Source: Lewis Todd and Merle Curti, Rise of the American Nation, (New York, 1982), pp. 798, 843.
ASIAN AMERICAN POLITICAL ACTIVISM SINCE 1965
In the brief discussion below Sucheng Chan describes the growing importance of "grassroots" political activism among younger Asian Americans. Her assessment challenges the widely held belief of political apathy within Asian communities.
Very few Asian Americans participated in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s., but the movement against U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam caught their attention in the late 1960s. With the help of the television evening news, an increasing number of Asian American college and high school students realized with a shock that the "enemy" whom American soldiers were maiming and killing had faces like their own. A number of the more radical students began to think of the war not only as an imperialist but also a racist one.
Young Asian Americans, as well as youth of other backgrounds, also drew inspiration from China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution...in the ten years between 1966 and 1976. The Cultural Revolution, an officially sanctioned campaign by young Red Guards against a segment of China's political establishment, fired the imagination of rebellious students everywhere. Bookstores in the United States that imported the red plastic-covered booklets containing the sayings of Mao Zedong did a thriving business. Like the Red Guards in China, many Asian American students, along with their black, Chicano, and white peers, waved the pocket-sized talismans as they marched in demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, for civil rights, for racial pride, and for the establishment of ethnic studies courses and programs.
The activists eagerly adopted the Chinese Communists' political work style; they held long meetings, practiced collective leadership, and engaged in sectarian struggles. But since there was no "countryside" to go to, where they might learn from "the masses"--as the Red Guards in China were doing--the Asian American activists descended on their surprised communities. Some members of these communities--especially the leaders of the traditional organizations--looked askance at the students' unkempt long hair, Mao jackets, and rude (and terribly un-Asian) manners.
Nonetheless, the activists tried to organize garment and restaurant workers; set up social service agencies; recruit individuals to leftist organizations, which mushroomed overnight; and protested against a variety of ills. These included not only those created by American racism and capitalism but also those spawned by the increasing presence of Asian "flight capital," which allowed entrepreneurs from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, and various other Asian metropolises to buy up buildings in the major Chinatowns and Japantowns of America, driving real estate prices sky high and causing severe hardship on the old residents.
The political activists were of two kinds: radicals who were mostly concerned with articulating the "correct" leftist political "lines" and reformers who put their energy primarily into setting up legal aid organizations, health clinics, and bilingual programs for the elderly and youth. In the long run, the former has had relatively little effect, but many of the agencies set up by the latter have remained. They continue to render important assistance to the needy and have been crucial in providing services to non-English-speaking new immigrants.
Within the political arena, the radicals were initially firmly opposed to "bourgeois" electoral politics, but a number of them later became actively involved in Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. Some of the reformers, meanwhile, have run for office or supported candidates. Ironically, those who paved the way for Asian American involvement in mainstream politics are now slowly outnumbered by more conservative individuals who support the domestic and foreign policies and programs of the Reagan and Bush administrations. The new immigrants who have come in search of a good life under capitalism, as well as the refugees who risked their lives to escape communism, are natural allies for the Republican party.
Source: Sucheng Chan, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (Boston, 1991), pp. 174-175.
DREAMS OF PROSPERITY: NEWPORT AND LATINO IMMIGRATION
In a 1992 Register-Guard article, reporter Larry Bacon describes the experiences of recently arrived Latino immigrants in Newport, Oregon. Here is his account.
NEWPORT Narciso Tamayo and Jesus Hernandez came to Newport in search of a better lives for themselves and their families Tamayo, 37, a former shoemaker from the industrial city of Purisime del Bustos in central Mexico, left his family behind and came to Newport four years ago when there were few Hispanics in the area Hernandez, 23, a former fisherman from the seacoast city of Puerto Angel in the south of Mexico, arrived in March with his wife and two children. At the same time Hernandez arrived, hundreds of other Hispanics also came looking for jobs in Newport's new whiting processing industry. The workers brought racial diversity to a community where few people of color have lived before. But life in the United States is not always easy for the two men, and their dreams have proved somewhat elusive.
Yet Tamayo has grown comfortable with his new life in Newport. He's learned to speak English fairly well. He has friends in both the Anglo and Hispanic communities. He's been able to find enough work at the seafood plants to stay employed almost year-round. He makes from $18,000 to $24,000 a year much more than he could hope to make in Mexico and still spends two months each winter at home with his family.
