Chinese-American leader a long way off

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 September, 2004, 12:00am

It wasn't until 1960 that Americans were willing to vote a Catholic into the White House. Republican opponents of John F. Kennedy warned that the 43-year-old would listen to the pope rather than his own cabinet.

Forty years later, Senator Joe Lieberman became the first Jewish-American to run as a vice-presidential candidate, backing Al Gore.

Many Americans believe Secretary of State Colin Powell could be the first African-American president if he sought the White House, but his wife has asked him not to run. It is widely believed that Senator Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2012, if not in 2008.

Chinese-Americans have done increasingly well in state and local politics, with the state of Washington electing Gary Locke, the son of Hong Kong immigrants, as governor in 1996, and

re-electing him for a second term.

And Lee Lai-sin, president of the Hong Kong Business Association of Hawaii, notes that in 1964, Hawaii senator Hiram Fong 'became the first Chinese-American to try to run for president'. However, he could not get the Republican Party's nomination. 'It is hard to predict when an Asian-American might be on the ballot for president or vice-president, because it will take a tremendous effort to get to that point,' the business leader says.

Most Chinese-Americans consider the White House as out of their reach for decades. Democrat Lani Wong says: 'I think we will have a woman on the ballot for vice-president or president, or a black American, long before we have an Asian-American.'

One Chinese-American New Yorker, who prefers that only his first name, David, be used, says: 'As more Chinese-Americans are integrated into the mainstream society, more will vote. The traditional apathy, or fear of retribution, is changing.

'More and more of my friends are voting in elections. Certainly, participation of a Chinese candidate will increase the voter turnout. I do not expect to see an Asian-American presidential candidate in my lifetime. But I'd like to be wrong on this.'