Rep. Ted Lieu: We're 'seeing the political awakening of the Asian American community'

Melody Hahm
·West Coast Correspondent
·4 min read

As Asian Americans face a surge of violence in the country, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu of California has spoken out against the racism facing Asians in America and perpetuated by certain current and former elected officials.

Referring to former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's offensive tweet that he is going to "identify" as Chinese so corporations like Coke and Delta will "like" him, Lieu said it's precisely this rhetoric that is fanning the flame of racism.

"What I think triggers attacks on Asian Americans is the confusion that some people have between the actions of a foreign country and Americans who happen to be of Asian descent," Lieu told Yahoo Finance in an interview this week. "So I call on all elected officials, and really all Americans, to stop using racist phrases like 'Kung Flu' and to stop doing what Governor Mike Huckabee did over the weekend, who mocked the Asian community. We need to have elected officials not do that anymore." 

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Lieu has been in public service for most of his adult life. After joining the U.S. Air Force, he took up posts in city council, California's state legislature, and was elected to Congress in 2014. 

"I've served in active duty in the United States military to defend the right of Mike Huckabee to say stupid stuff. I just wish he would stop saying it. Because it's exactly that kind of rhetoric that's going to cause Asian American kids at school to be bullied and teased. It's that kind of rhetoric that adds fuel to the fire of hatred, which has caused a huge spike in hate crimes, of hate incidents against Asian Americans," he added.

Lieu, who is a Taiwanese immigrant, represents the affluent 33rd congressional district in western Los Angeles County, where 16% of his constituents are Asian, more than double the rate in the United States. He said he's galvanized by the solidarity he's witnessing across his district and nation between Asian Americans and their allies. As organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have joined the movement to #StopAsianHate, he said it's been encouraging to see an outpouring of support. He points out that much of attention is due to the fact that the growing Asian population in America is impossible to ignore.

Citing data from Pew Research, Lieu said Asians are expected to become the largest immigrant group in the U.S., eclipsing Hispanics in 2055. "In the last two decades or so, there's been extraordinary growth in the AAPI community. Since 2000, the number of eligible voters in the community has more than doubled," he said.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) questions Intelligence Committee Minority Counsel Stephen Castor and Intelligence Committee Majority Counsel Daniel Goldman during the House impeachment inquiry hearings, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 9, 2019. Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) questions Intelligence Committee Minority Counsel Stephen Castor and Intelligence Committee Majority Counsel Daniel Goldman during the House impeachment inquiry hearings, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 9, 2019. Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS

"We've seen non-Asian Americans come out in support of the Asian Americans community. We had all these rallies across America," he said. "They weren't massive, but they weren't small either. I think you're seeing the political awakening of the Asian American community as well as other communities recognizing their awakening of the Asian American community."

Lieu's name recognition swelled during the Trump administration, when he took to the former president's favorite platform to criticize his leadership and especially his use of xenophobic language. Anti-Asian sentiment has hit a fever pitch over the last year as Trump scapegoated the Asian community for the spread of the coronavirus. Between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021, non-profit reporting center Stop AAPI Hate received 3,795 reports of verbal harassment, physical assault, civil rights violations and online harassment. 

Lieu said he's pleased with President Joe Biden's March 30 executive order responding to "anti-Asian violence, xenophobia and bias." The new actions include allocating $49.5 million from the American Rescue Plan to fund AAPI survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, a direct response to the Atlanta shooting across three different massage businesses, which killed eight people, six of them Asian women.

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s West Coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm and on LinkedIn.

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