Ethnic Media Voices Weigh in on Obama Administration


NAM Editor’s Note: After the historic election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency, New America Media asked journalists at ethnic news media around the country to reflect on how the new administration will affect issues of concern to their constituency and their coverage in the year to come.

How will the new administration affect U.S. relations with your home country?

Zenitha Prince, Washington bureau chief, Washington Afro-American, Washington, D.C.
Obama has respect for the opinions of other people, even if he doesn’t agree with them. His election means that the world will look at America differently. America has the opportunity to be the shining beacon in the world again.

Euyhun Yi, assistant editor, Korea Times, Los Angeles, Calif.
The new administration’s approach to North Korea, which is expected to be more flexible compared to that of Bush administration, will ease the tension in the Korean peninsula.

Sung Wook Ha, deputy director, Radio Korea, Los Angeles, Calif.
The relationship between the United States and South Korea will remain as it is. The countries continue to be good allies. But ideological differences between the two administrations, South Korea being conservative and the United States being liberal, will create some friction. Ratification of the FTA will be a contentious issue. Despite consensus in South Korea, Obama opposes the treaty. If Obama opens up a more direct dialogue with North Korea as he said he would during the campaign, the South Korean administration, which chose to pull back from an engagement, will find itself alienated. This could be a challenge for the South Korean administration.

Joseph Leung, editor in chief, Sing Tao Daily, San Francisco, Calif.
The U.S.-China relationship will be more challenging in the coming years. Clearly, President-elect Obama views China as a competitor. He will be tough on trade and currency. We can expect to hear much more about China’s human rights. However, the U.S. needs China more than ever before because of the financial crisis.

Likcon Lam, editor-in-chief, Ming Pao Daily, San Francisco, Calif.
U.S.-China relations have seen steady progress in recent years. I don’t think our relations with China will change significantly with the new administration. Chinese leaders have openly said the most important issue is how the U.S. handles the Taiwan issue. When Vice President-elect Joe Biden was at the House Foreign Relations Committee chair in 2001, he told Taiwanese reporters that he didn’t support Taiwan independence. That is a view welcomed by Chinese leaders. We still have arguments with China in a wide range of issues, like Tibet, human right and trade, but I think the relations will grow.

Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor, Al Día, Dallas, Tex.
That’s one of the questions about the new administration, given the limited experience of Sen. Obama dealing with Latin America and their issues. One of the questions that Latin American communities have is what now? What’s going to happen with Latin America?

Ketty Rodriguez, reporter, El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Fla.
Venezuela is my home country and Obama said during the campaign that he was willing to talk to Chavez. On the other hand, Chavez was expecting Obama to win the election and become the next president of the U.S. I don’t know if in fact both presidents will talk at some point.

Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, editor, Polish Daily News, New York, N.Y.
The Polish government signed an agreement two months ago with the Bush Administration to create a missile defense system in Poland. The objective was to modernize the Polish army. Of course, Russia has not been happy about it, and has started threatening Poland. But Obama has been skeptical about the agreement. Now, I hope to see changes in the U.S.-Poland bilateral relations.

Another issue is the U.S. visa waiver program. Poland lost its chance to be a part of it last year. Poland, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania are the only European countries that are not included. Poland is part of the European Union, so why can’t our citizens to come to the U.S. without a visa for 60 days? I hope that Obama will change these policies.

Jamal Dajani, director of Middle Eastern programming, Link TV, San Francisco, Calif.
The most important thing is what Obama stated over and over: that he is going to withdraw troops from Iraq. This is what people in the Middle East will hold him to. I don’t think there will be immediate or significant change vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But I think Obama brings a whole different attitude of being a listener and being willing to talk and negotiate – a total change from the Bush administration’s way. Bush neglected Palestinian-Israeli conflict for almost his entire first term. I think Obama will be engaged immediately, but will he take the side of the Palestinians against Israel? No. Is he going to be engaged with Lebanon or continue the policy of isolation that the Bush administration has toward Syria? What he is going to do about Iran?

Nam Nguyen, publisher, Calitoday, San Jose, Calif.
Vietnamese believe that McCain understands the issues of Vietnam better than Obama. On the other hand, Obama has sent a note to the Vietnamese community to say that he is aware of human rights issues in Vietnam. So the community is taking a wait-and-see attitude now that Obama has won.

Dzung Do, editor, Nguoi Viet, Orange Co., Calif.
Many Vietnamese Americans think Barack Obama doesn’t know Vietnam as well as John McCain. Although McCain fought in Vietnam and was imprisoned in Hanoi for more than five years, he was one of the key senators who promoted normalization and trade with the country. Even the majority of people in Vietnam like John McCain. On the other hand, Vietnamese Americans seem to disagree with Ambassador Michael Michalak after he said that what had happened at Thai Ha Church and Vatican Embassy in Hanoi were land disputes. There might be a new U.S. ambassador in Vietnam under the Obama administration.

