George Floyd’s death hung over the California Assembly Wednesday as the legislative body voted on Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, a measure that would repeal Prop. 209 that banned affirmative action.
“I’m so grateful I didn’t have to convince you that racism is real, because George Floyd did that,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber ( D-San Diego) and the author of the proposal, told her colleagues before a vote was taken.
In the end, the Assembly voted along party lines, 58-9, to let voters decide whether to repeal the amendment. The state Senate must vote on the measure before June 25 if the question is to make on the November ballot.
The partisan vote also exposed the rift within the Asian American community over the issue of affirmative action. Voting against it was Korean American Steven Choi (R-Irvine). “I do not want to live in a state where the color of my skin or my race or my sex or my national origin determines my qualifications for a position, a job or entering to a college,” he told the L.A. Times. “I came here to this country to get away from ideologies like that.”
A similar attempt to overturn Prop. 209 via an amendment died in the Legislature in 2014 after a small, but well-organized opposition in the Chinese American community pressured some Chinese American lawmakers to vote against it.
Although studies show that the overwhelming majority of Asian Americans favor affirmative action, the small, but vocal Chinese American opponents made it appear to the mainstream media that they represented the majority of Asian American.
ACA 5 is supported by members of the API, Black, Latino and Women’s Caucuses, as well as leading business and civil rights organizations across California, including Equal Justice Society, the California Black Chamber of Commerce, Chinese for Affirmative Action and scores of faith-based organizations. Some Asian Americans fear ACA5 would make it harder for them to gain admission to the state’s prestigious public universities — where students of Asian descent are overrepresented.
Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Silicon Valley, who is of Chinese descent said his office received more than 3,000 emails and phone calls opposing the repeal compared to just nine in support. Despite the opposition in his district, Low voted in favor of ACA 5.
It’s about fear. It’s about race. It’s about the loss of power. Asian-Pacific Islanders, particularly the Chinese community, fear the loss,” Low said, adding that he didn’t run for office for “self-preservation.”
“Some of the opposition want you to believe Asian Americans unilaterally oppose affirmative action. That is simply not true,” said Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco.
A national survey by AAPI Data found that a majority of respondents supported affirmative action programs designed to increase the number of underrepresented Black and minority students on college campuses,” compared to 32% who did not. Of the six national origin groups surveyed — Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese — only a majority of Chinese American respondents opposed the policy.
“We know that there is some intense mobilization in some parts of the Chinese community but we try hard to help explain that actually the Asian American community is quite diverse,” said Vincent Pan of Chinese for Affirmative Action. Pan is also the co-chair of Opportunity for All, an umbrella advocacy group pushing to repeal Prop. 209.
The political climate and the Asian American community has changed since 2014. Because of Donald Trump, Asian American voters have shifted decidedly towards Democrats and progressive issues.
The state has grown even more diverse. As of 2019, Hispanics make up 39% of the state’s population while Whites account for 36.8%, according to the US Census. Asians have grown to 15.3%. African Americans have held steady with 6.5% of the state’s population.
Many Asian Americans and organizations have expressed their support for Black Lives Matter and the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated for equal justice in the death of Floyd.
AsAmNews recently signed a letter of support for ACA5.
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