|Diversity defines Silicon Valley, except at town halls|
Posted: 04/16/2011 11:20:42 PM PDT
Silicon Valley may have the most dynamic, multiracial society on earth, but you wouldn't know it at city hall. With the 2010 census in, minorities now outnumber whites almost 2-to-1 in Santa Clara County. Yet non-Hispanic whites hold the vast majority of local city council seats, as well as every city manager's office in Santa Clara County's 15 towns and cities.
"I cried when I saw those numbers," said Ed Sanchez, a veteran community and voting-rights activist in Gilroy.
A look at who holds the most powerful positions in municipal governments shows that the political representation of Asians and Latinos -- the largest minority groups in the county -- lags far behind their surging populations. Countywide, three out of four city council members are white.
"It's a little bit shocking to me," said James Lai, an associate professor of Asian studies and political science at Santa Clara University. "It's a fair, rational request -- should the pool of elected officials reflect the population?"
Especially since minorities together had eclipsed the number of whites in the county a decade ago and in some cities before that. The question of political equality is long-running. San Jose, for example, switched from citywide to district elections in 1981 in part to give minorities a better chance at council seats.
Thirty years later, minorities hold half the city's 10 seats, but the level of racial diversity has dipped lower in every other town hall but one. Cupertino's City Council, with three Asian-American members, comes closest to reflecting the population it serves.
A number of forces and reasons, from entrenched incumbents and at-large elections to the diminished power of voting-rights organizations and low voter turnout for some minority groups, have emerged to keep local governments from reflecting the real face of the valley. At the same time, enough minorities have won election to foster some degree of optimism in new political strategies.
Countywide, non-Hispanic whites make up 35 percent of the population in the county's 15 cities but hold 76 percent of city council seats. All but three mayors are white. Every city manager, the top administrator appointed by a town's council, is white.
The picture of diversity doesn't improve much in the seven cities where Asians, Latinos, blacks and other people of color outnumber whites: Minorities on average hold only a third of city council seats.
Moreover, five municipalities -- Santa Clara, Los Altos, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos and Los Altos Hills -- have no minorities on their councils.
Terry Christensen, a political scientist at San Jose State, said there is a natural lag time of a generation or so before immigrant communities show some power at the polls. But lag time doesn't explain the dearth of Mexican-American officeholders with deeper roots here.
"By 2010, the numbers should be higher," he said.
The census results threw some towns into new demographic and political territory as minority-majority towns, or close to it.
For the first time, whites became a minority group -- 36 percent -- in Santa Clara, a city of 116,500 blessed with some of the world's largest high-tech companies. While its long-established Latino population grew steadily to 19 percent, the Asian population skyrocketed to 37 percent. Yet the town's all-white power structure remains.
Asking why sparks furious arguments here, with many
fingers pointing at incumbents for manipulating an at-large voting system to stay in power. As opposed to district voting, where candidates run to represent their neighborhoods, at-large systems force them to run citywide. Around the country, at-large voting has come under attack for allowing voting blocs to keep power long after their populations have plummeted.
Some at-large systems are tougher for nonwhite candidates than others. In cities such as Campbell, all the candidates run in a pool, and the top vote-getters fill the number of council seats that are open. But in Santa Clara, candidates must run for specific seats -- a system that diffuses the influence of newcomers. The successful candidates in Santa Clara often are members of political families with a network of connections: council members Lisa Gillmor and Patricia Mahan are the offspring of former city councilmen, and city clerk Rod Diridon Jr. is the son of a longtime county supervisor.
"Santa Clara is the place with the most entrenched old-boy and old-girl network," Christensen said.
Nine years ago, Mike Rod- riguez seemed to have everything going for him when he ran for Santa Clara City Council. The Latino candidate had grown up in town, gone to college and paid his dues on the city's Planning Commission. But when the incumbents didn't back him, Rodriguez said it was game over.
"Even though I never had a chance after that," he recalled, "I still felt I was the best-qualified candidate."
