Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
Candidates try to woo
new citizens

A forum gives immigrant Chinese first-time
voters a chance to hear the hopefuls

By Susan Kreifels

State legislative candidate Jonathan Low told voters yesterday that if they wanted the government to take care of them, "you can go back to China."

Not the kind of rhetoric you usually hear on the campaign trail, but these were not the usual voters.

At a forum held at the Chinese Cultural Plaza, Hawaii candidates courted 350 first-time voters, all Chinese immigrants who have become citizens in recent years.

The forum, sponsored by the Chinese Community Action Coalition and the Organization of Chinese Americans, was part of a voter registration and education campaign for new citizens.

Candidates for Honolulu mayor, prosecutor, state legislature and U.S. Congress were asked to speak on specific issues: welfare reform, cuts in state immigrant services and housing and crime related to the Chinese community. But only about half of the candidates addressed those issues.

Beyond the occasional Chinese words - "xie xie" and "do jie" (thank you) - much of the stumping could have been before any crowd.

"A lot of them gave very general, canned speeches," organizer Daniel Leung said. "I think they don't know enough about the population."

Forum organizers said 63,000 of Hawaii's 1.2 million population are of Chinese heritage, 22 percent of them born in a foreign country.

Some of the candidates called for more bilingual government staff, more crackdowns on crime in Chinatown, the revitalization and cleanup of that area, and creating more jobs.

State legislative candidates Suzanne Chun-Oakland and Corinne Ching gave a rundown of their Chinese families.

Low, whose Chinese ancestors moved to California five generations ago to work on the railroads, had one of the more unusual approaches.

"Welfare checks are just as addictive as drugs and just as wrong. If you want government to take care of you, you can go back to China. All you have to give up is your freedom. I will take the burden of government off your shoulders so you can make money."

The speech worked for Amy Siu Chun Chow, a 47-year-old mother and dry cleaning worker who received her citizenship last July. She moved here five years ago from Hong Kong, which will fall under Beijing rule next year.

"I identified with his ideas," Chow said through an interpreter.

Chow said immigrants need more help familiarizing themselves with Hawaii and more bilingual assistance. She also wants more playgrounds and activities for youths, and more discipline in the schools. "The schools don't seem concerned," Chow said. "They should contact parents."

Shao Quan Huang, 65, a citizen since 1992 and employed at a plastics manufacturing company, said he's worried about the difficulty of finding jobs because of language barriers. "Some really feel like second-class citizens."

Chow said she "was very excited" about voting for the first time. "I want to elect someone who will really help immigrants," she said.

Both Chow and Huang said they would vote for President Clinton because Democrats were more supportive of immigrants. Congressional Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, lambasted anti-immigrant legislation pushed by Republicans.

His Republican opponent, Orson Swindle, said "immigration was the strength of America and we need to have more legal immigrants.

Chinese groups help
new immigrants with
voter registration

The organizations say aid from the state
in this area is sorely lacking

By Susan Kreifels

Shao Quan Huang, 65, didn't vote in the state's 1992 election. He wanted to cast his ballot but he couldn't figure out how to register.

A Chinese immigrant who became a citizen in 1992, his limited English made it difficult for him to understand the forms.

It took three or four attempts and the help of Chinese citizens' groups this year before he finally figured it out.

Organizers of a candidates' forum for new citizens said their voter registration and education campaign is important for people with limited English because state government help is virtually non-existent.

Bilingual forms offered years ago are no longer available.

In fact the organizers had a hard time getting the support of the state office of elections.

"We had to keep pushing and pushing to get information and handouts," said Gregory Yee Mark. "It should not be that way."

Leung said language barriers make voter registration for new immigrants difficult.

"It's not just as simple as becoming citizens and registering," Leung said.

Since February, efforts by the Chinese Community Action Coalition and the Organization of Chinese Americans have resulted in registering 430 new immigrants.

Leung said he doesn't believe any other ethnic groups besides Filipinos get similar assistance from the community.

From 1982 to 1994 (the latest government figures), 6,600 to almost 9,000 immigrants have arrived in Hawaii each year.

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