Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Your Voice Will Make a Difference

Your Voice Will Make a Difference – Call to Action on Some Legislation
By David Yang – Chair of Legislative Affairs Committee

Dear 80-20 Members and Supporters,

In unity there is power. In response to our Call to Action regarding the racist and sexist comments made on the "Dog House with JV & Elvis" radio show, over 1,200 of our members & supporters signed the petition to CBS. Under pressure from a nationwide coalition of Asian American civil rights organizations, numerous advertisers including Anheuser-Busch pulled their support for the show. On Friday May 11th, CBS announced that they had cancelled the show and terminated the two DJs and the producer. Your voice made the difference.

Three Pieces of Legislation

As mentioned in the previous message, 80-20 has created a new Legislative Affairs Committee to monitor legislations of particular concern to Asian Americans. As the first chairperson of this committee, it is my privilege to report on three pieces of legislation currently under consideration by Congress. These are the Asian-American/Pacific-Islander (AA/PI) Serving Institutions Act, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act, and the Resolution Calling on the Japanese Government to Apologize for the Use of ‘Comfort Women’ in WWII.

1. HR 629 – introduced by Rep. David Wu (D-OR)

The AA/PI-Serving Institutions Act was introduced by Rep. David Wu of Oregon. Currently, the Department of Education provides financial assistance to colleges which serve large numbers of disadvantaged minority students. However, colleges serving large numbers of AAPI students, even from disadvantaged backgrounds, have no access to these funds. This is due in part to the “model minority” stereotypes. But such stereotypes are highly misleading. For example, while only 12.6% of the total AAPI population lives in poverty, the poverty rate among Hmong Americans is a startling 63.6%, among Cambodian Americans 42.6%, and among Vietnamese Americans 25%. And while the college graduation rate for all AAPI’s is 44%, it is only 13.8% among Vietnamese Americans and Pacific Islanders, 6.1% among Cambodian Americans, and only 5.1% among Hmong Americans.

Rep. Wu’s bill would provide grants to help colleges and universities identify and assist low-income and underserved AAPI students. The bill is currently being considered by the House Committee on Education and Labor. It is relatively inexpensive – only about 86 colleges around the country would be eligible for assistance under the program, for a projected annual cost of only $30 million. To put things in perspective, the U.S. is spending more than $210 million a day on the war in Iraq! Yet of the three items on our agenda, this bill is the most in need of your support.

As someone who paid for four years of college largely through financial aid, this is a cause very close to my heart. An emphasis on education is a common heritage shared by generations of Asian Americans from all backgrounds. My maternal great-grandfather, who came to America as a coolie in the late 1800’s, never had a day of formal schooling in his life. And because of the Chinese Exclusion Act he had to leave his new wife behind in China before his son was born. Yet through the years he sent almost every penny he saved back to his family in Guangdong, and in every letter home he stressed the importance of education, so that my grandfather, the son of a simple peasant, would grow up to be the first person from his village to attend university. The first time the old man saw his son was in 1946, when my grandfather was 40-year old and a general in the Chinese army. Just a few years later when my grandfather had to choose between a comfortable retirement in Taiwan and the life of a restaurant cook in America, for the future of his children he again chose America, so they could get the best education in the world. At that time my mother chose to stay in her native country. But three decades later my parents made the same choice when they left behind decades of professional experience, so they could give their children a better future in the greatest country in the world.

Hope, not streets paved with gold, is why generations of immigrants come to America from around the world. Few immigrants come to America with any illusions. They realize they face a hard life ahead but they willingly accept those hardships so their children may have a better tomorrow. As strangers in a strange land they realize education is the only path to a better life for their children, and Asian Americans in particular come from cultures that traditionally venerate learning. But economic hardships present very real obstacles to educational advancement. Yet because of the “model minority” stereotype, large numbers of AA/PI youths, who have to overcome disadvantages no smaller than those facing any other minority group, are left to their own devices. Are we to believe that our nation, which spends $30 million every 3.5 hours on the war in Iraq, cannot spare the same amount in an entire year to help some of our disadvantaged young people achieve their American Dreams?

We urge you to contact your Representative regarding Rep. Wu’s bill. In particular, we urge you to contact Rep. George Miller of California, chairman of the House Committee on Education, to express your support and to urge him to bring this bill to the House floor. Furthermore, we urge you to contact Rep. Wu to thank him for his sponsorship of the bill, and to encourage him to continue to push for equal justice for Asian Americans. Please refer to bill number HR 629 in your correspondence. Rep. Miller may be reached at george.miller@mail.house.gov. His DC fax number is 202-225-5609. Rep. Wu may be reached at david.wu@mail.house.gov. His DC fax number is 202-225-9497.

2. HR 760 – introduced by Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)

The Filipino Veterans Equity Act, was sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner of California. The Bill grants Filipino veterans who fought under U.S. command during WWII the same veterans’ benefits enjoyed by other American veterans. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an Executive Order calling all members of the Army of the Philippines (then a U.S. dependency) into the service of the U.S. Armed Forces, with promises of equal benefits as other American veterans as well as US citizenship. More than 140,000 Filipinos answered the call and fought shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers in the Pacific. However, one year after the Allied victory, Congress passed the Rescission Act of 1946 stripping Filipino veterans of all benefits promised by President Roosevelt.

Today it’s estimated that only about 25,000 Filipino veterans are still living – with some 7,000 living in the U.S. This Act will restore to them the same health and pension benefits enjoyed by other American veterans, as promised them by President Roosevelt 66 years ago. The good news is that according to knowledgeable sources, this bill is very close to coming up for a vote on the House floor, and its chances of passage are deemed “very good”. Nonetheless, to ensure its passage we encourage all our supporters to contact their representatives, and urge them to right this grievous historical wrong. You may also wish to contact Rep. Bob Filner to express thanks for all his efforts in championing this bill. Please refer to HR 760 when contacting your member of Congress.

3. HR 121 – introduced by Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA)

Finally, the resolution calling upon the Government of Japan to formally acknowledge and apologize for the use of ‘comfort women’ during WWII was sponsored by Rep. Mike Honda from San Jose. As of today, the resolution has picked up 98 co-sponsors in the House and stands a very good chance of passage. Thanks to the international pressure brought on by conscientious people such as Rep. Honda, Prime Minister Abe of Japan was forced to backtrack from his earlier comments denying state responsibility in the use of ‘comfort women’. On March 26th, Abe apologized “as Prime Minister”, and promised to stand by the 1993 Kono Statement acknowledging the Japanese government’s role in the coercion of ‘comfort women.’

As an organization dedicated to the cause of equal justice for all Asian-Americans in America, 80-20 does not typically take positions on international issues. Nonetheless, we applaud Rep. Honda’s moral courage in taking up the cause of the powerless, and we will send Rep. Honda a formal letter of thanks expressing our appreciation.

On behalf of the entire 80-20 Board of Directors, we thank you in advance for your community spirit and enthusiastic support.

Best regards,

David Yang
Chair, Legislative Committee
80-20 PAC, Inc.

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