Mayor Jamie Matthews rejected any notion of racial politics.
"We don't select people here by race or ethnicity," Matthews said.
He pointed instead to weak Latino political activism in town, and he said he expects a more energized Indo-American community to produce a winning candidate soon.
One interested outsider has the proven ability to turn Santa Clara politics inside out.
Voting-rights attorney Joaquin Avila, who once lived in Fremont, won a prestigious "genius award" from the MacArthur Foundation for forcing cities with "racially polarized" at-large elections to adopt district voting. He has been watching Santa Clara from his perch at Seattle University.
"Santa Clara is vulnerable" to a voting rights lawsuit, he said.
Avila's observation raises a question: Where have the Latino and Asian political watchdogs been?
One of them, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, closed its Bay Area office several years ago.
Alberto Carrillo, a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Latino politicos became complacent after winning the battle in San Jose for district elections.
"We need to take responsibility ourselves, too," Carrillo said.
Meanwhile, the Asian Law Alliance in San Jose concentrated on redrawing the lines for state and congressional offices.
At the same time, the county's Asian population was becoming more diverse, with many newcomers arriving from India and parts of Southeast Asia. SCU's Lai says Asians increasingly arrive and settle in new "21st-century gateway cities," where they tend to fan out as opposed to clustering in enclaves as they once did. That also makes it more difficult to build Asian political power.
Consequently, Asian and Latino officeholders in some gateway cities don't see district voting as the answer. They see what state Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, calls "pipeline development."
One believer is Otto Lee, a Chinese-American and the only minority on the Sunnyvale City Council. The at-large system in Sunnyvale has been more open in practice than Santa Clara's. He and another Asian were elected in 2003, three short years after Sunnyvale became a minority-majority city. Lee said he believes district elections might get one Latino elected, but he'd rather recruit and groom minority candidates on local boards and commissions -- a pipeline to the City Council -- where they can learn how to appeal to all voters, not just minorities. That would deliver racial parity at City Hall sooner, Lee said.
In another seismic result from the 2010 census, Milpitas joined Cupertino as the only cities in the county with clear Asian majorities. Both have become more than 60 percent Asian, but with very different town hall complexions.
According to Lai, Cupertino's first Asian council members succeeded in feeding a pipeline to the council, which now has an Asian majority. However, Milpitas' elected minorities failed to groom successors. Today, non-Hispanic whites make up only 15 percent of Milpitas residents but have a majority on the council.
Meanwhile, in South County, Gilroy became the only town with a Latino majority -- 58 percent. However, only two Latinos sit on the mostly white seven-member council. Next door in Morgan Hill, the Latino population grew to 34 percent, but there are no Latinos on the council. The city does have a black council member.
Ed Sanchez, the semiretired founder of the Gilroy Citizenship Educational Program, said Gilroy Latinos should look for a model nearby in Salinas, a Monterey County town that elected a majority of Latinos to its City Council in 2004 after adopting district elections.
But Sanchez says the Latino community also has to help itself, by persuading Mexican immigrants to become citizens and getting more Latinos to the polls. For a host of reasons, many of them socioeconomic, Latinos tend to turn out on election day in smaller percentages than whites, and white-controlled town halls won't fix that on their own, Sanchez said.
"It has to come from the Latino leadership. It has to come from the heart."
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767.
|The Mocked Minority|
The Mocked Minority
March 22, 2011
When a University of California at Los Angeles student, in a video she posted online, used a mock foreign language to imitate Asian students talking loudly in the library, she probably didn’t think twice about it. But for many, that moment -- along with others in the video -- was yet another illustration of students’ willingness to openly criticize their Asian peers.
And while UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block acted swiftly by issuing a statement and video saying the young woman’s speech “has no place at UCLA,” the reality is that it’s commonplace.
