PALO ALTO — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders met with a packed room of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at a town hall meeting at the Cubberly Community Center in Palo Alto on June 1.
A panel of Asian American and Pacific Islanders community leaders shared concerns and personal stories to discuss with Sanders questions about war and peace, climate justice, immigrant rights, racism, and healthcare.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq War veteran, pointed out that APIs and Native Americans are over represented in the military by 209 percent and asked, “What can we do to keep us out of war?”
Sanders replied to a cheering crowd, “War is the last response, not the first!” He went on to explain his policy of diplomacy and building coalitions. “I want the U.S. to be seen as a friend of the poor in the world. When we work with countries in an effective way, we prevent war.”
The panel shared concerns as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Their personal stories gave voice to the audience and made them feel heard. Timmy Lu, an environmental activist, talked about his family’s flight from Vietnam to a Hong Kong refugee camp then finally to the U.S., where his parents worked day and night, and where he had to resist the influence of gangs.
He touched on the pain of income inequity and racism. For example, youth who get in trouble with the law are deported to a country they left as infants and are thus separated for a lifetime from their families. Also, many Asian American families are living in the most polluted regions of the Bay Area such as Richmond, in the shadow of the Chevron refinery.
The problems of immigration were addressed again by Aparna Shah when she told Sanders that APIs were among the fastest-growing undocumented populations in the U.S.
Other panel members included Jane Sandoval, national vice president of National Nurses United, who talked about hospital closures in low-income communities in the Bay Area. She said, “Not only do people have to travel further away to another medical facility, but then culturally competent staff that once served communities is no longer available.”
She asked, “How would you take the profit component out of healthcare?” Sanders commented not only on his vision of universal health care, but he went on to tie the high cost of healthcare to the practices of corporate pharmaceuticals.
One mother in the audience shared that as a naturalized citizen from Pakistan, she feels like an American, but her 23-year-son and 13-year-old daughter, both born in the United States, do not. With the rise of Islamophobia after 9/11, her son grew up being called a terrorist. Her daughter wants to be an American, but thinks a Muslim cannot be an American.
“What can you do to make young Muslims and any other kids to feel that they are as American as you are, if not more?” the mother asked. Sanders reiterated that the country’s greatest strength is its diversity, yet America has had a long history of racism. He went on to say, “In the year 2016 with our first African American president, I would hope that we would have learned the lesson that bigotry is unacceptable in the United States.”
Moderator Kirin A. Macapugay drew the meeting to a close by heralding Sanders, “You’re a man who stands for the people and because of that the people will stand with you.” The crowd shouted, “Bernie! Bernie!”
— GRACE MORIZAWA