An Asian Distaste for Politics
Hesitance Leaves a Community Underrepresented
The sea of black hair is a phenomenon familiar to any who have had a chance to step within the hallowed halls of the Science Center. Black hair and brown eyes, two characteristics which can be attributed to the crowd of Asian-Americans anxious to fulfill pre-med requirements.
Contrast this to the numbers of Asians in government courses, and the difference is significant. While the stereotype of Asians is often exaggerated, it does contain more than a kernel of truth. And a look at the number of Asian-Americans in the political arena today reflects the choices made in college years.
The severe lack of Asians in politics poses a problem which has come to the forefront in recent years: an underrepresented population that has grown economically and demographically finds itself in need of a political voice.
The lack of such a voice has much to do with Asian culture. Most Asian-Americans are brought up in a strict, well-defined set of mores and customs. The need for stability and the desire to avoid making waves and to blend in still run strong in many families.
A common background often characterizes these families. Parents are immigrants from overseas, many times intellectuals who escaped through academic visas. Their children are given terms like "driven" and "ambitious" to describe the result of the often neurotic tendencies of parents.
Security is the magic word as parents push children to engage in "safe" jobs like doctors or lawyers. Business is shunned, and politics is the "p" word. Parents are often heard complaining about the lack of an Asian face in the election races, but suggest to them that their own son or daughter engage in the political world, and the tune changes fast.
The very definition of politics and government goes against much of the grain of Asian culture. Politicians must stand out in the limelight, upset the status quo, and have an aggressive nature. Such traits do not fit well in the Asian heritage.
Moreover, those few who do dare to test the troubled waters of politics often find that their ethnicity hinders, rather than helps them with their own people. The Asian community is in many ways segregated within itself between individual countries. The Koreans hold grudges against the Chinese who feel the Vietnamese are absurd.
In trying to navigate such an ethnically divided community, an Asian politician has trouble formulating even the beginnings of a grass roots Asian campaign.
Harvard provides a microcosm of Asian divisiveness with the AAA, KSA, and CSA, Each of these associations is extremely political, resulting in scattered muted voices speaking for the Asian community at Harvard.
Consider for a moment our beloved Undergraduate Council. Roughly 11 percent of its 80 members are Asians, in stark contrast to the 20 percent of the overall Harvard community who are Asian. Compare this to the fact that 23 percent of the council is African-American, an impressive number especially since only eight percent of the student population is Black. The Hispanic population, is making up seven percent of Harvard undergraduates, also finds the council representative with seven percent of its members being Hispanic.
The question still remains, why is it that the Asian population is the only minortiy group underrpresented in Harvard's student government?
Such statistics are merealy a reflection of the grater problem in the Asian community. While Asians make up three percent of the country's population, they are only one percent of the registered voters. A recent survey in the New York Times pointed out that there are only 60-70 elected Asian officials in the United States.
Jay. C. Kim, a Los Angeles County Republican, represents a rare success story by becoming the first Korean-American elected to Congress. At the same time there are more stories of Michael Woo, a Chinese-American who lost the mayoral race of Los Angeles last year.
These cases are not set out to prove that racism against Asians prevents deserving people from holding office. It is all too easy to lay the blame on others, while skirting the real issue at hand.
Asians must start with themselves if they are unhappy with their level of representation. The selfish desire to be secure, and the cowardly attitude of avoiding danger must be overcome in order to enable this minority community to want to be political.
The overwhelming distaste for selfpromotion that American politics requires is not something to be brushed aside lightly. Generations of humility will only be overcome by perseverance and diligence, the same perseverance and diligence which allowed Asians to reach their current status in the first place.
At Harvard, the Asian community should not be so segregated, a policy which results in a weakeinig of overall power. The political infighting is petty, and should be recognized as such . Moving toward unity is only one step in the process toward a more political Asian-American population. Individuals have the options to become more active in the community in a variety of ways . As more Asians run for council seats, eventually there will be greater representation within the college.
In short, Asians must look within themselves in order to solve the problem of the severe lack of representation in mainstream politics.