The Asian-American community and the U.S. political system
March 21, 1997
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Where is the hard evidence that Asian Americans were targeted? What has been the result of the campaign fundraising investigations? Will African Americans run into these same problems? How does the ethnic and racial composition of newsrooms affect the reporting? Additional questions and comments . Josh Rivers of New York, NY, asks:
How do Asian-Americans compare politically with other immigrant groups, and does this incident offer any lessons for other groups seeking to gain political power? What is the difference between Asian Americans trying to gain status in the political system and the powerful Jewish lobby and interest groups? Should Asian-Americans change their focus and use their money to get Asian candidates elected?
Frank Wu of Howard University responds:
For most Asian Americans before the Huang scandal broke, the real story about Campaign 1996 was decidedly upbeat. For the first time, national Asian American organizations worked together to help eligible individuals naturalize as citizens as well as to register new voters in New York, Los Angeles, and cities all across the country. Washington State voters nominated and then elected a second generation Chinese American governor, Gary Locke. Most importantly for the future, many thousands of Asian Americans ran for office, made small campaign contributions, or worked as campaign staff for Republican, Democratic, and Independent candidates. All of this from a community that is two-thirds immigrant and which has been criticized for its apathy about public life.
Asian Americans represent about three percent of the American population, but far higher percentages in key states like California and major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In 1992, Asian Americans backed Dole in higher proportions than any other racial group including whites. But in 1996, Clinton won over sixty percent of the Asian American vote and Republicans now backing away from more harsh measures aimed against legal immigrants, their political muscle—along with the muscle of Arabs,Latinos, and immigrant rights groups — was beginning to be felt.
The momentum against "overseas connections" generated by this controversy can affect everyone, not only Asian Americans. Of course, some Asian Americans care about homeland politics, just as many non-Asian Americans have business interests in Asia. Likewise, many Irish American and Cuban Americans are concerned about and involve with Ireland and Cuba, and American Jews about Israel, etc. If we become suspicious about people who are active in foreign policy based on their racial background, we will do ourselves a great disservice in an increasingly transnational global economy.
Mark Hosenball of Newsweek Magazine responds:
All Asian-Americans have tried to do, at bottom, is to use the American political process to their advantage in the same way that other ethnic groups -- the Irish, the Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Arabs - - have done to a greater or lesser degree in recent years. There is no difference between Asian Americans trying to gain status in the political system and efforts by Jewish groups to do the same.
The only difference is that the Asian-American fundraisers the Democratic Party and Clinton Administration hooked themselves up with were at best inexperienced in how to stay on the right side of the very blurry line which defines illegal fundraising practices from legal practices. Also the Asian Americans found themselves open to exploitation by a Democratic Party apparatus staffed by a particularly mercenary band of operatives. The ordinary Asian American political activist caught up in the scandal is as much a victim of DNC practices as are the American voting public at large.