Archive for October, 2009
The LA Times has a story out today on a report released by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center detailing the Asian American vote in the 2008 presidential election. Gratifyingly, the report notes that the Asian American voter turnout in Los Angeles County has grown by an astounding 39% in California since 2000, showing the growing importance of the Asian American vote in the state.
For the countless organizations that are involved in improving voter turnout for APIAs, this is great news – a validation of the countless hours spent canvassing and phonebanking Asian American voters to increase voter turnout. But it also underscores to me the importance of GOTV efforts — even with the massive increase in APIA voter turnout in L.A. County, the national voter turnout for APIAs remains 7% lower than the national average.
The 2008 election was also an energizing election; GOTV efforts must also focus now on ensuring that Asian American voters continue to vote — not just in national elections, but in local elections for propositions, city council, and state government.
The report has some interesting findings on top of its “take-home message” that APIA voter turnout has increased in L.A. county. Check out this graph showing voter trends within the APIA community and compared to all registered voters in the region. Unlike the voting population at-large, Asian American voters are predominantly foreign-born and skew older, suggesting that language, immigration, and other concerns that appeal to immigrant voters will have greater impact on our community. Indeed, APALC reports that over 90% of Asian American voters, regardless of country of origin, support improving English language training for immigrants.
Yet, that foreign-born older voters favoured McCain over Obama — despite McCain’s chronic flip-flopping on immigration that would tend discourage immigrant interests. Could this be a manifestation of the poor outreach the Democratic Party has towards Asian immigrant voters?
The report also has some interesting data regarding issues that the APIA community voted on. An astounding 90% of APIAs in L.A. county support universal healthcare. Yet, despite data indicating that most APIAs in L.A. county are Democrats, a majority also supported Prop 8 banning same-sex marriage.
This support seemed to differ based on voter ethnicity and voter age. Not surprisingly, older voters (who tend to be more conservative) supported Prop 8. Yet, the ethnic data is more interesting: while Chinese Americans opposed Prop 8, Filipino and Korean Americans voted overwhelmingly in favour of banning same-sex marriage — perhaps this has to do with the strong Catholic faith in these ethnicities communities?
We must focus our energy on maintaining the increased voter activity amongst APIA voters: 2008 cannot be a flash-in-the-pan. Rather, APIA voters must continue to stay involved in local elections, deciding propositions, city council, school board and state government representatives. This means that GOTV campaigns are still critical for maintaining and increasing our voter turnout. More than ever, we need to ensure APIA voters get out to the polls by increasing voter education, helping them get to the polls, and ensuring that they have adequate language access to voting material. (Incidentally, APALC also reports that roughly 1/3 of Asian American voters experience limited English proficiency, and they also released a report showing that bilingual phone calls and mailers are highly effective in increasing APIA voter turnout.)
And why do we need to vote? Asian Americans have, too often, been discounted during campaign season because we are perceived as being too small a community to effect election outcomes. Yet, in L.A. County last year, a whopping 63% of Asian Americans voted for President Obama (although, to be fair, that number mirrors the county-wide support Obama won in the 2008 general). While Obama won L.A. County handily in the 2008 presidential election, if all 2932,000 Asian Americans who had voted for Obama voted for McCain in that election, Obama’s margin of victory over McCain would have shrunken. And certainly, had Obama carried enough Asian American votes in L.A. County in the Democratic primary, he might have won the region instead of Clinton.
With recognition that Asian Americans wield voting power comes national attention — and more importantly – campaign promises. Recognizing the importance of the APIA demographic, Obama made several campaign promises during his presidential campaign that have since paid off for APIAs – he has appointed a surprising number of Asian Americans to his administration, and earlier this month he signed an executive order increasing federal resources addressing disparities within the Asian American community.
Long story short — in this pluralistic society, voter apathy is tempting. But, our community can’t afford to fall by the way-side. The Asian American community deserves political attention, and we can only get that by participating in the political process.
Hallowe’en is my favourite annual holiday. Something about having a holiday that centers around creativity makes my heart go pitter-patter. Every year, I enjoy coming up with a novel Hallowe’en costume idea and making a one-of-a-kind costume, put together with thrift store finds or made with a hot glue gun and some fabric.
Yet, Hallowe’en is also the time when the racial stereotypes and political incorrectness come out and play. In the rush to find something “unusual” to be for Hallowe’en, too often folks fall back on a racist or offensive costume idea. The “it’s all in good fun” nature of Hallowe’en is somehow expected to excuse discriminatory and dehumanizing racism. And I think it taints a wonderful holiday.