Antoine Faisal, publisher/editor, Aramica , New York, N.Y.
He has a diamond of an opportunity, more than just gold or platinum, to improve the image of the United States, especially in the Arab world.

It was disappointing when Obama stood in front of AIPAC supporting Israel and declared that Jerusalem should be undivided. He knew that he would offend Arabs.

He promoted himself as a man of dialogue. He has been accused of having no pre-condition meetings with world leaders. I look forward to seeing him apply what he’s preached. It will take some time, but I think he will try.

Osama Siblani, publisher/editor, Arab American News , Dearborn, Mich.
In general, Barack Obama is good for the world. The world is hoping that America will start changing and this is the message Obama was building on. The Middle East is especially waiting.
We have a war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Barack Obama’s acceptance speech he made it very clear that he seeks peace and not harm. He will be judged by seeking change. Obama needs to initiate a peace process to get Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiation table. He is the one capable of doing that, but he needs help.

Hassina Leelarathne, Sri Lanka Express, Arleta, Calif.
Democrats are regarded as more favorable to the [Tamil] Tigers. That is the biggest issue. On the other side, the Sri Lankan government seems to be very positive that the new administration will work well with them and improve relations. There is always that fear that Democrats will take Tigers off the terror list. That concern is still there. In the beginning, the Sri Lankan community was not very supportive of Obama. They seem to be rooting for him now.

Alejandro Manrique, executive editor/news director, Qué Pasa Media Network, Winston-Salem, N.C.
The new administration will have, I think, a positive impact in my country if they refuse, as Obama said in the campaign, to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia. Barack Obama has said that there is not going to be a trade agreement with my country until the killings of union members and union leaders stop completely and the killers (right-wing paramilitaries) are prosecuted and sentenced.
Barack Obama has not defined yet if the United States government will continue financing the war against the Marxist guerrillas, FARC, or if that money and intervention would be available for the next four years.

Loris Taylor, executive director, Native Public Media, Flagstaff, Ariz.
There is a browning of America going on and Obama represents what this country is going to look like in the future, so we are very excited. His election is going to lift the spirits of people of color across the board, not just African Americans. People are beginning to see that it is possible for their children to be whatever they aspire to be. Obama has promised that he will appoint a Native American into the cabinet to enhance the government’s communication with the country’s 562 native nations.

Harrison Maina, publisher, Ajabu Africa, Boston, Mass.
We hope that Obama’s election is going to improve relations between Africa and the United States. The issue of corruption in African countries is one Obama has spoken against and I hope that now that he is president, African leaders will look at themselves and reevaluate their governance.

Khalid Hasan, U.S. correspondent, Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan
Right now, U.S.-Pakistan relations are good, except for the tension caused by the predatory attacks by the United States on what it calls “suspected targets.” Hopefully, the gangster policies of the Bush-Cheney administration will end when Obama takes over. He is more likely to be sensitive to all developing countries, not just Pakistan. There’s a lot of hope riding on his presidency.

Richard Springer, political reporter, India-West, San Leandro, Calif.
The community expects that the good relationship established with India during the Clinton and Bush administration is likely to increase in the Obama administration.

How will the outcome of the election affect polarization—political, racial, social—in the country?

Zenitha Prince: Obama’s election is a giant step in the United States toward a less discriminatory society. [The election alone will not end racism, but] “the conversation [about race] will start from a different place because of the alliances Obama was able to build.

Euyhun Yi: Polarization will lose its intensity. The election results [showed] that Obama secured support from all Americans – white, black, Asian and Hispanic. In a polarized society, it’s hard to lay a support base that spreads across social, economic and political spectrums.

Sung Wook Ha: A new opportunity to close a chasm will present itself to the country that is politically, economically and racially divided. Without being aware of problems, there can’t be a discussion [of] solutions. It’s a positive start.

Alfredo Carbajal: This could be an opportunity for the two biggest minority segments of the population to see eye to eye and help each other. The same topics that matter to one community impact the other — health, education, the economy, jobs. Obama might be a lot more sensitive to their needs and how to solve their problems. Black and Latino voters are hoping this will mean the administration will help them and they can work together.

Joseph Leung: Racial tension is something we need to watch out for. Having over 95 percent African Americans and over 75 percent Latinos who voted for Obama, we cannot deny that there was racial favoritism. Same as in some southern states, nearly 80 percent of white voters voted for McCain. An African-American president doesn’t mean we will solve all issues once and for all. Republicans will learn from their huge mistakes. We can expect new faces and ideologies within the party. The real revolution will come from the Republicans; don’t expect too much change from the Democrats.

Ketty Rodriguez: I believe African Americans will feel more comfortable having an African-American president. I hope this will not turn into supremacy of one racial group. At some point, everybody has to be more tolerant.

Jamal Dajani: I saw a presenter on an Egyptian TV network announcing the news that Obama had won and that proves America is not racist. That’s the general mood outside. Obviously we have not ended racism in the United States or all kinds of discrimination. But look at that name – Barack Hussein Obama – an African father, an Arabic name. Once it is digested, things will change.

