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Words from the Wise: A Chinese American Shares His Interest in Politics

New America Media, News Feature, As told to Edwin Okong'o Posted: Nov 09, 2009

Editor's Note: In a banquet room filled with hundreds of people, Alfred Fong, 66, stands out. He is sitting alone at a table near the stage with a sandwich, a soda and bag of potato chips in front of him. Unlike most people in this Sacramento Convention Center hall, who are in formal attire, Fong is dressed in khaki pants, a black shirt with blue and white stripes, and tennis shoes. But what sets Fong even more apart is that he is Chinese American - one of only a handful of people of color at a convention discussing possible reforms of Californias constitution. He told his story to NAMs Edwin Okongo.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. I have always been interested in governance. I lived in Southern California for 20 years. When you live in Orange County, you tend to be involved in and exposed to a lot of political issues. It is primarily conservative Republican, at least back in the 60s it was. I lived there from 62 to 82, so I had quite an exposure to politics while there.

I never took the opportunity of getting involved in politics back then, when I worked at a bank in Santa Ana. I wish I did. I could have talked to the owner of the Santa Ana Register (todays Orange County Register). He was in his 80s. Its been so long I dont remember his name.

I kick myself in the butt for not taking advantage of introducing myself to Mr. Conservative. He was Mr. Conservative. He wrote the editorials.

Going through college at Cal State Fullerton, the students where young Republicans and young Democrats. I got exposure to that. I had an inquisitive mind. I was brought up not to be ideological. My parents came from China and always warned me, Dont get involved in groups youre too young to understand. People can manipulate you.

I know that now. Everything sounds great when you are a young person, politically or whatever. It takes time to mature and analyze and understand the viewpoints on every issue because no one (tells) the truth. Everyone lies. Distort might be the better word for it. They distort the facts and the information to suit their position.

I lived through the Vietnam War in the 60s and all the riots and student demonstrations on campus. In San Francisco, [Samuel Ichiye] Hayakawa, the president of San Francisco State, where the demonstrations were going on, he grabbed the microphone from students, and of course that appealed to American conservatives that he took a stand. There was a person of color, a Japanese American, grabbing a microphone from the radical Students for Democratic Society. Some groups considered them ultra-liberal communist, maybe socialist. If you were not red, white and blue waving the flag, then you were a socialist.

Americans are not very tolerant. I notice now that we are more partisan. I have worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years. I work in maintenance and I have been a letter carrier. I rub shoulders with a lot of the people they [convention panelists] are talking about average men and women. They feel that both parties are out of touch with them. Republicans have some positions that they (ordinary men and women) accept, like fiscal responsibility. But they dont want to hear dissention or disagreement.

Then, on the other hand, you have the liberals. Democrats go to the other extreme. They dont want to listen. They want everything their way. So the guy and the lady in the middle feel disenfranchised by both parties.

If you are a Republican, you are for corporate welfare. If you are a Democrat, youre for social welfare. In either case, guess who pays the bill? Us. Working folks, the middle class or whatever you want to call us. We are the ones who suffer from whatever policy they implement.

Most of my guys (at work) are anti-immigration. So I get very blunt. I ask them, Whos going to do the work? Because the white American, he wants a bigger income, regardless of his skill level. Take a perfect example: When my mother had a stroke, her regular doctor was a Chinese American. Her average physical exam every three months cost about $90. I wanted to get a different opinion on her conditions so I took her to a white American doctor. He did the same things. My mom doesnt speak English, so I was in every visit to the white doctors office. He did the same thing no more, no less and his charge was $135.

And I ask my co-workers, You justify to me, how does the white doctor think he deserves more than the Chinese-American doctor, who has the same education, got the same certification by the board of examiners in the state of California?

I hear it all the time from my letter carrier guys. They can go to a Hmong or a Cambodian repair shop. The charge to replace something minor like a radiator could be $200. You go to a white establishment, he charges $450. How do you explain that to me? The part (costs) the same amount; you buy it from the same warehouse. There are only so many providers of a radiator. Why is his labor cost so much higher than the minority labor cost?

I didnt know what she (Amy Bridges, UC San Diego political science and history professor) said in there about discrimination against the Chinese. The Chinese were cheap labor. Thats why to build the western part of the transcontinental railroad they brought in the Chinese. I dont know whether it is an inherently white American thing that they value their labor or their thoughts more than those of people of color. I dont know. It may be a cultural thing they have. They believe that its the white mans destiny, so its going to be difficult for them to relinquish power.

The people in power are primarily white, and they mingle among themselves, so its like a club. They are not readily open to other cultures or other people who are different. I have stereotypes and I have prejudice too, but what I say to you I try to be very objective.

Its going to be very, very difficult to get people of color involved (in politics). A lot of immigrants, of course, both Hispanic and Asians, I would think, dont tend to be political. Thats partly because of the governments they lived under, or were acquainted with, were repressive. Its going to be the children. And you can see that young Hispanics and Asians in places like San Francisco are more actively involved.

But historically in this country the front guard for political movements and human rights has always been African Americans. The Hispanics are probably about seven years behind, and Asians as a group are even further behind them. The fastest growing group of Asians is the Vietnamese. They have progressed. I guess they have learned from the Japanese immigrants and the Chinese. Japanese immigrants and their children were put into World War II internment camps and they learned how to organize better among themselves. But they really didnt pass that on to their sons and the third generation as well as they could have. The Chinese tend to be not as political. Thats my view. But I think the fourth generation is getting more involved.

Maybe Im fortunate. I seek information out. I get e-mails from the Institute of California Studies at Sacramento State University. I keep abreast with things that have to do with governance because that goes back to what were going to get.

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