Affirmative action amendment divides state’s Asian Americans

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Posted on May 19, 2014

Source: LA Times

TheĀ alarming messages began appearing on Chinese-language social media networks in early February: A proposal in the California Legislature would cut the number of Asian students admitted to UC schools.

Posters called it the “Yellow Peril Act,” while others breathlessly compared the proposed amendment to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which restricted Chinese immigration.

The social media outrage snowballed into blistering editorials in Chinese American newspapers and hourlong arguments on Mandarin talk radio. Within weeks, Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which would ask voters to repeal part of the landmark ban on affirmative action in California public colleges, was shelved.

The sudden backlash against affirmative action took mainstream Asian American political leaders by surprise. A 2012 National Asian American Survey found that about 80% of the state’s Asian Americans supported affirmative action.

But the coalition that shot down SCA 5 was not a traditional political movement. The protesters organized mainly on Chinese social networks like Weibo (a Twitter-like network), Wechat (a mobile-based group messaging service), and a Chinese-language forum, Many, but not all, of them were recent immigrants from mainland China without a party affiliation. Some were simply mothers with children preparing for college.

The movement pointed to a division among California’s Asian American electorate, which has traditionally leaned liberal Democratic.

“These are two different worlds,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political science professor at UC Riverside. “And a big part of the difference in opinions is how the issues are presented to them.”

Vivian Chan, the mother of a high school junior, joined Wechat about seven months ago as an easy way to organize lunches with her girlfriends. When news of SCA 5 broke in early February, the phone-based group-messaging platform became a tool for fomenting political action.

“All of a sudden, everyone was talking about it,” said Chan, who serves as the Asian outreach chairwoman of a regional PTA organization.

Through Wechat and Weibo, the word spread to other area PTAs and local Chinese school organizations. The Joint Chinese University Alumni Assn. of Southern California urged the 40,000 subscribers on its mailing list to take action against the bill.


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