Below, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan attended the White House State dinner for Red China President Hu Jintao.
So the local Chinese et al are thrilled, right? Not exactly. They partied hearty at Leeâ€™s inauguration, but recent analysis from Asian pundits was more carping than celebration, at least in Sundayâ€™s San Francisco Chronicle. The paper often showcases differing views on a topic, but in this case two Asian writers groused in unison that the ascension of two Asian mayors was too little, too late because of xenophobia and racism.
Helen Zia concentrated on complaints from more than a century ago:
Stateâ€™s racism delayed Asian Americansâ€™ victories, SF Chronicle, January 30, 2011Fellow diverse scribbler Jon Funabiki (a journalism professor!) was similarly downbeat.
Itâ€™s not only about time, itâ€™s way past time to have Asian American mayors in San Francisco and Oakland, considering how long these cities have boasted substantial Asian American populations. What took Asian Americans so long to get this far?
The answer lies in the darker side of Californiaâ€™s history. On the streets of San Francisco, Oakland and throughout California, vigilante lynch mobs stoked a xenophobic movement in the late 1800s with the stated goal of driving every â€?Asiaticâ€? out of America. Federal laws turned all Asians into â€?persons ineligible for citizenship.â€? The disenfranchisement was so comprehensive that Asian Americans who were naturalized had their citizenships revoked; white American women who married Asian men were stripped of their citizenships; U.S.-born citizens of Asian descent were assumed to be illegal if they left the country and were subject to detention, interrogation and deportation upon returning. Immigration from Asia was limited to a trickle.
Such racist laws were slowly peeled back in the mid-1900s, but the damage was done: For generations, there were no voters leagues, no candidates forums, no election pipelines or other signs of electoral involvement among people forbidden to become citizens. Since those not-so-distant days, itâ€™s been a marathon to catch up, and itâ€™s no accident that both Ed Lee and Jean Quan have been part of the long effort to empower these communities.
Asian Americans might be singing â€?At Last!â€? but these mayoralties are only the beginning of what these dynamic peoples can bring to our democracy.
Mayorsâ€™ victories havenâ€™t broken the glass ceiling, SF Chronicle, January 30, 2011Thereâ€™s nothing like success to send professional race hucksters into a tizzy: they are terrified that the public will no longer accept their race- and victimhood-obsessed view of reality. A post-racial society is the last thing they want.
Thereâ€™s much to celebrate about Ed Lee and Jean Quan, the Bay Areaâ€™s new power couple, the first Asian Americans to become the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland. Theyâ€™ve cracked through a political glass ceiling that has bedeviled Asian American communities for decades. In the Year of the Rabbit, this is big news.
Itâ€™s not just because they are Chinese. Lee earned his street cred three decades ago at the Asian Law Caucus, defending poor immigrants. The street-smart Quan learned the power of grassroots organizing through her community work and campaigns for the Oakland school board and City Council.
Yet I fear this might not be enough to completely shatter the glass ceiling. Why? Because that would require the unequivocal support of people outside the Asian American communities â€“ the voters, power brokers, corporate titans and social elites who have yet to embrace the need to share power at all levels. They will view Lee as a â€?caretaker mayorâ€? and beneficiary of a backroom deal. They will view Quan as a winner by a technicality, courtesy of the ranked-choice voting system.
Full acceptance for Asian Americans and other groups will require continuing social and political reform.
Yes, great strides have been made, but itâ€™s taken an astonishingly long time. San Francisco and Oakland were incorporated during the Gold Rush, when the first Chinese journeyed here in search of the American dream, only to face persecution and lynchings. To close the last mile, we will need to see more Lees and Quans capturing these top posts with outright election victories, broadly won, unmarred by ifs, ands or buts.
So we read emotional grievances that the tribe in question is still being kept down, which is quite a trick considering Asiansâ€™ successes, e.g. the highest household income in the US and the highest level of education (49% have at least a BA degree).
If thereâ€™s a dearth of Asian mayors, then itâ€™s probably because acquiring political office isnâ€™t considered impressive enough by Tiger Moms who would rather have a doctor in the family.