By Nick Lee
Chinese Americans for Hillary
My third day at the DNC began with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus, where elected officials kept driving home the theme, “Now is our time”. Secretary Julian Castro gave stirring remarks that stressed the importance of the AAPI electorate and their role in the new minority-majority country that America will become. To me, this signifies a new generation of politician. One who knew not only how to communicate with his own community, but also with other communities of color. The AAPI and Latino communities have many important issues in common, such as immigration, and I hope that politicians like Castro are the beginning of a greater understanding, kinship, and collaboration between communities of color.
One of the major highlights of the evening events was a short video segment on the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) followed by speeches from the members. The video referenced back to major historical injustices wreaked on the AAPI community including the Chinese Exclusion Act and the unlawful incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. These examples are significant because in each instance the government failed to protect its AAPI citizens because of their race. Both the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American incarceration are incidents where xenophobia enabled our government to strip its citizens of the fundamental rights of citizenship such as due process and birthright citizenship because of their ethnic background.
What struck me about the remarks from the Members of Congress was how almost each one broke some kind of barrier and all were elected within my short lifetime. Mazie Hirono is the first AAPI woman senator, Judy Chu is the first Chinese American woman in Congress, and Bobby Scott is the first Filipino American elected to Congress from within the continental United States. Its incredible to me that thinking back only two decades ago, none of the Members who spoke were in Congress and there were only a sparse number of AAPIs in Congressional history. This imparted a real sense of how far the community had come in gaining political power and how this election could be the next step towards advancing on those gains significantly.
Though President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Senator Kaine had rousing, celebratory speeches, the most emotionally charged event of the night for me was seeing one of the mothers of a victim of the Orlando Pulse shooting speak. Christine Leinonen mourned her son Christopher and decried the scourge of gun violence, pledging to support Hillary as her son had done before his death. She memorably said of her son, “his paternal grandparents were born in a Japanese internment camp. So, it was in his DNA that love always trumps hate.” This powerful testimony alone showed why it is so important that Hillary Clinton wins in November. A young Asian American man like myself was killed for being LGBT, and every member of Congress that has voted to protect assault weapons and the killers who use them openly endorsed that killing.
For a community whose history has been marginalized for as long as AAPIs, to have your history and community referenced and validated on such a large, national stage is so important. Republicans like to make the case that Asian Americans are natural conservatives since many own small businesses and they are the “model minority”, wealthy, and well-educated. However, it makes no sense to me how this could ever be true once one knows the truth of our history. Our community has only ever become stronger by increasing progressive values, not decreasing them. Through struggle for recognition and rights we have lifted ourselves from the shadow of our own history and are edging towards the mainstream.
The politics of today’s Republican party are far distant from the party of Lincoln and are now much more closely aligned with the policies of Chinese Exclusion and Japanese internment camps. Donald Trump’s Muslim ban policy’s closest cousin is the Chinese Exclusion Act, showing that he is a poor student of the history of the AAPI community. Additionally, his approval of Japanese American incarceration in WWII, despite no evidence that Japanese Americans were disloyal to America, shows that he has failed to learn from America’s past mistakes. As we move towards the election, AAPIs should keep this in mind when they consider their choice in the voting booth.
(Nick Lee will be sharing his thoughts all week with AsAmNews readers. Last week, we ran the diary of an AAPI Trump delegate)
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