By MATTHEW ORMSETH, Rafu Contributor
Where many Asian Americans saw an exclusionist whose views on immigration evoked past injustices, Lisa Shin saw a pragmatist unafraid of addressing national security issues head-on, and whose economic savvy could create jobs and return America to the fore of the global economy.
Shin, the daughter of South Korean immigrants, was one of President-elect Donald Trump’s most vocal advocates among the Asian American community during the election, and was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention earlier this year.
Shin’s father came to the U.S. to study mechanical engineering, and her parents became naturalized citizens shortly after. Her father had grown disillusioned with the communist regimes in neighboring Vietnam and China, Shin said, and he embraced the Republican Party’s platform of small government.
She said her parents’ politics were typical of first-generation immigrants fleeing communist regimes, but she also noted subsequent generations of Asian Americans have veered left as they become more Americanized.
“Young people, they don’t quite understand — they’re much more liberal,” she said. Korean and Vietnamese Americans were once a reliably Republican voting bloc because of the party’s strong anti-communist stance, but younger generations have gravitated towards the Democratic Party.
An exit poll from the 1992 election — the first election in which Asian American votes were tracked — found that 55 percent of Asian Americans voted for George H.W. Bush, compared to 31 percent for Bill Clinton. In this year’s election, 65 percent of Asian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, compared to 29 percent for Trump, according to a poll from the Edison Research for the National Election Pool.
Some attribute this leftward shift to exclusionary rhetoric from the Republican Party, and particularly from its most recent presidential candidate. A 2016 survey conducted by Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a nonpartisan research group, found that many Asian Americans cited xenophobia as a key concern in the election.
Trump’s calls to restrict immigration from certain parts of the world stung Chinese Americans who remembered the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended immigration from China for over 60 years. His equivocations in an interview with Time magazine over the incarceration of Japanese Americans drew outrage from the JA community. “I certainly hate the concept of it,” he told Time, “but I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer.”
Shin said Trump’s plan to ban immigration from the Middle East is an imperfect but pragmatic response to a chaotic situation with no easy answers.
“Islamic terrorism is a serious problem,” she said. “The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and peace-loving, but we really have to look at immigration from terrorist-dominated countries.”
She pointed to last week’s attack at a Berlin market as evidence of this threat. Anis Amri, a Tunisian who immigrated to Italy in 2011, drove a truck into a crowded Christmas market on Dec. 19, killing 12. The Islamic State released a video of Amri pledging allegiance to the group’s leader shortly after the attack.
Terrorist attacks in Berlin, Paris and Brussels have placed scrutiny upon the flow of refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern countries into Europe. The sheer number of refugees has overwhelmed many countries’ immigration services, making it difficult to keep track of who comes and goes.
Shin said she supports a “pausing” of immigration from Middle Eastern countries, not an indefinite ban. She believes America should help refugees in their home countries rather than resettling them here.
“There may be alternative means of helping people that don’t put American citizens at risk,” she said. “We’ve got to look at risk vs. benefit.”
Shin said the flow of refugees from Asian countries in the 20th century differed in character from today’s refugees out of the Middle East.
“You look at Asians coming to America, and you don’t see them using the programs to blow people up,” she said.
Shin, who owns an optometry practice in New Mexico, founded the advocacy group Korean Americans for Trump in April of 2016. The move prompted a hostile response from some members of her family, she said. An uncle called to tell her he was personally offended, and some of her cousins still refuse to speak to her.
Of all the Asian American communities, Korean Americans expressed the least amount of support for Trump, the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote poll found. Four out of five said they had an unfavorable view of the president-elect.
But Shin believes this sentiment is unfounded. His business-friendly approach will have a “trickle down effect on Asian Americans,” she said, and she also hopes he will roll back affirmative action policies that place Asian Americans as a disadvantage.
“Trump supports meritocracy, and Asians do worse when racial identity politics play a role,” she said. “As Asian Americans, we are going to get the short end of the stick.”
Trump rode a wave of promises to the White House — to build a wall, to create jobs, to strengthen the military — and Shin is hopeful he will keep them most of them.
“He made a lot of promises,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to get 100 percent, but if we get most of them it will be a really good thing for this country.”
“If he proves he is able to bring back jobs, increase the GDP and bring the economy back up, I think we’re going to have eight years.”