The Coin Conundrum

When it comes to determining what constitutes an Asian-American, the U.S. Census Bureau provided an accurate picture thanks to the 2010 Census.   Asian-Americans were those Americans who were either immigrants or descendants of immigrants.

  • 2% are Chinese-American
  • 7% are Filipino-American
  • 4% are East Indian-American
  • 0% are Vietnamese-American
  • 9% are Korean-American
  • 5% are Japanese-American
  • 3% are of some other variation Asia-American

It’s an insult to insist that those from one group have the same physical features as those from any or all of the other groups.  And yet, CBS News reported on January 13, 2017 that the U.S. Treasury Department is issuing a commemorative coin series honoring the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint with a twist.  According to CBS News, the coins will depict Lady Liberty in a “variety of contemporary forms” and these forms would include “designs representing Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Indian-Americans among others.”

The images on these coins will be representative of cultural groups as opposed to being images of individuals as was the case with the Susan B. Anthony dollar or the Sacagawea dollar or the Helen Keller quarter in Alabama or the Eleanor and Virginia Dare half-dollar in North Carolina.  The images proposed for the Lady Liberty coins are generalized images of individuals from groups that are defined by their heritage … more or less.

More or less because the Chinese are as different from the Japanese as the Australians are different from Canadians.  Is it offensive to create a generalized stereotyped image of an Asian-American Lady Liberty and place that generalized stereotyped image on a coin from the U.S. Treasury Department?

And which culture will be excluded from the Asian-American Lady Liberty coin?  After all, she can’t be representative of all Asian cultures all at once, can she?  That being the case, which Asian-American groups will be excluded to make way for the Asian-American groups to be included?

Of the one or more Asian-American groups excluded, will this not be segregation?  The flip side of this coin is that of the one or more Asian-American groups included, won’t they suffer cultural appropriation?

Imagine the uproar when the Hispanic-American coin hits the marketplace.  After all, the U.S. Census Bureau has determined that a Hispanic is “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”  As a side note, did you know that Portugal is part of that other Spanish culture mentioned?  Awesome!

Also, don’t forget that the Western Sahara, the Philippines, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and Micronesia are all areas with Hispanic cultural influences so that might be another thing that could be considered when creating this coin image. There’s going to be a lot of excluded people with hurt feelings, and a lot of angry included people with watered down culture made to fit a generalized stereotype that fits the overall population’s image of what a Hispanic-American Lady Liberty is supposed to look like!

As if that’s not going to be bad enough, that Native American Indian Lady Liberty is going to be a doozie to come up with considering there are 566 Federally recognized Native American Indian tribes in the United States.  As with the other hyphenated-American groups, that generalized stereotype Indian image is going to be a hotbed of problems when Indigenous Lady Liberty gets minted.

Perhaps a subscriber or visitor to the blog has suggestions that will resolve this conundrum.

Elyse Bruce

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