Looking to Build Self-Determination, Political Power in Asian-American Community

Ameet Sachdev, Chicago Tribune, August 15, 2011

In many ways, Asian-Americans have done remarkably well in achieving the American dream of going to college, working at a good job and earning a nice living.

Take Tuyet Le, who came to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee when she was 3 years old. She overcame polio and modest means to attend Northwestern University. She joined a struggling nonprofit organization and turned it into a leading voice for the Asian-American community in Chicago.

By all accounts, the 39-year-old Le would be the poster child for the “model minority,” a label that portrays Asian-Americans as well-educated, affluent and universally successful. But Le has spent most of her career educating people that the stereotype works against the community.

Although some fit the profile, she said, Asian-Americans remain significantly underrepresented in politics, experience discrimination and need public services, such as bilingual education.

“Success in America is not only defined in financial terms, but in self-determination and political power,” Le said. “In those respects, our community still has a long way to go. No one seems to assume that having some successful members of the Latino or African-American community means that everyone is doing well in that community and their benefits should be cut.”

As executive director of the Asian American Institute, Le is among a new generation of Asian-American leaders in Chicago advocating for a diverse population of 147,000 that includes Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Southeast Asians and South Asians. The institute’s focus on a cohesive pan-Asian policy sets it apart from organizations providing community services. It tackles big, complex issues such as immigration reform, affirmative action and redistricting, to counter systemic discrimination.

No matter the issue, Le charges ahead as an outspoken voice, not afraid to take on the city’s sacred cows–or political leaders. When Rahm Emanuel was the only mayoral candidate absent in February from a North Side forum for Asian-American voters, Le called him out for ignoring the community.

{snip}

Le will count on that support [from other Asian groups] as the Asian American Institute transitions to a new identity next year when it turns 20 years old. It will become the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, the collective name for a coalition of four groups that became partners in 2005. They include the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles and the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

“The whole idea is to have a larger voice in civil rights and justice issues,” Le said. “We want it to be a well-recognized name around the country. We already work closely together and have the same values.”

{snip}

One issue the group is working on is the redrawing of ward maps in Chicago. Le would like to make sure that wards with sizable concentrations of Asian-Americans, including the 50th Ward, in Rogers Park, remain that way.

{snip}

Le became active in Northwestern’s Asian American Student Advisory Board, which organized classes on Asian-American history and began advocating for an Asian-American studies curriculum at the Evanston-based university. (After Le graduated, several Asian-American students went on a hunger strike in 1995 to protest the school’s lack of support. A year later, Northwestern agreed to add an Asian-American studies component to the undergraduate curriculum.)

{snip}

Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center, said meeting the needs of a growing Asian-American community will require a strong voice like Le’s.

“In every community, you need to have people willing to shake things up a little bit,” Narasaki said. “I think it’s important, particularly because of the stereotype that Asian-Americans are too polite.”

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  • SS

    More asian “intelligence”….

    Whites need to separate into ethnic groups and then demand to receive everything non-whites get. Either that or we need to stop giving them privileges.

  • Dutchman

    Look at how ‘strong’ diversity makes us! Now we have another group of malcontents who smell White blood in the water. I would like to ask Ms. Le exactly how Whites are discriminating against her or other Asians? In college admissions? Employment? Real estate?

    Ms. Le is an ingrate that should go back to Viet Nam if her experience here has been so terrible. Why would you stay somewhere where you are surrounded by evil racist Whites?

    Personally I feel the ‘model minority’ would be wise to lay low. They may be backing the wrong dog in future fights.

  • Jay

    The entitlement mentality is not indigenous to East Asian culture, unfortunately it has been gained through assimilation to a pathological (liberal, statist) segment of western culture. Also, Asian Americans presumably see other minorities eating at the trough of the ethno-political system and feel left out. This may be one of the few examples of immigration debasing (rather than elevating) the culture and values of the immigrant.

  • fred

    Asians are the most financially successful demographic in the country. Success doesn’t exclude the possibility of discrimination. In fact, I think Asians and Whites are both discriminated against in favor of NAM’s. But I figure this group is more likely to enrich itself at the expense of whites than oppose the favoritism of NAM’s. And I don’t care for that.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that Asians have no legitimacy for complaints. If you feel you’re ‘under-represented,’ then work your butt harder to get noticed. Don’t ask for a freebie or an unearned place at the table. In Asia, no Asian group helps another group – AT ALL. It’s dog-eat-dog over there (and some of them EAT dogs too!)

    The problem for Asians is that only white people will even consider respecting them. White people respect (northern) Asians because they also have an old culture, a code of honor from of old and cool martial arts techniques. Most northern Asians are also reserved and generally make quiet neighbors, even if they are bad drivers and ignore you most of the time.