The reputation of Asian Americans as a “model minority” has long plagued students of that ethnicity. They have said that professors hold them to higher standards. Affirmative action debates often touch on the fear that without the policy, students of Asian descent would replace other minority populations on campuses. And satirical articles in student newspapers have mocked studious Asians in very public fashion. (The student newspaper at the University of Colorado at Boulder suspended its opinion section and pledged to undergo sensitivity and diversity training three years ago, after it published an anti-Asian satire.)
"Incidents of bigotry and racism against Asians are too often overlooked and dismissed," Robert T. Teranishi, author of Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education, wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed. "I would like to see the university provide the space and resources for the campus community to come together to talk about and find solutions for this incident, rather than having this conflict just play out in the media."
Students and others who take issue with the video have posted hundreds of comments on Facebook, Twitter and news articles. The video's creator, a white student named Alexandra Wallace, last week issued a statement to the UCLA student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, apologizing for the "inappropriate" video. "I cannot explain what possessed me to approach the subject as I did, and if I could undo it, I would," she said.
One commenter on the Bruin website wrote, "As a recent alumnus, this story really is embarrassing.... I do not wish to see Ms. Wallace's academic future end prematurely, but UCLA must protect its reputation by setting an example." Block is also getting an earful on his Facebook page. One student wrote, "I'm applying to colleges next year and I was a little nervous to apply to UCLA. But knowing that you guys accepted the brilliant mind that is Alexandra Wallace, I'm not that nervous anymore!" A Japanese student trying to transfer to UCLA echoed the comments of many other Asian students, though: "The video did make me mad when I first saw it," she wrote. "But let's grow up here. She is just very ignorant and everybody makes mistakes."
UCLA said last week that Wallace would not be disciplined because her actions did not violate the student code of conduct, but the next day she announced in a letter to the newspaper that she would withdraw from the university, saying she had received death threats and her family had been harassed, as well. "In an attempt to produce a humorous YouTube video, I have offended the UCLA community and the entire Asian culture," Wallace wrote, adding that her "mistake" has led to her being "ostracized from an entire community."
Experts acknowledge that many students feel more comfortable mocking their Asian peers because they are billed as overachievers, and their success in college may make it seem like they haven’t faced the historical oppression that black students have. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Asians and Pacific Islanders tied with Hispanics for the fastest rates of growth in undergraduate fall enrollment from 1976-2008. And in 2008, about 52 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33 percent of white adults.
Those outcomes are relatively well-known. But for those same experts, this video illustrated the other, less talked-about stereotypes that cling to Asian students – and make their white classmates comfortable documenting insults of an entire ethnic group, for the whole world to see.
For Joe R. Feagin, a sociology professor at Texas A&M University and co-author of The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism, Wallace made a blatant statement that Asian students are separate from -- and less important than -- white students. “A key part of the stereotyping of Asians and Asian Americans is their foreignness,” Feagin said. “She makes the point that not only are Asians and Asian-Americans stereotyped and evaluated from the old, white vs. others -- you know, racial framing -- but they also face this dimension of not being American. That is, foreign vs. American.”
Warren J. Blumenfeld, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Iowa State University and faculty director of Iowa State's Dialogues on Diversity program, said this xenophobia stems from daily public discourse surrounding the same issues. "What I saw in the video itself was a frustration that I've been seeing within the society in general," Blumenfeld said. "There's a lot, really, that's going on in that two-minute video that is deeply troubling, but unfortunately reflects what we're being taught by the larger culture, to call into question anything that seems to be different -- quote unquote, foreign."
As examples, Blumenfeld pointed to immigration debates in the Southwest, where Hispanics -- many of whom are legal American citizens -- are often painted as criminals. These questions come up in the top echelons of politics, too: the presidential contender Mike Huckabee was criticized this month when he mistakenly proclaimed that President Obama's world views had been shaped by his childhood in Kenya. (Obama first visited Kenya when he was in his twenties.)
