Post Election Thoughts on the 2017 VA Governor’s Race

The below is from our 2017 Joe Montano Fellow Sharon Kwon on the Ralph Northam campaign. It is the last in her series of weekly campaign updates. Congrats to Sharon and the Northam campaign on victory.

I want to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate the DPVA, our candidates, and the AAPI community for a victorious election night last Tuesday November 7.

By working together we were able to not only achieve victory but to exceed all expectations. The margins by which Ralph, Justin, and Mark won would not have happened if the AAPI community did not step up and invest in this campaign.

During my time on this campaign I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people within the AAPI community. The volunteers, donors, and supporters were also amazing people from all walks of life that brought their talent and desire to make a difference in their community. Together we were able to knock on more than 3 million doors, make over a million phone calls, and mobilize a blue wave across the state that energized our party and gave hope to so many in despair over the current White House administration.

Looking back I wish I had more time just to enjoy the small victories we had along the way. Whether it was a visit to local AAPI owned businesses, cultural events, or places of worship, each stop provided opportunities for community members to present their thoughts on issues, hear from the candidates, and build relationships. These experiences proved vital to our campaign and opportunity for growth and understanding between our candidates and the AAPI community. Election day meant so much more because groups like the Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia (DAAV), the Democratic Asian American Club, Korean Americans for Organizing (KAFO), and members of the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT) invested their time and resources into the campaign.

Being part of a campaign meant being part of a team and I think that is one of the biggest lessons I am taking away from this experience. It proved challenging to coordinate events with field operations, different campaign schedules for surrogates and candidates, and even with different campaign departments. Without the hard work and support of other volunteers, organizations, and staff members it would have been impossible to do this job.

I never met Joe Montano in person but I saw the impact he had in many of the people I worked with. The same spirit of service he brought to Virginia politics remains alive and well in so many throughout the AAPI community and I hope will live on through this fellowship.

Thank you!

To Awaken Asian America

Editor’s Note: This is the twelth in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second on Tam v. USPTO, third on power, fourth on feminism, and fifth on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism, sixth on activism, seventh on voting access, eigth on fearing microaggressions, ninth on fearing microaggressions, tenth on firgetting Chinatowns, and eleventh on whitewashing films.

Dyne Suh, a 25-year-old law studentLately, violence and exclusion against Asian Americans has been at a visceral high—and while I am of course angered as always by these instances of discrimination and hate, something else also has been stirring within me.
​At this historic moment in time, following the election of one of the most outrightly bigoted Presidents in our country since before racial desegregation, we as American citizens have been made well aware of the racial tensions in this country being brought to the surface. These prejudiced, racist sentiments have existed in America for hundreds of years, but seem to be projected more violently and explicitly right now than they have been at any other time in my young life.

​On one hand, seeing the exclusion, the literal brutalization of Asian Americans, hurts me deeply. One can never learn to like the reminder that often America has a penchant to see the Asian American body as only an Asian body, and has a penchant to see the Asian body as something to be exploited, abused, and eradicated from this country. One can never learn to like the reminder that at the root of racism is not just the belief that people of color are less than, but need to either exist in complete submission and subservience to those in power, or just not exist at all.

​In just the last month, after booking an AirBnb in Big Bear, Asian American woman Dyne Suh’s host cancelled on her at the last minute by telling her in a series of texts that she “wouldn’t rent to [Dyne] if [she] were the last person on earth.” When Dyne confronted her and asked why she would go back on her word and cancel so last minute, the host told her, “One word says it all. Asian.”

​“It’s why we have Trump,” the host continued, justifying her discrimination with Trump’s election. Trump, of course, has not spoke out refuting that her actions should be done in his name. The refusal of goods and services is an action that, under law, is never to be done on the bases of race, gender, or creed. Still, it is something LGBT communities have had to struggle against in even recent years, and right now in the case of Dyne Suh, wasn’t respected for Asian Americans.

​Last week saw the case of David Dao, a doctor on a United Airlines flight who was dragged, violently harassed, and beaten for refusing to leave an overbooked flight. Dao had purchased a ticket, and the singling out of Dao to leave the plane and the subsequent beating of Dao more than appears race related—the unfounded brutalization of Asian bodies has been historically condoned, as in the last thirty years in the case of Vincent Chin’s murder, and hundreds of years of colonialism before.