This past weekend, I went to a local store to help electroman put together his Hallowe’en costume. The particular store we were in was a large, well-known vintage store in Tucson, that sells clothes dating as far back as the 1900′s. Electroman was trying on items while I wandered the store searching for other choice finds.
On the other side of a rack of clothes I was examining, three tween girls were thumbing through some pre-made costumes. They were conversing about what they wanted to be for Hallowe’en; not an unusual conversation since everyone in the store was trying to put together a costume. Then, one girl turned to the others and said: “I should be an Asian for Hallowe’en”.
How, exactly, can you be “Asian” for Hallowe’en? Do you smear yellow paint on your face, pull your eyes back in a Miley Cyrus “chinky eye”, dye your hair black, and greet everyone with a hearty “ni hao”? Do you wear one of the five thousand chi pao that vintage stores readily carry? And how is being “Asian” an appropriate thing to be for Hallowe’en? Are we some mythical creature like a ghost, a goblin, or a witch?
Could you imagine opening your door on Hallowe’en eve to see a group of kids trick-or-treating? “Oh, you must be a werewolf! And you’re Buzz Lightyear! And how about that? You’re a vampire. And you? Why how quaint, you’re a Japanese!”
I had heard the comment before I saw the girls. I wheeled around immediately, furious. But, by the time I turned, the girls were gone — they had disappeared into the crowds of people in the store and by the time I caught sight of them again, they were vanishing back into the streets of Tucson.
Frustrated, I returned to Electroman, and practically tossed clothes in his face. For the rest of the afternoon, I was seething that I hadn’t had the opportunity to confront the girls. I rehearsed in my mind the thousand and one scenarios in which I would have confronted the girls in a thousand and one different ways. In a few, I deliver a witty and sardonic one-liner before turning away in disgust. Or, I am calm, professorial, and I make the incident a “teaching moment”. In others, the girls get defensive and it all comes to blows. In still others, each girl runs away sobbing. Or, in my favourites, I handily launch each of the girls one-at-a-time through the display windows of the store; there’s blood and glass everywhere and I go to jail. Yet, I had no outlet with which to express my anger; the girls were gone and I was left the victim of hit-and-run racism.
They say that we live in a post-racial America. Yesterday, you sure could’ve fooled me.
The Washington Post is running a series called “Voices of Power” wherein top White House staffers are interviewed about their positions in the Obama administration. Today, the Post published video and a transcript of their conversation with Chris Lu, who, as Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, is one of the most prominent Asian Americans in the White House.
The full transcript is five pages long, but I found Lu’s comments about his identity as an Asian American in the White House intriguing:
You are among the most senior Asian-Americans in the administration and in the White House. What does that mean to you?
Mr. Lu: It means a lot to me. My parents were both born in China. They moved to Taiwan for grade school and high school. They both emigrated here in the late ’50s for college.
There is not a day that goes by that, as I park my car by the West Wing and walk into my office in the West Wing, that I don’t think about my parents and how fortunate I am and how this incredible opportunity that I have is not only the result of what I’ve accomplished, but all that they’ve accomplished, as well as all that other Asian-Americans before me.
This is a story that sounds so similar to my own, and to the stories of so many second-generation Chinese Americans. My parents, also from Taiwan, faced such hardship as first-generation immigrants, and only now am I starting to hear about the kind of discrimination they dealt with. At the risk of sounding all “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” — it’s amazing to see how second-generation kids like Lu are elevated to such positions of influence. It’s a testament to how hard our parents worked to give us opportunities.
I also enjoyed reading about Lu’s first trip to China, which happened to be as part of an official White House delegation that included Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Like too many second-generation Asian Americans, Lu speaks minimal Chinese but he still found his ability to understand the language useful while in China.
Ms. Romano: The first time you actually set foot on Chinese soil was last summer; is that correct?
Mr. Lu: That’s right. This past summer
Ms. Romano: As a representative of this administration. What was that like?
Mr. Lu: It was incredible. [My parents] had both gone back to China numerous times. For a variety of reasons, I had just never had the time to go back.
And to get to go to China on your first trip as part of an official delegation was just really–I mean it–I was speechless.
And the funny thing, with each meeting, Secretary [Gary] Locke or Secretary [Steven] Chu would always ask me to say something. And I remember being completely tongue-tied in a meeting with the Chinese Premier, where Secretary Locke turned to me and said, “Mr. Premier, I want to introduce to you Chris Lu. This is his first trip to China. Chris, would you like to say something to the Premier?”
