- The Asian American Alliance of San Antonio (AAASA) has condemned Republican candidate Trish DeBerry for calling her Democrat opponent Peter Sakai “Dr. No” at the Deputy Sheriff’s Association candidate forum on Oct. 10.
- “From our perspective, [DeBerry's use of the nickname] was unequivocally deplorable and a racist statement," Genaline Escalante, president of the AAASA, said. “I really believe that Commissioner DeBerry owes Judge Sakai an apology. We're very disappointed."
- Dr. Julius No is a Chinese German operator of a guano mine and the main antagonist of the 1958 James Bond novel “Dr. No.” The character also appears in the 1962 James Bond film “Dr. No” as a Chinese German scientist hellbent on destroying the U.S. space program.
- Sakai is up against DeBerry, a former Precinct 3 county commissioner, for a judge seat in Bexar County, Texas, for the midterm election on Nov. 8.
A coalition of Asian American advocacy groups is condemning the reference made by a Republican Bexar County judge candidate against her Japanese American Democrat opponent during a candidate forum earlier this month.
At the Deputy Sheriff’s Association candidate forum on Oct. 10, Trish DeBerry was debating against her political opponent, Peter Sakai, over a county jail issue when she referred to him as “Dr. No,” a pop culture reference that the Asian American Alliance of San Antonio (AAASA) has deemed racist.
And we will have better conditions at the jail and my opponent, ‘Dr. No’ – he said nothing about these issues,” DeBerry, a former Precinct 3 county commissioner, said. People in the audience reportedly gasped loudly after DeBerry said this.
The Dr. Julius No character is a Chinese German operator of a guano mine and the main antagonist of the 1958 James Bond novel “Dr. No.” The character also appears in the 1962 James Bond film “Dr. No” as a Chinese German scientist hellbent on destroying the U.S. space program. The movie prominently features “yellow face,” with actor Joseph Wiseman, a Canadian American of Jewish descent, made to appear Asian with makeup to portray the villain.
During the debate, DeBerry continued to refer to Sakai as Dr. No, which the former state district judge found offensive.
“So, why can’t you call me ‘Peter’ or ‘Judge Sakai?’” Sakai asked DeBerry. He also told her that “this is what I bring: dignity and respect to the conversation, not name-calling. I take offense to ‘Dr. No.’”
“You’re not respecting people who live in poverty on the West Side and have for 40 years,” DeBerry told him. “You say ‘no’ to economic development, you say ‘no’ to pulling people out of poverty and you say ‘no’ to bridging the wage gap, so that’s why I’ll refer to you as Dr. No. It’s unacceptable.”
AAASA, an alliance of 28 local AAPI organizations, condemned DeBerry’s use of “Dr. No” during the debate, deeming it a “racist statement.”
“From our perspective, [DeBerry’s use of the nickname] was unequivocally deplorable and a racist statement,” Genaline Escalante, president of the AAASA, said. “I really believe that Commissioner DeBerry owes Judge Sakai an apology. We’re very disappointed.”
“DeBerry’s use of ‘Dr. No’ sends a message that it should be normal to use this racist language,” Myra Dumapias, founder and community advisor of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Justice, said.
In a statement to San Antonio Current, DeBerry’s campaign advisor Greg Brockhouse denied that the “Dr. No” reference was about Sakai’s race. Brockhouse speculated that Sakai “gets upset when you don’t refer to him by a title. He wants to be referred to as ‘Judge Sakai.’”
Speaking to Texas Public Radio (TPR) on Monday, DeBerry defended her use of “Dr. No” at the forum, explaining that the movie from which it comes was released before she was born.
“So I had no recollection of that,” she said. “Maybe not a James Bond fan, but also I will tell you that the ‘Dr. No’ phrase has been used in the political vernacular for the better part of 25 years.”
DeBerry further explained that her use of “Dr. No” was to point out that Sakai always “says ‘no’ to everything.” She also pointed out that her opponent did not ask her to stop calling him “Dr. No.”
“What he asked was, ‘Call me Judge.’ So the fact that he’s incensed by it today – this is politically manufactured on the first day of early voting… to make a point that I think is somewhat offensive to me,” DeBerry said.
Meanwhile, Sakai told TPR that he and his family were offended by the reference, sharing that what DeBerry said at the forum made him think of the teasing he faced while growing up in South Texas.
“This brought back those memories and it did for me,” Sakai told TPR. “I find it so insensitive that Commissioner DeBerry just won’t acknowledge that all we had to do was make reference to each other using our name or professional title. I, you – you don’t have to call me ‘judge.’ I said, ‘Call me Peter.’ But can we not get to name-calling? That is why people are so upset.”
Sakai is up against DeBerry for a judge seat in Bexar County, Texas, for the midterm election on Nov. 8.