Even though he hopes to bring his family to this country someday, he has some reservations. "I am afraid the white people have prejudice about my kids," he says. Most of the prejudice he's experienced has not been not overt "It's something you can feel when they see you." He recalls a white co-worker telling him a joke based on the racial stereotype that Mexicans steal. "It's like he was trying to be nice, but at the same time put the knife inside," Tamayo says. Prejudice kept the local Eagles lodge from accepting him as a member, both he and a lodge official say. Tamayo rejected a friend's advice to sue the lodge for discrimination, however. "I don't want to make trouble with anybody," he says. Dick Gearin, president of the Eagles lodge, says Tamayo and three other Hispanics were "blackballed" by three members who were angry about problems some other Hispanics had caused at a lodge function. At the time, three negative votes could bar anyone from membership. Gearin, who helped sponsor Tamayo..., says he and most other lodge members were so upset by the blackballing that they changed the rules. Now members are admitted by majority vote. Tamayo and his friends have since joined the Eagles lodge at nearby Toledo.
Meanwhile, Hernandez and his wife, Saray Gabriel Luna, are less concerned about prejudice than learning English and making their way in a new country. They say they have made Anglo friends who have been warm and friendly. The friends, primarily from their church, have invited them to dinner and given them clothes for their children.
They have had help learning American ways from Luna's older sister, Maria Luisa Dale, who married an Anglo and moved to Newport eight years ago. The young newcomers lived with the Dalles for four months until they could rent a one-bedroom apartment of their own.
Hernandez dreams of making enough in the fish plants to return to Puerto Angel and buy a small fishing boat for about $3,000. But it is expensive for them to live in Newport, and they have saved little so far. Their salaries $5.75 an hour for him and $5.25 an hour for her part-time work are eaten up by living expenses, particularly rent. Their tiny apartment costs $340 a month. Now the whiting season is over, and they have both been laid off. They are looking for any type of work to tide them over until whiting season begins again next April...
Source: Eugene Register-Guard, November 8, 1992, p. 1
CHANGING ATTITUDES TOWARD GOVERNMENT
During the 1930s when the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression most Americans welcomed and indeed demanded an activist government that would reinvigorate the economy and protect their rights. Over the years however, attitudes toward government and what it can and should accomplish have undergone a dramatic shift. The quotes from four American Presidents reflect that shift.
The liberal party is a party which believes that, as new conditions and problems arise beyond the power of men and women to meet as individuals, it becomes the duty of the Government itself to find new remedies with which to meet them. The liberal party insists that the Government has the definite duty to use all its power and resources to meet new social problems with new social controls to insure to the average person the right to his own economic and political life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 16, 1941
Statements are made labeling the Federal Government an outsider, an intruder, an adversary... The people of this (TVA) area know that the United States Government is not a stranger or not an enemy. It is the people of fifty states joining in a national effort... Only a great national effort by a great people working together can explore the mysteries of space, harvest the products at the bottom of the ocean, and mobilize the human, natural, and material resources of our lands.
John F. Kennedy, May 18, 1963
Government cannot solve our problems. It can't set our goals. It cannot define our vision. Government cannot eliminate poverty, or provide a bountiful economy, or reduce inflation, or save our cities, or cure illiteracy, or provide energy.
Jimmy Carter, January 19, 1978
Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.
Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981
Source: John M. Blum, The National Experience: A History of the United States (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), p. 812.
The vignette that follows is a brief description of the worst political scandal in the history of the United States.
The capture of five burglars inside the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 1972, had aroused widespread suspicion about White House involvement. Despite official denials, two investigative reporters of The Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, printed stories claiming that the burglars had obtained money from the Committee for the Re-election of the President (popularly known as CREEP) and that illegal campaign contributions had been "laundered" in Mexican banks. "What really hurts,” replied President Nixon in a news conference on August 29, "is if you try to cover it up... I can state categorically that no one in the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.”
Two weeks later, a federal grand jury indicted the five burglars as well as two former White House aides, Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, on charges of tapping telephones, electronic surveillance, and theft of documents. "We have absolutely no evidence to indicate that any others should be charged,” announced a Justice Department official...
