Republicans hold their few ethnic minority politicians out as examples of their progress in diversity: Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley. (But they wish they could hide Michael Steele). Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley seem to confirm a racial stereotype that Asian Americans are the "model minority." Are they really the outstanding examples of diversity, or are they sellouts instead?
Haley was born Nimrata Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina on January 20, 1972. Her parents, Dr. Ajit and Raj Randhawa, are Sikh immigrants from Amritsar, India.
If only looking at this, one gets the impression of a typical immigrant family's American dream story. But this was a very privileged family. The father, Arit Singh, received his Ph.D from the University of British Columbia in Biology, joined Voorhees College as the professor of Biology and after 29 years retired as Chairman of the Division of Natural Sciences, Math and Computer Sciences in 1998. The mother, Raj, had a Law Degree from Delhi University. How many women were able to attend universities in India in the 1960's? The literacy rate of Indian women was 15% in 1961. Four years after Nikki was born, Raj opened an high-end fashion company Exotica International that grew into a multi-million dollar business.
Business, privilege, and high class. Definitely not your average immigrant but perfectly made for the Republican party. Or was it?
We now have all read in the NYT story how the "southern hospitality" received the Randhawa's:
As a girl, her parents — the first Indian immigrants this small, working-class town had ever seen — entered Nikki and her sister in the Little Miss Bamberg pageant. The judges of the contest, one that crowned one black queen and one white queen, were so flummoxed that they simply disqualified Nikki and her sister, Simran — but not before Nikki, about 5, sang "This Land Is Your Land."
There is no doubt that this story is true. But here it was certainly promoted as part of Haley's image as the "diversity" candidate. It is clear that racial discrimination she faced at young age was a factor in going into politics. Her initial entry in politics as a Republican was also met with pretty stiff resistance and racism from her party. This was a report in 2004:
A WOMAN STOOD outside a polling place last Tuesday holding a Nikki Haley sign. A man who was driving away rolled down his window to shout at her, "I hope your children worship cows!" That confused the lady with the sign. The man was a good way down the road before she decided it was meant as a slur on Hinduism. Nikki Haley, by the way, is not a Hindu.
At another point during the House District 87 runoff against incumbent Rep. Larry Koon, Haley campaign manager B.J. Boling received the following e-mail: "Please remember that she is a Buddhist. One of my friends . . . verified this for me. I can only vote for a Christian, Larry Koon is a deacon and a wonderful Christrian man an does a lot for bring money into Lexington County. Please send this to your friends."
Nikki Haley isn't a Buddhist, either.
A half-page ad in the June 17 edition of the Lexington County Chronicle proclaimed that "there is only one REAL Republican in the run-off," citing as evidence the fact that Mr. Koon had voted in every Republican primary in recent years, whereas "Nimrata N. Randhawa" once voted in a Democratic primary. Below that was an asterisk with the insinuating footnote, "As the opponent's name appears on the voter registration files. A different name appears on the ballot." (Implication: She ain't from around here, and she's trying to hide it.)
Haley has to get the credit for prevailing in the face of all these. But how did she prevail? By running away from her roots, her culture, and her identity. By abandoning her Sikh religion and embracing Christianity. This is what she says on her campaign website:
Question: Is Nikki a Christian?
Truth: In Nikki’s words: "My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make. God has blessed my family in so many ways and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength on a daily basis. Being a Christian is not about words, but about living for Christ every day."
The underlying message reflected in this Q&A, is that she does not believe that she could win as a Sikh woman. She has to convince voters that she is a Christian. Is that diversity or sellout?
What did she get in return? Of course being called racial slurs by her fellow republicans.
Asian Americans were held up as the "model minority" by those who were opposed to the civil rights movement. They promote a few token Asian Americans to higher positions to show that they have accomplished "diversity", that people who work hard can get ahead. Thus they avoid having to address the social injustice faced by the blacks, at the same time also implicitly suggesting that the blacks are not hard working. Unfortunately, because of the relatively higher starting point of some of the Asian immigrants (mostly in the 1960's), their economic interests are more aligned with the Republican party, making it easier for those Asian Americans to become willing participants in the Republican agenda. Both Bobby Jindal and Nikky Haley belong to this group.
But most Asian Americans do not sell out. They know that the real diversity is in the Democratic party. A June 2009 survey of over 16,000 Asian Americans found that Asian American voters voted 76% for Obama in 2008 election. Asian Americans know where their political interest is and where real diversity is. It's not in the Republican party.