Nam Nguyen: Many young people are for Obama. Their [passions] were just as strong and powerful as the older generation. Now the older generation has to work with the younger generation on issues of human rights and democracy for Vietnam. The old have to rely on the young to get the message out.

Antoine Faisal: The room to be disappointed is always there. There is a higher expectation associated with him. It is a beautiful moment in history for there to be the first African-American president despite the three assassination attempts. Many thought this day would never come. This gives hope that the United States is [the] country of diversity that it is.

Osama Siblani: America is still divided: 47 percent of America voted for McCain. We need policies on how to deal with each other. But Obama’s victory proved that scaring people will not do anything. We need to listen to each other and communicate with the rest of the world.

Hassina Leelarathne: The reality is, he can’t deliver everything he promised. Then what happens?

Alejandro Manrique: I think the election of Barack Obama will reunite the country divided after a tough election. All races, all ideologies, people of all social backgrounds will have to come to terms and see this election as an opportunity to unite and work for common ideals.

Likcon Lam: With Obama elected as our next President, I think it shows that we are united as a nation no matter the color of your skin and what your belief is.

Harrison Maina: We are really hoping that Obama’s election will be a model for Africans to help them get past ethnic politics. In Kenya, people are already realizing that Obama did not run for president as a black man. Color was not a factor, like tribe usually is in Kenyan politics. It’s Obama’s principles and stance on issues that got him elected. Last night I spoke to my brother who is in Kenya and he said there is already hope among young people that with Obama as president, Kenyans will begin to see each other as brother and sister.

Khalid Hasan: As far as our own community is concerned, Obama needs to make up to us for saying he’s not a Muslim. What Colin Powell said on national television about Obama not being a Muslim and then noting that even if Obama were a Muslim, there was nothing wrong in a Muslim American wanting to be president, should have come from Obama himself.

Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska: Many people in this country are angry that a black president has been elected. This alone tells us that polarization, especially racially, still exists. It doesn’t mean that because a black leader was elected, the marginalization of minority in the country as well as the political divide will vanish in the air.

What is the most pressing change that your community wants to see happen?

Zenitha Prince: After stabilizing the economy and disentangling America from foreign wars, African Americans will be looking for systemic improvements in education and health care reform.

Euyhun Yi: I hope the Korean American community will be inspired by the election outcome and become more politically [engaged].

Sung Wook Ha: Koreans want to see immigration reform because they believe the current immigration laws are full of flaws. Specifically, they want to see amnesty, legalization of undocumented immigrants and measures giving illegal immigrant youth in college-going ages a chance to get financial aid.

Alfredo Carbajal: The most pressing issue is the economy and immigration. For many people, the two are related. The immigrant community, legal and illegal, is part of the economy, formally and informally. When the economy is bad, it impacts immigrants from everywhere.

Jamal Dajani: The Arab American community wants to see an end to the vilification of them, especially after 9/11. We became the Japanese Americans after WWII. New laws were created to harass Arab Americans and Muslims Americans. Arab Americans want to just feel like Americans, like everyone else.

Nam Nguyen: You don’t have to vote for Obama to recognize that it’s just not he who won the presidency but that America has won, and has gained back its ideal and that democracy has won. He has achieved a dream beyond the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and now everyone can dream big. I look forward to a day when a U.S. president would have a Vietnamese last name – say Nguyen, Le, Tran, or Pham. That’s possible now.

Osama Siblani: The economy is very important to us. Most Arab Americans are small business owners, and have been hit hard. Also atop our agenda is civil rights. Our civil rights have been undone by the Bush Administration and Ashcroft regime. The Patriot Act must be revisited and foreign policy has also given America a black eye.

Hassina Leelarathne: We don’t have a real voice in government. No incumbent president has ever visited Sri Lanka. They are not very fair in the way the country is treated. They throw out human rights charges. They use it as a weapon, they don’t take the trouble to really learn about a community. At least South Asian representation is better than anything, but we are not Indian.

Harrison Maina: One of the most pressing issues for many of our readers is immigration. Many Africans come here as refugees and this year’s suspension of the U.S. government program that enables them to reunite with their families has hurt the community. We understand the fraud concern, but rather than generalize and shut out a lot of honest applicants, the government should have looked at every case. We hope that Obama’s administration will take a second look at the issue.

Khalid Hasan: I think the 6 million Muslim Americans in the United States want to be made to feel that they belong here. One of the first things that need to end is the ‘special attention’ they get at airports. Bush has convinced the world that America is at war with Islam. That belief must end. Of course, Muslims, for their part, should not use their religion to espouse causes that run contrary to U.S. interest.

Joseph Leung: Revitalizing the economy.

Likcon Lam: The incoming administration should focus on fixing our economy and financial system.

Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska: The Polish community wants to see an improvement in the U.S. economy. People are tightening their belts. Salaries remain the same while everything goes up. Many Polish immigrants are now considering leaving the United States.