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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

October 21, 2007

Written by C.N.

Chinatown Residents Donating to Hillary Clinton

As the presidential primary season heats up, so too does the scrutiny given to every facet of each candidate’s campaign. When it comes to the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, we’ve already heard about the episode with Norman Hsu, the fugitive felon who gave to Clinton and other Democratic politicians. Now, as the Los Angeles Times reports, there may be some irregularities with some campaign contributions that Clinton has received from residents of New York City’s Chinatown:

Dishwashers, waiters and others whose jobs and dilapidated home addresses seem to make them unpromising targets for political fundraisers are pouring $1,000 and $2,000 contributions into Clinton’s campaign treasury. In April, a single fundraiser in an area long known for its gritty urban poverty yielded a whopping $380,000. . . .

At this point in the presidential campaign cycle, Clinton has raised more money than any candidate in history. Those dishwashers, waiters and street stall hawkers are part of the reason. And Clinton’s success in gathering money from Chinatown’s least-affluent residents stems from a two-pronged strategy: mutually beneficial alliances with powerful groups, and appeals to the hopes and dreams of people now consigned to the margins. . . .

As with other campaigns looking for dollars in unpromising places, the Clinton operation also has accepted what it later conceded were improper donations. At least one reported donor denies making a contribution. Another admitted to lacking the legal-resident status required for giving campaign money. Clinton aides said they were concerned about some of the Chinatown contributions. . . .

The Times examined the cases of more than 150 donors who provided checks to Clinton after fundraising events geared to the Chinese community. One-third of those donors could not be found using property, telephone or business records. Most have not registered to vote, according to public records.

And several dozen were described in financial reports as holding jobs — including dishwasher, server or chef — that would normally make it difficult to donate amounts ranging from $500 to the legal maximum of $2,300 per election.

The article goes on to describe that many Chinatown residents who donate to Clinton’s campaign hope that if she becomes President that she will make it easier to reunite with family members back in China, and how this hope may be a little optimistic given current political realities.

Many in the Asian American community have raised objections to the overall tone of this particular article, arguing that it paints a rather biased and prejudicial picture of Chinese American (and by implication, Asian American) campaign donors. In particular, U.S. Representative Mike Honda (current Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus) notes:

I am appalled by the irresponsible and biased portrayal of the Asian American immigrant community, published by the L.A. Times today. The reporting unfairly attributes selected individual cases to an entire ethnic community in a major metropolitan area. Such an unfair, sweeping, and negative portrayal has a significant chilling effect on the civic participation by all Asian Americans, who merely want their fair chance to participate in the American political process. . . .

Drawing a connection between the emerging political involvement of Asian Americans and individual cases of possibly suspect donations sends a strong message that the political participation of minority communities is undesired. Minority communities in America have been shut out of the political process through poll taxes, literacy tests, and other tactics throughout our country’s history. As leaders, we should be encouraging, not chilling, the legitimate involvement of underrepresented communities in our democracy.

On those points, I wholeheartedly agree with Rep. Honda — too many times, Asian Americans are questioned on their identities and loyalties as “real” Americans. Whether it relates to accusations of spying for China or charges of improper donations to politicians, it is rather exasperating for many Asian Americans when they are automatically presumed to be “guilty by association” and have to prove themselves innocent from a cultural point of view.

In my Asian American Studies class that I’m teaching this semester, we are currently discussing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II as the tragic result of hysterical prejudices and mistaken presumptions of “national loyalty.” I hope most can see that these same fears are also present in this case. In fact, it does seem to me that the writers of the LA Times article did go out of their way to paint a picture of Chinatown campaign donors as “suspect” and “dishonest” — the very definition of Orientalism.

At the same time, as I wrote posted earlier about Norman Hsu, members of the Asian American community are not doing their group any favors if they disobey the laws and improperly donate money to candidates. Doing so causes infinitely more damage to our community than it benefits. Such improper contributions damage our collective credibility and only fan the racial biases against us.

If any of the contributions described in this article are in fact improper, I hope those responsible are held accountable and that the residents of this Chinatown community and elsewhere are taught what is legal and what is illegal when it comes to donating money to politicians.

At the same time, if there were any improper donations, I hope that everybody remembers that the actions of a few should not reflect upon an entire group of people. In the same way that I do not hold all Whites or all Republicans responsible for the corrupt and illegal activities of crooked political participants such as Scooter Libby, Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, Conrad Burns, Mark Foley, etc., so too should we keep in mind that a few donations from ineligible Asian Americans does not mean all donations from Asian Americans are suspect.

Even if some Chinatown residents were ineligible to donate, the fact that many willingly gave up a significant portion of their income shows that they are not afraid to put their money where their mouth is — to turn their convictions into action, rather than sit around, complain, and not do anything about the situation.

In the end, that’s one lesson that they can teach all Americans.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Chinatown Residents Donating to Hillary Clinton" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/10/chinatown-residents-donating-to-hillary-clinton/> ().

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