Rafu Staff and Wire Service Reports
With mid-term, state, and local elections fast approaching, an ad hoc group of Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders is calling upon political candidates to avoid using APIs as scapegoats as part of their political discourse.
“We are still reeling from the racist remarks made by L.A. city officials revealed over the weekend,” U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said Friday during a press conference organized by Stop AAPI Hate. “We are disgusted by these remarks and join the unified call for all those involved to resign in order for accountability and healing to begin.”
Seventeen Asian American civic and community leaders signed a letter on Friday asking those running for office to “not add fuel to an already politically charged environment and to recognize that what Los Angeles needs are leaders who can unite our city.”
In a leaked recording from October 2021 released on Sunday, three members of the City Council and a top county labor official were involved in a discussion that included racial slurs and strategizing of redrawing district boundaries to be more favorable toward themselves. Nury Martinez, the former council president, and Ron Herrera, who was president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, have both already resigned following the release of the recording. But councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo have so far resisted growing calls for their resignation.
Chu urged all candidates running for office in Los Angeles, and the independent committees and others supporting them, to “pledge to not engage in communications and advertisements that divide our city’s communities and inflame scapegoating and harm.”
Little Tokyo community leader Mike Murase, who was among those signing onto the group’s statement, added, “It’s really more important for all of us, for the city as a whole, for politicians, and people at the grassroots level in the communities to unite and to work towards better mutual understanding … particularly as we have gone through a period of heightened anti-Asian hate and violence.
“I think it’s important for a group of AAPI leaders to come together and say, ‘This is not acceptable among politicians and those who are candidates for public office.’”
“We know what can happen when Asian Americans are used as political pawns because we’ve seen it,” Chu said, recalling the 1982 racially motivated killing of Vincent Chin in Detroit.
Chu, speaking later to City News Service, said that hearing some of Los Angeles’ most powerful leaders utter racist slurs in the leaked tape made her more concerned about an increase in anti-Asian rhetoric and incidents.
“These top elected officials were able to use such racist words so freely,” Chu said. “What does this say about permission that regular people have to use ugly, racist terminology that really hurts and blames others, and to spread stereotypes that are not true?”
Chu, a former Monterey Park mayor and state legislator, was the first Chinese American elected to Congress and chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“It really hurts in terms of how we go forward in this election,” Chu said to CNS of the fallout from the tape.
In the tape, the officials discussed how they could redistrict Koreatown, an ethnically diverse neighborhood that is half Latino and over a third Asian. Martinez described Oaxacan immigrants in Koreatown as “short dark people.” She added “tan feos,” Spanish for “They’re ugly.”
“I don’t know where these people are from,” Martinez said. “I don’t know what village they came (from), how they got here.”
A report released this week by Stop AAPI Hate found that perpetrators of hate incidents against Asians often repeat the rhetoric they hear from political candidates and elected officials who single out China as responsible for the pandemic, economic issues, or natural security concerns. After former President Donald Trump blamed China for the pandemic by referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” or “kung-flu,” more than 2,000 incidents used similar language, according to the group’s research.
John Kim, executive director of Catalyst California, told CNS that hearing the racial slurs on the tape felt like a “gut punch.”
“L.A. should not be a place for division, but a place for innovation and fusion, a place striving for new ways of being and new ways of being together,” Kim said. “And when these so-called leaders decide to use these notions of L.A. as their political punching bags, that not only in my mind broke the law, they broke the oath as public servants.”
Kim said that Los Angeles has a “long and troubled history of pivoting communities against each other in order to score political points.”
The Chinese massacre of 1871 was an often-forgotten mass killing in which at least 18 Chinese men were murdered in a racially motivated attack in the old Chinatown neighborhood. In 1992, Korean-owned businesses were targeted during riots following the verdict in the beating of Rodney King.
“Too often, it has been the AAPI community that’s been that racial buffer, or that racial scapegoat to inflame and agitate the masses and to get more votes,” Kim said.
We are civic and community leaders representing the diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander communities of Los Angeles.
We are disgusted by the hateful statements against Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ communities by several city leaders and join the unified call for ALL those involved to resign in order for accountability and healing to begin.
We also call on all candidates running for office in Los Angeles, and the independent committees and others supporting them, to pledge to avoid engaging in communications a nd advertisements that divide our city’s communities and inflame scapegoating and harm.
Stop AAPI Hate’s new report, “The Blame Game: How Political rhetoric Inflames Anti-Asian Scapegoating,” irrefutably demonstrates once again that there is a direct connection between AAPI hate incidents and inflammatory political rhetoric.Our communiites do not want to be used as a scapegoat or political wedge and deserve leaders who engage in meaningful debate and uplift the needs, strengths, and contributions of AAPI communities and other communities of color.
We are calling on those running for office to not add fuel to an already politically charged environment and to recognize that what Los Angeles needs are leaders who can unite our city. The way candidates and their supporters run their campaigns through Nov. 8 will reveal who is ready to lead.
Grace Barrios, Pilipino American L.A. Democrats
Jung Hee Choi, PowerCA Action
Connie Chung Joe, civil rights attorney
Tony Hoang, Equality California
Steven Kang, Korean American Democratic Committee
John Kim, Catalyst California
Manju Kulkarni, AAPI Equality Alliance
Steward Kwoh, civil rights attorney
Andrew Murphy, Asian Democrats L.A. County
Wayne Ng, Chinese American Citizens Alliance-L.A.
Olivia Lee, L.A. County Democratic Party
Mike Murase, Nikkei Progressives
Angela Oh, attorney/mediator
Erin Pak, Kheir Clinic
Susana Reyes, Sierra Club
Alexandra Suh, KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance)
Kent Wong, APALA (Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance)
Organizations listed for identification purposes only.