Getting engaged

Once marginalized, Asian Americans participate in civic life in Palo Alto in increasing numbers

Grace Mah thought long and hard about her decision to apply for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education in 2007. She had fought a lengthy battle to start a Mandarin Immersion language program in the Palo Alto school district, even raising $60,000 for district staff to conduct a study.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Green Acres
on May 16, 2009 at 1:49 pm

such a ridiculous article!

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Posted by Hey Anon
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 16, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Why is this ridiculous? When my parents wanted to buy a house in 1949, they were "told" what house to buy. Yes, in Palo Alto

My guess is that your parents could buy any house they wanted.

Just shut up.

Like this comment
Posted by ANONsense
a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 16, 2009 at 7:50 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Yeah, Anon
a resident of Mountain View
on May 16, 2009 at 8:01 pm

To Anon Green Acres:

What's so ridiculous about the article? No one can tell me to go back where I came from, like they told Grace Mah. That's because I'm an Asian American born and raised in Palo Alto's Ventura neighborhood. I would have been a 4th generation Chinese American if the U.S. hadn't passed the Chinese Exclusion Act from 1882 to 1965 specifically banning Chinese from becoming U.S. citizens.

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Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2009 at 10:05 pm

It's ridiculous because it implicitly condones categorization by race rather than building on the color-blind aspect of opportunity in this valley.

What does promoting a race do? It reinforces and builds the thinking that then logically requires racism. If one race is better than another, than another race is worse than the one.

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Posted by bruce
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Considering the history of minorities, particularly Asians in California especially, it is good to see some change and that people feel like exercising their franchise.

I think the fear might be that while the perception or the image that we are being sold is that the good old boys are losing their power as a group and inviting others in, other groups are working together and will promote their own from inside.

I can't say this is good or bad, right or wrong, I just think people are sensitive about it, or the idea that it could be true, either way, after the history that we have had. What is fair is probably impossible to determine or talk about without feelings erupting.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Funny thing is that if you ask Grace Mah for specifics about racist comments she gets pretty vague. She played the race card more than once during the MI debate--including to the NY Times--but never supplied any proof.

I know spin when I see it.

I think there's a big difference between that and what are clear documented cases of discrimination against, for example, Japanese Americans and other groups who were excluded from various areas of Palo Alto by restricted covenants.

I don't think the article was ridiculous, but I do think it was kind of a puff piece. Mah threatened a charter to get her program against the will of the community and the intentions of the school board. And, yes, guess what--it primarily benefits one ethnic group (Surprise! Funny how easy it was to predict that.) Now, Mah is getting ready to make sure Ohlone's a mega-school on a narrow street with limited street access.

Why? Because it benefits all children? No, because she has to have her pet program at any cost (well, except paying for private school).

I don't, by the way, have this issue with most of the other public figures mentioned in article--I think they've shown that they understand they have a job to represent all of us. One more reason, though, to think it a less than stellar article.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2009 at 4:39 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

We had that one magic moment I and others fought for, when racially classifying someone was illegal, and then the race pimps took over, Alas!

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 17, 2009 at 7:34 am

Some of the comments in this forum show that many people still have a lot to learn about the history of racism in Palo Alto.

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Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2009 at 9:17 am

John -

Please enlighten us.

As I see it, the fastest and best path toward eliminating racism is to eliminate racism. Simply stop identifying, calling out and emphasizing the race of a group of people and their common characteristics w/r to their role in our society.

In as much as we continue to do this, we sustain racism.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2009 at 9:29 am

Racism is one thing, exclusivity is another. As I helped move my daughter into her college dorm room last fall a group of Asian students were standing at the doorway handing out flyers for Asian students to join the Asian student group. My daughter asked them for the flyer for the white student group as we walked by. They looked utterly shocked.

Until we can take away all this type of color coding, racism will remain.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2009 at 10:17 am


That is a great story.
White student activists would not be permitted on any campus, yet we have La Raza for hispanics that wants to give back Arizona, California etc to Mexico.
We have black student groups that want to blame all their problems on white males and then there is the BLTG crowed claiming they are the victims of hate speech as they try to restrict the expression of other opinions.

The Asian students groups are ironic.
There is nothing in common between most Asia groups.

EG, the China, the Japan, India, Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan etc

What many Americans today do not know was that for almost 10 years prior to Pearl Harbor, Japan was on a genocidal tear throughout Asia. There was a second Holocaust in World War II that most Americans are unaware of -- one that killed upwards of 17 million Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and other Asians.
China is composed all many racial ethnic groups who fear and despise each other.

So the idea of and "Asian identity politics" is a complete fabricated myth.

BTW the waves of Catholic Immigrants in the 19 century were denied schooling, jobs, housing and health care by the Know Nothings.
That is why the Catholic Church built up its own system of school, colleges,hospitals and welfare agencies.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 17, 2009 at 1:55 pm

A few years ago, a high school in San Jose had an"international fair" with food booths, dancing, etc "Asian American, Korean American, Latino-American (with sub categories.)
A small group of Caucasian students whose ancestors came from Europe also wanted a food booth - but were denied on the grounds that the group would have nothing culturally in the way of food!! Faculty approved this exclusion. So what happened to hamburger, croissants, spaghetti, lasagna, cassoulet, frankfurters a/k/a hot dogs, apple pie, pretzels, FRENCH fries, ENGLISH muffins, ravioli, sorbet, GERMAN potato salad and sauerbraten --Russian borscht. The list is long. (See the McDonald's menu). The students appealed but were shot down by the Administration. No booth, no dancing. My sister got her master's degree from a well known Midwestern University. Master's grads do not get invited to their 'year' e.g. 25th alumni gathering but it now also has a separate Ethnic - non-Caucasian Homecoming. (It does not get her sizable yearly contribution anymore. )

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Posted by Anne
a resident of Professorville
on May 18, 2009 at 7:34 am

One of my favorite things about living in this area is the ethnic and cultural diversity, and the common resulting social trend of high-diversity living: tolerance and acceptance. Sometimes, however, this trend is slower to come than it should. I can see from some of the comments here that racism is not only alive and well in Palo Alto, but that it is cloaked in denial and defensiveness.

