Glenn Mai, a retired FBI agent, had been raised in Dallas by Chinese immigrants who had taught him that he would succeed if he just worked hard.
“Chinese culture is very much about working within the system,” Glenn said, and during decades in law enforcement he’d come to believe the system worked.
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His son, Charlie, took a different view. “My father deeply believes that everyone has a fair chance, which is just basically untrue,” said Charlie, an artist who fled New York for his family’s home in northern Virginia due to the pandemic. “It’s very Asian to me, that view that if everyone just works hard, then everything will turn out right for them. I’m definitely a little reactive to that because I think that’s delusional.”
That June morning, amid the yelling and tears, Glenn threatened to walk out when it became clear that Charlie and Henry planned to defy the city’s 7pm curfew. In the end, however, he drove downtown to bring his sons safely home, and the argument over the protests, police brutality and systemic racism has since softened into an extended conversation.
During the civil rights movement, black parents and their children may have disagreed over speed and strategy, but their shared experience of discrimination united them on the cause. Non-black allies, many of them Jewish Americans, were a clear minority in the 1960s.
By contrast, the youth-led protests unfolding now in response to the killing of a black man by a white Minneapolis police officer are much more diverse. There are large numbers of African Americans who have supported the Black Lives Matter movement since its 2014 founding, and many native-born black and white newcomers whose lives have often differed dramatically from their parents. But there is also an unprecedentedly large segment of protesters from other backgrounds. Some are descended from immigrants who moved to the US generations ago, while many others come from the families that have arrived in great waves since the civil rights movement spurred passage of the landmark Immigration and Naturalisation Act in 1965.
“I think what you are seeing is a decades-long transformation. We have arrived at a real cultural shift,” said Jose Antonio Vargas, founder and chief executive of Define American, an immigration advocacy organisation.
While the dynamics between black and white Americans get most of the media attention, Mr Vargas said, the makeup of this new movement “is way more complex than that”.
In forming “a new kind of majority” with black and white protesters, these Asian, Latino and other young allies are uniting in fighting anti-black racism and in many cases, are pushing their mothers and fathers to understand why change is necessary, said Mr Vargas, whose view is shared by other experts, young protesters and their parents.