Asian Media Report Conflicts Over Economic Boycott

By Carolyn Goossen, New American Media
Tuesday May 02, 2006

The national economic boycott for immigrant rights on May 1 elicited mixed feelings among Asian communities, according to a survey of Asian media. 

Leading up to the boycott, the Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese press had been filled with stories designed to educate Asian employers about the legal rights of Latino workers who may strike on May 1, surveying businesses about whether they will join the boycott, and reporting on Asian American activists urging community members to participate in the May 1 work strike. 

But in some cases the articles have failed to make an impact. 

Some Korean small business owners in San Francisco seemed unaware of the planned boycott. They said the issue concerns mainly Latinos. Employers at a Korean restaurant in San Francisco said they would not allow their employees the time off to join in the boycott. 

“Even when they took time off for their citizenship exam, it affected my business,” one employer complained. 

But the boycott was widely embraced by Korean civic groups in Los Angeles, reports the Korea Times. Members of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, National Korean American Service and Education Consortium and the Council of Korean Churches in Southern California urged members not to go to work that day. 

According to Dong Min Cho, director of the L.A. Korean Community Center, “a large majority of garment factory workers in Koreatown are Latino.” He says between 70 and 80 percent of these workers were not expected to work on the day of the boycott. Several Korean groups plan to donate 15,000 bottles of water to protesters on the day of boycott. 

Chinese media have also been reporting extensively on the immigrant marches that have swept through the country since late March. The Chinese-language World Journal, based in Millbrae, published an article on April 19 that dealt with how to treat Latino employees who do not show up for work on May 1, suggesting that employers treat the boycott as they would Election Day, when employees have the right to leave work to vote. 

On April 28 the newspaper also reported on Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s (D-Oakland) attempt to dispel rumors that the Department of Homeland Security is conducting mass roundups of undocumented workers. Lee suggests that it may be individuals with anti-immigrant sentiment who are pretending to be Department of Homeland Security officials, with the intention of scaring illegal immigrants into not participating on May 1, reports the paper. 

While the views of Asian American civil rights groups are often found in the Chinese press, the voices of immigrants themselves have not been as prominent. 

The World Journal and Sing Tao Daily in San Francisco both reported on numerous press conferences sponsored by Asian American civil rights organizations supporting the May 1 boycott, many of which were led by second-generation Chinese Americans. For example, a headline in the April 26 Sing Tao Daily in San Francisco read, “Immigrant Organizations Call on People to Boycott Work, Stores and School on May 1.” The article noted, however, that no Chinese spokespeople parti-cipated in the press conference in front of City Hall. 

Joseph Leung, editor-in-chief of the Sing Tao Daily in San Francisco believes that Chinese immigrant participation in the demonstrations will continue to be low because of geography. “Most of the Asian undocumented immigrants are on the East Coast, not in the Bay Area, so (people here) may be seeing this as a Latino issue, not so related to our community.” 

Cat Chao, Chinese-language radio talk show host for “Rush Hour,” on KAZN-AM 1300 in Los Angeles notes that the initial admiration her Chinese listeners had for the immigrant protests wavered when the focus turned to an economic boycott. “When the Latinos started the protests, the Chinese community really admired what they did. [Now] they want to do an economic boycott, so Chinese listeners believe they sort of hijacked the national conversation about immigration reform.” 

In an editorial commentary in the Vietnamese Nguoi Viet in Orange County, Ky-Phong Tran writes, “Thirty years ago, Vietnamese people came to this country without documents either, looking for the very same things as those out there in the streets: a chance at a stable job, education for their children and opportunity.” 

He continues, “In their struggle, I see my struggle and I cannot turn my back on it.” 

However, Hao Nhien Vu, editor of Nguoi Viet, said that the Vietnamese community was largely unaware of the boycott. “As far as I know, there are not a lot of people who even know about this. There were employers who were surprised when we asked them what they would do if their employees didn’t come in. I don’t see that feeling of connectedness. They see it as between the white guys and the Mexicans. I guess they will feel differently after May 1, when they see many people not showing up at work, they will see that it is their issue too.” 

When asked if he would join the boycott, Vu responded that he didn’t see Nguoi Viet as part of the boycott. 

“The idea is to show people the effect of ignoring the economic benefits that immigrants are bringing to the country,” he said. “But my job is different. I work for a company of immigrants, so it’s pointless for us to walk out to show ourselves what we are worth.”