This month in California, there have been two notable incidents of Asian American trying to upset seats in Congress that have been held by Latinos for many years. Van Tran has just created a committee to run against Loretta Sanchez in 2010. Judy Chu will run against Gil Cedillo for a seat vacated by Rep. Hilda Solis, who resigned to become President Obama’s labor secretary.
In these districts, Latinos make up the majority of the population. Asians are the second largest population and whites are the minority. We see this new emergence of Chinese American and Vietnamese American candidates as an example of the growing Asian American voice.
However, what is notable is Rep. Joe Baca’s comment referring to Chu and Cedillo’s standoff: “It’s a Hispanic seat. We should not lose that seat.”
At first, we were a little put off by Baca’s comment. What exactly does he mean? Is he staking his territory and telling Asians that they are not welcomed and have no voice?
And then we realize that we are also guilty of the same thing, like when we gripe about how there are not enough Asians who are governors. There is no such thing as an Asian or Latino seat; every candidate has to earn voters’ trust and confidence.
Baca’s feelings are understandable. He is proud of the accomplishments of his race. It is hard for him to face the possibility of them losing ground and losing a seat after having fought so hard for it. From our Asian American perspective, the demographics of this standoff are more complicated than when Obama ran against McCain, which, to us, was like an epic battle of good versus evil. This standoff is more like when Obama ran against Hillary Clinton in the primaries.
A similar incident happened here in 1985. When Ruby Chow retired from the King County Council, her daughter, Cheryl Chow, and Bob Santos and Ron Sims all vied for the spot. Sims, who is Black, won the seat over Asian Americans Chow and Santos.
With Chu and Cedillo and Tran and Sanchez, there are no obvious villains or heroes. If these seats, which have been held by Latinos for decades, become filled by Asian Americans, then does that mean we — our race — progressed at the expense of another?
Perhaps. Maybe this is something that inevitably happens as both Asian and Latino communities grow and become more involved in politics, a necessary growing pain.
But let’s not forget what these candidates are doing — reaching across racial lines. For any candidate to win enough votes, Asians have to gain the trust of Latinos, and Latinos have to gain the trust of Asians. Though the cultures are different in many ways, all these candidates have humble immigrant beginnings in this country and share the common goal of making a difference for people who have been overlooked and disadvantaged historically. What is commendable is that each candidate has been reaching across racial and cultural lines — something that has been very difficult to do — with measurable success.
Maybe in these races, it won’t be about race but about who the best person for the job is. Whoever gets the seat, we hope that many Latinos and Asians will cry together, that other Latinos and Asians will celebrate together, and that all will help one another, learn from one another, and collaborate together. ♦