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Asian American Voices for Affirmative Action

by Paul Rockwell
Oakland, California

In a flip remark last June, University of California (UC) Regents Ward Connerly said: "I would be quite comfortable with only white and Asian students at UC, I have no problem with that."

It was Henry Der, Chair of Chinese for Affirmative Action who took Connerly and Pete Wilson to task. In his eloquent address to the UC Regents, August 20th, Der said: "If Asian American students were to attend certain UC campuses that are exclusively Asian and white, such segregated education would not prepare Asian American students to assume leadership positions in a multiracial California society. As a parent, I do not want any of my three children to experience or choose a segregated college education."

Pete Wilson's attempt to foment hostility between Asian American and African American communities has already backfired. Asian American support for affirmative action is growing. Throughout California's communities of color there is an awakened sense that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Filipinos for Affirmative Action, the Asian Law Caucus, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance; Kimi Lee, Executive Director of the University of California Student Association; and Eddie Wong, Western Region Rainbow Coalition Director, are playing an active role in defending affirmative action for America.

The term "Asian" includes persons of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Pakistani, Thai and other Asian ancestry.

"Asian Americans are a heterogeneous group," writes Viet Nguyen, graduate student at UC Berkeley (Beyond the Barriers). Ethnic backgrounds differ. Income levels differ. Immigration histories are different. "Two people as different as a millionaire Hong Kong businessman and a Vietnamese war orphan are lumped together under the Asian American rubric." The complexity of Asian American experience makes strong Asian American support for affirmative action all the more remarkable.

And uplifting.

Here are just a few samples of Asian American voices for affirmative action.

Norman Mineta, U.S. Congress member (D-San Jose)

"Asian Pacific Americans will lose out if affirmative action programs are abolished. Our community will pay a price that will far outweigh any increase in Asian Pacific enrollment in the University of California system. Asian Pacific American students admitted to the University may find that the number of Asian Pacific American professors at their school won't be getting any larger.

They will find that when they enter the workforce they may run into the same glass ceiling their parents and grandparents are running into today. This time, however, the best weapon to fight that glass ceiling - affirmative action - will no longer be available."

Rodel Rodis, attorney, columnist Philippine News

"In 1992, Filipinos were dropped from the affirmative action "protected minority" lists at UC Berkeley and UCLA. Nevertheless, the Filipino American community must join the African American and Latino American communities in strongly protesting the Regents' decision. (See "Angry White Guys" for Affirmative Action - by Paul Rockwell)

In the 30 years that affirmative action programs have been in place in the University of California system, thousands of Filipino students were able to enter and graduate from the UC system who might otherwise never have the "UC alumnus" on the their resumes. A prime example is San Francisco Municipal Court Judge Ronald Quidachay, the only Filipino judge in the S.F. Bay Area.

In 1972, Judge Quidachay entered the UC College of Law at Boalt Hall in Berkeley under the University's affirmative action program. Without the Legal Equal Opportunity Program, he would not have been accepted and the Filipino community would have been deprived of having the first Filipino serve as a S.F. District Judge.

We must continue to defend affirmative action. We owe it to our future generations."

Henry Der, Chinese for Affirmative Action

"The opponents of affirmative action have argued that UC's affirmative action programs hurt Asian and white applicants. As an Asian American parent whose first-born child will be a UC freshman student this coming Fall. I want to address whether Asian applicants have been unduly harmed by UC's affirmative action opportunities for Black and Hispanic students.

According to the University's own data, for the Fall of 1994 semester, Asian and white applicants enjoyed the highest rates of admission as first-time freshman students, 85% of white applicants were admitted to UC; 84% of all Asian applicants were admitted. For Black and Hispanic applicants the admission rate was 76% and 82% respectively. Asian and white applicants have a slightly better chance of getting admitted into UC than either Blacks or His- panics. So where is the perceived harm against Asians?

Because UC admits every eligible Asian American applicant, in Fall 1994, more than 40,000 Asian Americans were enrolled as UC undergraduate students, constituting more than 35% of all UC undergraduate students. This 35% Asian American representation is more than double the rate of Asian American students graduating from California high schools. Again, where is the perceived harm against Asians?

The resolution to end affirmative action in university admissions has the potential to breed unbridled selfishness and shortsightedness among Asian Americans and other Californians.

Therefore, I call on my fellow Asian Americans and other Californians to resist such temptations and understand that our future is not only dependent on our own work, but on how California society treats and provides equal opportunities for citizens of all racial and ethnic backgrounds."

Mabel Teng, San Francisco Board of Supervisors

"I am proud to have authored legislation unanimously adopted by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors opposing Governor Wilson's executive order eliminating affirmative action. It is the diversity of all our communities which invigorates our social vitality and provides the foundation for truly democratic governance. San Francisco cannot provide for the legitimate needs of the many different people who make up its single community without leaders who reflect the diversity of its neighborhoods. Doctors must be able to communicate with their patients. Public health workers must understand the cultural beliefs of their clients. The City's need for a diverse pool of qualified community leaders continues to grow."

Edwin M. Lee, Director, San Francisco Human Rights Coalition

"Affirmative action in public contracting has actually brought competition to an otherwise close system. The public is benefiting from affirmative action. Now contracts are being advertised, where previously they were secret. As a result of affirmative action, the public is getting lower bids, and tax payers are saving money." (As reported by William Wong, Oakland Tribune).

Concerned Asian Pacific Students for Action

"The attack on affirmative action represents a continuation of the conservative agenda to keep immigrants and people of color disenfranchised. Despite all the type about Asian Pacific Islander (API) success. API wage-earners continue to earn significantly less than whites with similar levels of education. Major opponents of affirmative action also angrily oppose programs like Asian American Studies.

Asian Pacific Islanders must support affirmative action alongside other people of color and claim our place as full-fledged citizens in American society. Our history demonstrates that APIs have never succeeded simply because of individual merit, but through the collective struggle to break down the barriers of racism and discrimination."

Summary of Cross Cultural Friendship

An injury to one is an injury to all - that is the recurrent theme in Asian American testimony on affirmative action. There is growing resentment against Pete Wilson's attempts to turn hard-won gains of Asian Americans into a wedge against Latinos and African Americans.

Raymond Lin, Berkeley graduate with a Masters degree in Asian studies, recently criticized the model minority caricature It "encourages antagonism between Asian Americans and other people of color by singling Asian Americans out as being so much better than other groups. When it suits the conservatives' desire to downplay the negative effects of racism in society, they're happy to heap praise on Asian Americans. But in other instances, they'd just as soon shut Asian Americans out of their old boy networks, country clubs, and personal lives as they would any other minority group."

To be sure, Asian American support for affirmative action is hardly uniform or universal. After all, there is a Clarence Thomas, or Ward Connerly in every community of color. But Asian American support for affirmative action is gaining momentum. The passionate testimony of Henry Der, Mabel Teng, Rodel Rodis, and others extends beyond narrow ethnic interest. It manifests a higher patriotism, a vision of a society that is truly democratic and representative, that includes Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and whites together. And it is this multi-cultural vision that promotes friendship between communities of color.

Paul Robeson, once wrote in Here I Stand: "Whenever we, the Negro people, claim our lawful rights with all the earnestness, dignity and determination that we can demonstrate, the moral support of the American people will become an active force on our side."

Pete Wilson, Robert Dole, David Duke and the Aryan Nation may all rue the day they revived the battle over affirmative action.

Paul Rockwell, formerly assistant professor of philosophy at Midwestern University, is a writer and children's librarian in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Published in In Motion Magazine 1997.