    Blacks and Latinos have NO RESPECT for Asians of any type. I know of what I speak from tons of personal observations and hearing the complaints of some of my asian neighbors.

  • White Guy In Japan

    #3 made some good points. One of the things I generally respected about Asian-Americans is that they did not pull the whiny minority nonsense and instead started businesses (often exclusively within their ethnic enclave) and sent their kids to college. Plus they complain quite loudly and publicly when affirmative action works against them. Something Whites can be hesitant to do.

  • WbuMongo

    Ms. Le seems to think that every group in the United States is equal. She obviously is not as well educated as she pretends. Individuals are equal here, not groups. Chicago has a population of 2,852,000. The 147,000 asians are 5% of the population. How well would her recovery from polio worked out in Viet Nam? How would her education have worked out? What “group” would she be in charge of? Her life is the result of the American system she feels is so unfair. Go back where you came from and think about your situation had you not had the opportunity to come to America, the place that made you and your pan-asians what you are. Thanks us everyday that you are here and stop complaining that you are discriminated against and don’t have the full opportunities that America has to offer. You could still be in Viet Nam.

  • mr america

    perhaps le should go back to asia where all the wealth and political power resides with the asians.

  • John Engelman

    If Orientals in the United States engage in collective self help efforts to become more active politically, that is fine. If they are seen as demanding anything that resembles affirmative action that will needlessly arouse resentment against them.

    Some non Orientals dislike Orientals. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Orientals face insurmountable barriers against any kind of achievement.

  • ATBOTL

    As Asians grow in number, expect more to this. Asians are already pushing younger whites out of many the most high paying and prestigious careers to a degree that most older baby boomer whites are oblivious too and they intend to use political pressure to take over areas where they are not currently heavily over-represented — like the corporate world and law.

  • Anonymous

    All this whining makes me sick. See, you start off helping poor whites and next thing you know you’re supporting a permanent black underclass. Down the line you have Mexican invader-squatters and their litters of ninos demanding the same benefits, and now finally you have Asians demanding benefits.

    Equality NOW! Stop the flow of gibmedats to everyone.

  • Anonymous

    To #3 Jay, they sure have the entitlement mentality down pat here in Queens, NY! A friend works at a grocery store on the weekends. She says that more of some so-called conservatives’ “model minority” use SNAP/EBT food stamps and WIC checks (they have LOTS of kids) than blacks or hispanics. She doesn’t like it very much when they buy expensive black cherries at $5.99 a pound when she can’t.

  • Anonymous

    Affirmative action frequently sets back Asians the most. This just sounds like tough Chicago politics to me.

  • Brown-Eyed Devil

    Boy, the establishment media’s attitude towards web publishing seems to be strictly “light fuse, get away”.. the article is already gone. Probably thanks to opinions expressed by those of that unvibrant culture that don’t see ungrateful Southeast Asian troublemakers in the best light.

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Asians are more of a threat to white survival than all other races combined. Racial to the core, and cunning about it. I wonder if this Viet that has benefitted from everything whitey invented knows that most of the original Boat People are STILL on public assistance, as are many of their dependents? They are shameless about accepting public handouts-they haunt the charitable food drives held by San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church (headed up by Cecil Williams, one of the few black leaders I respect). I’ve seen them walk off with armloads of cheese, poultry..whatever isn’t nailed down. And drive off in their German cars. The genuinely needy in SF, most of whom are either black or white AND homeless-are given the bum’s rush (literally) by having their “homeless behavior” declared illegal by that oily, trust fund clotheshorse Gavin “Don’t stare at my translucent little hands” Newsom. Now it’s Ed ” I am a victim too” Lee and the grave that is old San Francisco is just about down to the last shovelful of dirt.

    Think Asians are better neighbors than blacks and Mestizos? Go to their neighborhoods and have a nice, long look. Overburdened streets and parking, houses and apartments filled with entire extended families, a groaning infrastructure thanks to the sordid nature of the businesses they specialize in, and worst of all, a deeply underestimated criminal element that gets away with nearly anything thanks not only to the insular nature of the community, and its storied unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement, but by having City Hall squarely in their pocket.

    And in all my life, and long and varied workplace experience, the only person to pull the race card on me was an Asian. Discrimination? My entire *ss!

  • Anonymous

    “Asian-Americans have done remarkably well in achieving the American dream of going to college, working at a good job and earning a nice living.”

    Asians do not get to complain when they are doing so well.

    “In every community, you need to have people willing to shake things up a little bit,” Narasaki said. “I think it’s important, particularly because of the stereotype that Asian-Americans are too polite.”

    Yes well you sure are trying to be like a group that whines and complains a lot.

    I think being polite is an excellent virtue.