WASHINGTON — National Asian Pacific American civil rights organizations are urging Washington, D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry — already under fire for an earlier incident — to apologize for comments he made about Asians on April 23.
At a public hearing, Barry observed that immigrant healthcare workers are dominating the field: “In fact, it’s so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines.”
Barry went on to say, “And no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses … so that we don’t have to be scrounging around in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.”
OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans) said in a statement on April 24, “We call on Mr. Barry to engage with the broader community to uphold his oath as an elected official to represent and respect the interests of every member of his constituency.
“This type of … inflammatory messaging on the heels of similarly framed rhetoric issued during a campaign victory speech on April 2, 2012 against Asian-owned businesses in Ward 8, his home district, is now setting a pattern of unacceptable public policy critique stereotypically casting APAs as being a perpetual foreigner.
“Anti-Asian sentiments within often unfounded economic context have in the past gravely influenced antagonistic sentiments resulting in the Los Angeles civil unrest of 1992, the violent and fatal attack on Vincent Chin in 1982, and the 1871 massacre of Chinese immigrants in California, to name a few.
“OCA, as a national civil rights organization with over 80 chapters and affiliates, urges all elected officials and political organizations … to be respectful of the multiethnic fabric of America. APAs in their own right are and continue to be strong social, economic, and political contributors and leaders of all ideological persuasions and affiliations.
“Demonizing a specific class of people using fear tactics based on broad political and economic generalizations should not be tolerated by the community at large.”
OCA called on Barry to issue “a meaningful apology” and “to meet with APA community advocacy organizations and other people of color advocacy groups to jointly address public policy strategies for educational and economic equity and equality.”
“His speech indicates consistent difficulty to conduct himself in a decent and reasonable manner commensurate with his duties as an elected official,” OCA said. “Absent of these initial steps, confidence in his ability to represent and respect the interests of every member of his constituency is highly suspect.”
JACL also condemned Barry “for his continued bigoted remarks concerning the role of Asian Americans in the city’s economy. Within the past month he has made public statements that are shameful and unbecoming a public official who alleges to be a champion of civil rights.
“Barry needs to apologize for continuing to point to Asian Americans as the problem and should recognize that the American people of Asian heritage are as American as anyone else and have been a key in the economic growth and development of small business and the health sector.”
Barry’s remarks about reflect “the same kind of inflammatory rhetoric that flamed the fires of racism toward Japanese Americans in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and led to their indefinite detention in concentration camps during World War II,” JACL said. “Responsible public officials should be closing the racial divide and not widening animosities that are based on false and misleading assumptions.
“His statements continue to perpetuate the mistaken public perception that all who are not white nor African American … do not belong in our society and are taking away business and jobs in America. This is far from the truth. Filipino Americans were among the earliest immigrants from Asia over 150 years ago. They have overcome decades of huge barriers in education and employment to become highly skilled in the health care industry and are in many cases multi-generational Americans.
“Like too often occurs in our society, Barry himself, who has used skin color to point out discrimination, has now committed the same egregious error in judgment.
“Barry is in a position to change this kind of negative stereotyping and he must take advantage of this incident to right many decades of wrongs. He needs to apologize to the Asian American community and set in motion actions to heal the chasm he has created by his thoughtless remarks.
“Barry can do something positive in a sincere and bridge-building manner. To do anything less is a discredit to all he has accomplished in his long career as a public servant.”