And all that came out of my mouth was, “Thank you. Thank you for having us here.”
Ms. Romano: And how did the Chinese react to you all?
Mr. Lu: I think they felt a–they felt a kinship to us. All three of us are Chinese-Americans. We all obviously represent the American government. That’s obviously our first priority. But they felt a kinship. The fact that to varying degrees we all understand some Chinese, we can all say some words of Chinese I think made the conversation and made the meetings a little bit more personal.
Ms. Romano: Do you think it mattered to them that the Administration sent over their top three Asian-Americans?
Mr. Lu: I do. Yeah, I do think it mattered. In Chinese culture, relationships are very important. And having Chinese-Americans come over as the representatives of the government I think was important.
I took Chinese classes on Saturday mornings for 13 years, and for most of that time, I hated it. It was something my mom made me do, and I couldn’t understand why I had to spend my days at a Chinese cultural center while all my friends got to sleep in and watch Saturday morning cartoons.
Only as I got older did I realize the value of learning about my language and my heritage. When I was fourteen or so, my mother gave my sister and I the choice to quit Chinese classes or to continue taking them until we graduated from high school. I volunteered to continue while my sister quit.
I can’t say I was ever the best student of Chinese school; many Saturday mornings I skipped or just refused to do my homework, and I barely passed the last class. But, because of my attendance in those classes, I can speak Mandarin passably, and I have nominal reading and writing skills.
But I didn’t truly appreciate the value of being able to speak Mandarin until I started interacting with more second- or third- generation Asian Americans who never were enrolled in Chinese classes. Many of them can only understand Chinese, but can’t speak it beyond a few words (mostly related to food). Most of them can’t write their names.
My mother always used to say that even though we were in North America, our faces looked Chinese; we will always be different and we can’t lose touch with what that means. Now that I am an adult, and living as an Asian person in America, I find myself truly respecting the unique language and culture that is, regardless of time and distance, a part of me.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying this: thanks, Mom, for making me go to Chinese school. I wish more second-generation Chinese American kids could speak Mandarin; at least so that folks like Chris Lu can go to China and actually hold a prolonged conversation with the Chinese premier when he gets a chance to meet him.
Yul Kwon, the first Asian American to win Survivor (who used his notoriety from his victory to champion Asian American causes in the media), announced by email today that he recently joined the FCC as Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.
Here’s the press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 21, 2009
FCC CHAIRMAN JULIUS GENACHOWSKI ANNOUNCES SENIOR STAFF IN INTERNATIONAL AND CONSUMER AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS BUREAUS
Washington, DC – Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the appointment of Mindel De La Torre as Chief of the International Bureau and Yul Kwon as Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.
“The FCC has an important role to play in empowering and protecting consumers and ensuring that they have access to world-leading communications networks and technologies,” said Chairman Genachowski. “These talented individuals have vast public and private sector experience in communications policy and I am delighted to have their expertise at the agency.”
Chief, International Bureau, Mindel De La Torre. Since 1998, Ms. De La Torre has been the president of the consulting firm Telecommunications Management Group, Inc. (TMG). Prior to joining TMG, Ms. De La Torre was the deputy chief of the Telecommunications Division at the International Bureau, which she joined in December 1994. Ms. De La Torre also worked at the Department of Commerce — for over four years at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and for three years in the General Counsel’s office. She has been a member of various U.S. delegations to International Telecommunication Union conferences, such as World Radiocommunication Conferences, World Telecommunication Development Conferences, and Plenipotentiary Conferences. Ms. De La Torre has a B.A. from Vanderbilt University and a J.D. from the University of Texas. Having lived overseas most of her life, she speaks fluent Portuguese, French, and Spanish, and is proficient in Italian.
Deputy Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Yul Kwon. Mr. Kwon’s diverse career spans across law, technology, business, and media. His government experience includes lecturing at the FBI Academy, drafting science and technology legislation as an aide to Senator Joseph Lieberman, and clerking for Judge Barrington D. Parker on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. In the business and technology sector, Mr. Kwon has held positions at McKinsey & Company, Google, and the Trium Group. He also practiced law as an attorney at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis and at Venture Law Group. In 2006, Mr. Kwon became the first Asian American to win the CBS reality show, Survivor. His subsequent media activities include working as a special correspondent for CNN and as a co-host for the Discovery Channel. Mr. Kwon obtained his B.S. degree in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University and his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served on the editorial board of the Yale Law Journal.
