One hundred twenty seven years ago, angry mobs led by the Mayor, ran the Chinese out of Tacoma. On Sept. 21, over a thousand Asian Pacific Islanders returned to demonstrate their political might at the 2012 APA Summit.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who is of Korean and African American descent, welcomed the group to her city. Tacoma has built the Chinese Reconciliation Park on the waterfront as a reminder of Tacoma’s dark past and to honor the early Chinese pioneers who paved the way for the rest of us.
Statewide, the Chinese and other Asian Pacific Americans (APA) are here to stay, adding to the rich fabric of a multicultural state. The overall APA population in Washington is now 640,251, over 30,000 more than the city of Seattle.
“We have the right to the American Dream. We have a duty to exercise our voice. Register to vote. Make sure our voices are heard,” said Strickland.
The Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) which organized the event had arranged appearances by U.S. Senator from Washington State Patty Murray, former Minnesota Senator Mee Moua and a candidate forum featuring Washington gubernatorial candidates Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna.
Murray had boarded an early morning flight to make the five hour flight home to participate in the summit.
“I’m proud of the energy and enthusiasm all of you have brought to Tacoma from every corner of the state. I’m not surprised. Since 1997, the APA community has been making its point heard on critical issues in Olympia. Since 2004, you have brought together exceptional leaders, activists and engaged citizens at this summit to build a powerful and engaging movement for justice and equality for all people in our state,” Murray said.
Diane Narasaki, APIC member and executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) spoke next.
“We are the fastest growing racial group. We can be powerful when we come together. Our voices and votes are powerful and can help determine who the next Governor and President will be. Use them to strengthen our democracy,” she said.
Mee Moua provided the key note address. She is President of the Asian American Justice Center in Washington D.C. and the first Hmong American to hold public office in the U.S. when she was elected to the Minnesota State Senate after a grassroots campaign in 2002. A documentary video “Time is Right for Mee” was produced during her run for office.
Moua said she was humbled to address the audience before her and that meeting the needs of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities is a daunting challenge.
“We are here because we know how important it is for us to be visible and effect change. We know how critical it is for us to stand united,” Moua said.
While she acknowledged that some in the APA community have found success, others struggle and endure severe poverty.
“These challenges remain untouched by political and policy solutions,” Moua added.
According to the 2010 Census, there are 17,320,856 Asian Americans in the U.S. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders number 5,220,579.
“Our population is growing quickly and had the highest percent increase among all racial categories in America. During the last ten years the Asian Pacific American population increased by almost 5.5 million. This is a 46 percent growth since 2000. Our numbers demand that we be part of the conversation. Being an Asian American elected official taught me how much being at the table matters,” Moua said.
Moua’s forceful delivery left an impression on the audience. “Let us commit to be the faces of the invisible people in this country and represent the history, sacrifice and struggles they have endured. Especially the vulnerable, dis-empowered, disenfranchised, discounted and dismissed. Our people.”
Seating at the Tacoma Dome Convention Center was arranged according to ethnicity and language. Banners displayed in the style of a political convention, identified the language groupings so attendees could listen to translations of the speeches.
Rim Ansoon sat with a Korean group from ACRS. “I now realize we have to get together with the Asian coalition people to hear our voices,” she said.
“l learned some things. The Senator (Murray) came down to give us some kind of information. I’m very proud,” said Byung Dang.
April Eng was impressed with Moua’s inspirational words. “She is a very articulate person with a great commitment to justice and equality for all the Asian groups here.”
“I’m stunned by her youth and boldness. It’s really an amazing story to see and hear someone like that,” said Tracy Lai, a history instructor at Seattle Central Community College.
After lunch, the Washington State gubernatorial debate began.
Inslee thanked the APA community for helping elect him to Congress. He cited the endorsements of all four Asian American Washington State Legislators: Sharon Tomiko Santos, Bob Hasegawa, Paull Shin and Steve Hobbs, then mentioned a long list of groups which are supporting him, including OneAmerica and the Filipino American Political Action Group of Washington (FAPAGOW).
McKenna said as Attorney General he has done special outreach to the Asian American community and cited bilingual consumer protection materials his office has produced. He said he is proud of the Asian American coalition that has formed around his campaign.
APIC had prepared seven questions for the two candidates. Candidates had two minutes to answer, then waited patiently as interpreters went to work explaining in each language.
The first question was about their support of the 2010 Health Care Reform Bill passed by Congress. The APA community has a high rate of uninsured people in the U.S. “Do you support this law and extension of Medicare to over 300,000 low-income people in Washington?”
