In a move bound to create political tension between Latinos and Asian-Americans, a group of Chinese-American activists in Silicon Valley has launched a nationwide grass-roots movement to fight President-elect Barack Obama’s nomination today of Bill Richardson as commerce secretary.
The group is upset at the New Mexico governor for his handling of the nearly decade-old case of Taiwanese-American Wen Ho Lee, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. U.S. officials once suspected Lee of giving nuclear secrets to China when Richardson was President Clinton’s energy secretary.
The Chinese-Americans say they realize that challenging the nomination of Richardson, 61, the nation’s most high-profile Hispanic politician, will ruffle the Latino community, many of whose leaders felt he should have been named secretary of state instead of Sen. Hillary Clinton.
But the Chinese-American group insists that Richardson’s refusal to acknowledge making serious errors in the case makes it a moral imperative to oppose his nomination to Obama’s Cabinet. They say their criticism of Richardson has nothing to do with him being Latino but everything to do with his lack of judgment in the case.
“This was the major Chinese-American civil rights case in the last 30 years,” said Albert Wang, a Fremont physician. “And there was a feeling among many Chinese-Americans, particularly in Silicon Valley, that Bill Richardson did a lot to promote the notion that all Chinese-Americans are potential spies.”
Hu, Wang and well-known Chinese-American human rights activists such as Henry Der plan to say in a new letter to Obama today, posted at www.wenholee.org , that Richardson’s actions violated Lee’s due process rights by firing him without the required legal notice. It will also accuse Richardson of promoting Lee’s indictment when there was no evidence that he had engaged in espionage.
Until Richardson apologizes for his actions, the group says, it will continue to oppose the nomination.
Der accused Richardson of fueling suspicions about the loyalties of dedicated, hardworking Chinese-Americans.
Noting that his group has endorsed many Asian-Americans running for local offices, Garza said he hopes “my brothers and sisters who happen to be Chinese don’t allow their resentment” over Richardson’s handling of the Lee case “to become a single issue” that could threaten his nomination.
“And I hope this single issue won’t create a major problem between the two groups,” Garza [Victor Garza, chairman of La Raza Roundtable] said.
Some political analysts see the dust-up as one of the opening salvos in an evolving political mosaic created by the election of the nation’s first black president.
Gregory Rodriguez, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said the controversy shows that all the talk about a “post-racial America” is overblown.
“We believed we were going to work our way to the point where race did not matter,” said Rodriguez, author of “Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America.”
But the reality, Rodriguez said, is that “race is only going to affect our society in more complex ways.”