Panel Talks Up Political Participation

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A panel of Bay Area Asian professionals and scholars addressed UC Berkeley students last night on issues regarding a "politically apathetic" Asian American community.

Ling-chi Wang, professor and chair of the ethnic studies department, moderated the discussion, called "Asian Americans and Politics: Forever Incompatible?" The night featured Asians from a wide range of fields affiliated with politics.

Much of the discussion focused on answering the long-standing question of why the Asian community has traditionally been absent from political activism.

The speakers recognized the need for Asians to take political action, but they agreed there are different ways for them to achieve this goal.

William Wong, a journalist who has written for the San Francisco Examiner, The Oakland Tribune and other newspapers, said he expects Asians will become increasingly influential in the political process due to a projected population growth and racial injustices.

One of the panelists suggested various ways Asians can be politically active without necessarily running for office.

"Running for office doesn't assure the grass-roots effects that often come by participating in civic duties," said Nadesdan Permaul, director of transportation on campus and a political science and rhetoric lecturer. "There are many ways for Asian Americans to find their voice."

He urged students to volunteer, citing it as a significant source of political influence for Asians.

Other panelists encouraged Asian students to pursue political careers.

Wilma Chan, the first Asian woman to serve as president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, stressed the importance for Asians of seeking political office in addition to participating in civic activities.

Chan said she does not agree that most Asians are politically apathetic. She cited racial discrimination and cultural norms as two main reasons the community has traditionally abstained from politics.

Until recently, racial discrimination prevented Asians from holding office and refused them citizenship, Chan said, adding that Asian parents have often discouraged their children from pursuing political careers.

Ching-liu Wu, manager of the BART Seismic Retrofit Program, said he also encourages Asian students to become politically active regardless of the careers they choose.

Aside from working at an engineering corporation, Wu is an advisor for the Chinese American Political Association, which promotes awareness of political issues affecting the community.

One student in attendance said the evening was a valuable opportunity for Asian students.

"This is aimed for the 'average' Asian American who's not going into politics," said Joseph Kim, UC Berkeley sophomore and executive director of the group. "The first step is to create awareness and the second is to get people talking about it. We want to inspire (Asian Americans about politics) and spark a discussion."


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