April 7, 2016

An Open Letter to Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart

We, the Pacific and Asian Community Alliance, University of Oregon Vietnamese Student Association, University of Oregon Southeast Asian Student Alliance and allies, are writing to express our deep concerns regarding your statement on March 10th, 2016. When asked about your stance on the Syrian Refugee Crisis you replied, “We need to help people appropriately and we also need to not jeopardize ourselves and our citizens in the process.” You then gave an anecdote regarding how Vietnamese immigrants “created a huge problem because their culture and their lifestyle didn’t mix with ours...What ended up happening was they didn’t know how to heat their homes and started a fire in the living room in the middle of an apartment complex. When they needed something to eat, they went to their natural ways of doing it by harvesting people’s dogs and cats, their pets.”

You may be a “compassionate” person who “wants to help people” but that does not excuse your ignorant, racist and anti-refugee remark. Your statement perpetuates the false notion that Asians are stupid savages that “jeopardize” US society by willingly burning down apartment complexes and killing pets. It dehumanizes them as an uncivilized people while ignoring the struggles these refugees faced having been displaced from their homes due to war. This “foreigner” rhetoric is still repeated today: “fresh off the boat” to “dog eaters” stereotypes are continuously used to discriminate against Asians and portray them as unfit to be in America.

Your statement also ignores the positive impact and contributions made by Asian immigrants and refugees. Activists such as Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs have contributed to the civil rights movement to end discrimination and racial injustice. Tue Nguyen, Tuan Vo-Dinh, and Xuong Nguyen Hu are all Vietnamese American scholars that helped advance the fields of physics and AIDS research. Yet, you glossed over these facts and vilified a whole group of people in a derisive, negative light in order to caution against taking in Syrian refugees. You do not want more of “them” here. The "them" in this case being men, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives.

As the Pacific and Asian Community Alliance, University of Oregon Vietnamese Student Union, University of Oregon Southeast Asian Student Alliance and allies, we would like you to take ownership for your statements concerning Vietnamese refugees. We believe that your “apology” stated in the Register Guard article published on April 1st, 2016 is insufficient. There was not a single statement made by you in the article stating that you were sorry or why that is so. You saw that the posting of the short clip as an unfortunate occurrence of “dirty politics,” which cut out the context and “paint[ed] a very small sliver of what [you] said.” In response, we want you to know that even before we were able to track down the full video, many of us understood that you were using those negative stereotypes about Vietnamese refugees as an example of why we should be cautious with taking in Syrian refugees.

The full transcript provided the outer context of the original clip and confirmed what we suspected. This transcript in no way absolves the negative impact of your statements or excuses it under any circumstances. You may very well be a compassionate human being as many who know you would attest; however, in this instance, your words were not words of compassion being shown towards Syrian and Vietnamese refugees - many of whom have since become U.S. citizens and are among your constituents. In their daily life, they face harassment and hostility from racists whose hateful beliefs are affirmed through the same rhetoric that you, as an elected official, used.

As a commissioner of the county and a public official, we ask that you take this opportunity to set a positive example by publishing a public apology reflecting on your actions and why they were wrong.

We also request for the re-establishment of the Human Rights Commission at Lane County to examine the county’s diversity and cultural competency policies and practices as there are currently no county diversity requirements beyond the mandatory trainings for new employees. We are aware that there is a county wide diversity committee; however, it is not accessible to the greater community or the constituency that the county serves. As public servants, it is critical that county officials and employees are culturally competent and are actively engaging in these conversations. Through this commission, we hope that events such as this will be prevented from happening again in our community.

Click here to add your name to this open letter.

Pacific and Asian Community Alliance:
Chau Nguyen
Quang Truong
Demiliza Saramosing
Jason Mak
Kyra Ioppolo
Lynn Fujiwara
Matthew Yook
Misa Joo
Vivian Hsieh
Steven Morozumi
Tran Dinh
Zhifeng Purcell

University of Oregon Vietnamese Student Association:
Michelle Thi Nguyen
Thein Vo
Thu Mi Do

University of Oregon Southeast Asian Student Alliance:
Socheat Tauch, President
Coua Xiong, Vice President

Ada Ball: Native community member, UO Alumni
Chris Wig: Chair of the Democratic Party of Lane County
David To: University of Oregon Asian and Pacific Islander Strategies Initiative Group
Jennifer Frenzer: Eugene Human Rights Commission of Eugene Board Member
Kaija Cedras:UO Alumni
Nhu Le: Public Relations Coordinator Asian and Pacific American Student Union, UO Multicultural Center
Philip Carrasco: Chair of Grupo Latino de Acción Directa of Lane County
Rachel Mallinga: University of Oregon Multicultural Center
Sandra Lozano: Juventud FACETA Board
Vickie Gimm: ASUO Multicultural Advocate, Oregon Students of Color Coalition Board member, UO Asian and Pacific Islander Strategies Initiatives Group Co-Chair
Vanessa Teck: API Americans Collaborating to Unite the Southwest (CAACTUS)

Anselmo Villanueva, Ph.D
Bree Muñoz
Cholena Wright
Gildardo Corona
Greg Evans
Eva Murtaugh
Eva Reyes-Ulloa
Max Jensen
Sierra Jager
Tracy Khang

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