The trial of the Watergate burglars opened in January 1973 in the court of Judge John Sirica... Four of the burglars, all connected to the anti-Castro Cuban community of Miami and believed to have participated in the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs fiasco, maintained silence by pleading guilty. Hunt, Liddy, and former CIA operative James McCord were also convicted. But unlike his codefendants, McCord, determined to protect the CIA, and in the process, save his own skin, refused to participate further in the Watergate cover-up. In a letter to Sirica in March 1973, McCord admitted that “political pressure” had led the defendants to plead guilty, that perjury had been committed, and that the web of complicity reached high into the administration...
Persuaded that the Nixon White House would never adequately investigate itself...the Senate established the Ervin committee to probe possible violations of campaign law. Nixon, fearing exposure of the Watergate cover-up and confident in his ability to defy congressional power, promptly announced his refusal to cooperate with the Senate on the grounds of “executive privilege.”
“Executive poppycock,” retorted Ervin. White House personnel were not“nobility and royalty,”he stated, and would face arrest if they refused to appear before a congressional committee.
On April 17, 1973, White House press secretary Ron Ziegler announced the discovery of new evidence that made all previous statements about Watergate“inoperative.” The President told a stunned television audience that four major advisers--H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst—had resigned because of the Watergate affair, but that Nixon alone, as chief executive, was responsible for what he termed “a series of illegal acts and bad judgments by a number of individuals.”Nixon pledged to "bring the guilty...to justice..."
The President named as attorney general Elliot Richardson,“a man of incomparable integrity and rigorously high principle,” and agreed to appoint an independent special prosecutor to deal with the Watergate case. In May, Richardson selected...Archibald Cox. “I have the greatest confidence in the President,” maintained House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, “and am absolutely positive he had nothing to do with this mess.”
On Friday, the thirteenth of July...former White House appointments secretary Alexander Butterfield was describing the administration's office procedures when an investigator asked about the possibility of recording presidential conversations. “I was hoping you fellows wouldn't ask me about that,”replied Butterfield. The President ordered the Secret Service to install voice-activated tape recorders in White House offices to preserve a historical record. Such tapes...promised to resolve the conflicting testimony presented to the Ervin committee, would reveal at last who had told the truth and who had lied.
On July 31, 1973, Representative Robert F. Drinan, a Catholic priest from Massachusetts, introduced a resolution listing four presidential actions—the bombing of Cambodia, the taping of conversations, the refusal to spend impounded funds, and the establishment of a “super secret security force within the White House”—as grounds for impeachment. Public opinion polls found that large majorities doubted the President’s honesty and most Americans believed he had an obligation to surrender the White House tapes... “It may well be,” wrote columnist William Raspberry in The Washington Post, “that the biggest threat to the presidency today is the President.”
As Nixon struggled to recapture public confidence, his administration received a severe blow from its sturdiest supporter—Vice President Agnew. On August 6, 1973, the Justice Department revealed that the second highest executive officer was under investigation for receiving bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. “I am innocent of any wrongdoing,” asserted the Vice President... But with the administration/s credibility already suspect, Agnew could no longer rally public support... Facing incontrovertible evidence of bribery, even while serving in Washington, Agnew agreed...to plea-bargain for a reduced sentence. On October 10, 1973, in exchange for his resignation, Agnew offered a “nolo contendere” plea.. the full equivalent to a plea of guilty--to a single count of income tax evasion, amounting to $13,551.47.In leaving government service, the former Vice President received a three-year suspended sentence, a $10,000 fine, and a letter from Richard Nixon expressing “a great sense of personal loss.”
The departure of Agnew also served the crucial symbolic role of weakening public allegiance to the entire administration. “We've demonstrated that we can replace a Vice President," remarked William Rusher, publisher of the conservative National Review, “so I expect we could replace a President.” After a decade of assassination—the sudden loss of the two Kennedys, King, George Wallace—the idea of finding substitute leadership no longer seemed odd or implausible.
On the day he announced [Gerald] Ford’s nomination [as Vice President], an appellate court denied the President's “incantation of the doctrine of separation of powers,” rejected his claim “of special presidential immunities,” and ordered him to produce the subpoenaed White House tapes for Judge Sirica... Disregarding the court order, Nixon announced his intention to comply with the spirit of the ruling...by providing written summaries of the tapes... The Ervin committee...consented to Nixon's compromise. But prosecutor Cox questioned the reliability of such secondhand evidence and rejected the proposal. “I think it is my duty as the special prosecutor,” declared Cox in a televised news conference on Saturday, October 20, 1973, “to bring to the court’s attention what seems to me to be noncompliance.”
