Bay Area civil rights organizations joined forces Monday to call for Assemblymember Kansen Chu’s resignation in response to his “racist and hateful” comments.
Condemning Chu’s comments to the Chinese language publication World Journal, Walter Wilson, a community leader from the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet, said leaders in Silicon Valley’s Asian, Black and Latinx communities will not stand for Chu’s racism, especially while protesters across the country confront police violence in response to the death of George Floyd.
“This is his contribution to what’s happening in this country right now?” Wilson asked, calling for Chu “to do the right thing for everyone, and step aside and resign from the California Assembly immediately.”
The coalition demanding Chu resign on Monday included the Asian Pacific Islander Justice Coalition, SV DeBug, the NAACP and La Raza Roundtable de California, a local activist group which hosted a news conference Monday.
Chu last week raised eyebrows when he abstained from voting on Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, a measure that allows voters to decide whether the state’s ban on affirmative action — which boosts hiring minorities and underrepresented communities — should be repealed.
Since 1996, California has been one of eight states that has banned the consideration of race in university admissions, public employment and public contracting. The vote on ACA 5, which would initiate a November ballot measure to repeal Proposition 209, California’s ban on affirmative action, largely split down party lines with nearly every Democrat in the Assembly voting in favor and almost all Republicans voting against.
Chu was one of three Democrats who voted to abstain. The measure has been opposed by some Chinese American groups who argue it would affect their access to jobs and educational opportunities.
In explaining his vote, Chu reportedly told Chinese media that many Hispanic parents told him when he was a Berryessa Union School Board member that they don’t care about their kids’ education, are busy with their livelihoods and didn’t intend to let their children attend college.
In the June 11 World Journal article, Chu added that many Hispanic and African ethnic groups are “unable to compete or have the ability to continue their studies” due to unresolved structural economic and educational problems. He said “entrance tickets” do not solve structural problems, according to a translation of the article provided by the NAACP.
Chu, who’s running for Santa Clara County supervisor, told San José Spotlight on Sunday that his comments were taken out of context and twisted by his political opponents. He said the translated version of the Chinese article did not accurately reflect the discussion which centered around systemic racism and the need to make college more affordable.
He called allegations of racism “a desperate ploy by my opponent.”
“I unequivocally deny saying that Latinos do not value education,” Chu said, “I did say that there are systemic barriers for Latinos and African American students. What was not said in the World Journal was that I said the solution would be more funding for schools serving underserved communities. My record on supporting education funding and progressive policies in support of minority communities have been strong and consistent.”
However, Chu’s political opponent in the supervisorial race, Otto Lee, questioned the legislator’s fitness for office and demanded an apology.
“It is clear from his comments that Mr. Chu understands systemic racial inequity exists, and yet he chose inaction,” Lee said. “Then to use non-English media to make racist statements and to mislead his Chinese speaking constituents about this vote is incredibly troubling. To speak with such openly prejudiced rhetoric hidden under the veil of a language barrier is both unacceptable and tone deaf to this moment in our nation’s history.”
Victor Garza, chairman of La Raza Roundtable de California, said Chu is an obstacle to black and Hispanic children who value and want education. Garza said his parents taught him and his siblings its importance of education and that two of his siblings became school superintendents and that another became a school principal.
“How many people can say that about one family?” he said.
Former California Rep. Mike Honda called for Chu to apologize for his comments and clarify whether he supports ACA 5.
“Using language as a tool, it appears that he may have two faces on the same issue,” Honda said.
In an interview after the news conference, Honda said possible translation errors from Chinese to English could not excuse Chu’s comments. “There could be some inaccuracies, but I don’t think it’s major,” he said. “The major thing is he spoke two different languages. He made two different messages.”
Honda said he does not expect that Chu will resign.
“He doesn’t have the character to resign,” he said.
Former Assemblymember Paul Fong said Sunday that 2020 may be the year for Chu to retire from elected office.
“I hope Chu spends more time truly listening to the hopes, dreams, and struggles residents of color face before making sweeping and inaccurate generalizations,” he said.
Chu in March emerged the top vote-getter in a four-way race to replace termed-out Supervisor Dave Cortese on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. He garnered 31.5 percent of the vote, followed by Lee who received 28.9 percent.
Chu stunned political insiders when he told San José Spotlight in May that he planned to leave the California Assembly to return to local politics in the South Bay.
ACA 5 now moves to the California Senate where it is expected to pass.
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