City Councilman John Liu garnered nationwide media exposure last week when he demanded an apology from a Texas official who made remarks deemed insensitive to Asian Americans.
Liu’s call for Texas state Rep. Betty Brown to either apologize or resign was reported by national outlets including Fox News and the Huffington Post, as well as local media in the Lone Star State. Brown, a Republican, later apologized, in what Liu, a candidate for city comptroller, called “a fair first step.”
The Flushing Democrat’s criticism of Brown even earned him a joke on that beloved barometer of political fortunes, “Saturday Night Live.” During the sketch comedy’s Weekend Update mock newscast, anchor Seth Meyers reported:
“John Liu, a New York City councilman, on Thursday demanded that a Texas lawmaker apologize for saying that Asian-American voters should adopt names that are, quote, ‘easier for Americans to deal with.’ Surprisingly, Liu was shouted down by fellow Asian Councilman Cowboy Baseball.”
Kidding aside, Liu was livid that during a public hearing Brown asked an Asian-American advocate, Ramey Ko, whether it might behoove those of Far Eastern descent to “adopt names that we could deal with more readily here.” She posed the question while discussing the problem some Asian Americans have had when voting in Texas because their transliterated names are sometimes spelled different ways on different documents.
Brown referred to Ko and other Americans of Asian descent as “you and your citizens” when speaking to him, while using “we” and “us” to characterize other Texans. Even after apologizing, she described Asian American voters facing I.D. trouble at the polls as “any of these people who are having a problem” in a televised interview.
Liu cited the “us versus them” tone of Brown’s comments in his response to her apology, saying it demonstrates that she still “must acknowledge more.”
The councilman pointed out that historically, many immigrants to the United States have seen their names changed at the hands of “insensitive” immigration officials. Queens residents of various ethnicities doubtlessly can relate to that.
Liu was the first Asian American elected to the City Council. A financial consultant before entering politics, he hopes to make history again by becoming the first to win citywide office via his run for comptroller. He may face two other Democratic council members from Queens, Melinda Katz of Forest Hills and David Weprin of Hollis, in that contest.
One might note that prominent Asian-American names in Flushing such as Liu, Koo and Meng make at least as much sense in English — and are at least as easy to pronounce — as say, Kuempel, Thibaut or Aycock: all names of Caucasian colleagues of Brown’s in the Texas House of Representatives.