Enraged by his subordinate’s audacity, Nixon immediately ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. But Richardson, having assumed office the previous April on assurances that the President would not interfere with the special prosecutor, refused the task and instead submitted his resignation. Nixon then ordered deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. But he, too, refused and was promptly fired by the President. Solicitor General Robert Bork then assumed the attorney general's post and executed the order.
This Saturday Night Massacre, reported immediately by the television networks, provoked waves of protest that White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig likened to “a fire storm.” “The office of the President does not carry with it a license to destroy justice in America,” objected Senator Robert Packwood. More than a quarter of a million telegrams denouncing the President’s action poured into Washington, and on Sunday huge crowds surrounded the White House, urging passing motorists to “honk for impeachment.” In the House of Representatives, eighty-four congressmen sponsored twenty-two different bills calling for Nixon’s impeachment, and the Democratic leadership instructed the judiciary committee, headed by Representative Peter Rodino of New Jersey, to begin an impeachment inquiry.
The President's hope to restore public confidence in the new year  abruptly collapsed when a panel of expert technicians reported or January 15 that a particular eighteen-and-a-half minute gap in conversation between Nixon and Haldeman had been deliberately erased... “We know that there is corruption in the... Oval Office,” concluded political columnist George Will. Listing the names of all the White House aides who had left the administration because of Watergate--Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, Dean, Strachan, Porter, Caulfield, Ulasewicz, Mitchell, Stans, Hunt, Mardian, Segretti, Liddy Kaimbach, McCord, Chapin, Gray, and Magruder-—Will asked, “Of all the significant men who were around the White House when the cover-up began [and], who are still there providing the continuity in this ongoing cover-up, one name,” he said, “springs to mind.”
In audacious attempt to preserve his administration, Nixon commanded television airtime on April 29, 1974... Still maintaining that "the President has nothing to hide," Nixon released a 1,308-page edited transcription of the subpoenaed tapes, in place of the actual evidence.
The publication of the transcriptions revealed the most intimate details of White House conversations and stripped away the remaining shreds of presidential dignity. “We have seen the private man and we are appalled,” commented the conservative Chicago Tribune. “He is humorless to the point of being inhumane. He is devious. He is vacillating. He is profane. He is willing to be led. He displays amazing gaps in his knowledge...his loyalty is minimal.” “Nobody is a friend of ours. Let’s face it,” said Nixon on one of the tapes. Congressional leaders, embarrassed and angered by such disclosures, prepared to take him at his word.
[O]n July 27, the [House Judiciary] committee voted 27—11 to adopt the first article of impeachment, charging the President with obstruction of justice for blocking a full investigation of the Watergate affair. On July 29, the committee recommended 28—10 the second article of impeachment, accusing Nixon of abusing his powers of office to violate constitutional rights. On July 30, the committee approved 21—17 the third article of impeachment, citing the chief executive's violations of congressional subpoenas...
Certain that the full House would ratify the recommendations, Nixon prepared to carry his fight to the Senate... On August 5, in an act of apparent political suicide, the President released additional transcriptions of conversations which showed unmistakably that on June 23, 1972, six days after the Watergate burglary, Nixon personally ordered a halt to a full investigation of the crime. Shocked by this disclosure, Republican loyalists quickly withdrew their remaining support... On August 7, three of the most powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Scott, House Minority Leader John Rhodes, and Senator Barry Goldwater, journeyed to the White House to confirm estimates of minimal support.
Facing certain conviction, the 37th President of the United States addressed the American people for the 37th time on August 8, 1974. “I have never been a quitter,” he admitted. "To leave office before my term is completed is opposed to every instinct in my body." His struggle, he announced, would end the next day at noon. For the first time, an American president had resigned.
In a somber White House, Nixon bade farewell to the members of his administration on the morning of August 9. “Always give your best,” advised the outgoing President. “Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember: others may hate you. Those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”
Source: Peter N. Carroll, It Seemed Like Nothing Happened: The Tragedy and Promise of America in the 1970s (New York, 1982), p. 140-43, 145, 148-51, 153, 155-58.