Emil Guillermo: Harvard and affirmative action, polling with Asians, and Jennifer Laude's murderer

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For Asian Americans, polls are a vast wasteland where we don’t exist. Mainstream exit polls that dare mention Asian Americans are unreliable. Which is why my favorite of all polls are the AALDEF exit polls (coming up in November), in language, on the spot talking to real people about what they just did behind the curtain.

That means a respondent’s answer is either penance or a lie, especially if they voted for Trump/Biden and don’t want to admit it. But you get a response right after the act.

Polls done before the election have different problems. People change their minds. And it’s just an early snapshot in time that could change. Still, look at any mainstream poll and again, few bother to show, find, or care about Asian Americans. That’s why it’s always worth looking at the Asian American Voter Survey. The 2020 Asian American Voter Survey (AAVS), with a margin of sampling error of plus/minus 2%, includes six major Asian ethnicities–not bad when most polls render us statistically absent. (For you stats geeks, the survey was taken in several Asian languages between July 2020 and September 2020, reaching 1,569 registered Asian American voters by phone and online, more than 600 of whom live in California. A three-month spread is a lot of time. Does it take in Trump’s taped confessions to Woodward? The rising COVID death toll approaching 200,000?

So the AAVS is an imperfect political mirror, but you can make yourself out without squinting if you want to know what Asians think. And f you want to know how Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese differ on issues well, you can do that too.

One big takeaway this election year is we’re all very motivated. Filipinos and Asian Indians are the most enthusiastic, with the same two groups at the top of the list saying they’re voting by mail and in person. Oddly, Chinese lead the “least enthusiastic” list. That could be because of language barriers or Trump’s China-bashing. Or maybe it’s just outreach. The survey indicates that only 44 percent of Asian Americans say they’ve been contacted by Democrats. 40 percent say the Republicans have come calling. That’s a huge number of registered voters who are just ignored.

That’s worse than being invisible. The politicos see us and just say, “pass.”

Janelle Wong of AAPI Data called it “a gap between our enthusiasm and the interest that Asian Americans have in voting.” What will close the gap and help them see us? Contributions comes to mind. It’s one reason Asian Indian interest the last few election cycles has shot up. No doubt VP candidate Kamala Harris will have an effect this year, but much of the survey was done before Biden named Harris as his running mate in August.

The AAVS did find Joe Biden leading Donald Trump, 54 percent to 30 percent, but there’s still some persuasion possible. The undecided vote is as high as 23 percent among Chinese Americans.

The Trumpiest Asian Americans are the Vietnamese, who beat out the Filipino Trumpsters 46 percent to 34 percent in their love of Trump. But asked if one had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Trump, even the Vietnamese waver a bit with 51 percent having some degree of “favorable” opinion, and 38 percent “unfavorable.” That’s a lot of duds in Trump’s firecracker pack.

The most abiding Biden supporters are the Asian Indians (65 percent), Japanese (61 percent), Korean (57 percent , Chinese (56 percent), and Filipino (52 percent).

I’ll do more about AAVS and also AALDEF’s multilingual exit poll in future columns, but the top issues in 2020 seem to be the economy, health care, and race discrimination. And while much has been made of coronavirus-related anti-Asian violence, there’s also concern about health, unemployment, and financial well-being.

The 2020 AAVS also found that Asian Americans are overwhelmingly affirmative action supporters, with 70 percent in favor, and only 16 percent opposed, with 14 percent “don’t know.” Keep that in mind when you consider the legal fight over race-conscious admissions at Harvard, in which Asian Americans are being used as white proxies.

Time for another round of “Can White Conservative Males Use Asian Americans to End Affirmative Action Policies at Harvard?” So far, the answer is no.

After a federal district court ruled last October that Harvard did not intentionally discriminate against Asian Americans, the plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions–a group led by a white conservative zealot Edward Blum–took the next step to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals this week. Oral arguments were heard Wednesday, but Blum has indicated the group is willing to fight all the way to the Supreme Court. He’s been there before fighting affirmative action and lost twice, but will Asian Americans be Blum’s lucky charm? It should be a ticket for Blum’s third strike.

Representing Blum and SFFA on appeal was William Consovoy, a personal lawyer for Donald Trump. Consovoy argued Harvard’s admissions process is subject to bias because it relies on a “personal rating” that Harvard uses to grade applicants on things like courage and integrity. The argument is that this could lead to stereotypical assumptions. Asian Americans generally have lower scores in this category and could be hurt by such a metric. But no applicants or witnesses were presented at trial in the lower court to make that point.

Here’s a shortcut to understanding how weak the SFFA’s case really is. Just look at the results of Harvard’s Asian American admits. The last three freshman classes have seen a steady rise. The latest class of 2024 is 24.5 percent Asian. Discrimination? Sounds like Harvard is letting in a lot of Asian Americans.

In my day, the typical Asian American student was from a rich elite family. (Benazir Bhutto was in my era.) Now it’s a middle class Asian American who is often on scholarship.

Harvard may not be perfect, but its use of race in admissions is just one factor in a complicated but legal process that Blum and his ilk seem committed to fighting in perpetuity.

Jennifer Laude, a/k/a Maganda (her nickname, which means “beautiful” in Tagalog) was the Filipina trans woman viciously killed by Marine Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton in the Philippines. It was a sensationalistic murder after a nightclub pickup and a different kind of gender reveal. Pemberton was convicted, but recently Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte surprisingly pardoned Pemberton, who served six years in an isolated cell, and not in a Filipino prison. After the initial outcry from Filipino LGBTQ activists, Pemberton was deported to the U.S. last week. Will the activism now continue in the U.S.? Pemberton could face a court-martial here. Shouldn’t he also face the public’s disdain? LGBTQ and human rights advocates have an opportunity to shine a light on all the relevant issues. The Philippines is clearly trying to curry favor with the U.S., as Duterte is still saddled with the multitude of human rights violations involving extra-judicial killings in the country’s war on drugs. But the thought of a convicted U.S. Marine pardoned for the vicious murder of a trans woman on top of that? Why does America’s first colony continue to bow to its one-time tormentor? Just thinking about the murder of Jennifer Laude should be enough to anger anyone into calling for Justice for Maganda.

Michael Caputo, a top Department of Health and Human Services communications person and former Trumper and paid CNN commentator, has gone off the deep end. He’s now on a two-month leave of absence, but why stop there? He should just resign. Last week, it was reported how he took to Facebook Live saying that the public health professionals at the CDC were defying the president and being “seditious.” (There’s a word whose root, “sedition,” is being tossed around willy-nilly by autocratic Trump fans like the Attorney General of the United States.) Caputo added that gun advocates should load up with ammo while it’s available because if Trump loses, the “shooting starts.” Caputo knows all too well this is how right-wing conspiratorial rumors begin on social media’s revolution by algorithm. Fortunately, real journalists reported on it before the lie machine that is Facebook went to work. Caught red-handed, Caputo apologized before taking leave, but that’s not enough. Perhaps he’s only able to keep his job because his boss, the aforementioned president, has done far worse. The Twitterer-in-chief should take note. This is what happens when you’re caught in a lie. You can be forced to leave.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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