December 19, 2014

It’s All Up To What You Value

One week later and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the intense burst of awesomeness from Asian American Justice Center President and former Asian American Action Fund endorsee Mee Moua when she schooled Senator Sessions. Haven’t seen it? Take a look:

SESSIONS: Ms. Moua, maybe you can comment. Do you think that a nation that decides that they can admit an individual somehow has no right to say that that person’s brother would have to qualify independently, rather than being given a guaranteed entry in the country? Do you think a country can legitimately make that decision?

MOUA: Senator Sessions, coming from the Asian American community when in the 1880s we were the first people to be excluded explicitly by the United States immigration policy I’m well aware that this country has never hesitated in the way that it chooses to exercise its authority to permit people to either enter or depart its borders. And we know that the Asian American community in particular didn’t get to enjoy the benefit of immigration to this country until the 1960s when those restrictive policies were lifted. So I know very well and very aware that…

SESSIONS: Well let me just say, it seems to me. It’s perfectly logical to think there are two individuals, let’s say in a good friendly country like Honduras. One is a valedictorian of his class, has two years of college, learned English and very much has a vision to come to the United States and the other one has dropped out of high school, has minimum skills. Both are 20 years of age and that latter person has a brother here. What would be in the interest of the United States? …

MOUA: Senator I think that under your scenario people can conclude about which is in the best interest of the United States. I think the more realistic scenario is that in the second situation that individual will be female, would not have been permitted to get an education and if we would create a system where there would be some kind of preference given to say education, or some other kind of metrics, I think that it would truly disadvantage specifically women and their opportunity to come into this country

SESSIONS: Well that certainly is a problem around the world, and I would think that the primary problem with education and the fact that women have been discriminated against should be focused on the countries that are doing that primarily .

As you can see, Sessions essentially asked a rhetorical question of Moua without care for her answer. My guess is Sessions asked his rhetorical question so he could answer it. What astounds me — and where the awesomeness comes in — is Sessions was almost certainly asking another rhetorical question and yet Moua’s response was so profound that Sessions actually listened and responded to Moua instead of responding to his rhetorical question with more of his talking points. Sessions didn’t alter his position, but he did essentially say “you’re right” to Moua.

Notice Sessions didn’t slow down when Moua was schooling Sessions on Asian Americans. No, it was once she started schooling Sessions on women that he finally snapped out of his rhetoric and — if ever so briefly — into reality. Perhaps the Republican attempts to no longer appear to be “angry white men” party is making slightly more progress on the gender front? With our immigration system facing such incredible gender imbalances, such schooling is needed even for far more well-meaning politicians! Pramila Jayapal over at ColorLines has some great ideas on fixing those imbalances.

While Sessions isn’t Ted Cruz-level crazy, he’s not exactly the firebrand of positive policy. Sessions has blocked a child sex trafficking bill, suggested helping feed the hungry is immoral, and apparently delights in the suffering of illegal immigrant families. Yet somehow in 2003 Jeff Sessions received a 100% rating from the Christian Coalition for his stances on issues relation to families and children. Clearly Sessions values families. Unfortunately, it appears he and his ilk only value certain kinds of families.

What families do you value? I agree with more of Mee Moua’s wise words

Children will always be our children whether they’re over the age of 21 or not. For us to start thinking about which members of our family we’re going to trade away is a dramatic and drastic departure from the core values of what has been driving this country since the founding days.

Senators Boxer, Brown, Franken, Harkin, Hirono, Schatz, and Warren seem to agree too, having urged prioritization of family reunification and a clearing of family visa backlogs. I would go a step further urging a clearing of all backlogs; there’s up to a more than ten year backlog for employment-based immigrant visas too. While that pales in comparison to the backlog for immigrant visas for siblings from the Phillippinnes, a category with a backlog so embarrassing there are still priority dates from the 1980s which have yet to become current.

There’s more you can do than merely marvel at Mee Moua’s awesomeness. Add your name to the to the 18 Million Rising petition to tell Congress you stand for fair and just comprehensive immigration reform and they should too!

– Justin Gillenwater

Question of the Week

In Los Angeles, the newly elected City Council might not have any women.  Why don’t more women (including Asian American women) run for political office?

— Gautam Dutta

Kamala Harris: SCOTUS-Bound?

If Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg steps down, will California Attorney General Kamala Harris replace her — and become the first Asian American and African American woman to serve on the High Court (via

Which Supreme Court justice will step down next?

Most experts believe it will be 79-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee and the court’s oldest member, according to Bloomberg Law.

The most likely candidate to replace her is California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who’s dubbed “the female Barack Obama,” SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein told Bloomberg.

Like Obama, Harris, 48, is a rising political star, who wrote a book and broke racial barriers. Harris was the first woman attorney general in the Golden State.

AAA-Fund endorsed Harris during her historic campaign for California Attorney General, and salutes the critical role she played in helping prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes.
The future is bright for Kamala Harris.
– Gautam Dutta

Counting our Blessings

While Obama and Romney are vying for the White House, a more violent struggle is going on in Pakistan.  A couple days back, the Taliban nearly killed a 14-year-old student who had fought for a girl’s right to get an education.

No one should take democracy — and freedom — for granted.

