ThinkTank Learning Interviews Congressman HONDA
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Congressman HONDA is reading ThinkTank Learning magazine.

U.S. Congressman Michael Honda represents the 17th Congressional District of California and has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for over twelve years. In Congress, Rep Honda is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Co-chair of the Democratic Caucus’ New Media Working Group, House Democratic Senior Whip and the original author of the Equity and Excellence Commission now housed in the US Department of Education.

Serving as a California State Assemblymember, Santa Clara County Board Supervisor, San Jose Planning Commissioner, San Jose Unified School Board Member, Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador, and with over 30 years in education as a teacher, principal and school board member, the Congressman’s commitment to public service is commendable and should serve as an example to us all.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

T – ThinkTank Learning
M – Congressman Mike Honda

T: My first question is, with so many hi-tech jobs not being filled in the Silicon Valley and elsewhere, do you believe that STEM education is the answer?

M: Umm, no. I think an appropriate educational system that teaches youngsters how to think and that we incorporate, that we get youngsters from ages 3 to understand that whatever they do at home is science. So I think the answer is to allow people to grow up thinking that science is part of their life, and not something that is kinda mystical out there, that you have to be extra smart to understand. It’s something that we do all the time and if we have that method and experience to think that way, then all of those other things will fall into place.

T: Ok, great, thank you. As a man that comes from humble beginnings (living in an internment camp, coming to CA with their family as strawberry sharecroppers, etc.), what role do you feel that higher education has played in who you are today?

M: Higher education, like college?

T: Yeah.

M: Mmm…very little. What made a difference was the college professors that remembered who I was, that remembered my name. That made me feel better. That made a difference in my attitudes better towards the classes and myself. Umm..what the higher education campus did offer me was a lot of different opportunities to extend myself from my inner self. And the piece that I was the weakest was academics, the area that I was the strongest in was interpersonal kinds of things, like I ended up being the Fencing teacher. Teaching fencing with my friends, umm, getting involved in judo, ROTC, and then eventually understanding that there’s something wrong with me. So it was…higher education was the campus where it allowed me to see that part, in a safe environment. But, it showed me that I needed to do something other than being in higher education, that I needed to grow up. That I need to be proficient in what I’m supposed to do as a student.

T: Thank you. As the Chairman of Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus as well as a champion of civil rights causes, what do you think is one of the most pressing social justice issues that face Asian American youth today, and what role do you feel they can play in our country’s future?

M: Our youth. I think the greatest challenges that face our youth today is to…prepare themselves and understand the concept of social justice, equity, inclusion. In terms of the principles of the Constitution, and to… that’s the greatest challenge. Given that, they got a pretty solid self esteem, those who don’t will become stronger in their trust in themselves if these things are addressed. We don’t address those enough in our schools: about self-esteem, our social justice, principles of the Constitution because if we did, there’d be lot less bullying, lot less racial profiling, lot less student suicides, more inclusion of LGBT(lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) kids. So, I think that’s our greatest challenge. It takes our nation to the next step into evolving in a more mature country. Then, we can start to realize that phrase in the Constitution that says in order to form a perfect union. Because that phrase is based upon, the truths that we all hold self-evident, that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That can all be achieved when have internalized these kinds of principles.

T: My last question: So, the Supreme Court recently added a new affirmative action case to its docket that challenges affirmative action policies in public higher education. As a proponent of racial justice and equal rights, what are your thoughts about how affirmative action affects Asian Americans, who are traditionally not underrepresented minorities when it comes to college admissions?

M: Yeah, well. The thing about affirmative action is to correct some past discretions, some past transgressions. I guess the question would be should we be looking for ways to address the transgressions, or should we spend time in looking at what caused those transgressions and work on those. Right? Immigrants are not the problem, it’s the poor immigration laws or the poor practices of our country when we execute certain treaties. An example is we passed NAFTA which allowed us to do trade under certain conditions. Our country sold our surplus corn to Mexico cheaper than they can raise it. Now the question’s gotta be, what is corn to people in Mexico? Corn in Mexico is different to different classes of people. For the upper class, it’s food..the kinds of things if you trade in it, it’s a commodity. For the campesinos, it is what they grow to live. It is what they grown to sow…to reap to sell, so they can live. So, If we sold corn to Mexico cheaper than they can grow it, they got no income. So, People coming across the borders, they don’t wear three piece suits, wingtip shoes, they don’t carry a briefcase, right? They’re in a airplane. Who comes across? People who are poor, people who want to take care of their families because they have to… it’s like a magnet, they’re attracted to here because it’s a promise to make more money than they could have in their old country. But they have to put up with all sorts of barriers, so, umm it’s that kind of situation.

