Photo via Flickr Creative Commons by McGeorge School of Law
By Carina Nocon, AsAmNews Intern
Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders are voicing their support for affirmative action and Proposition 16, the measure in California designed to give underrepresented groups in employment and education an equal opportunity.
The measure would overturn the ban on affirmative action in the state which became law with the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996 with 55 percent of the vote.
Supporters of Proposition 16 contend that Prop 209 needs to be repealed in order for the state to properly gauge and fix the issues that marginalized groups battle.
Introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber this year, Prop 16 would deconstruct Prop 209 and allow affirmative action in the state. Affirmative action focuses on historically disadvantaged groups, including women, by allowing policies that will cater to these groups through financial support, outreach programs, and more.
AAPI leaders and community members explained why they’re voting “yes” on Prop 16 during a virtual press conference hosted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice- Los Angeles.
The panelists made it clear that they stand by Prop 16 to stand in solidarity with other minority and marginalized groups. Some of the speakers said reinstating affirmative action will level the playing field for all and prohibit racial divides between different communities of color.
“Rather than fighting with each other over crumbs, let’s work together to take a bigger slice of the pie… If we want a fair shot, we must start with a fair system,” L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu said during the conference.
“The truth is affirmative action helps Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians who are still underrepresented in boardrooms and leadership positions. Most of all, affirmative action allows us to move forward toward a California of justice and equity for all.”
Manjusha P. Kulkarni, executive director at Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, stated that Asian American women who work full-time make 90 cents for every dollar a White man makes. This means less money for education, healthcare, child care, and more.
Prop 16 backers claim that the passage of Prop 209 led to the needs of non-White communities and women being ignored for decades. They also claim that this has a toll on college admissions by limiting acceptance rates of minority students and representation of colored students.
A university student named Aidan Arasasingham said the decline in other Asian American and Pacific Islander students on his campus is frustrating.
“This frustration that we have less opportunity for all today than we had a generation ago is shared by so many students and voters of my generation. And we’re ready to change that. Asian American and Pacific Islander students, along with our classmates and allies in the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, are proud to help lead the charge for Prop 16.”
Arasasingham is the External Vice President of the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association and leader of the UC Student Association.
“Since the beginning, Asian American and Pacific Islanders students have been on the frontlines of this fight. So to me, it’s laughable that opponents of Prop 16 falsely claim that it will be bad for Asian American students,” Arasasingham said.
According to Arasasingham, UC students worked with Assemblywoman Weber to introduce the precursor to Prop 16.
At UCLA, Black students make up less than 3 percent of students, and Indigenous and Pacific Islander students make up less than 1 percent.
While those who are in favor of reinstating affirmative action believe Prop 16 will increase non-White representation on campus, opposing voters disagree.
Lance Izumi worked with Ward Connerly, who is known as the man behind Prop 209, to justify Prop 209 to California voters in 1996. He contends that the Constitution should not favor certain groups of people and should treat everyone equally.
Izumi told AsAmNews, “Whatever your race or gender, imagine if the government told you that it was going to discriminate against you because of your particular race or your particular gender… You wouldn’t think any of that was right. Despite all the rhetoric from those pushing Proposition 16, it boils down to giving the government the power to discriminate, which most people believe is wrong.”
The passage of Prop 16 would ultimately do more damage to marginalized groups than help them, according to Izumi.
He said prior to Prop 209 being passed in 1996, Japanese Americans were 13 times less likely to be accepted into a UC Davis medical school compared to those favored by race preferences, and Korean Americans were 14 times less likely to be accepted. Vietnamese American graduates of UC Irvine were three times less likely to be accepted into a UC medical school compared to UCI graduates of race-favored groups despite Vietnamese Americans having the highest GPAs.
“The civil rights fight against government-sponsored Jim Crow laws that led to the passage of 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act underscored that race-based discrimination is morally repugnant. In the eyes of the Constitution and our government, we should be treated equally,” Izumi said.
Izumi is the Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.
Izumi and Katy Grimes, editor at California Globe and a political journalist, both believe that affirmative action does not benefit anyone including students of color.
“It serves to harm students who are not prepared for the rigors of college, rather than helping them, if they were accepted based on race, rather than preparedness,” Grimes said to AsAmNews.
“Repealing Proposition 209 would threaten the equal rights of all people in California.”
There are mixed ideas about whether the passage of Prop 16 would heal racial divides within the state or intensify them. Prop 209 and Prop 16 affects every American, not just people of color or Whites.
“Beyond the model minority stereotype, sometimes it seems AAPI’s are invisible,” said Assemblymember Warren Furutani during the AAAJ-LA conference. “Affirmative action may help but we need to go beyond such a benign and pathetic goal. We want concrete results, we want programs that are going to develop people to their fullest potential.”
Voters will decide the issue on California’s November ballot.
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