I am a proud naturalized American citizen. When I immigrated at 14, I learned that if I worked hard and did my best, this country would give me the opportunity to make my dreams come true. My father taught me this, while he worked as a cook to support our family, finally rising to own Sir Wiener even though he spoke little English.
His values and teachings brought me to San Jose State, where I was able to earn a degree and go on to own a Farmers Insurance Agency, as well as start and run other entrepreneurial ventures. Hard work and education brought me to where I am, and I teach my children the value of perseverance and practice as well.
This understanding was the rule in California, but something has happened to change that. That is the passage, and then the suspension, of Senate Constitutional Amendment 5. SCA-5, which if confirmed by voters, would overturn the education portions of Proposition 209, passed in 1996.
Prop. 209 made it illegal for the state, local governments, districts, public universities, colleges, schools, and other government institutions to discriminate against or give preferential treatment to, any individual or group in public employment, public education, or public contracting based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.
The California state Senate debated all of 20 minutes before passing the bill with the then Democrat two-thirds super-majority voting in favor along party lines. The measure was expected to sail through their super-majority in the Assembly as well.
But voters began to pay attention and they didn’t like what they saw.
When they learned more about SCA-5, California’s Asians began to see it for what it was – an attack on them and their children by a numerically superior and powerful coalition of other minority groups.
Proposition 209 brought meritocracy to admissions in the UC and the State University systems. The result is that those who now attend a UC or CSU are better prepared, and their graduation rates prove it. Recent scholarship shows that Black and Latino graduation rates improved post Prop. 209 and that on-time college degree attainment rates have improved as well.
Latino and Black enrollment increased after Prop. 209, although it did fall relative to their population numbers, and there has also been a substantial increase in Asians attending the UC and CSU systems. Hard work and awards based on merit are Asian cultural values, and by focusing on the hard work and persistence needed to excel academically, Asians have gained a prominent place on California’s campuses. Asians have grown to 52 percent of students at UC Irvine, 50 percent at UC San Diego, 43 percent at UC Berkeley, and 40 percent at UCLA. Overall, 30 percent of UC students are Asian, while the state’s population is just 14 percent Asian.
Asians can see the future. Any artificial increase in the numbers of Latino or Black students will mean a reduction in Asian students and a cap on their numbers. With passage of SCA-5, competition and the drive for excellence are eliminated in favor of membership in certain racial groups. This is pure power politics, not sound educational policy. Capping the number of students from any ethnic background based on their overall percentage of the state population is simply racial discrimination.
I am making the complete defeat of SCA-5 a major part of my campaign for the state Senate in District 10. Admission to higher education should rest on individual merit, yet the goal of SCA-5 is to eliminate what I was taught about America — work hard and you shall achieve.
SCA-5 is fundamentally flawed and now Asians have forced three Democrat state Senators to change their minds. Assembly Speaker Perez also had to pull the bill (but did not kill it). Now Democratic factions are at a standoff, with Sen. Ricardo Lara, chair of the Latino caucus saying that he is “committed to put something on the ballot in 2016.”
Asians in California need to stand together and defeat those politicians who would denigrate hard work and achievement. Access to higher education is what has propelled our community forward, and we cannot afford to let others try to limit our children’s future because we aren’t the right kind of people.
Your children and my children deserve the opportunities that we have worked so hard for – the very opportunities that brought my parents here all those years ago. I urge you, stand with me, defeat SCA-5, and stop anything like it from harming our children’s future and our American Dream.
Peter Kuo, a naturalized citizen, is a Farmers insurance agent, entrepreneur, and a candidate for California’s 10th senate district. He lives in Santa Clara with his wife and three children. Follow Peter Kuo on Twitter @KuoForSenate.