Students, congressmen and community members from all over California gathered for the first-ever Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote Presidential Town Hall meeting at the Bren Events Center. The May 17 conference included both entertainment as well as serious discussion. It was hosted in hopes of encouraging more votership amongst the Asian community and to spread awareness of the presidential candidates’ views on issues they would find relevant.
The event, which was streamed live on 15 Web sites, was not advertised far in advance, but nevertheless hyped the appearance of one, if not all, of the three presidential candidates at the forum. New York Senator Hillary Clinton’s attendance seemed like a sure bet until a few days before the meeting, but all three senators were absent on the day of.
Instead, Clinton appeared on megascreens via satellite feed to answer previously formulated questions regarding topics such as immigration reform and hiring Asian American staff members. Shortly thereafter, Illinois Senator Barack Obama participated in a live telephone conversation in which he responded to similar questions asked by concerned Asian-American community members.
Arizona Senator John McCain, who was last to be represented, was not able to attend because he was in New York taping “Saturday Night Live.” California State Assemblyman Van Tran spoke on McCain’s behalf and encouraged the audience to watch the program later that night.
Actress Tamlyn Tomita, who has appeared in such films as “The Day After Tomorrow” and “The Joy Luck Club,” played the lively emcee for the forum. She introduced the government officials who were part of each of the candidates’ respective campaigns in California, and who would be presenting the senators to the audience that day.
California State Controller John Chiang introduced Clinton and noted that, in his opinion, no other candidate other than Clinton has responded to Asian and Pacific Islanders as thoroughly.
During her speech, Clinton answered a number of prepared questions that touched on a variety of subjects. The first question discussed immigration reform and the changes that Clinton plans to make to immigration practice, if elected.
“I think immigration is the lifeblood of America and that our current immigration system is in crisis. … I’ll work to establish a fair process for people seeking to come to America especially for those whose families have been torn apart,” Clinton said.
Although not specifically pertaining to Asian Americans alone, healthcare was one of the issues Clinton addressed during her presentation as well.
“Under my plan I would work to ensure the quality of healthcare so that it is accessible to all Americans, including those who are unemployed or self-employed,” Clinton stated. “People who like their healthcare plans who have them can keep them, but those who don’t have coverage or who are not satisfied will be able to choose from among the same plans available to members of Congress, or opt into a public plan option such as Medicare in a new national insurance pool.”
Clinton and Obama also both promised to continue hiring qualified Asian-Americans for high-ranking staff positions, even more so than were already employed under the two candidates’ campaigns. In addition, Obama, who was introduced by California’s 31st Congressional Representative Xavier Becerra, emphasized the concerns of the Asian-American community due to Obama’s Indonesian and Hawaiian background.
“I consider myself part of you,” Obama said. “And what you care about and what you believe in that are important to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and building generation after generation a better life for children and grandchildren, that’s what the American dream is about. You represent that; that’s what I’m planning for in this campaign … to represent those same values, those same ideals.”
Obama also answered questions including one focusing on the disparities between the healthcare of the privileged and that of the disenfranchised Asian-American and Pacific Islander minorities.
“Often times minority groups including certain Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups are still getting inadequate care, less care … that is why I am a sponsor of the health care disparities legislation that is in the Senate right now. As president I would make this a priority,” Obama said.
McCain’s representative, Tran, spoke about the strong ties that the McCain family has had with Asia.
“The McCain family actually has 70 years of working and visiting with Asia beginning with his grandfather, who served as a four-star admiral … even during and before World War II fighting oppression and tyranny during that period and of course his father … who during the Vietnam War was the commanding chief of the entire U.S. military in Asia and of course Senator McCain himself was a naval pilot, who suffered five and a half years in a communist prison in north Vietnam,” Tran said.
Tran also addressed a number of broader issues that McCain will work to improve as president, such as the economy.
“Senator McCain will get our economy back on track. … McCain will cut taxes and stop the outrageous wasteful spending in Washington D.C. He will make the Bush tax cuts permanent, cut taxes on American businesses to help our companies remain credited, he will stop the wasteful and pork barrel spending and enforce the vision of smaller government,” Tran said.
Both Democratic candidates had booths set up in the center’s lobby to collect signatures from supporters and volunteers.
Irene B. Bueno, the director of Asian Outreach for Hillary Clinton’s campaign said that, while having a two-way satellite link would have been preferred, technological limitations prevented this from happening.
“I think it was great. … It was a mix of different mediums. … We thought the satellite was the best medium. … Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do a two-way thing,” Bueno said.
Emily Morishima, a fifth-year graduate student in English at UC Los Angeles, volunteered for Obama’s booth at the event. Morishima noted that unlike Clinton and McCain, Obama appeared more dedicated because of his willingness to directly speak to the public.
“I was really impressed with it … that he was the only candidate to interact … I hope we have a lot more of these,” Morishima said.
The night’s entertainment consisted of a wide variety of performers, who reflected the diversity of Asian-American society. Among the entertainers were Camile Velasco of “American Idol” fame, Kaba Modern Legacy, spoken-word performer Beau Sia and the Chinese Association Dance Crew.
Catherine Hsieh, a second-year undeclared major performed as part of the CADC and described how the event mixed politics and entertainment.
“I enjoyed the presidential town hall because it offered an opportunity for the presidential candidates to showcase their policy positions that impact the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. The informal setting made the overall event much more enjoyable and the performances were amazing,” Hsieh said.
Although some attendees were intrigued by the night’s festivities, others enjoyed the event far less, such as Jean-Ha, a 20-year-old Irvine resident.
“It was really long. Too long in fact, especially when people started leaving at the end. … It seemed really professional … robotic, not like they really cared,” Park said.
Davidson Xie contributed to this report.