependent on undocumented labor."

Instantyang, It would be virtually impossible to not consume anything dependent on undocumented labor. I would starve because restaurants from all neighborhoods, not just CT, use illegal labor. Even in supermarkets, practically all the meat and produce have been handled by an undocumented employee at some point in the supply chain.

I actually think the economy would collapse if all illegals instantaneously left, but that doesn't make it right for them to be here. Let supply and demand work everything out as we obey the law. More legal immigrants will then be needed and will have to be allowed into the US.

I don't know the exact figure, but let's say there are 1 million illegal Chinese here. Send them back to China and take the next million on the waiting list from there. I'm sure there will be more than enough takers. The illegals returned to China can then get on the back of the line. While they're waiting, they can unite and kill all the evil snakeheads, who really live off their backs. If no one repays the neighborhood smuggler, he will no longer have power.

I know that would be a logistical nightmare, but I try to believe in the legal system. ...or they can have one more, definitely final amnesty program.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't care any less about the child of illegal aliens not getting her $25K (since rules did stipulate illegal expectant mothers weren't allowed to enter their newborns into the contest).

The real Asians excluded are those hard-working high school students who can't into schools like Berkeley to make room for less qualified non-Asians.

InstantYang said...

Jeremy C.,

First of all, I'm not being emotional at all--everything I'm saying is rooted in logic, not any particular rage or passion. I actually do think that a mass boycott of industries that depend on illegal immigration would be a reasonable way for anti-immigration activists to send a message--certainly more reasonable than agitating to build a big wall on the Mexican border.

As for your drunk driving analogy: It's not particularly parallel to the "cheap Chinese food and fresh fruit" point I was making. The liquor industry may enable drunk drivers, but it's not *dependent* on them. Even if every person who's ever driven drunk were to be banned from drinking alcohol again, the liquor industry would still exist.

Actually, having worked with numerous liquor clients, I'm sure the adult beverage industry would have no problem with that--drunk driving is disastrous for the industry's image, and that's part of the reason they spend a lot of money on those "drink responsibly" campaigns.

But the cheap food you get in Chinatowns, the affordable fresh fruit and vegetables you buy in supermarkets--those prices are *entirely* dependent on undocumented labor. That's how our system works. A rough thumbnail estimate of the impact of eliminating undocumented migrant workers from the agricultural industry is that in the short term, produce prices would rise 40 percent. [citation: Reason magazine:]

Frankly, that's a reasonable price to pay to eliminate illegal immigration--if (as Anonymous suggests elsewhere) the legal immigration channels were liberalized and reformed in a way that would allow replacement labor to enter the U.S. legally, and be paid living wages while here.

But that kind of reform is politically challenging, because unfortunately, most of the people who hate "illegal aliens" also want to slam the doors shut to LEGAL immigration. Their ultimate concern is the "invasion of America" by Latinos and Asians--documented or not.

Nativist sentiment led to over a century of exclusionary legislation barring Chinese and other Asians from becoming fully enfranchised citizens of the U.S. If you're Asian American and your family has been here for more than two generations, there's a good chance that somewhere in your family, you have at least one illegal alien--because the laws were unfair, discriminatory, and built on bigotry, and in many cases there was no way for Asians to come here in the "legal" fashion that Europeans did.

I'm not "for" illegal immigration; however, I'm also not "for" the current laws that make these immigrants illegal in the first place.

Raising wages and enforcing those higher wages; reforming labor law in general, and aggressively penalizing companies that circumvent hiring and workplace protection standards; and fixing the ridiculous mess that is current immigration code--all of these would go a long way toward eliminating the illegal immigration problem.

But yeah, significantly higher grocery bills, and no more free (or super-cheap) lunches--that's the price we'll pay. And should pay, if we want a fairer America.


Anonymous said...

Wanted to point out that the mother being "not a legal resident" does not mean that she was an illegal alien. Sorry, don't have time to actually research her background but she could be here on a visa (i.e. a student visa, H1 work visa, J1 scholar visa, whatever) and therefore technically NOT a legal resident but a legal alien.
Also, before I got my permanent residency, i.e. "legal resident" status, I still paid taxes and contributed to FICA despite the fact that I may never benefit from social security...
Okay... carry on...

Anonymous said...

