Ten Asians Making the News in America

Jan 21, 2009
*Special to asia!

From shore to shining shore, America is made up of successive generations of immigrants. But it has always found it difficult to accommodate those who came via the Pacific instead of the Atlantic.

Taiwanese-born Chao migrated with her parents to the US when she was just eight. Her father, James, went to Shanghai's Jiaotong University with Chinese President Hu Jintao, whom he still meets on a regular basis. James Chao's shipping company Foremost not only does business with China, he has also long worked with the Tungs, the influential family of Hong Kong's former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Secretary Chao's mother is herself related to the Hsus, another powerful shipping dynasty in Hong Kong. Elaine Chao's ready connections in a country where connections, or guanxi, count tremendously make her invaluable in facilitating Sino-US contact. Personally, she feels China has been demonised in the US because of a need to find a post-Cold War enemy, and supports Bill Clinton's policies of constructive engagement and strategic partnership with Beijing.

This doesn't go down well with those afraid of the emerging Dragon. But for an America waiting to tap into a market of 1.3 billion, she is perfectly poised.


2. Lolo Soetoro — a virtual unknown

Depending on the source's political leaning, Lolo Soetoro was either a "Muslim student" or a "radical Muslim". He married divorcee, Ann Obama, and they took young Barack to live in Indonesia.

Barack Obama spent four years there studying in a local school and the Democratic presidential candidate is now suspected of being a Christian who is really a closet Muslim.

In a bid to uncover the truth, international media descended on Sekolah Dasar Nasional Menteng 01, the only Indonesian state school to be listed in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. They exposed it as a madrassah preaching jihadism, a "fact" later discredited by further investigation.

It seems ludicrous but clearly some believe Obama talented enough to be schooled in the art of holy war when he was just six. Bandung Winardijanto, who attended the same school, remembers "Curly Eyelashes" to be more pre-occupied with breaking school fences and taking food from vendors, which his parents had to pay for at the end of every week.

Barry Soetoro, as he was known then, was a scout, but not a very good one at that. After a short stay in Indonesia, he was sent to live with his grandparents in the US.

As if being black and trying to be president isn't hard enough. Obama's Asian connection is obscure but proof enough for some Republicans, to make him Muslim and a potential terrorist as well.

All this because Lolo Soetoro couldn't afford to send his stepson to an international school.




3. Edmund Moy — The boy who collected coins now prints money

In 2005, the United States Mint made more than 15 billion coins, and generated US$1.7 billion in revenue. This made the Treasury US$775 million richer. Thanks are due to the director of the US Mint, Edmund Moy.

The Chinese-American is also the Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel at the White House. He recommends candidates to head eight of the 15 US Federal Departments including Energy, Education and Labor, and bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Social Security Administration. In all, he recruited more than 3,500 people for both terms of President Bush, whom he notes has appointed more Asian-Americans than ever in US history.

A highly regarded layperson in evangelical circles, Moy sits on the board of directors of Christianity Today International, which publishes religious magazines and produces, among other materials, church-management software and Christian audio-visual resources. The organisation is founded by world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham, the man President Bush says "planted a mustard seed" of faith in his soul, after their meeting in 1985.

Anyone who has the ear of the president, his hand in the US cash supply, and the backing of the powerful evangelical lobby patronised by Bush himself, is an influential man to watch.


4. David Kuo — No separation of church and state

"I call my philosophy and approach compassionate conservatism....with this hopeful approach, we will make a real difference in people's lives."—President George W. Bush, 2001


When President Bush set up the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001, he promised US$8 billion to help the poor, and charities that would previously not have been given federal funding because of their religious nature, could now apply.

This was Christmas come early for David Kuo. After swinging from volunteering for the Democrats under Ted Kennedy to working for conservatives like former Attorney-General John Ashcroft, the self-professed Compassionate Conservative saw in this a chance to put his evangelical faith into practice.

He lasted 2 1/2 years in the Bush White House, 23 months as Deputy Director of the new office, before quitting. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he said the President promised to be "the leading lobbyist on behalf of the poor" but the lobbyist "didn't follow through".

Leaving politics, he wrote an exposé accusing the Bush administration of using compassionate conservatism as "political seduction" to win support from faith-based constituencies, and Bush aides of calling controversial televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "insane" and "ridiculous". Oh and only US$60 million of the promised US$8 billion has come through.

"It all comes down to the fact that if the president wanted it, he would have gotten it," Kuo asserts. The Office's last director Jim Towey calls this naivete.

Through his various statements, Kuo does appear to display the naïve idealism and goal-focused single-mindedness that outsiders sometimes find so incredulous about many Americans. But within the country, he has made yet more Americans question something else about a president whose credibility has already taken a beating.

Kuo insists Bush is a good, caring and compassionate man. In trying to reconcile the president's personal and political personae, he concludes that the politician may have won.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi