Whose Asian peril?

Asian Americans should be as concerned about the Asian money connection as Dole and Gingrich are.

By Ling-chi Wang

Published October 24, 1996 7:52PM (EDT)

while Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich have made political hay over allegedly foreign funny money going into Bill Clinton's campaign coffers, Asian American activists have cried foul. They charge that John Huang, the controversial fund raiser for both Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, has been unfairly singled out by a racist media and a xenophobic Republican party. They say Huang should be defended as a symbol of the growing financial clout of Asian Americans and their efforts to empower themselves.
As a veteran Asian American activist, I am not so sure.
John Huang has raised big bucks from his former employer, the Indonesian-Chinese billionaire Mochtar Riady ($450,000); from Cheong Am America Inc., a South Korean company ($250,000); and from Hacienda Heights Buddhist Temple, which represents both Taiwan Buddhist as well as business interests ($140,000).
From my vantage, not only has Huang's work in no way benefited Asian Americans; it has contributed to a new moneyed politics that rips off Asian American communities.

Of course, anti-Asian racist sentiments have fueled the feeding frenzy over the Huang contributions. In their haste to condemn, the critics ignore the fact that such fund raising machinations have long been common to both Republican and Democratic parties. The contributions raised by Huang are peanuts compared to the funds amassed by his counterparts working for other foreign firms — let alone for western allies like Canada, Mexico and Israel. Neither would there be this kind of scapegoating if Asian Americans had the political juice to defend themselves. Imagine what Jewish Americans would do if similar questions were asked about one of the major Jewish fund raisers lobbying for U.S. aid to Israel!
This evident anti-Asian racism should not, however, excuse us Asian Americans from taking a careful look at fund raising drives in our own communities. We need to draw a sharp line between those who have a genuine concern for empowering Asian America in contrast to those who just want to buy influence. Unfortunately, it is the latter Johnny-come-latelys whose influence seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.
These opportunists look to milk genuine Asian American community organizations for their own political and business mileage. John Huang himself has never, to my knowledge, identified himself with any Asian American community cause, from immigration to welfare. He is more interested in buying influence for his clients, both domestic and foreign. The only thing that distinguishes him from other influence peddlers in Washington is his race, his indiscretion or arrogance, and his perceived political vulnerability.
The losers in all of this are the idealists in our communities. The original vision of an Asian American movement — activating ordinary Asian Americans to identify and promote their immediate interests — has been pushed aside in favor of moneyed politics in which opportunists buy instant recognition and influence with cold, hard cash. And since politicians are always hungry for cash, they go along with these opportunists, pretending they are responding to grassroots concerns.
John Huang may well be a victim of racism. But given his involvement in the corrupt system of moneyed politics, I feel no obligation as an Asian American to defend him. Rather, I want to defend my community from being ripped off by a system of moneyed politics promoted by, for and through the likes of Riady and John Huang.

© Pacific News Service

Quote of the day

Dole on message

"Obviously I'd be proud to be in the home of the Bobcats. Bobcat. Keep that in
mind. We've never had a Bob in the White House. Don't you think it's time? Yeah.
Right. We do have a cat in the White House. Socks. But we don't have a Bob in the
White House."

— Bob Dole, at Grand Blanc (Mich.) High School, where the mascot is a bobcat. (From "On the Campaign Trail: Sound Bite," in Thursday's New York Times)

Ling-chi Wang

Ling-chi Wang teaches Asian American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

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