Asian-American group wants U.S. flags all over Chinatown

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. -- This Independence Day, Richard Mak envisions American flags displayed proudly alongside the Peking ducks, Asian pears and jade rings in this city's bustling Chinatown.

Mak and about 200 volunteers are planning to visit each Chinatown merchant in Oakland, and offer to hang free flags from storefronts. It's all part of a nationwide effort -- given new urgency by last year's terrorist attacks -- to blanket Asian-American neighborhoods with the Stars and Stripes for July Fourth.

"For the last 150 years we have been treated as foreigners. We want to show the mainstream we Chinese-Americans are American too," said Mak, an Air Force veteran who owns a Chinatown fish market. "We are loyal to this country and we demand to be treated as American."

The effort is drawing volunteers around the country, though some critics say simply waving an American flag won't change people's views of Asian-Americans, whatever those feelings may be.

Last month, the 80-20 Initiative -- a political action committee which works to boost the clout of Asian-Americans -- e-mailed about 430,000 people urging them to "erase our 'foreigners' image" by creating flag displays at prominent Asian-American locations and hanging flags at homes and businesses.

The project was first tried last year, but takes on a new significance in the wake of Sept. 11, said S.B. Woo, the group's president and former lieutenant governor of Delaware.

"Life is tougher now for new immigrants, new citizens. Xenophobia has increased," Woo said. "We will just have to dedicate ourselves to redoubled efforts."

The nonpartisan 80-20 Initiative is spending about $13,000 printing 5,000 paper flags and running radio spots on Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and English-language stations for the campaign. The targets are those ethnic communities -- along with Asian Indians and Japanese-Americans -- in the San Francisco area, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Houston, Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York.

Formed in 1998, 80-20 takes its name from its goal of wielding bloc-voting power to rally 80 percent of the country's 10.2 million Asian-Americans behind one presidential candidate, though the group isn't loyal to a particular party.

In Flushing, N.Y., Richard Hsueh's Mandarin-language radio station has broadcast announcements and ads about the flag project. The 80-20 Initiative sent him about 200 flags, which can be picked up at the station, he said.

"To hang up the American flags, maybe some people will see that as a small thing, but I think the meaning is significant," Hsueh said. "After 9/11, more than ever, we need to let people understand the immigrants here are members of America. We love America."

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