I know the question is how affirmative action affects Asian Americans. But in general, if you take care of the issue that causes the need for affirmative action then that’s what the courts and Congress and researchers should be looking at. Why do we need it? What is it going to do? Well, we’re going to have to do that, but at the same time, we have to take care of the problems because it does exist.

In the old days, they used to have quotas against Asians. You couldn’t have more than 10% Asians. So they kept us out that way. Because if we left it open like a free market, then it would be all Asians. Right? Or people who study hard. That’s the real question.

So, people who study hard can compete as well with affirmative action. That’s where the stereotype comes from. It was a survival issue for us. You kind of get into dental school, law school, medical school. Because that’s the way you survive. Those are the skills you need to survive. In your community, you can do all that and survive because they need all that.

But I’m not sure what question the Supreme Court is looking at. The chancellor at UCB said that affirmative action is a necessity because ….this was….from a Chinese chancellor from UCB, the highest most successful fundraiser, funniest guy. He came from China, went to school here. Got his doctorate here and then they appointed him to be chancellor of UCB. His philosophy was the university campus has to reflect the community of the world. Because if it’s only by grades, you won’t have that mixture of folks. And…the UC Board of Trustees passed a resolution that said you can’t have race based admissions. The one that dissented was an Asian American student rep, and said that this is wrong. But there’s a lot of folks, parents usually, that say you can’t discriminate against my kid because my kid has a 4.8 GPA. They should be in there.

Well, what’s happening there is that we’re building more prisons than universities. If we build as many universities as we built prisons, then the competitions for space for universities will not be that great. Then it will be competing for space at a university that parents want their kids to go back to, where they’re alumni. The bottom line is that we don’t build universities. You know how they build prisons? By looking at the academic achievement of 3rd graders. And knowing that there’s going to be a need for prisons. Well that’s a sick way to do it. If you know that there’s a problem in the future by 3rd grade, do something academically, then we don’t have to have prisons. To answer your question about the Supreme Court, I’m not sure what the questions was being addressed by the Supreme Court. You may have said it.

T: The question was just more about just the model minority myth and looking at affirmative action in a bigger context. And whether affirmative action policies will help or hurt them.

M: Well, the model minority myth hurts all of us. Even though there’s a grain of truth in it, it’s not reality. Because a lot of Asians are not making it. They’re not making it for the same reason that Latinos aren’t making it, that African Americans aren’t making it. Because if they had the same attribute,. Not attributes. If they had the same job or backgrounds, they could all survive, and perform, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. We just don’t know about the Asians who don’t make it.

So yeah, we usually pursue the wrong questions in the courts. The reason we have courts is because we didn’t make the laws appropriate …so checks and balances assumes we’re not perfect. So, in our imperfection, we try to figure out how to make those checks and balances to make it more perfect. Having been an immigration attorney, you know for a fact that our immigration policies are flawed.

It’s flawed for a couple reasons. We don’t think it though. #1, We may have done a good job at the moment, but the execution of those laws and we allow certain kinds of visas, etc. We do it in the context of a short timeline and we don’t think about the human factor of how humans behave but in the context of our framework. If we don’t do that, then we create another batch of undocumented or illegal folks. That’s what I’m concerned about would be about passing the laws. That we do it in a way that whatever policies we pass, that it doesn’t create, the impact on other places or other countries or that it’s so great that people move.

One of the things that will make people move this time is global warming. People on coasts, people on islands. When the water rises, they lose their land. They will be forced to move. So, it will be migration not immigration.

T: I don’t know how much more time we have. I wanted to make sure I respected it.

M: Want to ask one more question? Any burning questions?

T: So, if a genie were to pop up out of a magic lamp right now, and granted you three wishes, what would they be?

M: First, it would be that all other wishes I wish for would come true. (Laughter)

That humankind would come up with a process where we can learn to trust, nurture and share. And the second wish would be that we find a source of energy that’s sustainable, clean, available to everybody and should do without cost. I figure that solar power is one of them, but we shouldn’t sell solar, because it’s free.

I guess, um third wish…I’ll leave that open. The first two are pretty good. (Laughter)

T: Great, thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it.