We still have a ways to go.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2009 at 7:49 am

Europe is frantically back pedaling from the disasters of multiculturalism, but most people feel it too late for most of Europe.

E Pluribus Unum one of the foundational principles of the USA has protected us from the virus of multiculturalism apart from a few area.

In fact There are no African Americans, Euro Americans , Asian Americans etc.
You are either an American, on your way to becoming an American or you are just a tourist.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2009 at 9:13 am

The young kids in the schools here have it right. They don't see color or race, unless it is a description like very tall, wears braces or glasses, etc. They play with whoever they find in the playground or sits by them in class. They see no problems and that is the way it should be. Then they start being given lessons in cultures and history and all of a sudden they start categorizing all their playmates. At some point which varies from individual to individual they start learning to become politically correct.

Yes what has happened in the past to most races at some stage in world history is not right. Hopefully there is less going to happen in the future than in the past. But, teaching these things to young kids opens their eyes to prejudices which they were unaware of.

Remember, all peoples have been persecuted in the past in some way or other. Even Christians in the first century were thrown in the arena against lions for sport by the Romans. I don't think most Christians are holding that against the average Italian today.

Articles like the one above are prolonging the prejudices, not relieving it.

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Posted by Lisa
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 18, 2009 at 10:15 am

I disagree that Grace Mah should be featured on the front of the 5/22/09 Weekly as a involved citizen. The only citizens she was serving in her pursuit of the Mandarin Immersion (MI) program was the small community desiring this specialized, boutique language program. She is always quick to raise the "race card' insinuating that the opponents of MI were simply motivated by racism. That's a false and unfair portrayal. I and many others opposed MI for the simple reason that for the district to provide foreign language to less than 5% of elementary students is unfair. The community didn't want MI and it was eventually voted down by the Board. Ms. Mah then used the threat of a charter school petition to reverse the original vote and get her way. She used the flaws in charter school law to bypass the democratic process. This action tarnished her image, but she chose to act in this manner. Citizens that bypass the democratic process should not be featured in the Weekly.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 18, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Thank you Lisa. I think, frankly, that the other people mentioned in the article don't deserve to be grouped with a single-interest activist. I'd rather have seen something on Barbara Klausner.

One of the things I've really disliked about Mah's bringing up racism is that she's used it used as a means to tacitly justify her views and tactics. There's an implication that everyone who opposes MI is possibly a racist.


If you look at American history, you'll see lots of racial/ethnic identification that just sort of disappears as people intermarry. Forty years from now people are going to be slightly puzzled by the big deal made over Hispanics. Many "white" Americans are racially mixed--i.e. there are a lot of Native American ancestors hanging out in family trees.

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Posted by aha
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 18, 2009 at 1:21 pm

"Thank you Lisa. I think, frankly, that the other people mentioned in the article don't deserve to be grouped with a single-interest activist."

- Worked with PAUSD over 5 years to develop an innovative choice program
- Selected to a vacated seat on the county board
- Elected to a full term on the county board

What have you done lately?

Like this comment
Posted by CommonGround
a resident of University South
on May 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I find this discussion curious. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt (i.e. no trolls), this thread basically poses the question of whether it's helpful or harmful to talk about race.

I trust everyone here opposes discrimination and that's not the issue. Should race be acknowledged in our society? I think the answer is both yes and no. Laws already make it illegal to consider race as a factor in hiring or workplace treatment. Race shouldn't have any bearing on how much people earn, or whether they get housing or receive services.

It also shouldn't result in social snubs, in exclusion from "diversity fairs," in people crossing to the other side of the street where it's "safer" just because the person walking toward them is an African American man. It shouldn't result in someone telling you to "go back home" or calling you racial epithets on the street.

But I'd argue that to ignore race or ethnicity entirely turns it into an elephant in the living room. Why? First, people of ALL races are, at one time or another, treated a certain way because of their race/ethnicity (in ways listed above and in many, many more, such as predatory lending). And when it happens, I'd like to see us get involved rather than let it slide.

I'd like to see someone say to those Asian students, "Stop being cliquish and start welcoming any person who is interested in your activities!" And to those being racially slurred: "I disagree with you politically, but it's offensive to me that you were disparaged like that." That's just scratching the surface. Again, issues like lending discrimination require taking a stance on a whole different level.

Second, friction is happening because of cultural differences, which are often tied in with race. We need to figure out how to deal with this friction and move on to consensus. Each culture brings its strengths and weaknesses. We're all here in this country, and the demographics are rapidly changing to become predominantly Hispanic in California, so we need to keep the dialogue going on racial issues because there are more to come.

Third, race and culture, and how a person's been treated in his or her lifetime as a result, contribute to who that person is. The idea of not recognizing my friend as being of Irish, or Puerto Rican, or Japanese, or African heritage is to ignore part of my friend's identity. Why would I do that?

In the broadest sense, "we are all the same" is honorable when it comes to laws and treatment within society. But "we are all the same" does not make sense to me when considering who people are, what their perspectives are, and how our society could benefit from diverse cultures.

Like this comment
Posted by Wrong to have Mah on the cover
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2009 at 2:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by aha
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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