Asian-Americans Blast Texas Congressman's Call for 'Easier to Deal With' Names
Asian-Americans are outraged following what they say were offensive comments made by a Texas lawmaker who suggested that voters of Asian descent adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with" at the polls.
By Joshua Rhett Miller
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Asian-Americans say they are outraged that a Texas lawmaker suggested in a hearing that Asian-American voters should adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with" at the polls.
Texas Rep. Betty Brown, a Republican, made the comments on Tuesday as Ramey Ko, an associate member of the Organization of Chinese Americans, testified before the Texas House Elections Committee on voter identification legislation.
Ko testified that people of Asian descent frequently have difficulties voting due to differences in their legal transliterated names and the English name shown on their driver's licenses.
Brown asked Ko: "Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese -- I understand it's a rather difficult language -- do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?"
Brown later said, "Can't you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that's easier for Americans to deal with?"
The Texas Democratic Party called on Brown to apologize on Wednesday.
The exchange, which has appeared on YouTube, has angered many Asian-Americans.
"It really goes to show you that no matter how much progress is made when it comes to race, ignorance still exists in America," said Brad Baldia, national president of the National Association of Asian American Professionals. "It's a slap in the face and it goes to show that there needs to be more education of our government in terms of diversity in America."
Baldia said the comments were particularly "insensitive" as Asian-Americans are becoming increasingly involved in the political process.
Karen Narasaki, president and executive of the Asian American Justice Center, said Brown's comments indicate a lack of understanding.
"I think Rep. Brown owes an apology to the entire Asian-American community," Narasaki said. "But more than that, she needs to show that she understands that that's an unacceptable solution. She probably thinks that President Obama should change his last name too."
Jordan Berry, a spokesman for Brown, defended the lawmaker and said her comments were not racially motivated.
"It had nothing to do with race," Berry told FOXNews.com. "What she was talking about was the Chinese name, just transposing it from Chinese to English."
Berry said Brown apologized to Ko shortly after the hearing.
"She reached out to him immediately," Berry said. "What more do you want?"
Sarah Smith, communications manager for the Organization of Chinese Americans, said the group was "disappointed" by Brown's comments. It was not immediately clear whether Ko and Brown had connected, she said. Ko could not be reached for comment.
"Representative Brown's comments made clear that she lacks an understanding of Asian American cultures and that she in fact undervalues other cultures," OCA Executive Director George Wu said in a statement issued late Thursday.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie called on Brown to apologize and accused her Republican counterparts of trying to suppress votes with a partisan voter identification bill.
"It's shameful that Rep. Brown's immediate and initial reaction to hearing a legitimate problem with a Voter ID bill was to ask a fellow American to sacrifice his good family name and tradition for the convenience of her partisan agenda," Richie said in a statement to FOXNews.com.
"Texans are proud of our family names, and for one of our lawmakers to suggest even once that a fellow Texan should sacrifice his name is an insult to our most precious values."
Berry said Democrats were "looking for an issue" and took Brown's comments out of context.
Russell Leong, an adjunct professor of Asian American studies at UCLA, said the incident highlights "anti-immigrant xenophobia" in the United States.
"Beyond partisan politics of Democratic and Republican, the bottom line issue is the anti-immigrant xenophobia that has developing after 9/11 -- against all groups including but not limited to Asians, Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Mexicans and Latinos," Leong told FOXNews.com in a statement.
"How far is America willing to go to be inclusive of its non-white and non-European immigrants? Did America have problems with its Russian, Polish, and Eastern European immigrants or refugees who passed through Ellis Island? Were not their names also difficult to pronounce or spell? Asian names are no more difficult, in my view."
Officials from the Asian American Institute said Brown's comments were "outrageous, offensive and hurtful."
"Her comments send the message that diversity is not welcome in Texas, and that Asian Americans are foreigners who are unwelcome in the United States," AAI Executive Director Tuyet Le said in a statement to FOXNews.com.
Even Rachel Farris was outraged in Huffington Post.
Outrageous. It is hard to believe that in this day and age certain people still have this attitude. Perhaps Betty Brown would like to return to the days of racial segregation. Next she'll want to make it illegal for Americans of Latino background to speak Spanish.