“When American troops began to leave the Philippines at the end of World War II, hundreds of surplus jeeps were sold or given to local Filipinos. Locals stripped down the jeeps to accommodate several passengers, added metal roofs for shade, and decorated the vehicles with vibrant colors and bright chrome hood ornaments. The jeepney rapidly emerged as a popular and creative way to reestablish inexpensive public transportation, which had been virtually destroyed during World War II.”
I’m often mad at “my people” for a variety of reasons, but occasionally I’m reminded that we Asian-Americans have a lot of things to be proud of. The jeepney is, I think, such a great symbol of Asian community and ingenuity in the face of destruction and colonial bullying. And while it is a Filipino form of transportation, I am reminded that its larger cousin, the Chinatown or “dragon” bus, has similarly revolutionized public transportation here in the States. When I was in NYC two weeks ago, I found buses leading to Chinatowns EVERYWHERE. Philadelphia, Richmond, Baltimore, Atlanta, Nashville, Detroit (!), Chicago ($70!!)–this thing is way larger than the Fung Wah everyone talks about. And it’s not just the East side–there’s buses running from SF to LA to Reno and back. Even within NYC, a similar dragon bus system is now challenging the Metro by offering faster and more convenient service from Manhattan to Queens at a competitive price.
The dragon buses rose out of the need for community so strongly built into Asian cultures. Once one Chinatown was cheaply connected to another, people could more easily visit their families and get the goods they needed. Essentially the same thing happened in Montgomery during the bus boycotts, but the dragon buses realized that they could do a better job than what the government was providing and are here for the long haul. It’s an example commonly passed over when people are thinking about community action (even if it’s private companies running it, it did come out of a community need), and unjustly so–if the systems we can build for activists can have the longevity, dependability, and success of the dragon buses, this country will be in good shape indeed.
And while I’m being proud of Asian-Americans, here’s a good (!!!) Asian-American rap group I found.