AAPI United organized a protest involving representatives from 46 other AAPI advocacy groups outside the office of California Democratic House candidate Jay Chen for purportedly mocking Rep. Michelle Steel’s (R, CA-45) accent in a video a few weeks ago.
The organization’s founder, James Mai, led around 50 people, who Mai noted were on average about 60 years old, to visit Chen in his office to directly address the candidate about his comment at an event on April 7 that his team needed an interpreter to understand the Korean American politician.
“Yeah, so she just had another town hall the other day,” Chen can be heard saying in a YouTube video posted on April 13. “And, umm, it’s tough. We’ve transcribed it; you need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she’s saying. The more she speaks, the better for us.”
Chen, who is running against Steel in the 45th District of California, was not present when Mai and the other protesters arrived.
Spokesperson Hallie Balch noted in a Republican National Committee blog post that participants said they did not see anyone come in or out of Chen’s office and that residents claimed Chen’s office had been vacant for weeks.
“Jay Chen has single-handedly mobilized a community of voters that are passionate about ensuring he never sees an office with his name on it in the halls of Congress,” Balch claimed in the RNC statement. “He can keep spewing unapologetic hate; Congresswoman Steel’s community will continue to show up for her and her proven leadership.”
When asked by Fox News Digital how Chen’s comment made him feel, Mai referred to racism as “nothing new” and said, “I would feel strongly if someone, if anyone, said that to my mother or my grandmother or anybody else that I knew,” adding that his immigrant mother and his wife both have accents.
“We deal with it. But usually, you know, you deal with it from outside of your race or from other parties,” Mai said, referring to Chen’s Taiwanese heritage. “But it was very surprising that it came from another Asian American who shouldn’t be saying these things.”
Mai told the outlet Koreans and Vietnam War veterans from the community were “outraged” by Chen’s comment, which he called “damaging.” He also shared that “apologizing” would be the least Chen could do “instead of digging a deeper hole or telling people that it wasn’t a situation.”
In addition to the protest, 45 Asian American advocacy groups, led by the Korean American Federation of Orange County, sent Chen a letter demanding an apology for his comment.
“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 coalition wrote. “These attacks hit deep because they highlight a long history of racism toward the entire Asian American community.”
Chen denied mocking Steel’s accent in an op-ed published in the Orange County Register Monday. The Democratic candidate also accused the Republican politician of choosing “the radicals in her party over the good of her district” and “lying to her constituents once again because it’s the only way she can get ahead.”
Korean American Orange County Council member Tammy Kim has also called out Steel for “weaponizing Anti-Asian hate against one of our own” in a tweet on Thursday.
“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.”