By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I have met three Democratic presidential hopefuls, from the highest in the polls to the ones not so high…Aren’t I lucky!?
In 2009, I met former Vice President Joe Biden at the White House for former Governor Gary Locke’s swearing-in ceremony as President Obama’s Commerce Secretary. It was quite an encounter. No, he didn’t touch me inappropriately like 11 women claimed. Biden recently announced his presidential run.
On May 3, Andrew Yang, the only Asian American among the 20-plus Democratic presidential candidates, visited Seattle for a rally and fundraising dinner. I was among a small group to meet with him at the Bellevue Hyatt Regency Hotel prior to his events. It was a historic day for Seattle’s Asian community.
Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee, has also announced his presidential intent. I remembered fondly how he and his gubernatorial opponent, Rob McKenna, each held a Dragon Head to lead the Dragon parade into the Seattle Sheraton Hotel ballroom for the Asian Weekly’s 25th anniversary. What a scene! When he campaigned in the International District, his people asked if he could start his tour from our office. When I agreed, I didn’t realize his campaign manager would issue a press release stating that he would kick-off his ID visit from the Seattle Chinese Post office, implying that we were allies. To be fair, I agreed to let McKenna include a campaign stop on Election Day at our office, so he could be interviewed by different television stations.
Inslee has a long history of supporting the Asian community — appointing Asian Americans in his administration, including judges at the county level and for the Washington State Supreme Court. In 1998, Inslee hired an Asian American woman, Joby Shimomura, in her 20s, to run his congressional campaign, which was unconventional in those days, due to her youth and race. And she was also his chief of staff in his early days as governor.
Some Washingtonians criticized his decision to run for president, increasing security and other expenses. Let’s not forget this is a free country. He is at liberty to run for any office he wants. Definitely, his campaign has raised our state’s profile.
Meeting Biden at the White House
I intended to be at Locke’s swearing-in as Commerce Secretary as a member of the media, not as a guest. I was the only member of the media from Washington state covering the event, thanks to Mona and Gary Locke.
Obama introduced Locke, and then left, leaving Biden to entertain everyone. There were about 60 guests from Locke’s side, and a large group of fans also attending former DSHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ swear-in ceremony. There were more than 100 people waiting to meet with Biden. He greeted everyone, with a firm handshake, posed for photos, engaged in small talk, signed autographs, and patted babies and kids. Believe me, everybody had a camera, which made the whole greeting twice as long. He walked towards Sebelius’ group and afterwards, Locke’s. I turned out to be the last person in the receiving line because I was too busy
taking everyone else’s photo. Right before he shook my hand, someone interrupted us and whispered in his ear. He turned to me and said, “I’ll be right back.”
Believe it or not, when it came to my turn, he could have rushed through it, and I would have been content. And if he didn’t come back, I would have understood. I was a nobody from the other Washington. I waited, not knowing how much longer I should wait.
Here is the difference between Biden and other politicians. More than five minutes later, he came back with a smile. We posed for pictures.
“Mr. Vice President, I heard you wrote a book,” I said while handing him my business card.
“Yes,” he beamed warmly.
“I want to read it. How can I get the book?” I asked. In those days, if a book was out of print, you couldn’t get it easily. He took my business card, and he wrote a note on the back of my card to remind himself.
He said if he didn’t do so, he would forget.
Did I expect him to remember — to follow through? Negative.
Eighteen days later, a big package arrived. Wrapped in big plastic bubble bags, Biden’s paperback, “Promises To Keep,” was mailed to the Asian Weekly office.
The title tells a lot about the man. You could imagine the look on my face when I opened the package — with awe and astonishment.
Inside the cover page, he wrote:
With very best wishes
The book represented him: loud, sincere, personable, and crystal clear in his beliefs and politics. He was real then and now, too, whenever I watch him on television.
Yang seized the moment
I first saw Yang’s face on the national news. What, a Chinese face among more than 10 Democratic presidential candidates? Did I see it correctly? It was just a two-second shot.
Soon, many from our community learned that there’s an Asian running for the highest office in the land, and yet no one remembered his name or knew who he was. At the small, private meeting before his public appearances, Yang, an entrepreneur for high-tech startups, showed his wit and charm — it worked like magic.
He walked into a small conference room at the Hyatt, and everyone (mostly Chinese Americans) was amazed as he sat in front of a long conference table.
“I am proud to represent the Asian community and my background heritage,” Yang said. “Asian parents don’t encourage their children to run for office. My parents certainly didn’t tell me to run for office,” he said. Asian children are supposed to achieve economically, by becoming doctors and lawyers.
However, Asian Americans are seen as “lower” and a “non-entity” in this country for five reasons, he explained. First, voter turnout is low among Asian Americans. Second, Asian voters don’t give as much money to political causes. Third, Asian candidates only run for lower office. Fourth, the Asian population is not big enough to make a difference in swing states such as New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Fifth, the Asian community is divided politically.
Yet, Yang said he is not running on his “identity,” but economic ideas.
Upon greeting Bellevue City Councilmember Janice Zahn, Yang said it’s easier for him to run for higher office as he campaigns and then leaves town. But it’s tougher for Zahn to run for local office because you have to face the people and “they know where you live.”
In less than a half an hour of dialogue between Yang and his attendees, Zahn said she would endorse Yang’s presidency. Soon, Redmond City Councilmember Steve Fields followed suit. Yang quickly seized the moment and reciprocated — endorsing both Zahn and Fields. Zahn is running for re-election. Fields is running for Mayor.
Zahn said she gave her endorsement because she has been studying Yang’s website.
“I read his platform. He talks about evidence before putting ideas and policies together. He has many ideas in different areas. He’s pragmatic, proactive, a visionary, encouraging tough conversations to look at underlying issues so a country can solve problems… He looks at technology… in shaping the country’s future.”
Attended by over 460 people at China Harbor, the Chinese community raised over $40,000 for Yang’s campaign. Yang recognized that his campaign has energized the Asian community as a whole. And that’s exactly what Yang has accomplished on May 3, despite the fact that there were Republicans in the audience. Several disagreed with his basic income of $1,000 to citizens between 18 to 64. Still, they came. The organizers didn’t want to address the question of his chances of winning. Many reminded the Asian Weekly that President Bill Clinton and President Obama were dismissed early on in their campaigns, that they had zero chance. Then, Clinton and Obama defied all odds and rewrote history, despite the fact they were unknown and their opponents had strong brand and name recognition.
One guest said at the Hyatt meeting, “The outcome is not important.
What is important is his courage to run. What Yang is doing is iconic.”
Wait until the Asian community watches Yang on the national stage during the presidential debates on June 26 or 27 — it will inspire more Asian Americans to run for office or get involved in politics. It will also change Americans’ narrative about Asian Americans and break stereotypes.
Yes, we Asian Americans can lead. That accomplished mission will be good enough for me.
So why talk about endorsements or who we should vote for now! It’s still too early to make a decision for 2020. Stay tuned.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.