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Los Angeles | INDEPENDENCE DAY

Asian Americans Hope Flag-Flying Will Lift Image

Patriotism: Today's campaign springs from a poll showing some Americans doubt group's loyalty.

July 04, 2001|DAVID PIERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chia Ping Li, who left Taiwan 30 years ago, is now a medical researcher, U.S. citizen and full participant in the American dream.

But because he fears that some of his neighbors might question his loyalty, he will join thousands of Asian Americans in displaying the American flag today.

The national campaign was spurred by a poll that showed that a surprising number of Americans hold negative attitudes toward Chinese Americans and question their loyalty to the United States.

Now, many Asian Americans think the time is ripe for an image make-over. Political fund-raising controversies, the treatment of scientist Wen Ho Lee, the spy plane incident and the release of the movie "Pearl Harbor" all have contributed to an uncomfortable perception of Asians in America, many believe.

The national Asian American political action committee known as 80-20 organized the flag campaign and contacted 430,000 people. Major participation is expected in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, D.C., New York and Cleveland.

"We're using image to solve an image problem," said S.B. Woo, the former lieutenant governor of Delaware and a member of the organizing group.

There is reason for Asian Americans to feel uneasy, according to the Committee of 100, a Chinese American leadership organization. The group polled 1,216 people in early March, and reported that a quarter of them held "very negative attitudes" toward Chinese Americans; a third questioned their loyalty.

Not all the polling was negative. More than two-thirds of those polled said Chinese Americans are as patriotic as other Americans.

Henry S. Tang, chairman of the Committee of 100, said the survey was a warning for all Asian Americans, because it also found that most people polled "cannot differentiate between Chinese and [other] Asian Americans."

Tang, who supports the flag campaign, said Asian Americans need to go to extraordinary lengths to prove their loyalty.

Census figures show that Asians experienced the second largest percentage growth of any ethnic group in the nation. In California, they led all ethnic groups in percentage growth.

Some, however, see the flag campaign as superficial and unnecessary.

"It's a sad reflection that we have to resort to the flag to reclaim our identity as Americans," said Ronald Takaki, an author and professor of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley. "There must be a more substantial way to redefine who is an American."

But Li says the campaign is a small step forward. At his Porter Ranch home, red, white and blue banners will fly. "I know I'm an American," he said. "But mainstream America thinks I'm a foreigner. It's going to take time to change this image."

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