BY LYNN EDMONDS
Asian American leaders and elected officials in Queens demanded Republican Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush apologize for his use of the term ‘anchor babies,’ saying the presidential candidate’s choice of words was offensive and divisive.
Bush, the former governor of Florida, used the term ‘anchor babies’ on a conservative talk show on Aug. 19, and he quickly came under fire for his use of the term.
The phrase insinuates that an immigrant parent would strategically give birth in the United States, gain their child American citizenship, and thus ‘anchor’ themselves in the country legally. It has a negative connotation and advocates say it de-humanizes children of immigrants and their parents by framing a child’s birth as a cold, calculated move.
The term is often directed at Latinos, but while Bush was on tour at the Texas-Mexico border last Monday, he responded to accusations of anti-Latino sentiment by saying the term was ‘more related to Asians.’
His defense sparked criticism from Asian American leaders around the country, including advocates here in Queens.
On Friday, Flushing community leaders and elected officials State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), State Rep. Ron Kim (D-Flushing), and Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) rallied at Flushing Town Hall to criticize the comment. Speakers said Bush ignored Asian voters, pitted one immigrant group against another, and perpetuated stereotypes.
Kim said the comment propagated an image of Asians as foreign immigrants rather than Americans who have been part of the country’s fabric for centuries.
“When a presidential candidate comes out and says Asians are anchor babies, and stereotypes all communities, that adds fuel to the ‘perpetual foreigners syndrome’ that Asians and Asian Americans suffer from every single day,” he said.
The assemblyman added, “We are as every part of this culture, and it’s about time that every presidential candidate recognizes that, and recognizes our community.”
Kim went on to say that as the only Asian American state assemblyman, he has experienced “tough moments,” when representatives from upstate had asked him he knew their dry cleaner or grocer with the same last name.
Stavisky also condemned Bush’s comments, saying they were “less presidential and more like school yard taunting and bullying,” and that Bush should “apologize not just to the Asian American community but the entire community” for what he said.
But Stavisky said Bush’s words weren’t the worst thing. “What’s even more offensive is the lack of immigration policy from the Republican Party;” she said, adding that “people need a path to citizenship.”
Bush said he is in favor of birthright citizenship, while his comment prompted many Republican candidates to come out against it publicly last week.
He said he had used the term to refer to a relatively small number of women who engage in ‘birth tourism’ in the United States, many of them to get around China’s one-child rule. The phenomenon is not typically associated with the term.
Koo called for “all presidential candidates to immediately end this anti-immigrant one-upmanship.”
“Instead of further marginalizing communities, our presidential candidates should be campaigning on ways they can bring our country together across ethnicities as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” Koo said.
Kwang Kim of the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York read a statement crafted by six Asian American community organizations, including his own and Asian Americans for Equality, Korean American Association of Greater New York, Korean American Association of Queens, Korean American Civic Empowerment, and Korean American Senior Citizens Voters Federation of New York.
“As a candidate seeking a position of leadership to verbally single out and denounce a specific group for his personal interests is a despicable conduct that makes us questions his qualifications as a leader. It is alarming to imagine the kind of policies he would enforce as a president when his current remarks already reflect deprecatory sentiments toward Asian Americans,” he said.
He also emphasized that Asian American votes matter in national elections.
“We would like to remind Mr. Bush that the candidate who earned the support of the Asian Americans voters won the 2012 presidential elections,” he said.
Lastly, Kim warned Bush against what he saw as a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.
“If Mr. Bush believes that marginalizing the Asian American community will earn him the Latino votes, he is gravely mistaken; the immigrant community will not be divided under any circumstances.”
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana