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.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Is Obama the first Asian American president?

At a recent fundraiser in DC, Obama joked about being the first Asian American president. Jeff Yang follows up in the SF Gate. I'll detail a few pros and cons and then get to the meat of the matter:

-Fulfills every Asian mother's fantasy - Ivy League undergrad, Harvard Law graduate
-Grew up in Hawaii, the only state with an APIA majority
-Schooled in Indonesia as a child
-felt like an outsider
-son of an immigrant

-single mother
-grew up in Kansas
-runs away from Muslims

To be truthful, I believe that Obama is neither the first "post-racial" president nor the first "Asian American" president but really just the first mixed heritage president. And it is this aspect that many APAs, especially the hapas, can identify with.

Calling Obama the first Asian American president doesn't obscure or invalidate his other identities - black, white, multiracial, transnational, pancultural; if anything, it simply highlights the fact that his diverse heritage uniquely invites those around him to project on him a full spectrum of hopes and dreams.

"He's basically a human Rorschach test," says Lu. "African Americans think, and rightfully so, that this is a guy who understands their experience. But it's similar if you talk to Latinos and Asian Americans, or to our 22-year-old field organizers. People see in him the qualities they want to see."

This might be true but I really know of very few Asian Americans who grew up in single parent families. (One of the few byproducts of our cultural shame game is that divorce rates remain comparatively low but rising in as generations adapt to American mores.)

Obama is a blank slate. He is and he isn't Tiger Woods, the everyman millionaire golfer phenom. Rather Obama is a mirror, a reflection of disparate parts of our nation, a product of globalization. We too are products of globalization, caught in the fray and the struggle of finding our identity. We have also been accused of being other. But here is the crucial difference -- our assertions of Americanness will always be questioned. Not just our aptitude to be president, but our very Americanness. They have tried this "is he sufficiently patriotic" routine with Obama and the flag pin. Some percentage of Americans still think he is Muslim, (and consequently not American enough.) But the way he sometimes runs from it (Michigan rally photo staging and D-Punjabi press release), you would think that he was ashamed of Muslim associations. And I'm sorry but I want our first Asian American candidate to be someone who is proud of various parts of the community.

His half sister is Maya Soetoro Ng, who is married to a Chinese Canadian. You might ask me, well, isn't that enough, and how much closer do you have to get? My answer is that we have to let Obama be who he is, and understand that he is going to distance himself from us in certain ways.

The first APA President, when and if we get one, I bet will also be a Harvard or Yale alum who comes from a suburban background and whose parents are doctors or lawyers. True model minority material.

Also, I'm going to have to ding Obama on not having enough high level APIAs on his campaign. I've said it before and hopefully I won't have to say it again, but it strikes me as a bit odd that while Pete Rouse (his chief of staff, and a hapa) and his Legislative Director Chris Lu are both very close to the Senator, they are on the policy side. NOT the campaign side.

This should be good once Obama becomes president in that we'll have super qualified APIAs on the inside making policy decisions but in the course of a campaign, the lack of high level APIAs (the APIA team just having been hired a month ago) means that battleground state strategy and early buy in have virtually closed out APAs from major political decisions. But it has deprived APAs of a critical chance to determine strategy.

I give Obama's team credit for hiring some of the top APA political talent for the APIA team and for funding it earlier than Kerry-Edwards in 2004.

Labels: ,


  • At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Might want to check this out:



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home