Q: Tell me about your relationship with late Commerce Secretary Ronald H.
Chen: ...In the summer of 1992, we were registering
Asian-Americans and we had a campaign headquarters in South Bay. And I helped
to establish a campaign headquarters in San Gabriel Valley, in Monterey Park,
specifically targeting the Asian population, and we were really very
enthusiastic, we worked hard. It was a great experience.
...[Ron Brown] was a tremendous, vivacious speaker. He generated enthusiasm
and he was very personable....He attended the kickoff event in Southern
California for Clinton/Gore [in Torrance].
Q: What would his role have been vis-a-vis the Asian community in Southern
Chen: ...He was here supporting what we were doing and helping us to
sort of give us some encouragement and showed his appreciation for our efforts.
I honestly felt that he was interested in including Asian-Americans to
participate in the system.
Q: How did you know?
Chen: ...Because he never asked for money from me or from us. When he
talked he was talking about how many people have you registered, the
inclusiveness of the population. So I felt good.
Q: Was it hard at that time to get everybody behind Clinton?
Chen: ... It was difficult in the summer of 1992 trying to help
President Clinton because we had other Asian-Americans helping President Bush
and he was incumbent. It's much easier to have an incumbent President than a
Also,...in our efforts to help the Asian-Americans to register to vote for
Clinton, we more or less emphasized the point that the Democratic Party is more
inclusive and they're good for minority people, we're minorities, and that the
Democratic Party do value family and education also, not just the Republicans.
So we really had to do some convincing, I must say, we had to do quite a bit of
convincing. Of course, we had better ammunition this time around in 1996 when
we saw the... anti-immigrant sentiment in the air...Besides, he was a sitting
president. He was an incumbent, so that was easier.
Q: Give me the state of play in 1996.
Chen: We were enthusiastic because we really thought we want the
continuation of the Democratic leadership, and we had the whole experience
already working on the first campaign for President Clinton.
As a matter of fact, I remember attending the Chicago convention. I said,
"Gee, the past image of Asian-Americans [was that they] only donate money. We
are having a change this year." They were having greater number of votes as
well. It was just very exciting.
...One of the highlights was the President was coming, the President was going
to meet with Asian population, with Asian-Pacific fund-raisers in Southern
California, in Los Angeles. So for the first time we had a sitting President
coming to Los Angeles specifically meeting with the Asian population. So we
were elated, we were very proud.
Q: What was that like?
Chen: We felt honored because we had this sitting President meeting
with the Asian-Americans.
Q: Did you get to meet him?
Chen: Yep....He's very, very warm, very personable, and we just felt so
Suddenly this explosion, almost as if we're driving this car on our way up to a
greater future for the Asian-Americans, and suddenly we're hit by this
Q: Why do you figure we in the press reacted so strongly to the revelations
about Lippo and John Huang, et al.?
Chen: We look different. And I think it's just very unfortunate
because I don't want this episode to really change and to damage the
hardworking average Asian-Americans who have been quietly going to work every
day, raising children, participating in schools, and contributing to America,
and suddenly we're all being lumped together as if we're foreigners.
Q: It's this idea that there's this whole new market out there of Asia
sending money in through your constituents to Washington.
Chen: First of all, foreign companies, foreign people cannot donate.
It's just the law prohibits them from doing that. We just cannot have a few
individual incidents to just sacrifice, victimize the entire population.
Q: One of the down sides is that just as politicians back away so do donors
and other people.
Chen: I do see that sentiment, and I think that somehow as a result of
this tremendous press and what have you that many of my personal friends are
scared. They're being discouraged and they say, "Gee, here I am trying to
participate, but instead of encouragement I'm being told 'We really don't want
you.'" That is really terrible.
Q: Was the Asian Pacific Advisory Council-Vote group in Torrance, Calif.,
Chen: ...Yes, it was helpful, it was a good idea, and it is a
particularly good idea to register more voters and to generate enthusiasm.
Q: Do you think it really did?
Chen: I do not know the specific number, that's always hard to
calculate. I think it was helpful.
Q: Was it a fundraising thing?
Q: No money raised?
Chen: No, I didn't participate in any fundraising activities with the
group, but rather what we called Get Out To Vote to encourage more Asians to
register and get out to vote.
....I'm just concerned about the negative impact on our entire community....I
think that as a result of this episode and controversy, our hard work and our
contribution are being ignored. So I will be so glad when the whole thing is
all over and we can go on to lead a normal life.