Clinton-Obama contest raises sharp distinctions in Bay Area’s Chinese community

Hillary Clinton? Or Barack Obama?  Democrats in the Chinese American community in the Bay Area seems to be divided by generation when it comes to choosing a Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday – just like all the other Democrats in California.  

"Many of us who are older tend to support Hillary because of her experience," said Oakland City Council member Jean Quan.  "There's this generation thing."

Quan helped gather about forty seniors at the Peony restaurant in the heart of Oakland Chinatown early last week to hit the telephones on behalf of Senator Clinton. "Call all the people you know to vote," Quan said. "Let's deliver California to Hillary."  

Quan, her hands waving up and down as she spoke, said Asians can make a difference for Clinton by turning out an additional 6000 to 7000 voters in Oakland. Like her, she said, seniors understand that the Clinton administration was good to the Asian community.

"There were a lot Asian American appointments (during the Clinton administration). I for instance was appointed by the Clinton administration  to the Title 1 rule making committee," Quan said, referring to a panel that helps distribute federal education funds. "I was chosen to represent the school board members, so I had the chance to work directly with Hillary.  I realized she's really smart. She knows the details. Some politicians only know the big picture and  really don't  know the details. " Quan said.

"We also vote for her for policy reasons," Quan added.   "Hillary has a better health plan than Obama."

In addition to Quan, Oakland's vice mayor Henry Chang, and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente,  also have endorsed Senator Clinton.  The three council members organized the Chinatown seniors phone bank and paid for the dim sum and tea.  

Picking up a piece of dim sum, 64 year-old He Min said Senator Obama's attitude toward the Chinese community is fairly vague, which is why he was supporting Senator Clinton.  

"I don't feel much connection with Obama. I'm not sure what he can do for us, " said He. " When Hillary did something which hurt Asians, she corrected  it immediately. I think she's great."   He was referring to an incident in February 2007 when the Clinton campaign refused interview requests from Bay Area Chinese media.  The campaign later apologized.

Carl Chan, a popular figure in Chinatown and an active member of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce is a Republican. But he said he was supporting Senator Clinton and that he knows why other other seniors are as well.

"In the past few years, many people are frustrated with the Bush administration, because of the war, because of the failed economy.  The leadership is not really there to revive the economy.  The focus we always believed in was not there.  Many of us like to see change. Change means something better, not worse.  Especially as Asians we don't like to see wars.  Some of us, our parents, our grandparents, the seniors have gone through the war. They know war is not good  for family and the people, " said Chan.  " Therefore,  we would see that many folks normally don't vote, now they come out and vote."

Chan's opinion is shared by Robert Mui, a 78 year -old Oakland resident.  Mui emigrated from Hong Kong nearly a decade ago.  He said he came to this country for democracy not war. 

"If the war goes on, the people in this country can no longer bear it," Mui said. Focusing on the economy is the wise step to take.  I believe Hillary will go for the right things."   

Chan, said he remembers a few years ago, that former president Bill Clinton came to Oakland and helped with the Oakland port project. 

"Bill used to support  the Bay Area.  There is the strong tie with Clinton family. Thus Chinese in Oakland feel much closer with Hillary than Obama at this time,"said Chan. "Hillary does have an edge now."

While the Chinatown seniors were sipping tea and calling their people for Hillary, 173 Asian Pacific Islanders registered on evite and joined actor Kelly Hu, for a party in San Francisco to support Obama.

Hu is from Hawaii, where Obama was born, and the electronic invitation emphasized the Illinois Senator's multi-cultural background.  "As a child of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic family that included Asian Americans, Obama lived in Indonesia, sharing some of the same personal experiences that many Asian immigrants in the United States have also experienced before arriving on these shores," it said.

Aron Fung, a Chinese American in his early 20's who attended Hu's party said that he will definitely go out on Tuesday and vote for Obama.

"Obama represents a greater shift from the traditional, established system than any of the other candidates. Whether it is his ethnic background, thought process, age, or a combination of these and other factors does not matter. Rather, what he embodies is a stark contrast to the system that has brought America into a heavily volatile era and created a deeply confused nation," he said.

A campus rally sponsored by UC Berkeley Students for Barack Obama late last week drew about one hundred enthusiastic supporters.    Waving Obama signs and banners, the mostly student crowd joined two local hip-hop singers in a rap that shouted "Obama, victory 2008!"

Nineteen-year-old psychology  major Mian Wei was one of the students  rapping with the crowd.

"I'll vote for Obama, "said Mian. "I saw Obama in 2004 at the Democratic convention and heard his speech.  I was really inspired.  It made me get interested in all these issues.  Before,  it was just kind of the   lesser of the two evils.  Now I can really get behind someone and take him to the top." 

Mian said her father supports Hillary Clinton and she understands that her father's generation remembers the good times with former president Bill Clinton. 

"At this point we really need new leadership," Mian said.   

Wu Nan is a reporter for the California News Service, a project of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. 

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