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Over 20 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) advocacy groups protested outside the office of California Democrat congressional candidate Jay Chen last week over a controversial remark he made about California Republican Rep. Michelle Steel.
The protests were sparked by a comment Chen made – first reported by Fox News Digital – in which he said people “need an interpreter to figure out exactly what [Steel’s] saying.”
James Mai and his organization, AAPI United, put together the protest that drew around 75 people and featured representatives from a total of 46 AAPI advocacy groups.
Mai told Fox News Digital in the Thursday phone call that his organization works as “advocates against racism” and that “a number of individuals” from the AAPI community had contacted him about Chen’s comments.
The activist and the group representatives traveled to Chen’s campaign office to talk with the candidate, but when he and the protesters arrived, it didn’t appear the Democrat was there.
Mai noted that his mother is an immigrant to the U.S. and that both she and Mai’s wife have accents.
“And I would feel strongly if someone, if anyone said that to my mother or my grandmother or anybody else that I knew,” Mai said when asked how Chen’s comments made him feel, adding that “racism” is “nothing new” in America.
“We deal with it. But usually, you know, you deal with it from outside of your race or from other parties,” Mai continued. “But it was very surprising that it came from another Asian American who shouldn’t be saying these things.”
Mai said the average protester’s age was around 60 years old and that the Korean community was “outraged” by Chen’s comments, also noting the amount of Vietnam War veterans in the community.
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He also added that Chen apologizing was the “minimum” of what he could do after his comments “instead of digging a deeper hole or telling people that it wasn’t a situation,” and that the remarks were “very damaging” to him.
Mai also said that Chen is “absolutely not” the right man for the congressional job he’s running for after what he has said.
Chen is continuing to face public pressure over his comments and has yet to apologize to Steel for his remarks.
Reps. Young Kim, left, and Michelle Steel, together in Buena Park, California on Dec. 18, 2020, were elected to Congress in November 2020. (Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
“As a Korean American, Steel has dealt with racist attacks her whole life, but it never stopped her from proudly sharing her voice on the Board of Equalization, County Board of Supervisors, and now in the halls of Congress,” the letter led by the Korean American Federation of Orange County read.
“Jay Chen’s comments are despicable and an attack on all Koreans and immigrants, whose voices and accents represent the beauty of our diverse nation,” the groups continued. “These attacks hit deep because they highlight a long history of racism toward the entire Asian American community.”
“We stand with Rep. Steel and would have hoped we did not have to explain this to her opponent, a son of immigrants himself,” they added.
Mai’s comments and the letter came after several California leaders, led by Steel’s California Republican colleague Rep. Young Kim, sent a letter to Chen demanding he apologize for his remarks amid a race getting more heated by the day.
The leaders wrote in their letter that, as immigrants and descendants of immigrants, they were “deeply hurt” by Chen’s “recent comment mocking the accent of Congresswoman Michelle Steel.”
When asked for comment, the California Democrat’s campaign pointed to an opinion piece published Monday claiming he didn’t mock Steel’s accent, as well as accusing the freshman congresswoman of fueling “right-wing disinformation” and “falsely” accusing him “of mocking her accent.”
Chen touched on his family’s experience in America dealing with prejudice and accused Steel of abandoning people “in order to appease her radical party” by voting against the Jan. 6 commission.
The Democrat also accused Steel of “lying to her constituents once again because it’s the only way she can get ahead” and claimed he was referring “to a written transcript of Steel’s record of flip-flopping and feeding constituents convoluted talking points instead of the truth – not any kind of audible accent.”
Chen’s campaign also pointed to a statement by Orange County Council member Tammy Kim, who is Korean American, that the council member released following her tweet accusing Steel of “weaponizing anti-Asian hate against one of our own but sat silent while Trump denigrated our community.”
“Michelle Steel sat silently while Trump denigrated our AAPI community, yet did not hesitate to falsely attack Jay Chen, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, for political gain,” Kim said in a statement.
“As a Korean American woman who has the honor of representing working families in Orange County, I am deeply saddened by Steel’s willingness to hypocritically weaponize anti-Asian hate against a fellow member of our community,” she continued.