News and other information about the FCC is available at www.fcc.gov
It’s good to see Yul getting back into public service! He has been an amazing advocate for the Asian American community, and I always appreciate his intelligent and insightful perspectives on Asian Americans and the media. Yul was also a big proponent of improving Asian American voter outreach and political participation during the ’08 election, a commitment which was of tremendous importance during that (and any) election.
If my archives hadn’t been deleted, I’d include a link to my interview with Yul here. Stupid blog restart.
In his email announcing his new position, Yul muses on the irony of joining the FCC, which has, at times “imposed fines for the kind of wardrobe malfunctions that seem to be an ever-present risk on the TV show that propelled [him] to public recognition in the first place.” Could this be a not-so-veiled reference to Yul’s own apparent love/hate relationship with clothing on his season of Survivor? The image included in this post is one of the few I could find on Google Image of Yul where he’s got a shirt on: most of the other ones on the Internet would be enough to make any FCC Deputy Chief blush.
Shirtlessness aside: congratulations, Yul! I’m sure your thoughtful perspectives and history of great advocacy work will ensure incredible success at the FCC!
I missed blogging about this last week when the news first broke, but don’t get it twisted: this story pisses me off.
It seems that there’s a justice of the peace, Judge Keith Bardwell, has a moral opposition to interracial couples.
“I’m not a racist,” Bardwell told the [Hammond Daily Star]. “I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.”
When confronted with Terence McKay (who is Black) and Beth Humphrey (who is White) who wanted to be married earlier this year, Bardwell recused himself from conducting the ceremony. His reasoning? He said:
Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.
“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.”
If he did an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.
“I try to treat everyone equally,” he said.
First of all, the “what about the children” argument is the same kind of crap that countless racists use to discriminate against interracial couples. Do multi-racial children sometimes have problems being accepted by the culture of one or both of their parents? Sure, they do.
But, so, too, do children of a single race. So, too, do children who dress differently, speak differently, have faith differently, or have different ambitions than their peers, regardless of race or class. All children (and even adults) struggle with “fitting in”.
In fact, it is the people who failed to fit in who have changed our country for the better. Susan B. Anthony failed to fit in. Martin Luther King, Jr. failed to fit in. Harvey Milk failed to fit in. Patsy Minkh failed to fit in. Barack Obama failed to fit in.
“Multi-racial children might not fit in” is no rationale for preventing a couple from getting married.
I am in an interracial relationship: I am Asian American, while my partner of more than ten years, is African American. For the entire time that we have been together, we have faced intolerance and racism, and yes, it has been difficult getting others to accept the two of us sharing our lives together. But, that doesn’t diminish the fact that we want to spend our lives together; yet, a story like this argues that, in the face of the challenges we have (and will continue to) confront, we can’t or shouldn’t choose to be together.
Yet, in a nation built upon personal freedoms, what could be a more quintessential example of one’s basic human rights than the right to choose our mate, regardless of race, class or creed?
Bardwell’s refusal to marry McKay and Humphrey is a condemnation that affects all interracial couples, and hearkens back to a time when miscegenation was grounds for lynching.
As far as Bardwell’s argument that he never prevented McKay and Humphrey (or the three other interracial couples he has refused to marry over the last several years) from getting married, his argument is identical to pharmacists who want to be able to refuse to fill out prescriptions for drugs they have moral oppositions to. Pro-life pharmacists have lobbied, for years, for the “right” to “recuse” themselves from filling out prescriptions for Plan B, with the argument that another pharmacist would be available to fill out the prescription.
But, I’m sorry — it is a pharmacists’s job to fill out prescriptions, regardless of their own judgements of another person’s life. Should pharmacists be allowed to deny filling out prescriptions to obese patients because they won’t go on a diet? Or be allowed to recuse themselves from filling out prescriptions for druggies who won’t go into rehab? What do we do if the delay to deny a person’s prescription causes illness or death? These kinds of exceptions introduce inequality into a system that should is about ensuring equality for all.
By the same argument, a justice of the peace should not be allowed to deny a couple their right to marry based on any of their own personal beliefs. Gay couples, straight couples, interracial couples, intraracial couples — all have the right to marry one another based on one’s personal right to choose one’s life partner.
In the end, Bardwell claims he is not racist, yet he refuses to marry an interracial couple because he feels the racism their (as-yet-unborn) multi-racial children will face are immutable, unchangeable, and constant. Marriage should be an expression of love and optimism for the future, not mired in backwards, anachronistic intolerance and bigotry.
Over the weekend, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal joined the call for Bardwell to be dismissed from his position as justice of the peace. And Bobby Jindal is no braintrust; if he’s calling you a moron, you’ve gotta be the lowest of the low.