Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Model Minority and the "other Asian" at UCLA

Apparently UCLA students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent are joining together to ask the UC system to disaggregate APIA student data to overcome the "Other Asian" box to include ethnicities such as Hmong and Bangladeshi.

The title of Asian Pacific American can give and take. It can empower and at the same time engender the feeling of being a minority within a minority group.

APAs make up 34.6 percent of the University of California's new freshman admits in 2005 - the second largest group next to Caucasian, according to university data. The same report defines APAs as: Chinese, East Indian/Pakistani, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Other Asians.

For Nefara Riesch, who is of Samoan descent, being "other" or just "Asian" doesn't encapsulate a Pacific Islander's struggle for access to higher education. The 19-year-old history major is one of about 40 Pacific Islanders on the University of California, Los Angeles campus of over 24,000 undergraduates. For Riesch, the numbers just don't add up.

In order to call attention to the plight of smaller APA ethnic groups, UCLA's Asian Pacific Coalition (APC) is leading a campaign to pressure university administrators to disaggregate the "Other Asian" category, which critics say traps some APAs under the Model Minority Myth.

(Let me just marvel for a second at being able to fill out a form that includes a box for "other Asian" and the tremendous diversity that implies. Out here, I'm lucky if I get the option to check the "Asian" box is included in a survey, as opposed to being the generic "Other.")

That said, this campaign is a great idea because here are some of the objectives:

• the inclusion of 10 more APA ethnic groups such as Bangladeshi, Fijian and Hmong in the university's collection of data;

• the creation of a Pacific Islander racial category; and

• financial support for outreach projects targeted at disadvantaged APAs.

Some of these groups have the leas per capita income of all AAPIs, according to Census figures included in United for a Fair Economy's Racial Wealth Divide report.

Disaggregated data for per capita income shows how many Asian subgroups are falling behind. Most staggeringly, the Hmong ($6,600), followed by Cambodian, Laotian, and Tongans are well under the poverty threshold. Though the stereotype that all Asians are good at math, their recent immigration status and language barriers may still translate into lack of education. More than half of Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotians (52.7%) have less than a high school degree—a rate higher than Latinos (48.5%) and Blacks (29.1%). Melany de la Cruz, from the Asian Pacific American Community Development Data Center speculates that “Southeast Asian groups tend to be a very young population, which might account for their low educational attainment rates, home ownership rates, etc.”

Although the median household income for Asians and Pacific Islander ($54,827) was larger than whites ($48,500), our per capita incomes ($21,823) still fall short of whites ($26,744).

Per Capita Income in 1999 by Ethnic Background
Total Population $21,587 Total Asian $21,823 Total NHPI $15,054 Other Asian $20,699

*NHPI is abbreviated for those who identified themselves as Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

Asian Indian$27,514Hmong$6,600Pakistani$18,096
Cambodian$10,366Japanese$30,075Sri Lankan$27,428
Fijian$14,745Native Hawaiian$17,697Vietnamese$15,655

Table 1. Per Capita Income by Ethnicity in 1999 Source: U.S. Census Bureau Summary File 4, SF4-PCT 130

Hopefully if this campaign is victorious, it will go a bit toward address the income disparity in our community.

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Save bilingual Chinese ballots in Massachusetts!

William Galvin, Massachusetts' Secretary of State (technically Sec of Commonwealth), is whining about how he doesn't want to have fully bilingual ballots in Chinese because candidates' names could be translated in so many different ways.

It's an issue that has been bubbling over at the local level and has recently made its way onto the national scene, with USAToday and other major dailies taking notice and getting presidential campaigns to voice their opinions.

Boston's 2008 presidential primary ballot could read like a bad Chinese menu.

There might be "Sticky Rice" in column A, "Virtue Soup" in column B and, in column C, "Upset Stomach."

Those could be choices facing some voters if the names of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Hillary Rodham Clinton were converted into Chinese characters, according to Massachusetts' top election official. And that gives Secretary of State William Galvin heartburn.

On Tuesday, Galvin filed a challenge in federal court to a Justice Department agreement requiring that ballots be fully translated to protect the rights of Chinese-speaking voters.

Galvin says Chinese — which uses characters, not letters; has sounds with several meanings; and is spoken in several dialects — will create ballot chaos.

I'm sorry to say that my only response is: Boo-fucking-hoo. I'm sorry that it's so tedious and bothersome to do the job that Massachusetts residents pay you to do and that it gives you heartburn. I mean, it's only FEDERAL ELECTION LAW that all counties where the population of people speaking a given language make up 5% or more have to provide bilingual ballots, voter information, and access to the polls.

