By Vincent D Chang, Esq.
A first ever Presidential Town Hall focusing on Asian Pacific and Pacific Islander issues was held recently at the Bren Events Center on the campus of the University of Irvine. All three presidential candidates were invited to speak in response to questions posed by members of the API community on Saturday, May 17.
Many of the questions posed involved topics that affects APIs in particular such as family unity in the area of immigration; education assistance for API students, small business and appointment of APIs to significant positions in the areas of government and law. Although none of the candidates were available in person, they were represented by local surrogates.
Senator Hillary Clinton was introduced by California State Controller John Chiang. She spoke via satellite incorporating community questions into her speech. Clinton promised to work on enacting comprehensive immigration reform ensuring family unity and repairing a bureaucratic system that forces lawful immigrants to live apart.
She also promise to make college affordable with a $3500 tuition tax credit and increase Pell Grant and provide money to colleges and universities. In the area of small business, she propose a tax credit for companies that provide health care for their employees. She promise to strengthen the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department by $30 million. The Senator emphasized her lead in the fight to ensure Filipino Veterans of WWII who fought with America receive the veteran's benefit they were denied. Clinton stated that she has hired staff members who reflect America's diversity.
After Clinton, Congressman Javier Becerra introduced Barack Obama. He mentioned how proud that he, a Latino American, was asked to present Barack, an African American before an Asian and Pacific Islander American event.
In the end he said, everyone is American. Obama then came online via telephone to answer questions live. The Senator mentioned his association with the API community - that he has a half-sister who is Indonesian and grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii. He spoke about his background as a civil rights attorney starting out in the South Side of Chicago. In response to questions, he promised to work with the API community to ensure everyone has quality and affordable healthcare. He promised a $4000 tax credit to make college more affordable. He will invest in renewable energy to ease rising fuel cost. He will do more to support small businesses by strengthening programs that provide capital to minority-owned businesses. He said that he wants comprehensive immigration reform including improving the H1-B program that now limits visas to 65,000 per year. Obama ended his time before the audience by saying how the world would know America is an inclusive society when they see his "happa" niece playing on the front lawn of the White House.
Lastly, John McCain was represented by Assemblyman Van Tran from Orange County. Tran, a graduate of UCI mentioned how pleased he was to be back on campus not as a student but a speaker.
He stated that McCain could not be present because he was to slated to appear on Saturday Night Live in New York. Tran went on to talk about the background of McCain. He talked about how he became a prisoner of war of the Communist North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War landing in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" for years. According to his biography, the Senator has visited almost every Asian country at one time or another.
While helping a Bangladeshi orphan get health care in America, they ended up adopting her. After the program, a number of attendees noted their disappointment with how the McCain campaign failed to provide even a taped greeting from him for such a historic event.
The program, with its emphasis on the youth vote, also featured performances by various artists including American Idol contestant Filipino-American Camile Velasco and Oklahoma City Chinese-American poet Beau Sia.
Dance performances by student and professional Chinese, Korean and Polynesian groups opened the program. Actress Tamlyn Tomita (Karate Kid and others) served as emcee. Chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Congressman Mike Honda and Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, founder of the Norman Y. Mineta Leadership Institute was present throughout the event. Several local leaders also attended including Mike Eng, 49th Assembly District.
The event was sponsored by APIAVote (www.apiavote.org), an organization that encourages civic engagement and electoral participation of API,. Also there were many national as well as local prominent API organizations participating. This included the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Committee of 100, Japanese American Citizens League, Korean American Coalition, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Organization of Chinese Americans, Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, CAUSE, just to name a few.
Locally, numerous API organizations participated including the Organization of Chinese Americans, Greater Los Angeles Chapter and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Greater San Gabriel Valley Lodge.