OG-SAN: American Family

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By WARREN FURUTANI

Once, way back in the day. I was standing with a Black friend and a young man selling the “Muhammed Speaks” newspaper asked him, “Brother, you want to buy a paper?”

The peddler then turned to me and asked, “Cousin, you wanna buy a paper?”

At least I was acknowledged as a member of the extended family, so to speak. Maybe that was President Biden’s thinking when he was putting his Cabinet together. Amidst declarations that his Cabinet would look like America and the American family, maybe his thinking was the lack of an API appointment to a Cabinet secretary would be mollified by his appointment of several APIs to other Cabinet-level positions.

In other words, not the immediate American family but the extended family: surgeon general, U. S. trade representative, director of the Office of Management and Budget — first cousins, as it were.

Quit “monkuing.” The historic election of Kamala Harris as vice president, who is hapa API, is in the Cabinet. Also, other API secretary appointments like Trump’s Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao were just window dressing relative to ethnic community empowerment.

Dale Minami, president of CAPA 21, who did a tremendous job raising money for the Biden/Harris ticket and the Georgia run-offs, and Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, have pointed out that this is the first administration in 20 years that has not nominated an API Cabinet secretary. They are also saying, in view of the ugly situation unfolding during this transition period from Trump to Biden, we’ll stand down for the greater good. Always good team players, we’ll take one for the team.

We know the drill, “gaman” and “shikata ga nai.” We will “endure/persevere” and “what the hell, can’t do anything about it anyway.” Sober and ultimately sound counsel — we, the API community, need to be the “bigger person.” Meaning, we need “to do the right thing despite it not being in our best interest.” Yes, we need to be bigger and overlook this political slight.

All I know as a local-level politician is that if you don’t have a seat at the table you’re either cooking the food, serving it or outside waiting in line.

When I was elected to the Board of Education, I had entree to “closed session.” This is where the elected officials along with senior staff make decisions under the shroud of confidentiality, like in areas of personnel and legal issues. Unfortunately, a lot of informal discussions and so-called “deal-making” goes on behind these closed doors.

NOTE: Yes, the undecided issues and more controversial ones are sometimes discussed and/or debated in public. It is a democracy, but that line between open public discussion and closed meetings is always being challenged by “good government” advocates. Thus California’s Brown Act, which covers what is deemed “closed” and “open” relative to government meetings and interactions/communications.

When elected to the Community College Board of Trustees, I had access to “executive session” for elected officials and senior staff only. That’s where most of the real decisions were made.

Like at the Board of Ed, they were put on the “consent calendar” and voted on as a group with “no objection” and no explanation or details.

Then when elected to the State Legislature, I had membership in the Democratic Caucus. In California, where Dems are in the super majority, that’s where the priorities and agendas are determined, and so forth and so on.

What I know, as someone who has occasioned the inner sanctums of our democratic institutions, more often than not it is a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” In other words, if you are out of sight, then you are out of mind and you end up usually last in line.

Yes, good people from other ethnic communities and interest groups may keep an eye out for you, even stand up for you, but you’ll always be an after-thought. With the greater good always in mind, in today’s world of “identity” politics and the systemic nature of prejudice in American life, we have to hold our institutions’ and our leaders’ feet to the fire.

That fire that is burning hotter than ever in today’s political climate challenges us to stand up to be heard. To be a bit of a pain in the ass as we demand fair treatment, a fair chance, a seat at the table. Especially if the man in charge is claiming to fight for the soul of the nation and his team will look like America.

Maybe the Biden transition team looked high and low for a qualified API for any of the department areas represented by a Cabinet secretary and there were none to be found.

But an API U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, makes sense because the most dynamic trade partners and largest consumer markets are in Asia.

Yes, APIs are great with numbers and economic policy. Remember Andrew Yang, an Asian who loves math, so Neera Tanden makes sense as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

And an Indo-American doctor, Dr. Vivek Murthy (Obama’s ex) appointed as the nation’s surgeon general, duh! Have you noticed who the majority of the medical expert talking heads about the pandemic are?

But not one API to fill just one of the 15 department secretary positions in the Biden/Harris Cabinet? Uncle Joe, say it ain’t so!

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Warren Furutani has served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and in the California State Assembly. He is a senior advisor to Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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