Last time I checked, Massachusetts was still part of the United States, so I think it's subject to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

It's not like you haven't had two years to figure out HOW to do your job - according to the Chinese Progressive Association's website, they got the US Department of Justice's go-ahead on bilingual ballots in Chinese and Vietnamese for Boston residents in 2005.

And yeah, it can be hard work to translate ballots, but as the Boston Globe ran a full voting rights op-ed recently pointed out:

Not only has the City of Boston successfully transliterated candidate names on the ballot twice this spring, but other localities have been doing so for years, including Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Francisco County, and Santa Clara County in California. New York City has transliterated candidate names in every election for the past 13 years.

...[Governor] Deval Patrick, during his tenure at the US Department of Justice, wrote the following opinion about the same issue confronted by New York: "Our analysis shows that a candidate's name is one of the most important items of information sought by a voter before casting his or her ballot for a particular candidate . . . For voters who need Chinese-language materials, the translation of candidates' names is important because Roman characters are completely different from Chinese characters."

So William Galvin wants to slack on his job because it's too difficult?

Write to him here and tell him that you think Chinese Americans should have full voting rights, including the right to have the candidates' names in Chinese:

Mailing Address:

Secretary of the Commonwealth
Elections Division
McCormack Building, Room 1705
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

Telephone: (617) 727-2828
Toll-Free: 1-800-462-VOTE (8683)
(617) 742-3238

Email: elections@sec.state.ma.us

PS: If the USAToday article gives you heartburn because it tries to too cleverly tie in bad Chinese food amidst the current anti-Chinese products scare, read my next post on food safety and xenophobia.

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Some remainders

1) A quick shoutout to Bryan Thao Worra, who is profiled alongside his wife Ka Vang in the recent Star-Tribune article: Lives written in pencil.

It's a powerful love story with history intermingled.

2) Schwarzenegger's not appointing enough minority judges (what else is new?) and California legislators of color are pissed.

3) On the other hand, Montgomery County, Maryland continues being a diverse place where Asian American and other communities of color are represented in political appointments.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

WH Political Director's fealty to Bush

The former White House political director Sara Taylor, getting whacked over the head by Senator Leahy on her statement that she "took an oath to the President, and I take that oath very seriously." A snippet of transcript:

Taylor: "What I should have said is, 'I took an oath, I took that oath seriously.' And I believe that taking that oath means that I need to respect, and do respect my service to the president.

Leahy: "No, the oath says that you take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. That is your paramount duty. I know the president refers to the government as being his government; it's not. It's the government of the people of America. Your oath is not to uphold the President, nor is mine to uphold the Senate. Your oath, like mine, is to uphold the Constitution."

Look at her bewilderment at 00:40 being reminded who she should have been serving - the American people and the Constitution. Leahy bursts in with a sharp "no-the oath says" *sigh* This small clip, at little over a minute shows the hacks who have been in charge of policy, and it explains why and how all the policies under Bush have been exploding.

It is not that I expect the White House political director to be anything but a hack. But Bush's appointees and staff think they are above the Constitution. It is as though they believe they are in pre-WWII Japan where reverence to the empire and the emperor trumps the good of the people. But we live in a democracy (even a republic if you will.) And when Bush exerts so much pressure on everyone to believe that his word is codified law, that transgressions will never be punished, or that prison time can be magically commuted with the wave of a finger -- well, then we ARE living in his fairytale land where the Constitution does not hold and precedents are not binding to Justice. Because happily never after is now.

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Surgeon General felt WH pressure to politick

Former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona recently testified to a Congressional committee about how much he was pressured to hew to the Republican line, despite being the nation's foremost doctor. Via NYTimes:

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

The worst part is the White House's response: it's your own damn fault you didn't speak up.

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, said the surgeon general “is the leading voice for the health of all Americans.”

“It’s disappointing to us,” Ms. Lawrimore said, “if he failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation.”

This is just plain insulting. If your speeches and testimonies and policy memos are all being edited, stripped down like hookers, then you have NO POWER TO ADVOCATE. Which is made abundantly clear:

In his testimony, Dr. Carmona said that at first he was so politically naïve that he had little idea how inappropriate the administration’s actions were. He eventually consulted six previous surgeons general, Republican and Democratic, and all agreed, he said, that he faced more political interference than they had.

On issue after issue, Dr. Carmona said, the administration made decisions about important public health issues based solely on political considerations, not scientific ones.

