Asian-American groups weigh in on state redistricting process

Asian-American groups are pleased with Illinois Senate approval of a constitutional amendment to change a redistricting process that has split the community’s political power. But they haven’t stopped their advocacy yet.

Group representatives had testified Monday in Springfield  before the State Senate Redistricting Committee, which  passed the proposed measure Monday, and the full Senate approved the amendment Wednesday.

CW Chan, chairman of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community who testified before the committee, said he endorsed the measure, championed by State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), because it included language protecting the interests of minority communities.

The amendment, if approved by state referendum, would “provide racial and language minorities who constitute less than a voting-age majority of a district with an opportunity to control or substantially influence the outcome of an election.”

Chan said the expanding Chinese-American community that now includes 59 contiguous precincts on the city’s Near South Side has been particularly hard hit by past redistricting.  While community organizing efforts increased the number of registered voters from 2,000 to 6,000 in the past 10 years, Chan said, the political power of these voters has been diluted by redistricting.

“We’re scattered all over the place,” Chan said, “We would like all of these voters to be included in the same district.”

Rebecca Shi, a community organizer with the Chinese American Service League, said the Chinese-American community in the Chinatown, Bridgeport and McKinley Park neighborhoods is split between four city wards, four state representative districts, three state senate districts and three U.S. congressional districts.  As a result, Shi said, elected officials can’t be held accountable.

“Any problem that we face, we have to go to multiple legislators,” Chan said. He cited an overcrowded public library, a shortage of recreational facilities and long waiting lists for subsidized housing as community concerns that had been neglected by elected officials.

Ami Gandhi, legal director of the Asian American Institute, also testified about  her concerns with the current redistricting process and its impact on Chicago’s Asian-American community.  The process, Gandhi said, “lends itself to politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their representatives.”

While the institute is still evaluating the ramifications of the Senate measure, Gandhi said, “It is definitely a step in the right direction for minority voting rights.”

Gandhi said the institute is advocating for redistricting reforms that would include greater protection for minority communities that make up less than 50 percent of an area to elect the candidate of their choice.  The institute would also like to see more  hearings about proposed maps to allow more community input on the redistricting process, Gandhi said.  Removing a requirement that two state house districts be nested in a senate district would give map drawers greater flexibility to reflect the needs of communities, she said.

Gandhi said the institute was working with non-Asian-American communities to ensure that redistricting changes that would benefit Asian-Americans  would not harm other communities.  Still, she said, Asian-American communities may have different needs than other groups who share political districts, citing the need for multilingual and culturally relevant social services as an example.

Chan said a meeting with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was planned for Saturday to encourage House passage. Chan said his goal was to help the legislature know about his community’s situation: “Recognizing the problem is the first step to rectifying it.”

Read the text of the state redistricting amendment

Originally published April 15, 2010 as “Asian-American groups weigh in on state redistricting process” at Medill Reports.

Asian Americans Reluctant to Stand Up for Immigration Issues

From Asian Americans Reluctant to Stand Up for Immigration Issues:

NEW YORK – The Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston recently released a study showing that many Asian Americans pay close attention to immigration issues but few of them are willing to stand up and do advocacy work. According to The World Journal, a survey of 412 Asian Americans by Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute and associate professor of political science at the university, and his colleagues found that about 80 percent of them were “very concerned” or “concerned” about immigration. The study shows that 58 percent of Asians are sympathetic to undocumented immigrants and 52 percent of them are supportive of the idea of legalizing undocumented immigrants. About 33 percent of the Asian Americans surveyed said they would become involved in collecting signatures on petitions for immigration issues, but only nine percent said they were willing to do anything further, such as participating in public protests.

Even the most informed of us, I think, gets a certin picture in their head when they hear the phrase “immigrant” and “illegal immigrant”.  I remember being surprised when I learned that the first law to limit a specific group’s immigration to the U.S. was directed to Chinese Americans.  I wonder if there’s any data about Asian American political engagement in general and whether the behavior in this study is any different from the general case.

I can only think of my dad yelling at the radio, but being pretty resigned to the way things were in the world, even if he acknowledged that they were unjust.  I was excited that my mom told me that my dad had volunteered during the Obama campaign, making calls to potential voters.  Things are always more complicated when it comes down to it.


I’m in Oakland for the CR10 conference.  We flew in a day early and it was nice to have some time to chill before being at the conference and to get to think about the content of the dialog that Decarcerate Monroe County is participating in at the conference.  I went running this morning around Lake Merrit and it was really awesome.  I’ve realized recently that excercise really helps me feel more mentally sharp and less scatterbrained.  I love neighborhoods that have heavily trafficed public spaces and there were tons of people hanging out around the lake.  There just seemed to be all different kinds of people walking around and being active and enjoying the autum weather.  This was  a really different experience from when I went running on Defiance, Ohio tour in South Philly.  There, I felt so out of place, and I realized that, in many ways, even an activity that seems as accesible as running can be pretty classed.  I’ve ran, on and off, ever since I started running around my neighborhood in Boiling Springs to get ready for soccer season.  It feels startling to realize that something that you feel like you have a very intimate relationship with is really mediated by the places and cultures that you come from.  I guess this is a no-brainer, but it feels pretty profound when it feels like something that feels natural to you sets you apart from other people, or identifies you as an outsider.

Oakland has hella Asian people.  Being multiracial and growing up in a place where there were definitely not hella Asian people (or non-white people in general, for that matter), I know my exsperience is really different than a lot of the Asian people who live here, but somehow it’s still comforting.  At the supermarket, I paged through a book about Oakland’s Chinatown, and I thought about how many of the photos reminded me of photos of my grandparents.  It made me wonder what my dad’s life would have been like if he had grown up in a place less isolated from other Chinese Americans.

In the Bay Area, I think Chinese Americans have a huge and indelible role in the region’s history.   I tried to think about how Asians are perceived in Bloomington and didn’t come up with much.  I think they are largely assimilated into White culture or perceived as foreign students, having an akward and temporary relationship with the town.  One perception that came to mind out of nowhere though, was of an Asian family that owns a lot of property around town.  I don’t know how I get this feeling, and it’s hard to trace it to specific comments, but I just feel like there’s this expectation that, because the landlord isn’t white, he should be more down than white landlords.  Stingy, profiteering, condescending, or indifferent treatment that people seem to expect from your archetypical white “evil land owner” seems to be taken as a little bit worse from the Asian landlord.  This made me think about how whiteness is stereotyped and is, in many ways, is defined by a set of paradigms for success in our culture.  People of color seem to face additional barriers to this kind of success and also face additional criticism for aspiring to it or taking part in it.

Sports, Race, and Imagination

I came across this article in the New York Times, A Country Feels a Hurdler’s Pain, and was at first surprised that there would be such a reaction to one runner being unable to compete.  It made more sense when I read further in the article and read this quote by the runner, China’s Liu Xiang:

“It is kind of a miracle,” Liu said. “It is unbelievable — a Chinese, an Asian, has won this event. It is a proud moment not only for China but for Asia and all people who share the same yellow skin color.”

“Please pay attention to Chinese track and field,” he said. “I think we Chinese can unleash a yellow tornado on the world.”

and the accompanying commentary:

Please note these are not the ravings of a Western journalist. These are the words of Liu — reasonable enough, since he had just become the first Chinese male ever to win a gold medal in Olympic track and field.

This was not some foolish boast of racial superiority, just an assertion of standing tall against the world. Liu was suggesting that a Chinese man could reach the level of Rafael Nadal of tennis or Kobe Bryant of basketball or Ronaldinho of football or Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, who sprang from other continents.

I can see why the prospect of a Champion Chinese sprinter would be a big deal.  I loved sports as a kid, but of all of the heroes of Ohio Sports at the time Bernie Kosar, Mark Price, and countless baseball players whose names now escape me – none of them were Asian, looked like me, or my father, or my paternal relatives.  I think it’s hard with institutions, like pro sports, that seem so important, to feel like you don’t really have a place in this world.  This is connected to ideas of masculinity too and a global event like the Olympics and the things that people invest in it make me think about the possibility of a  globalized masculine ideal.  To be sure there are many talented, respected, championed Asian athletes.  However, none come to mind that rise to the top in the contests that seem to define a certain ideal of manhood – absolute strength and speed.

For a long time I’ve wanted to interview my friends who are Asian about their experience, because it’s something that doesn’t seem to have much space to be discussed otherwise.  I’ve only gotten to interview one friend so far, and the thing that surprised me the most when he spoke about his experience of being Asian in a small Indiana town was that what defined his sense of difference was size.  He was just smaller than most of his other male peers.  In retrospect, this was important to me too.  One way of being a boy, one centered around strength and power and physical presence just felt closed to me.  This is probably for the best, and I should feel glad that I managed to find things that gave me attention, that garnered respect, that made me feel like an expert, chances to lead or make decisions, all the subconscious expectations that are important to many people, but that I have always felt were tied to maleness.  I can still remember that sinking feeling though, of surveying the territory and hearing the hum of voices insisting, “this is not for you.”

Race in America III

I finally found this article that I read in the Indiana Daily Student last week about a talk that I didn’t get to attend by  Cathy Bao Bean, a Chinese American author.  I found the quoted comments pretty frustrating.

From the article Author encourages people to ‘lighten up’ about multi-culturalism:

Bean said it was difficult for her to choose which culture she wanted to be part of because it was impossible for her to be part of both.

“You don’t have to choose; learn to be pleased with yourself,” Bean said.

Overall, Bean told audience members to embrace as many cultures as they can and have some fun while doing it.

She advised all the students in the crowd to try to study overseas and said it is “a little like not getting a joke when everyone else does.”

Bean said although it is difficult, multi-racial people should not try to limit themselves to just one culture.

“When you have to choose, try to choose the one that will keep the least doors closed,” Bean said.

I hate the idea that issues of race and culture are weighty because of the attitudes of people possessing or considering those identities and that it is their sole responsibility to manage that weight.  Maybe it would be easier to “lighten up” if everyone considered race in our culture and the nuances, subtleties, prejudices, and privileges that go along with it.  I think these comments overlook the fact that someone’s racial identity is often not chosen by that person, but by their community, friends, coworkers, family, the government.  Most importantly I think the idea that trying “to choose the one that will keep the least doors closed” glibly overlooks the fact that many people of color or multiracial people have made this very choice, but that this choice has been painful, confusing, and as a result things have been lost both for individuals and for the culture at large.

Still, it’s scary because I think that replacing difficult and complicated issues with ‘the lighter side’ has such resonance with many people.  I think about this as I remember the punk show last night which was just kind of wild and Dionysian and at breakfast this morning when Chiara told me she felt like Silvio Berlusconi had replaced his most recent campaign to become prime minister of Italy with a series of crude jokes.  I don’t want to leave the things that are troubling behind me, I want to have a feeling that they’re not being considered alone.

Media check for the week of November 25, 2007

Last night, I watched a movie called Saving Face. It was your traditional rom-com in the sense that it had both an interrupted wedding and an airport scene. However, the characters were Chinese-American and the primary love stories were between two young women and an older woman and a younger man.


I heard a story on NPR this morning that talked about Dunkin’ Donuts’ rebranding campaign, but I thought there was a nice statement about the cache of products being working class and upper class people aspiring to “lower class” identities.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ advertising campaign “America Runs on Dunkin” is created out of a sentiment among customers that they wanted to buy a good, simple product. Brand guru Leslie Bielby says the campaign expands the retailer’s appeal.