Poll Between Asian American Candidates Rife with Accusations of Racism

The new 45th congressional district includes the Asian American hubs of Westminster, Cerritos, and Artesia.

Indian Diaspora
3 min read
Poll Between Asian American Candidates Rife with Accusations of Racism

In a bid to empower Asian Americans and give voters of Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Indian descent a stronger voice in the US House of Representatives, a new Southern California congressional district was created last year.

However, the race between incumbent representative Michelle Steel, a Korean American immigrant, and Democratic candidate, Jay Chen has witnessed a lot of allegations of racism, sexism, and red-baiting. GOP candidate Long Pham, a Vietnamese American who is a former trustee on the Orange County Board of Education too is in the political race.


Key Contenders in the District for Immigrants

The new 45th congressional district was created in 2021 and includes the Asian American hubs of Westminster, Cerritos, and Artesia.

According to the consulting firm Political Data Intelligence, a third of the district’s registered voters are Asian American, 16 percent of voters are of Vietnamese descent, 5 percent are Korean American immigrants and the rest Chinese, Filipino, Japanese or Indian roots.

The district has the largest Vietnamese American community in the nation.

One of the top contenders is Steel, 66, a former representative of the 48th district, served on the state Board of Equalization and the Orange County Board of Supervisors before her 2020 election to the House.

Chen, president of the Board of Trustees for Mt. San Antonio Community College and a former school board member, unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2012. The 44-year-old withdrew from a 2018 congressional race because of Democratic fears of splitting the vote.

Neither candidate lives in the district, which is not required for members of Congress.

The Cook Political Report rated the race as a "Republican toss-up," meaning Steel is slightly favoured to win re-election in November.

Jay Chen Asked to Apologise for Mocking Steel’s Accent

Steel had accused Chen of racism for mocking her accent.

Chen, while speaking at an event in 7 April, said, "Just had another town hall the other day, and it's tough. Like, we’ve transcribed it. You kind of need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she’s saying. The more she speaks, the better for us."

A spokesperson from Steel’s office condemned the “despicable racist comments from Jay Chen”. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even called on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to disavow Chen.

Responding to the allegations, Chen told Fox News, "My parents travelled to this country from Taiwan in search of the American Dream. Here, my father became an entrepreneur after it became clear that, as an Asian immigrant, he would never get the promotion he deserved. It’s disgusting that Michelle Steel and Kevin McCarthy are slinging false and hateful attacks to distract from their own lies."

He then wrote an an op-ed titled “I didn’t mock Michelle Steel’s accent”.

“The working families of Orange County are better than an out-of-touch representative who would exploit anti-Asian hate against a member of her own community for political gain. Orange County families deserve a representative who will fight tooth and nail for a better future, like my immigrant parents fought for me.”
Jay Chen in an op-ed article

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and nearly two dozen Asian American current and former elected officials called on Chen to apologise. “Disgraceful remarks like those uttered by Jay Chen have no place in our nation’s political discourse and [Democrats] must act unless they approve of these racist remarks,” McCarthy said in a statement.

Democrats accused McCarthy of hypocrisy, given his history of not speaking out publicly against members of his conference when they make racially tinged or Islamaphobic remarks.

“This is just more gaslighting and deception from the man who has handed over the keys to his caucus to white supremacists and advocates of racist replacement theory,” Maddy Mundy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement.


Chen Accuses Steel of Fuelling False Info

Chen has in turn accused Steel of harassment stating she was trying to project him, a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, as sympathetic to China’s authoritarian regime.

“This district was drawn with the aspirational hope that it would uplift Asians,” said Democratic redistricting expert Paul Mitchell. “There’s nothing to suggest a district that’s heavily Asian like this could have the consequence of a slugfest or a mud fight between different Asian elected officials. That’s clearly unfortunate.”

Chen wrote in an Orange County Register guest column published on Monday that he was shocked by Steel’s claims, which he said “fuel right-wing disinformation”.

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