The Super Bowl is over and done this year with some faded memories of the exciting finish or some amusing ads. However, one ad aired in Michigan that ignited a firestorm of protest. It was a political ad for Pete Hoekstra’s campaign for US Senate. In it an Asian woman spoke broken English and rode through a rice paddy thanking his opponent, Debbie Stabenow, for economic policies that helped the Chinese and took away American jobs.
Why is this political ad in a far off state from Oregon a concern? Well, time and again this type of racial stereotyping and scapegoating leads to racism, then progresses to hate crimes and discriminatory public policy and laws.
Thirty years ago a 27-year old Chinese American, Vincent Chin, was celebrating his upcoming marriage when he encountered into two unemployed autoworkers. Words were exchanged as the workers blamed the Japanese and Vincent for the downturn in the American auto industry and subsequent job losses. Vincent was beaten with a baseball bat and died five days before his wedding. The two killers received probation and were fined $3,000.
Seventy years ago Executive Order 9066 was signed authorizing the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and sent to incarceration camps in desert wastelands. Homes, businesses, farms, and possessions were lost.
One hundred and thirty years ago the Chinese Exclusion Act barred immigration based solely on race and any Chinese resident already in the US was barred from ever becoming naturalized citizens. They were required to carry residency documents at all times or risk deportation.
The Hoekstra campaign ad pointing to the Chinese for the loss of American jobs plays right into the anti- Asian fear mongering that starts the whole sad cycle. After many groups, including the JACL protested, the ad was taken down and his opponent now holds a 17-point lead in the race for the Senate seat. There is no place in our elected offices for this type of political messaging. As was so well said during this year’s Day of Remembrance, we must be ever vigilant and knowledgeable of our civil rights and stand up and speak up when those rights are threatened even when those injuries occur half a continent away.