Although the Democrats wanted to come to Cleveland and throw jabs at Republicans during their national convention, it’s former Gov. Ted Strickland who’s taking flak for the use of what some are calling “racially insensitive” propaganda.
Some of the top leaders for the Democratic National Committee are in Cleveland to counter the Republican National Convention and their message to the country.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is promoting an environment of divisiveness, bigotry and racism.
But it was Democratic former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland who hit a nerve after talking about some new campaign materials.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen our fortune cookies but we have some fortune cookies we can share them with you,” Strickland said.
Strickland, who’s running for U.S. Senate, is using these fortune cookies to hit his opponent Republican Sen. Rob Portman on his record on trade deals with China.
“You open them up and the message inside is Rob Portman the best Senator that China’s ever had,” he explains.
An offensive stereotype
Lisa Wong with the Organization of Chinese Americans, Cleveland Chapter, says these fortune cookies are an unfair use of an offensive stereotype.
“Creating propaganda like that creates racial tension and there are already Asian Americans in the United States that already have issues with the typecast as ‘foreigner.’ And something like this doesn’t help because he’s capitalizing, he’s banking on people’s negative feelings about China and that affects us here as Chinese Americans,” she said.
Strickland ensured that he meant no disrespect by using fortune cookies.
“Governor, are you at all concerned that the use of fortune cookies might be racially insensitive?”
“No, no, no you know when I say he’s the best senator that China’s ever had. I’m not saying anything bad about China,” Strickland said.
The fortune cookie's origins
But here’s the big catch for people like Wong and Chinese American advocates -- fortune cookies have nothing to do with China. Many say the fortune cookie was invented by a baker in San Francisco and some historians say the origins can be traced even further back in time to Japan.
When pressed on the fact that China doesn’t use fortune cookies, Strickland said it was more about the symbol.
“Well but we associate them with what we get when we go to eat at a Chinese restaurant,” he said.
“At an American Chinese restaurant?”
“Um, yes an American Chinese restaurant absolutely,” he said.
“Governor we’ve got to run,” a staffer said.
“We should get to our next event,” another staffer said.
The former governor was then pulled away from any more questions by his staff.
Political propaganda at the cost of diversity
Johnny Wu, who’s also with the Organization of Chinese Americans, says the use of such political propaganda ignores the diversity Ohio has to offer.
“A representative who has been once a governor of Ohio is doing something that is hurting the citizens that are living in the state and not deciding to be careful of the diverse culture here in the city,” Wu said.
Wong adds that China and trade deals with the country have been a hot button topic during the presidential race, which has trickled down to races like the one between Strickland and Portman. She says the rhetoric used in these debates over the issue tend to alienate Chinese Americans.
“It’s hard to separate people’s views of Chinese Americans and Chinese from China people don’t necessarily make that distinction easily and doing thing like this confuses that more. We’re always viewed as the perpetual foreigner and we want to change that perception,” Wong said.
Wong and Wu say this isn’t anything new in the world of politics. Four years ago they took on Republican Congressman Jim Renacci of the Cleveland area for a mailer he sent to voters using the image of a Chinese take-out box, claiming that his opponent was ordering American jobs “to-go.” The take-out box is, again, another American creation.