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Chinatown voters champion Obama, split on Prop 8

5 November 2008 No Comment
Volunteers help Chinese voters with limited English skills.

Volunteers help Chinese voters with limited English skills.

By Guo Shipeng

A steady stream of Chinese residents cast their votes in several polling stations in Oakland’s Chinatown throughout Tuesday, many supporting Obama in line with the community’s long-time leaning toward the Democrats.

But a considerable amount of Chinatown voters cited traditional Chinese family values and voted for Prop 8 that would ban same-sex marriages, disappointing a group of campaigners against the proposition who stayed outside a polling place for a whole day to try to win over people.

“I’ve always voted for the Democratic Party. It has treated Chinese Americans well in the past,” said housewife Candy He, 50. “As an ethnic minority, we are most concerned about our children’s rights in education and employment.”

He said she strongly opposed gay marriage and had asked her three children, the youngest in 12th grade, to vote for Prop 8.

“They agreed a little grudgingly this time. I don’t know how they’ll vote in the future,” said He.

He accompanied a neighbor, a first-time voter who moved to the United States from China in 2000, to the small polling station in the hallway of the Lincoln Elementary School on the 11th Street.

The neighbor, a 50-year-old waitress who would only give her surname Zheng, said she voted for McCain and Prop 8.

“There is a Chinese saying: the older ginger is spicier. So I chose the more experienced one,” Zheng said. “I can’t accept same-sex marriages. It’s always one man, one woman in the Chinese society and after all the mankind has to reproduce.”

The divide on the contentious issue seemed to fall on generational lines.

Albert Fan, 18 and a freshman at the San Francisco State University, voted for Obama and against Prop 8.

“It’s equal rights. They were just allowed to get married fairly recently and now we are going to take the right back? It’s not fair,” Fan said after casting his ballot in the Lincoln Neighborhood Center.

His friend Alex Cheng, a 12th grader months away from 18, said he would have voted for Obama and against Prop 8 if he was able to.

Early voting and the concentration of at least four polling stations around the Chinatown area meant there was not much waiting in both the school and the neighborhood center.

Both stations had Chinese-speaking volunteers to help voters with limited English skills.

Lu Lisheng, 80, has helped in several elections. This time, he was one of the language volunteers in the Lincoln school.

“The procedures and Chinese instructions on the forms are confusing sometimes, so we just tell voters how to do it,” Lu said. “Five out ten voters need our help, but we’ll never tell them whom to vote for.”

Six volunteers from a San Francisco group against Prop 8, including an architect and a lawyer, manned the street corners near the Lincoln Neighborhood Center, handing out flyers and talking to people in the hope that they would vote against the proposition.

Emily Wages, a Mandarin-speaking mmigration lawyer from San Francisco, campaigns against Prop 8 outside the Lincoln Neigborhood Center polling station.

Emily Wages, a Mandarin-speaking immigration lawyer from San Francisco, campaigns against Prop 8 outside the Lincoln Neighborhood Center polling station.

Oakland City Council Member Jean Quan and her husband also spent several hours in the cold campaigning for the Democratic Party and against Prop 8.

Quan ran into a group of Chinese women supporting Prop 8 after dark.  When she challeged the group about their sources of funding, the Prop 8 supporters became emotional but things were short of a showdown.

“If you let them discriminate against gay people, then what keeps them from discriminating against Chinese, or women?” Quan said.

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