Text Version

Remarks of FCC Commissioner Rachelle Chong
at the Annual Installation Dinner of
the Asian Pacific American Bar Association
of the Greater Washington D.C. Area
Washington, D.C

July 15, 1997

Good evening. The events washing over the Asian Pacific American community in the past few years have brought to mind the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." Our community is indeed living in some very "interesting times." One can view these times as good times or bad times, depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

The optimist in me sees some good times. I am pleased to see our community become more forceful and proactive on the national political scene. One high note is the successful launch of CAPACI, our nonprofit, nonpartisan educational institute. CAPACI does a good job of speaking for us and keeping the nationwide APA community informed on what's going on in Washington.

Last year, we also celebrated a successful National Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Campaign. Through the hard work of a coalition of APA organizations, over 75,000 new Asian Pacific voters were registered.

These voter registration efforts have helped us see some electoral victories. Of course, the most visible was the election of State of Washington Governor Gary Locke. Governor Locke made history as the first Asian American governor of a mainland state, and the first Chinese American governor in the U.S. What was significant to me was that his base of support included APAs throughout the nation, not just in the State of Washington.

The pessimist in me sees some bad times in current events, however. For one thing, I am troubled by our continuing and frustrating inability to be treated as a full partner at the Washington political table.

I will speak frankly: our community's issues don't ever seem to be high on the priority list for either of the major political parties. Some theorize that the reason is based on a stereotype -- politicos seem to assume APAs are apathetic nonvoters.

Wrong. One of the largest and most comprehensive exit polls taken of Asian American voters in Los Angeles County during the last election revealed two things: (1) that Asian Americans are contributing more money to both major parties than any other ethnic group except Jewish voters, and (2) APAs are also turning out to vote in great numbers. In terms of population, APAs now number 10 million strong nationwide.

But despite the fact we are a growing political force, it is discouraging to me that our issues are never addressed as successfully as the demands of other large minority groups.

In today's Washington Post, I read a thought-provoking article about the first formal meeting of the President's new advisory board on race relations. The article highlighted a disagreement at the meeting between Angela Oh, the only APA board member, and two African American members. The issue involved how much to focus on black- white relations in an age when Asian and Latino Americans have redrawn the country's demographic map.

Ms. Oh had highlighted the dramatic growth of the Asian and Latino communities, and had urged her colleagues to move beyond the "black-white paradigm." While acknowledging the tragic history of slavery, she noted that this part of our nation's heritage cannot be undone. She called for a forward-looking approach, stating that the advisory board can affect where our society goes from here. This comment sparked controversy and criticism from others on the board. But I wanted to say that I agree with Ms. Oh, and I commend her for her forthright comments. By looking forward rather than back, we may be able to have all race relation issues treated on an equal scale, including APA issues.

Another important area regards political appointments in Washington. While we have done better in this administration, we have not met our expectations nor done as well as other large minority groups. There seems to be a glass ceiling for APAs in the rarified air of high stakes politics.

On that point, I just read an AsianWeek interview of outgoing UC Berkeley Chancellor, Chang-Lin Tien. As most of you know, our community had high hopes that Chancellor Tien would be nominated as Energy Secretary, and thus smash the glass ceiling as the first APA Cabinet member.

Tien's interview confirms that at one time, the White House told him that he was the leading candidate for the Cabinet post. But Tien is quoted as saying that the whole "complexion" of the situation changed after the Asian contribution controversy arose, particularly the revelation that the Lippo group's Riady family had donated money to UC Berkeley.

He says that his candidacy for the Cabinet seat waned after that. This story distresses me because it is direct evidence that the campaign finance scandal has damaged our community's chance to put a highly qualified APA into the President's Cabinet. Nonetheless, I emphasize that we cannot be discouraged in our efforts. We must keep trying through groups like our Asian Pacific American Coalition for Presidential Appointments.

Another low note I see is our continuing battle to fight prejudice and racial stereotypes. It pains me to note that APAs apparently still look "foreign" to some. I decry the growing violence against Asian Pacific Americans. Hate crimes against APAs have grown from 335 incidents in 1993 to 458 incidents in 1995, a 37% increase in two years.

Another disturbing current trend, however, is the anti-Asian sentiments and "Yellow Peril" fears that are appearing as themes in the media and politics. You need look no further than C-SPAN or the front pages of our nation's newspapers for evidence of this trend.

I am speaking again of the campaign finance reform controversy. With only a week of the Senate hearings behind us, it's already been an uncomfortable experience for our community. In fact, I think it represents the biggest challenge to our community since the sad chapter in history when Japanese Americans were confined to relocation camps during World War II.

In my view, two things have been important about the APA community's response to the campaign finance controversy:

First, the APA community has consistently asked that the hearings be conducted fairly and on a bipartisan basis. The goal should be to achieve meaningful reforms across the board.