– Gautam Dutta

The 2012 DNC AAPI Caucus

The second AAPI caucus meeting was well-attended and filled with remarks from a number of Asian American politicians, several Secretaries, and one Second Lady. I wish I could say the same for the first meeting, but I wasn’t there. It was over by the time I picked up my media credentials. Lesson learned.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, Chair of CAPAC, reminded everyone in the room that President Obama is good for our community, and I don’t just mean Asian Americans. Delegate Madeleine Bordallo of Guam reminded us President Obama grew up an island boy — he doesn’t forget about the territories. Perhaps the key takeaway from Chu’s remarks, Republicans are working so hard to prevent those who wish to register to vote from doing so — 81% of first time voters voted for Obama in 2008. Congressman Honda, former chair of CAPAC, rightfully declared Asian Americans the theoretical margin of victory, but only if we register to vote. Only 55% of eligible Asian Americans are registered.

Chu also focused on the anti-Asian sentiments percolating throughout unsavory elements of the American polity with particular focus on Pete Hoekstra bringing in yellowgirl in Michigan in the year of the 30th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder.

Chris Lu, President Obama’s Cabinet Secretary, noted that 2012 is not only the 30th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder but also the 70th anniversary of the Japanese Internment and 130th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Lu also reminded us that before President Obama, a meeting of every Asian American Secretary throughout history would fit at a table for 2. Now if they all got together, there are many board games they wouldn’t be able to play together since Obama appointed the third, fourth, and fifth Asian American Secretaries.

Secretary Arne Duncan gave some of the best news of the caucus — the Department of Education is working to dispel the model minority myth. Duncan also shared that this was his first convention and he’s having a great time. There’s always something special about one’s first. Duncan stressed the importance of America leading the world in college graduation; the Department of Education is working to make that happen.

Secretary Hilda Solis reflected the feelings of many, many people. The Democratic National Convention looks like America, unlike the Republican National Convention. Solis also celebrated AAPI politicians and leaders, whom she collectively referred to as “fast and effective.” Solis’s words also included high praise for Michelle Obama.

Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, also praised the First Lady, noting how critical her work on childhood obesity is to many AAPI communities. Tchen reminded the crowd that 17 new Asian American federal judges have been appointed and confirmed thanks to President Obama with 3 more on track for confirmation.

Former White House Chief of Staff Pete Rouse expanded on the theme of federal judges, making the point Gautam says is ignored in this presidential race — 2 SCOTUS nominations could arise in the next presidential term. Rouse also urged everyone in the room to make their best efforts to maximize turnout.

Dr. Jill Biden appeared for a few brief remarks largely stressing the importance of involvement in the political process.

Maya Soetoro-Ng also spoke.

Daniel Inouye gave a speech that should have been televised.

Mayor Ed Lee was the most amusing speaker, upstaging Mike Honda, who usually has no competition for most amusing:

I’ll be short because I am.

On a personal note, I don’t know if anyone in the room needed or made use of it, but I greatly appreciate the accessibility provided to the hard-of-hearing:

– Justin Gillenwater

Steve King Continues To Be A Terrible Person

As I have noted in three prior pieces, Congressman Steve King is a terrible person.

What’d he do this time? As Jezebel highlights, he supports federal regulations when they make for worse animal welfare — and thus lower quality food, increased antibiotic resistant bacteria, etc. — but opposes federal regulations when they promote women’s reproductive health.

– Justin Gillenwater


The Taliban publicly execute a woman only miles away from Kabul.  Is this a harbinger of the future as the US begins to pull out of Afghanistan?

— Gautam Dutta

White House AAPI Champions of Change

Earlier, we posted the White House AAPI Twitter Q&A, “What’s Your Story?” Voting. We’re happy to say that the voting results are in and our friend and former Sam Yoon intern and AAA-Fund sponsoree, Chun-Fai Chan, notifies us of his hometown’s Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center having won as 1 of the 6 Champions of Change. You can help sponsor the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center‘s trip to the White House for the Thursday, April 5 ceremony at their CrowdRise page.

The other winners also each represent (an) AAPI institution(s):

We also thank the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for holding his important contest to raise awareness of what’s happening in our larger AAPI community.

Question of the Week

Why are there more male than female Asian American elected officials?  Please share your thoughts with us.

— Gautam Dutta

TV’s Distorted Gender Nostalgia Isn’t Selling

(Originally published at Zocalo Public Square)

In a way, it’s too bad NBC’s much-hyped Playboy Club was unceremoniously dumped after merely three episodes. True, the writing was awful and the concept controversial, but for a minute there it brought on a serious conversation about how women are depicted on TV, and about the meaning of our newfound nostalgia for days when women were just starting to find their way into the workplace.

Indeed, NBC’s struggle to frame a titillating show about Chicago’s Playboy Club in the early 1960s as a tale of female empowerment was doomed from the start. You can try being all things to all people, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to buy it. The contrived effort started with Hugh Hefner’s voiceover calling his Playboy Bunnies “some of the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be.” Some Bunnies in the series sought escape from a checkered past and a chance for reinvention. Others sought “bigger dreams.” Brenda hoped to defy segregation by becoming the first African-American centerfold, and Alice used her salary to support a nascent gay-rights organization. Judging by NBC’s promotions on the eve of the new season, the series was a veritable ode to the civil rights movement.

Playboy Club was not alone in exploring women’s lives in the early ’60s. ABC’s Pan Am, a tale of globe-trotting stewardesses courting adventure and dabbling in espionage, is still flying on Sunday night, although this period drama too is slipping in the ratings. And of course AMC’s Mad Men, soon to enter its fifth season, purportedly started the trend with its more nuanced depiction of gender roles on Madison Avenue. While Playboy Club and Pan Am emphasize the dreams and desires of young women in the pre-feminist era, they often give short shrift to the real struggles working women faced. The Playboy Club’s utter lack of authenticity stemmed from its failure to engage with legacies of economic and sexual exploitation. Pan Am suffers from a similar jet-age glamorization that gets in the way of truthful storytelling. [Read more…]