​With every new piece of news of these kinds of deeply racist and violent crimes, there is a part of me that feels a little weaker, a little sadder. But I also have to wonder, are these just the issues that have lived under the skin, under the surface of the earth of this country for years, simply festering upwards and projecting themselves now more violently before? Is this an inevitable part of the move forward?

​While I have no true answer to this and of course, I wish nothing more than for these people, for their souls and bodies to be safe, for their health and livelihood to be in no danger, what I do know is that I have watched the Asian American community take note and take action. I have seen many who have bought in to the model minority myth begin to perceive the way in which we are not just otherized, but brutalized, excluded, and discriminated against. I have seen something in the Asian American community awaken—in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois speaking of the black community, the gaining of a “double consciousness”, if you will—an increasing awareness of the self as an Asian American in contention with the awareness of people’s perception of the Asian American.

​While more than anything I sorely hope discussion and peaceful but rigorous action will put a halt to, or at least mollify such violent actions against Asian Americans, I also hope that from this our community may better mobilize and may better find solidarity among other people of color. May we all march forward, and learn to situate ourselves on the side of equity and justice.

The Micro and the Macro

So what are you?

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second on Tam v. USPTO, third on power, fourth on feminism, and fifth on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism, sixth on activism, and seventh on voting access.

Every time a teacher called me by the name of another East Asian girl in my class, the same sharpness would always pinch me in my underbelly. It was something that happened again and again over teachers and classes and years. “Sorry,” the teacher would always say to me hastily. “Amanda, not Sophia.” “Amanda, not Jane.” “Amanda, not Michelle.” They would always try and cover quickly as if it was really just about the name. Of course, it was never just about the name.

But there was always the moment right after they said the wrong name, and right before their apology, that held all of the tension of centuries of erasure. And even when I would hear their apology and the collective breath being held by my class would be released; there would still be something that lingered in me. There was still the knowledge that my teacher’s apology wanted to be an apology for all of the racism they had internalized, but knew not how to or cared not to change. There was the knowledge that my teacher’s apology wanted to be an apology for the history that has existed, a history that lives deep within them and they have not been able to unlearn. That is the sharpness that pinched me in my underbelly, and it is not one that has ever entirely left me over teachers and classes and years.

For most of my life my experiences with racism, and even my experience with my Asian American identity, have come in the form of microagressions like these. If you have not heard of microagressions before, they are the kind of statements that happen often in casual conversation: but they veil indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination toward marginalized groups.

When I think of microagressions I think of the way people have always asked me, “Where are you from? China? Japan?” I think of bringing dumplings to school and being asked by children with crinkled noses, “What is that?” I think of the time in elementary school when I confided to a white friend about my insecurities around wanting to look white, and she said, “At least your eyes aren’t too small for an Asian girl. Small eyes are the ugliest.”

It took years of microagression upon microagression until I began to become aware of the way in which I was being “otherized” for my race. As I got older, I learned that these small instances of alienating comment reflected a larger history of oppression that has come to paint the way we view race today, even on an implicit level.

Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, the modern world as we know it has been built on and around a history of racism, of the exploitation and exclusion of people of color. And whether or not we want to acknowledge it, that history is embedded in the way we think. In many ways, I am lucky that in childhood I only had to face this truth through the hidden prejudice of microagressions and not through overt hatred and violence.

But even as I say this, a recently released study, one that was the first of its kind, revealed that hate crimes against Asian Americans tripled from 2014 to 2015. And with news of the assault of an elderly Korean woman by a white supremacist in Los Angeles earlier this month, I feel that the Asian American community is at risk for becoming victims of more vehement acts of hate than the microagressions I faced in my youth.

I don’t want to dismiss the hurt that microagressions cause—as I have said, I have more than known the deep-seeded kind of pain they leave. But right now I fear that Asian Americans bodies and lives are more threatened than they have been in years. In the months since Trump’s election and then inauguration, many white supremacists have been afoot, and there has correspondingly been a rise in hate crimes, many done in Trump’s name. And as the President has not condemned any of these crimes, it feels as if hate crimes now happen almost flagrantly and are dismissed with equal indifference.

However as these crimes come to affect the Asian American community, I ask us not to hide in fear. I realize that the threat to our lives right now is daunting. But in the years I have spent facing microagressions, I have learned that the only thing one can do to stop such actions is to speak out against them. We must address these issues at their and educate each other first, and we can do that by talking about our experiences with hate. If we can I believe it is imperative that we must not retreat into our homes or even inside of ourselves. We must go forth and fight, it is the only thing we can do if we want others to learn our names and respect our bodies.

Amanda Ong – 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow

The People’s Vote: Opinion

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second piece on Tam v. USPTO, third piece on power, fourth piece on feminism, and fifth piece on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism, and the sixth piece on activism. This post follows up our support of Meng’s proposed legislation.

(c)2017 Kevin Chu

(c)2017 Kevin Chu

In recent weeks, U.S. Congresswoman of New York Grace Meng has proposed the 21st Century Voting Act, a bill which intends to “protect, improve, and modernize the act of voting.” According to Meng’s website as well as the language on the bill itself, the 21st Century Voting Act seeks to:

  1. Make Election Day a national holiday;
  2. Initiate automatic voter registration;
  3. Restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons;
  4. Make voter registration portable;
  5. Allow voting information, such as polling place and registration status, to be available online;
  6. Strengthen and streamline voting cybersecurity protections;
  7. Provide additional federal resources to state and local election boards;
  8. Establish a quadrennial review of voting in America.

In short, the act keeps in mind the protection of our voting rights and seeks to create greater accessibility to vote for all American citizens eligible to do so.
“It is way past time that Congress pass meaningful voting reform,” Meng said on her website. “It is ridiculous that in this day and age such troublesome hurdles exist that restrict access to the ballot box. My bill would address key priorities to modernizing our voting systems, including establishing automatic and portable voter registration, and making Election Day a national holiday. These commonsense reforms would allow every American the opportunity to participate in our electoral process, which is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. We must finally overhaul our disparate and complicated voting systems.”

Our right to vote is consistently explained to us as an equitable and democratic privilege that we have as American citizens—and this is true in the sense that our right to vote is founded upon such democratic principles. We are allowed to have a say in the actions of our country, and we have the power as the people of our country to elect who to grant greater powers to. However, the issues Meng brings to light in the 21st Century Voting Act are crucial to upholding the democratic principles behind our right to vote. Despite the great ideals upon which our democracy has been founded upon, many members of American society have historically been barred from this right. Even after African Americans were technically granted the right to vote under the 15th amendment in 1870, it was not until almost a century later when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 that they could practice that right. Prior to that, the ability to vote was basically inaccessible due to Jim Crow laws that were created with the intention to indirectly keep African American citizens from voting. Poll taxes prevented citizens who could not afford to pay the tax from voting, and literacy tests prevented uneducated citizens from voting, and furthermore tended to be selectively administered to African American citizens.
While Jim Crow laws have since been repealed, still many barriers remain. Unsurprisingly, marginalized communities are still disproportionately effected.

In particular, the Asian American community has been seen to have the lowest voter turnout of any racial group in the United States, according to a study of the 2010 Midterm Elections done by the Pew Research group. Of Asian Americans who did not vote, most said that they were too busy with work or school to do so. In fact, nearly forty percent cited this as their reason for not voting, a rate fifty percent higher than any other racial or ethnic group. For this reason Meng’s bill is especially important for the Asian American community, as the accessibility it presents could drastically increase Asian American voter turnout. With the 21st Century Voting Act, the Asian American community could very well gain the voice it deserves within our government.

As citizens, our right to vote is entrenched in our identity as Americans itself. The philosophy of democracy does not function unless all members of the society are granted voice in their government. The right to vote lies at the foundations our country is built on, and we must uphold these rights, or strip ourselves from all of the principles we hold to be true as Americans. But with Meng’s 21st Century Voting Act in mind, we must also remember that with our support, true voting equity is possible. And so we must go forth and mobilize to ensure our congress will support Meng’s bill with the same fervor.

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