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A Letter to Pete Hoekstra: Remember Vincent Chin

Posted: Feb 13, 2012

Editor’s Note: U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, ran a controversial ad during the Super Bowl featuring an Asian woman speaking broken-English, that has been widely criticized by civil rights groups and other political leaders for being racist. According to the Detroit Free Press, a coalition of metro Detroit groups is calling for political candidates to refrain from using racial and ethnic stereotypes in campaign ads. Commentator Tomo Hirai, a writer for the Nichi Bei Weekly, writes Hoekstra’s ad evokes a dangerous time in history, when anti-Japanese rhetoric spurred the murder of Vincent Chin in Michigan.

Dear Mr. Pete Hoekstra,

You appealed to the general public on Super Bowl Sunday to vote for you, rather than that spendy Democrat incumbent of yours. That ad, which you say is not racist and not at all demeaning to Asians — and is actually just rhetoric against the taxing excess shown by Debbie Stabenow — is making me consider not voting for you in any upcoming election you are participating in, ever. Though, I’m already barred from voting for you by residing in California, anyway.

You see, this isn’t about what I think of you as a candidate. This isn’t about my thoughts on your fiscally conservative bid for the Senate. This is what I think about you as a human being. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to engender any opposition that would be beneficial to your political rivals; this is about you.

You see I didn’t even realize that the woman in the campaign ad was supposed to be Chinese until I saw the debbiespenditnow.com Website, which does everything it can to appear stereotypically Chinese. Until then, she simply looked like she was biking through Southeast Asia. She is vaguely all of Asia, I suppose, and in effect, you not only have angered the Chinese Americans, but most Asian Americans in general (plus any allies that may care enough to voice their concern). You present Asians as greedy backwater hicks; while you may say that this isn’t about Chinese Americans or Asian Americans, it’s not that long ago that your state — Michigan — had issues regarding racial tensions.

Do you know about Vincent Chin? You might not remember him, but we certainly do. He was brutally beaten to death in 1982 by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz for being Japanese. You see, this was at the height of Japan-bashing, when Americans were angered by the Japanese auto industry beating out Detroit.

The icing on the cake — Chin wasn’t even Japanese; he was Chinese American.

I guess you can’t tell one Asian from another, seeing as your ad portrayed a woman who looked like she was biking through Vietnam. To inform you though, many Asians can speak English well enough, and those taking the jobs overseas are those who chose to buy from cheaper markets than buy American. Just saying.

Just so you know, this is a rant from a Japanese American. Is it getting too complicated for you? It’s OK. I just suggest you apologize to all Asians in general, American or not, all of them. Just say, “I’m sorry, Asia.”

Of course, if you can’t understand what I said, maybe I can take it down to your level: I want Hoekstra apologize. He think I can’t speak English right, that China is rice paddy land resembling Vietnam (they both Communist anyway). Think it OK to use stereotype so voters in Michigan love him long time behind polling curtains. It not, should apologize or I be very angry and write more nasty thing about him on Internet.

Tomo Hirai is a Nichi Bei Weekly staff member. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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