Asian Food In American Politics

When you walk up the stairs to the second floor dining room of the Hunan Dynasty restaurant in Washington DC, you will pass by a set of signed photos adorning the wall. No, these aren’t the actors and celebrities you might find at various longstanding and tired restaurants in New York or Los Angeles. These are, in a rather Washingtonian fashion, signed photos of various political figures in the United States, from both parties, including former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Now, it’s not the food that draws these throngs of politicians (the food is rather mediocre), but rather it’s their location, just a couple blocks from the Capitol building.

Given its convenient location, Hunan Dynasty has been richly rewarded, especially as members of Congress increasingly are in a cycle of perpetual fundraising. A search on Political Party Time, a website by the Sunlight Foundation to spotlight and create more transparency on Congressional fundraising, shows that Hunan Dynasty has been the location of at least 100 fundraisers since 2006. It’s an equal opportunity, bipartisan host of these prolific fundraisers as well, with events helping candidates across the spectrum, from liberal lion Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to socially conservative and failed Republican candidate for Missouri Senate, former Representative Todd Akin.

Combo of Dim Sum Plates by pchow98 https://flic.kr/p/8PiMC8

Combo of Dim Sum Plates by pchow98 https://flic.kr/p/8PiMC8

Now, Hunan Dynasty may be the Asian restaurant that has hosted the most number of political fundraisers, but it is certainly not the only restaurant to do so. In New Mexico, StreetFood Asia, a personal favorite restaurant of mine, was host to a fundraiser supporting the Senatorial bid of State Auditor Hector Balderas. In the Bay Area, Congresswoman Judy Chu had a fundraiser at Dynasty Seafood Restaurant in Cupertino, CA, co hosted by a number of Asian American leaders. However, all of these one-off political fundraisers at Asian restaurants pales in comparison the the volume of Asian food present in the events supporting Representative Adam Schiff of California. Schiff’s candidate committee hosts a semi-annual spectacular sushi luncheon, a semi-annual fundraiser featuring Korean barbeque, and even a fundraiser at Lunasia, which is often on lists as one of the top restaurants serving dim sum in Los Angeles. Now I don’t know why Schiff has a prolific number of fundraisers featuring various Asian food, though I suspect his district’s pre-2012 boundaries that included heavily Asian cities like Alhambra and Monterey Park and current district’s large Asian populations in areas like Glendale and Los Angeles’ Thai Town has something to do with it.

While I can only speculate on the reasons why Schiff continually has Asian food fundraisers, the growth of Asian American communities across the United States is increasingly influencing the elections and activities of political leaders across the country. Representative Loretta Sanchez, who represents a heavily Asian and Latino district in central Orange County, has regular visits to her large Vietnamese constituency. Further down in my hometown of San Diego, the competitive election in California’s 52nd Congressional District has brought dueling press conferences and statements by both candidates on who has greater support among the Asian American community in San Diego. However, the candidates aren’t reaching the broader Asian American community just by televised press conferences. In fact, Representative Scott Peters (who, for full disclosure, I support) has been seen campaigning by talking to voters during dim sum at Jasmine Seafood Restaurant and held his AAPI campaign kickoff at Pangea, a Taiwanese bakery in the heart of San Diego’s pan-Asian commercial corridor of Convoy Street.

Char Kway Teow at Street Food Asia

Char Kway Teow at Street Food Asia

In district events at Asian restaurants and other locations that serve Asian food aren’t the sole provenance of West Coast political figures or Democrats, however. This year’s heated race in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in suburban DC to replace retiring Representative Frank Wolf is an example on how the large growth of Asian Americans is impacting politics across the country. Recently, NPR aired a story about the growing Asian community in Northern Virginia and how candidates Barbara Comstock and John Foust have purposefully outreached to Asian voters, including dueling Korean language ads. The Washington Post even reports on how Comstock has highlighted her attendance at the Punjabi Mela Festival and how the Republican National Convention hosted an event in support of her at Woo Lae Oak, a popular Korean restaurant in Tyson’s Corner. And Comstock is not the only Republican candidate the party has hosted Asian specific outreach events for. Just this year, the Republican Party has hosted an event at a Filipino restaurant for Ed Gillespie, their candidate for Virginia Senate, as well as an event with former Representative Joseph Cao in a Vietnamese restaurant around New Orleans.

While the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is not homogenous and has a diverse range of political beliefs, immigration status, socio-economic status, and other demographic factors, its growing size means that political candidates from city council to Congress are paying attention.

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