When an Asian American politician accuses an opponent of racism, that’s usually worth a mention.
But it’s worth a double take when the accusation is made by one Asian American against another.
Asian vs. Asian racism? That’s the issue in California, and it’s a situation the entire AAPI community should be aware of.
It’s likely to happen more.
And when it does happen, we have to determine if the charge of racism actually is racism.
Or if it’s a strategic cry of “victimhood” in a desperate effort to smear an opponent.
Unfortunately, that’s what appears to be happening in the close race for California’s 45th Congressional district in the heart of traditionally conservative Orange County.
Michelle Eunjoo Steel (nee Park) is a Korean American immigrant, attended college here, became a Republican and a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. In 2021, she became one of the first Korean American women elected to serve in Congress.
After her first term, Steel is facing tough opposition from Jay Chen, president of the Board of Trustees for Mt. San Antonio Community College and a veteran (Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserves). Chen is also a small business owner and the son of Taiwanese immigrants.
On the surface, two capable sounding pols. How do you split them apart? With the issues, of course.
This month. Chen pointed out that Steel voted against a bill that recently passed in the House. The bill limited the cost of insulin to $35 a month, an important issue to Americans who pay 10 times more for insulin compared to patients in other countries. The cost is so expensive that when Americans need insulin and can’t afford it, they resort to dangerous “self-rationing.” It’s the reason the House bill passed with bipartisan support. Steel? She sided with the big insurance and drug companies and voted against the insulin bill.
That should tell you something about Steel.
Here’s more. She’s a loyal doctrinaire Republican. Last year, Steel supported the recall effort of California Gov. Gavin Newsom and backed right-wing idealogue Larry Elder.
Figures. In March 2018, Steel was the only elected official to greet President Donald Trump when he came to California on his first visit as president. Steel stood by Trump throughout the former president’s tenure. Steel was an immigrant for a border wall. More importantly, she voted against impeaching Donald Trump. And she has been seen at her own rallies supported by conspiracy theorists and white supremacists, including alleged members of the” Boogaloo Boys.”
Given those kinds of supporters, it’s strange to hear Steel play victim and cry racism about some remarks Chen made at one of his campaign events.
So what did Chen do or say?
From the sound of it, Chen was trying to explain to his supporters Steel’s stand on the issues.
“She just had another town hall the other day. And it’s tough. Like, we’ve transcribed it,” Chen said to a gathering at the Congregation B’nai Tzedek synagogue in Fountain Valley, California earlier this month. “You kind of need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she’s saying. The more she speaks, the better for us.”
There is some laughter on the video, a suggestion that this was a modest attempt at humor. But it didn’t sound like a racist attack. Not coming from the son of Asian immigrants. There was no mocking sound like you’d hear from some white morning DJ or third-rate comedian.
I’ve seen the tape and Chen doesn’t appear to be mocking Steele’s accent at all. Chen was attacking Steel’s political logic. He was trying to understand Steel’s stand on issues that doesn’t make sense–like voting against a bipartisan bill to curb the high price of insulin for regular folks who depend on the drug.
Why does Steel vote in the House the way she does? What are her real political views? That’s what’s at issue. Steel is so beholden to the duplicitous party politics of Trump Republicans she’s unable to express what she really stands for.
Of course, that’s standard for California Republicans these days, who say one thing in private and do another thing in public.
One of Steel’s big supporters is Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who was caught in one of those flat-out political lies last week. McCarthy is on audio tape saying to Republican leaders after Jan. 6 that Trump should resign.
But then what are we to make of his statements that he never said any such thing?
It only proves that McCarthy is a liar, a bad one. And if the leader of California’s Republicans is a role model, then I guess that makes lying an acceptable political strategy.
Sort of like insisting Steel is the victim of racism when she’s not.
If, indeed, Steel believes in her own tweets, e.g., “we can do better, and we must,” then instead of crying racism, why doesn’t Steel simply tell her constituents what she’s about? Talk about what she’d do for them, and not parrot the loyal Trumper’s GOP party line.
She won’t do that because it’s easier to cry racism and play the part of victim.
If your Orange County friends call you to say there’s Asian on Asian racism, now you’ll know what’s really going on.
This is a Republican ploy to split up a tight political race between Asian Americans. The only way to do that is to charge racism. That Steel would rather campaign on her “victimhood” rather than on the issues shows her true desperation.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on my “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” the AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.