“I was told to stay away from those because we’ve already decided which way we want to go,” Dr. Carmona said.

He described attending a meeting of top officials in which the subject of global warming was discussed. The officials concluded that global warming was a liberal cause and dismissed it, he said.

“And I said to myself, ‘I realize why I’ve been invited. They want me to discuss the science because they obviously don’t understand the science,’ ” he said. “I was never invited back.”

Global warming is a make-believe liberal issue?!?!? Energy companies far and wide are adopting stances to address global warming, and the Financial Times recently ran an op-ed on global warming.

Not much more about this White House needs to be said apart from, "George Bush Is Craaaaaaazy. I think he's craaaazy, I really do."

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Scenes from a still life accident

Still here, still breathing. I'm riding the crazy rollercoaster of life, celebrating fireworks and friendships. a lot of stuff has gone down the past 2 weeks, and I am trying to decompress, to sift through the going-ons and the drama to find out reality.

It is not often that my life resembles Rashomon, but currently I wish I were a private eye, the omniscient narrator. I wish someone knew what was going on, and that there weren't huge gaps in the b-roll.

All the things I don't know about this situation, and all the potentially explosive ways we can go off. The heartshells lining the beach under a wide canopy of stars and other hopes. For you, they fade.

Watching you disjointed dis-spirited disappearing dilating between the here and the never
I fought to not lead a scorched earth campaign
with your heartshell so open
humpty's crema pouring across the page.

and there is nothing but the foundation of this bed and house
because it could, it was me. It was she. And precious few truths sprinkled
Across layers of limned lies like sediment.
What lies beneath so fungible and base. The wanting to tell
is weighing on my mind. she speaks and planes fall.

THe junkyard of emotion categorizes better than your eyes, welling
spinning telling vacancies of the soul

[Ok, I realize this is not very good. indeed is crap. but does say something about that week, so I am leaving it up for now.]


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Power Play: Hillary's identity-based organizing

Is straight outta sight. Her reach and depth in Nevada's Asian American community is tremendous. These folks are real leaders in the community who know how to organize, and her support here cuts across pan Asian lines - Chinese, Filipino, Pacific Islander, Korean, South Asian, Southeast Asian. This is before Edwards or Obama have a single APIA staffer in Nevada, and she's rightfully crowing about her support in the state. She's got a Nevada African American leadership group, and a Nevada Latino leadership group as well, and well, these folks are public supporters waaaaay early.

Indeed, she seems to be investing significant resources in Nevada, which shows me that she's taking APIAs seriously and playing a smart game, since it's the main "First Four" primary/caucus state with a large APIA population. Moreover, Edwards and Obama haven't really staffed up and seem to treat Nevada as flyover country.

If I were a staffer for the Obama or Edwards camps, I'd be worried about her skilled staff sucking all the air out of the room. She is a formidable opponent (to use Colbert's phrasing) and her campaign is being run well enough that she will win the primary at this rate. To some degree, her press release announcing NV APIA support and even quoting the nonprofit APIA Vote is a signal to Obama's camp that they are taking our community seriously, especially after his "Senator Clinton (D-Punjab)" gaffe.

It's true that the Clinton campaign had been very standoffish, very "you're lucky to be paying $23,000 to attend this fundraiser" with donors, but Obama's 1st quarter sprint scared the bejesus out of them. Since then, they've been very polite and they haven't been taking any money or votes for granted. They've been working all the angles and digging deep into constituencies. It's impressive, and she has the gravitas (carrot) and stick (control of old school Dem party machinery) to accomplish it. She's going hard after donors who had previously sworn allegiance to Obama like Spielberg and financial wizard Warren Buffet and turning her enemies into allies. She's done it all before (Example A: Newt Gingrinch.)

Plus she's been doing well in debates, and at the Howard debate she came out strong, but promising nothing. Full of sound and fury, and yet when push comes to shove, I suspect there is no single issue that she holds dearer than winning. She's the whole package - a smart, talented, successful woman who can do whatever she puts her mind to. But she's the package without a soul, which is why I can't bring myself to support her fully, though I admire her political prowess. Doesn't mean she wouldn't make a great president - she's buckets and oceans smarter than the current plankton-in-chief. But she would have to get past the general, and her unfavorable poll numbers on both the Dem and Republican sides are no joke - it's reality. And if she got past the general, I can't trust her not to throw [pick your interest] under a Mack truck. Right now I'm looking closely at Gore (if...), Obama and Edwards. That's my trifecta.

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