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.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Throwing the baby out with the dishwasher - more APIA donor bashing

So much to blog about, and so little time. This LATimes front-page article on Clinton's fundraising in NYC Chinatown is currently hot, because it strikes some really low blows, alleging that Hillary is somehow twisting arms or taking advantage of immigrants who lack substantial financial security to give. The city's many Asian Americans woke up to this:
The Times examined the cases of more than 150 donors who provided checks to Clinton after fundraising events geared to the Chinese community. One-third of those donors could not be found using property, telephone or business records. Most have not registered to vote, according to public records.

And several dozen were described in financial reports as holding jobs -- including dishwasher, server or chef -- that would normally make it difficult to donate amounts ranging from $500 to the legal maximum of $2,300 per election.

Of 74 residents of New York's Chinatown, Flushing, the Bronx or Brooklyn that The Times called or visited, only 24 could be reached for comment.

Many said they gave to Clinton because they were instructed to do so by local association leaders. Some said they wanted help on immigration concerns. And several spoke of the pride they felt by being associated with a powerful figure such as Clinton.
I think that the article's slant is kinda muckracking, mud-slinging tabloid style journalism.

Just look at this description of the former Executive Director of the NYS Democratic Party, and former spokeswoman for the Department of Labor under Clinton. Ben Smith at the Politico justly points out that Chung Seto is more than the LATimes pieces makes her:
A key figure helping to secure Asian support for Clinton is a woman named Chung Seto, who came to this country as a child from Canton province and has supported Bill and Hillary Clinton since the 1990s. She called Fujian natives' support for Hillary Clinton the beginning of civic engagement for an immigrant group that had long been on the periphery.

She said she stationed translators at the entrance of one event to try to screen out improper contributions.
It makes her sound like some shadowy figure out of an overly exoticized movie, as opposed to a power player, getting featured in the NYTimes, someone who understands and has navigated the halls of power, and who would naturally be inclined to support Clinton. Smith also points out that 44 Henry, one of the addresses listed in the article, is no "grimy Chinatown tenement with peeling walls." Greg Sargent over at TPMemo has his take on things, featuring ringmaster Drudge leading a willing circus of editors and reporters.

The NYTimes piece has this to say:
BESIDES the prayer marathon, she thought long and hard about it, too. She and her friends are the type who dedicate their dinner party conversations to "figuring out" how to change the world: "We do it by making sure we have good people in government that look out for the more rather than just a privileged few." But she's also a pragmatist. Politics is all-consuming and is mostly why she is unmarried, independent, and lives on Mott Street, two blocks from her parents (her father is retired from his job as a chef in a Chinese restaurant; her mother is a retired union seamstress) and the apartment where she grew up. Her maternal instincts are parceled out among seven nephews and a niece.

Ms. Seto worked "exhaustive hours" for the past four years as executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, where she was the first Asian to fill that post, just as she was the first Asian spokeswoman for the United States Labor Department, where she was press secretary for Alexis M. Herman, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor.

. . . "The choice issue got me galvanized and threw me into the political battle. I wanted to work for the Department of Labor to combat sweatshops. And, mind you, there was another reason to keep working in politics: when I looked around, there sure weren't a lot of faces like mine. I want to stay long enough to help that change."
I mean seriously, it makes her sound like some refugee as opposed to a very powerful, confident and self-possessed woman.

I mean, yes, it could be weird that he could only find 24 of 70 plus people at home, but let's get real here: most immigrant communities tend to be suspicious of outsiders knocking on doors, especially outsiders who don't look like them. I've had walk lists where I only reached maybe 10% of the people on that list, by which I mean when I talked to neighbors, they would say that Mr. So and so doesn't live next door anymore, and don't bother even trying 6B, the Clemonses done gone moved.

I mean, I could be wrong, but based on the only photo I could find via a quick google search, Peter Nichols looks white, and so does Tom Hamburger will go away and leave me alone. (props for having a cool last name!) Most of the time when someone knocks on my door and I'm not expecting anyone in particular, I stay mad quiet and plays cat and mouse, waiting and hoping that whatever Jehovah's Witness/magazine subscriptionist/random weirdo. It's a normal reaction to not want to talk to random people who show up at your front door, distracting you from your Lifetime movie, crossword puzzle or whatever.

And as someone who has done voter registration and doorknocking in many immigrant communities, it's hard enough to find people at home, if they are even at home, because they are a hella private bunch. Moreover, immigrants often hold more than one job, so it also depends on what time of day these reporters are knocking on doors. If you come calling during the day, no one is home, and if you come at night, they might be working a second shift or a second job. So yeah, it may seem weird that you can only reach a third of the people, but that's actually a decent number. And one has to wonder how many times they tried and retried the same doors - did they try at different hours of the day, or did they just try once and give up? And if so, what kind of investigative journalism is that?!?

Additionally, I think it's possible that some of those dishwashers and low wage workers might be friends or neighbors of Chung Seto's and her parents who would be proud to support someone who has given one of the community's own a chance to rise.

Are there elements of the article that I think ring true? Absolutely - I've seen immigrants who haven't voted before give money to political campaigns and be incredibly proud to take photos with politicians who may or may not fulfill their campaign promises. And is it possible that there is some kinda of funky donating going on? Yeah, it's entirely possible, but one thing I know for sure is that immigrants only get involved when they feel like something's at stake, and the Fujianese community has a higher proportion of undocumented APIAs, and works in some of the worst-paying, menial jobs in NYC.

Personally, I believe that they are deluded if they think that Clinton's going to pass progressive immigration reform anytime soon, even if she gets elected, but I'm not sure that it's the Clinton campaign taking advantage of those misconceptions. However, if I found out that someone was WILLFULLY pushing that misinformation, I would get hella pissed.

I mean, how many millions of Americans voted for George W Bush under the delusion that he would make a good commander in chief in 2000 and 2004 who now regret their votes? That's just called not being a good educated voter.

As for being coerced to donate, that should NEVER happen, especially in lower income immigrant communities. But if people are motivated because they have found someone who they are proud to donate to, who they feel like speaks to their issues, well, that's fantastic. It's hat our democracy is all about, and we shouldn't be stepping on their ability to participate in civic life.

The article also gets into snakeheads and human smuggling (which is another reason why I hate its exotification of Chinatown) but even the FBI investigator who handled the Golden Venture believes that people should be allowed to engage in democracy:
A crackdown by the FBI's organized-crime task force led to the indictment of more than 20 Fujian native traffickers. Today, the problem has substantially dissipated, says Konrad Motyka of the FBI's New York field office, who participated in the investigation of the Golden Venture.

Although Motyka is wary of the havoc wreaked in the past by Fujianese organized crime, he said: "I welcome signs that the community is participating in politics."
I wish journalists were more careful with what they write, and how they write. They are smearing a broad segment of the population by implying that this is dirty money.

PS: I want to clarify - I have yet to endorse any serious candidates for president. I am not for Hillary, but rather against unqualified orientalizing of our community, and against efforts to silence our voices.

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