Over the weekend, demonstrators from various AANHPI organizations gathered at California Republican Rep. Michelle Steel’s campaign office to criticize her recent campaign ads.
The protestors believed the ads used “red-baiting” tactics and depicted Steel’s opponent Democrat Jay Chen as someone who supported Communism. As shown at the end of one of the ads, it read: “Jay Chen. He’s perfect for Communist China.”
“Michelle Steel is using conspiracy theories and Cold War ideologies to further her campaign,” said demonstrator Zig Jiang to the LA Times. “This put our communities in danger because she labeled Asian Americans, particularly Chinese Americans, as spies.”
What may be most surprising is that Steel is Korean American and a part of the AAPI community just as Chen is, being Taiwanese American. Chen is also an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve.
“The fact that a sitting member of Congress would try to incite this kind of anti-Asian hate to try to further the stereotype that Asians cannot be trusted when she herself is Asian — an immigrant from Korea — it just baffles the mind,” Chen told the LA Times.
According to what Chen told the LA Times, he served in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula to confront communist aggression.
Steel’s attacks on Chen date back to a 2010 vote he took as a Hacienda La Puente Unified school board member to use a free Mandarin language program that has been linked to the Chinese government. Due to local backlash, the Confucius Institute U.S. Center program was never adopted in the school district.
Supporters of Steel argue that these were not racist attacks but more of a matter of record.
“It’s not racism to highlight his continued support of Confucius Institutes — it’s his record,” Steel campaign spokesperson Lance Trover said to the LAist.
Steel’s supporters also appeared at the protest to defend her. Participating demonstrator La Palma Councilman Nitesh Patel told the LA Times that Steel represents diversity and what America stands for.
“She doesn’t look at race. She doesn’t look at gender,” Patel said to the LA Times. “She’s out there making sure that she’s fighting for Americans.”
Some groups spoke on the issue of racist attacks from inside the AAPI community. One of these groups, New York-based nonprofit Committee of 100 led by Chinese Americans, released a statement criticizing Steel’s actions as attempting to divide the Asian American community.
“A congressional race between two candidates of Asian descent should be an opportunity to highlight the diversity and achievement of the Asian American community,” Committee of 100 President Zhengyu Huang said in the statement. “Instead, one candidate is using racist attacks and advertisements to question the patriotism and loyalty of an American military veteran.”
Huang said it was even more harmful that these attacks had come from within the AAPI community.
United Chinese Americans President Haipei Shue told the LAist that these ads had become an extension to anti-Asian hate.
“There is an ethical issue to using these kinds of tactics and negative advertising that crosses into malicious campaigning,” said Long T. Bui, an associate professor of global and international studies at the University of California, Irvine, to the Finger Lakes Times. “The racially charged messages reinforce stereotypes of all Chinese people as spies and permanent foreigners.”
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