Second, the APA community has not condoned any illegal activities. It has consistently supported a thorough investigation of these serious allegations. If an APA is found guilty of breaking the law, the community has made clear its position that any lawbreaker should be prosecuted pursuant to due process of the law.

On this latter point, the Washington Post ran an editorial on July 10th, accusing unidentified "friends and backers" of John Huang of "playing the race card." By this, the Post meant that these unnamed "friends and backers" are seeking immunity for Huang, based not on his innocence, but merely on his ethnic background.

I was quite puzzled by the "playing race card" accusation of the Post's editorial when I read it. You see, I've been following this controversy in the mainstream and Asian press for months.

Let me be clear. No APA I have talked to has ever told me they thought Huang was innocent just because he's Asian. Or that if he's done anything wrong, he should be excused because those trying to get him were "Asian bashing."

So what offends me about the Post's editorial is that by failing to "name names," the Post casts a shadow across the actions and motives of the entire APA community. Certainly, our community cannot and should not stand for a McCarthy-like atmosphere at these hearings. Moreover, guilt by association should never be countenanced.

Yet, it is happening. For example, it is well-chronicled in the Asian press that many innocent APAs have been singled out for investigation because they made legal contributions to political parties and they bear Asian surnames. It is completely unfair for APAs engaging in legal political activity to be held to a different standard than other Americans who participate in the political process.

But what has been most troubling is the stereotypes and racism that have reared their ugly heads in this campaign controversy. First, there was the offensive National Review cover depicting a slanted-eye and "coolie"-hatted President, a bucked teeth and Communist-garbed First Lady and a Buddhist monk-attired Vice President, over the headline "The Manchurian Candidates."

Second, during the televised Senate hearings on campaign reform, there was the comment uttered by a Senator, "no raise money, no get bonus." This Senator apparently was mimicking the phrase, "No tickee, no washee" -- which brings to mind offensive stereotypes of the Chinese as laundry workers speaking pidgin English.

I join my fellow APAs in expressing personal outrage over these tasteless and offensive depictions or characterizations. I am proud that our community -- joined by other minority communities in the case of the National Review cover -- have united in a bipartisan manner to protest the incidents, and to speak out against hurtful racial stereotypes.

Our community has appropriately and reasonably asked that politicians and the media ensure that their actions and statement describing this controversy do not unfairly impugn our entire community. They must recognize that there is a difference between foreign born Asians and Asian Pacific Americans. Legitimate political participation by APAs should be praised not impugned as an illegal or improper activity.

This is a defining moment for us. Our community's very mettle is being tested. The curse of "interesting times" has befallen us, but we are up to the challenge.

I am extraordinarily proud that our APA community has spoken out against these incidents with one united voice. There has been a coming together of our community to ensure that our message be coherent and consistent.

What I find gratifying is that our united voice is being heard by key government leaders and certainly by the press. It is having a positive effect. And so tonight, I commend and I thank the many spokespersons in our community. These leaders have had the courage and fortitude to speak out -- to let our country know that we will not turn back the clock to racism.


I now wish to switch gears to my second topic, which I will treat briefly given the lateness of the hour. I came here tonight to encourage more of my fellow members of the Asian Pacific Bar to become involved in politics and public service. Through the years, one thing I've learned is that when our community looks for leaders, it often looks to its lawyers.

After all, the law is a very special calling. It has a way of attracting dedicated individuals determined to make their mark on this world. The skills that make a good lawyer -- analytical skills, advocacy and problem solving -- also make a good leader. Maybe this is why, in Avenue Asia's 1996 article about "The 500 Most Influential Asian Americans," nearly a third of the government and nonprofit leaders listed held law degrees.

What this tells me is that from our legal ranks come many of our community's government leaders. Sitting in this room, we have the brain trust of APAs who live right in the heart of Washington and who can effect change.

Our community continues to need good people willing to step forward and lead during these "interesting times." And so, I urge each of you to consider taking at least one government, public policy, or public interest job at some point in your career.

And if you can't do it now, please continue to be politically active in some way -- whether by pro bono representation of a victim of a hate crime, by helping register APA voters, by assisting in letter writing campaigns, by writing editorials, or by helping maintain a web site that helps unify our community. Please use your talents -- whatever they may be -- to help our community become more politically empowered on a national level.


Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to APABA for your tremendous support in my efforts earlier this year to be reappointed to the FCC. While NAPABA took the lead in this effort, many members of this APABA chapter and other community leaders nationwide wrote dozens of letters of support, issued press releases, and otherwise tried to influence the process.

Although we remain disappointed by what has occurred thus far, I am not discouraged. It was important that the APA community spoke out. It may help the next time an APA candidate is considered for a political appointment.

So, thank you for your support. I was proud to be the first Asian American FCC commissioner. It was an honor to serve my country and my community.

Thank you very much.