Sukhee Kang: You're Not A White Guy But You're Not The Asian American Candidate Either

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Catching up on some news alerts, it's nice to see that Irvine, CA finally voted in someone of color to their top post as Mayor. Seems like kind of a long time coming though. I guess it just goes to show us that diversity, percentages, and numbers don't always equate to power:

The city elects its first nonwhite official to the top post, reflecting the suburb's transition to an ethnically mixed community. Irvine is more than one-third Asian American and is home to a large Iranian American community. And on Tuesday, voters here elected the city's first nonwhite mayor. Sukhee Kang, a Korean immigrant and city councilman, credits his success to knocking on 10,000 doors, building up his credibility through two City Council terms and amassing a multiethnic coalition of voters.

"I never wanted to be viewed as a Korean American or Asian American candidate," Kang said, his voice hoarse from post-election talks and interviews. "I wanted to be viewed as Sukhee Kang. Because as mayor, you serve the entire community."

Last week, Kang, 56, who immigrated to Orange County at age 24, basked in the spotlight as he became one of a few Korean American mayors in the country, fielding calls from dozens of journalists on both sides of the Pacific and seeing his photo grace the cover of the Korea Times next to President-elect Barack Obama.

"Irvine is much more than a predominantly white community," said Grace Yoo, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Korean American Coalition. "It is definitely mixed and integrated well, and I'm glad to see the elected officials are starting to reflect the entire population."
I get the part about not wanting to be looked at as the Korean American or Asian American candidate - but I just can't help but think how even in a race where a city elects its first mayor of color, which should be celebrated - that the winning candidate still in some ways has to wash away their ethnicity because deep down people still somehow believe that if you're not a white candidate you may be somewhat biased in serving your constituency -- when in all reality people never ask that question (or maybe I should say people never quite worry about it) when the candidate is white, even though history has shown us the exact opposite.