May 11, 2001

Time to examine effects of Lee case, racial profiling, Underwood says

"We need to look at the effects of the Wen Ho Lee case and racial profiling by the FBI on the whole Asian Pacific American community," began Congressman Robert Underwood of Guam, in a talk at the Lab as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. "While no one condones espionage, it’s time to look at the effects of these kinds of investigations.

"It is amazing that racial profiling and all its problems can exist among the best — highly educated, highly literate people, who really understand American history."

Underwood, who chaired the Asian Pacific American Caucus and held briefings in Congress specifically on racial profiling at the DOE labs, commented on the "courageous testimony" given by several LLNL scientists.

"Now we have the perception," he said, "that Asian Americans are somehow a threat to national security. It is so important to tell the story of how Asian Americans in fact have made a proportionally large contribution to national security through technology and their work at the national labs."

As a result of the famous Los Alamos case, Underwood reminded the audience of the task force — of which he is a part — formed specifically to research such effects. He also mentioned the appointment of Jeremy Wu as DOE National Ombudsman.
"More needs to be done," he said. "We must remain vigilant against racial profiling."

Underwood began his career as a high school teacher, followed by a career at the University of Guam, where he served as vice president.
"When I go to Washington," he said, "I still think of myself as an educator, a teacher. I think of the other members of Congress as my students." Underwood said he uses displays of stereotypes and misperceptions as "educable moments."

As an example of such a moment, Underwood recalled President Bush’s recent remarks to the returned U.S. service members who had been held in China. When the crew arrived at Whidbey Island, Wash., the president "congratulated them on touching down on ‘American soil,’ after they had already touched down in Guam and in Hawaii."

In the wake of the incident, Underwood observed, "I think many Americans are experiencing anti-Chinese backlash today." He cited other times when Americans of Arab, Serbian and Japanese decent had suffered similar feelings due to political events.

"In the end," he said, "most of it is without foundation."

He likened investigations based on racial profiling to the movement a few years ago to declare English as America’s national language. "It just isn’t necessary. It’s like declaring ketchup the national condiment because salsa is becoming more popular, and soy sauce is not too far behind." Underwood is a longtime proponent and activist in favor of bilingual education.

"We must continue to fight ignorance," he insisted, "and racial profiling and institutions that have wronged us in some way. But let’s not forget the many opportunities afforded us by this great country."

The route for change, said Underwood, is in presenting a united voice in the form of organized groups to "work toward meaningful change in policy and in law."

However, Underwood admitted, "It is often difficult to form a national Asian-Pacific voice because of the various groups under the rubric of ‘Asian Pacific.’ If you want to be part of a national agenda, Asian Pacific Americans must think of themselves as a national community."

Underwood spoke of the profound effect and symbolism represented by recognition of Asian Pacific Americans by public figures and institutions. The importance of recognition, he said, "is in the power to create visions of the world by recognizing each culture."
In his work with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Underwood has addressed such issues as civil rights, pay, mobility, racial profiling and recognition as Americans.

In one specific case, the College Board had produced a report looking at minority groups that were considered at risk for educational opportunities. Included were African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. The caucus asked, "Why not also look at Asian Americans?"
The board responded with the perception that Asian Americans typically excel in American academia and should not be considered at risk. The caucus, however, was able to point to groups of southeast-Asian Americans whom they did feel were at risk, and the College Board’s new report is due out soon, including the Asian American groups.

In a question-and-answer session following his talk, Underwood addressed the issue of specifically how to implement policy to negate racial profiling. He spoke of the conventional idea that takes into consideration how China conducts espionage, and uses the same methods to conduct counter-espionage.

"I reject that," he stated, and proposed subjecting all persons involved in national security issues to the same questions and inquiries.
"America holds greater promise than any other country in the world," he concluded. "We will help perfect this democracy and help expand the meaning of the word ‘American’ in ways that were not possible in the last 200 years."