Jeff was superbly reasoned and restrained in his response to jeremy c. Nice job, instantyang, though I find your work with the alcohol industry dubious. :)

The disappointing aspect of your comments, jeremy c. (and a couple of anonymouses), is the tacit sentiment that undocumented/alien Asian immigrants are other – that they don’t share the same political, social, or cultural status as us. It's easy to vilify the other and say, "Deport them." To speak about them as such requires a convenient amnesia of Asian American history. Most of America doesn't make a distinction between and the Toys R Us winners and you or me (a sansei), especially in times of heightened economic competition or global conflict.

Rules are not just rules. The laws governing American immigration have never been equitable, uniform, or consistently enforced. The Toys R Us rules were not neutral; they subjectively articulated a core value with which many of us have taken exception. Moreover, following rules is not necessarily an American trait (for instance, the US's involvement in the United Nations). Let's shift the focus to ethics rather then laws. If we really want to engage in a dialogue on expelling intruders, the original European violators and their descendants are the first agenda item.

I'll not take your bait and call you a redneck. I'd rather use Malcolm X’s house slave metaphor to characterize your comments. The house slave receives enough privilege to intentionally preserve favored second-class status at the expense of peers, rather than challenge the fundamental inequities of the system. Our racialized context gives amplification to voices that support the powers that be. A few of us can grant inordinate permission for jingoist opinions, e.g. Michelle Malkin's perverse views on internment. Even folks close to you might be asserting, "Even my cousin's Chinese husband says..."

Finally, I don't agree that we need to divorce emotion from the pursuit of civil rights, particularly around this holiday celebrating a passionate, intelligent, and effective activist. Certainly, logic and data are important, but what’s going to compel change -- a spreadsheet?

Anonymous said...

last response,

wow, I don't think I've ever been called "house nigger" before. And face it, that is what Malcolm X said, not a "house slave." I guess there's a first for everything.

I think that the foundamental difference between myself and a lot of other minorities is that I don't consider myself a victim in any shape or form. Sure we can look back at US history and say "see, you see what the white men have done to us??" But I intentionally choose not to engage in that type of thinking. We live in the present, and this is the best damn country in the WORLD. Sure this government (not the white men) has done many horrible things to its own people in the past. But which government hasn't??
Go ahead, name one government that has not oppresed its own people in its state of infancy? Somalia? England? France? Japan? China? Taiwan? Korean? Vietnam? The list of countries that have done HORRORS to its own people goes on and on and on. My point is that ALL governments screw up, but we absolutely cannot dwell on it. We need to learn from it and move on.
If it's so bad here, why don't you move back to Japan? Is it because you will NEVER get a citizenship there? Unlike the US where a legal option is actually provided to everybody that wants to be an American.

And I take offense to your comment that like a house nigger, I consider my "peers" second class citizen. Now, let's disect that line. My peers, I think you mean the Asian American communities. Unlike you, I consider my "peers" people I work with, live with, play with and have day to day interaction with. White, Yellow, Black, Brown, whatever. Unlike you, I don't see color when I interact with people.

I agree with you, some idiots out there are going to look at the winners from the Toys-R-Us and think they are no different than the other Asian Americans. My question to you is this, how do you stop that? There are always going to be idiots out there who won't make the distinction. Just like people don't make a distinction on illegal mexican works and Latinos who are an integral part of this country. Yourself might be guilty of this, too. You know what I say to that? SO WHAT? I meet idiots everyday, I have accepted the fact that I won't be able to change people.

What I will not accept is the implication that I consider other minorities 2nd class citizens like a house nigger. Where do you even get THAT from?

Anonymous said...

Dude, that makes my day! You went all Michael Richards on me. Glad to know where you really stand. Move back to Japan??? Perfect. I couldn’t ask for more.

Anonymous said...

That's what you got out of that whole argument? You made my day, too. glad we are even.

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Anonymous said...

Peach boy said:

"Most of America doesn't make a distinction between and the Toys R Us winners and you or me (a sansei), especially in times of heightened economic competition or global conflict."

Is that ever a prejudiced statement! Do you know most Americans?

From the polls conducted around the time of the immigration brouhaha last fall it was quite clear that "most Americans" do distinguish between those who come in through the legal door and those who sneak in.

Those Americans who look at immigrants and want to "send them all back" are mostly looking at Mexicans (which is unfair since illegal aliens do come from all over the globe).

Being married to a legal resident alien I feel for those who waited for years and years to come here legaly only to have the stability of their lives and credibility of their residency questioned because of the one who jump the line and sneak in.

I appreciated Mama Nabi's input as well, we really don't know what the mother's immigration status is- she could be here legally though not a legal resident.