And predictions that China already is or is becoming the dominant world economic powerhouse are scaring many people -- including young men and women preparing to enter the job market -- into believing Americans from abroad are forcing them out of college or a career. "In higher education, I see this -- the targeting of Asian students as being basically a privileged group, a group that is taking over the university system. So I don't think it was a coincidence that she was specifically targeting Asian students and no other specific group," Blumenfeld said. He described a recent interaction with a student on the bus who said Iowa State is accepting too many Asian students, that they're everywhere on campus (despite the fact that Iowa State's student body is 80 percent white). "I see these kinds of, not just frustrations but reactions, against international students all the time," he said.
In the video, Wallace says, "Ohhhhh, ching chong ling long ting tong, ohhhhh," when imitating students on cell phones in the library, and repeatedly uses terms like “hordes” that are often affiliated with immigrant movement. She tells students to “use American manners,” and tells them, “Hi. In America, we do not talk on our cell phones in the library.”
These kinds of messages not only reinforce stereotypes that are ingrained in people from a young age through media and social interactions, but they also deeply affect the Asian students who are targeted, said Rosalind S. Chou, co-author of Myth of the Model Minority and a Duke University postdoctoral fellow in the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences. Chou works with Asian students at Duke and has spoken to them and others many times about these issues. “They suffer from this,” she said. “While we can be looking at this young lady as an individual actor, we really need to ask about the larger structure and how racism and racist notions are embedded. Because she’s not alone in her thinking.”
Media portrayals of Asians as “people to be laughed at” (think "American Idol" hopeful William Hung) contribute to the other major misconception exhibited by Wallace’s decision to record and post her video: the idea that Asians are docile and passive, and that people can treat the population as inferior with no repercussions.
“Many Asians [face] this open racist taunting that goes on without the fear that they are dangerous minorities, or violent, where that’s associated with other racial groups,” Chou said. She noted the recent case of a student who was verbally harassed in the library, as well as an article in the student newspaper that made fun of Asian students, saying they were the only ones who didn’t hear about a campus scandal because they were all in the library. “A newspaper at Duke would never run something like that about African Americans, for fear that there’s an active history of resistance.” (Teranishi, associate professor of higher education at New York University, said the video "reinforces the need for colleges and universities to address issues of race and diversity beyond the dominant black/white paradigm.")
When students approach Chou for advice on how to respond to such taunts, she tells them all they can do is try to defy the stereotypes. That might involve something as simple as calling out the assailant as a racist.
UCLA can do its part too, Blumenfeld said. Wallace did not see Asian students as human beings, he said. "She saw them as the other, as even less than human," he said. "She saw herself as dominant." By hosting diversity awareness lectures and events, requiring students to take multicultural courses, and having precise and visible anti-discrimination policies that are enforced on campus, students and administrators can gain from this incident rather than dwell on it, Blumenfeld said. "When we see people as fully dimensional human beings, it's harder to put them in that box," he said. "In that way, we will learn from them, they will learn from us."
|Gay White Men Dating Asian Women|
There is a saying it the gay community that an Asian women is the last stop before coming out of the closet. To summarize, it's when a gay white man dates an Asian woman just to pretend he is not gay. The Asian woman knows this but is complacent and goes along with it.
This is a blog entry by an Asian female that describes this:
Asian women and gay men. What would you have done?
Last week after playing darts with coworkers, some of my group started hankering for Karaoke. We decided to go to Lucky Cheng's, which is dubbed "The Drag Queen Capital of the World." I had never been there before, but had heard good things about it. We walk in, and they haven't started Karaoke yet, and as we're waiting in the lobby area, one of the "ladyboy" hostesses looks at my coworker J and says, "You look familiar--don't I know you from somewhere?" which embarrasses him because this is the second time he's been out with coworkers where he's been mistaken as being gay. Then "she" looks at me and says, "Is this your boyfriend?" and we both say NO but she continues and says, "Because you know what they say about men who date Asian women..." and I sigh and nod and say, "Yes, I know what they say, but I find it insulting."