McKenna said that as Governor, he would implement portions of the law that have been held up in court. “We have to make sure consumers and small businesses have more choice to access insurance at lower cost.”
Inslee said he believed strongly that APAs who need health insurance should get it and he will make that happen. “This will happen when I am elected Governor. We need to reduce the cost of health insurance so small businesses can afford to buy insurance for their employees.”
The next question was regarding the large number of low income and refugee students quitting high school. Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders have the highest dropout rate.
“One of five (students) not graduating from high school is not acceptable. This must be one of the highest priorities that everyone graduates from high school,” said Inslee.
Inslee said the state needs dropout prevention coaches and culturally relevant teachers to better relate to students.
McKenna used this question to criticize Democrats. He attributed the high dropout rate to years of “one group” running Olympia, meaning the state government.
McKenna said state cuts to education have been going on for a couple of decades. He wants to limit growth on non-education spending and put kids first.
“We rank in the bottom five states in the amount we spend on education,” said McKenna. He attributed the low ranking to President Barack Obama and Democrats running Washington State.
Question three had to do with the state expecting a one billion dollar deficit the next two years and how that impacts education, health and human services.
McKenna will work to eliminate the shortfall by making changes to how state government is run. “We will save money in administration and overhead to focus on human services and education.”
Inslee has ideas for job creation and closing corporate tax loop holes to restore funds for the education system. “The financial debt we are putting on our children is unacceptable. We have to get people back to work to restore the economy to get revenues to put into schools and I have a plan to do that, to get people back to work,” said Inslee.
What is the state’s role in immigration reform?
“We need immigration reform so hard working people in the state are engaged in the economy,” said Inslee.
McKenna said we need comprehensive immigration reform and blamed President Obama. He said the President promised it and never passed it.
What state immigration polices do you support and should we keep current policies to issue drivers’ licenses to immigrants without legal papers?
McKenna supports requiring legal evidence of residency to obtain drivers licenses. “We will work as a state to pressure Congress on immigration reform. The biggest problem in our state is not allowing enough legal immigration to come into the state to work in jobs that demand their skills.”
Inslee does not see changing the present policy on drivers’ licenses and will continue to make sure applicants live here. He said the state has made improvements to prevent fraud.
Inslee then criticized his opponent’s attacks on Democrats and the President. He said he has heard McKenna for quite some time, blaming all the “ills of western civilization” on the Democratic Party.
“We have not passed comprehensive immigration reform not because of Barack Obama’s failure, but because it has been blocked time after time by the Republican Party,” Inslee said.
“Republicans cut $74 million from the education budget when they took control of the state senate. That is something I am against,” Inslee emphasized.
Washington State required home care workers to be certified but only offers certification testing in English, Russian, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese. There are many other Asian and Pacific Islander language speakers who cannot take the test in their languages and will fail to be certified. APIC said this situation is creating a crisis in the homecare industry for limited and non-English speakers, both for homecare workers and the frail elders they serve. What would the candidates do to add other Asian and Pacific Islander languages in what APIC describes as a crisis situation?
“We are a very diverse state and if we are to serve a diverse population, we have to have a way for these folks to communicate. We have diversity in the state and we must have diversity in home care to the community,” said Inslee.
McKenna mentioned his own experience of hiring home care workers for his mother. “I’m a huge fan of home care workers,” he said.
It’s important that individuals not be denied home care because of a technicality in the rules and home care workers in those languages not covered should be allowed to work until their language testing is available said McKenna.
In question seven, APIC stated that people of color make up twenty five percent of the state. Do the candidates support the Washington Voters Rights Act and voting by district?
McKenna said the proposed law does not create election by district, it creates the right to file lawsuit to create those districts. “It’s better to provide district representation without litigation. That should not be the first recourse. I will continue working with authors on that law.”
“There is strength in diversity in voting and democracy. I fully support the act so we can move forward. You represent the strength of America which is speaking up in our democracy,” said Inslee, wrapping up the debate.
Earlier in the day, Lai was moved when she looked around the room filled with people from Spokane, Yakima, Vancouver, Olympia, Arlington, Monroe, Renton, Federal Way, Burien, Kent, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Shoreline, Bellevue and Seattle who speak 25 different languages and dialects.
“I’m amazed at all the people, the staff, the volunteers it takes to pull something like this off. It’s a proud feeling to be sitting here to see this coming together. I hope the elected officials attending or speaking take it to heart because we matter. We matter a lot,” said Lai.
Photo Caption: Mee Mou speaks at the Sept. 21 summit. Photo credit: Dean Wong