Yelling "stop deportations," an undocumented Asian American stands up and Obama stands down

November 25, 2013 11:03 PM

I've played basketball at the Chinese Rec Center in San Francisco's Chinatown as a kid, but this was a one-on-one game no one would have expected.

An undocumented Asian student in America, Ju Hong, 24, a DREAM activist from San Francisco State, was one of those with an invite to the special presidential event.

He was among the hand picked and vetted diversity props selected to stand on the risers behind their guy, President Barack Obama, at what was hoped to be the speech to change the national conversation from health care back to immigration reform.

Hong was supposed to be merely ornamental, not a catalyst.

Obama, of course, was on one of his typical West Coast rejuvenation jaunts-Seattle for the tech wealth, SF for the immigrant wealth, LA for the Hollywood excessive wealth- a lot of fundraising with a little policy meat thrown into the mix.

But before LA, on the SF portion, the president encountered Hong in Chinatown.

The president was in a "roll up your sleeve" mood, talking about immigration, family and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, and then Hong decided it was no longer a time for polite political chatter. 

For a guy who was essentially given the right to stand and be silently appreciative, Hong did a gutsy, some would might say naive, move.  He wasn't just happy standing for ceremony. He could see the president's ears. He wanted to be heard. 

So while others--older, maybe wiser--stood silently, Hong brought it on with a passion.

He spoke out, out of turn, loudly enough to be disruptive, just to make sure he wouldn't simply be used as a presidential prop.

While Obama's back was to the basket, Hong heard a silence that was as wide as an open door and walked through it. 

"Mr. President, I need your help," Hong said. " Families are separated for Thanksgiving."

JuHong.jpgIt was the unthinkable for a guy who was supposed to stand there in the president's shadow, look "immigrant-y," and above all, shut up.

But the undocumented South Korean Hong had sick family back home and couldn't visit them because of his status. 

He wanted to let the president know how he was impacted by the interminably slow process. He urged the president from the riser: "Please use your executive order to stop deportations have a power to stop deportations for all please, I need your help."

To his credit, the president handled it like he would have corrected an unruly constitutional law student he might have taught at Harvard.

First, Obama won back the crowd by taking control, simply by allowing Hong to be. He stopped any security effort to remove Hong and others who joined in the chant, "Stop deportations," from the event.

Obama stood down, and let Hong have his say.

And then Obama re-engaged. "If I could solve all the problems without passing laws in Congress, I would do so," Obama said. "But we are a nation of laws."

The president then indicated that what he was trying to do with his reforms was not the easy way, but the hard way, and the right way.

The crowd was back with the president. And Hong was satisfied having made his point so publicly,though he probably got someone on the Obama advance team fired.

Still, it was an example of what we need to see more of in our Asian American community.

We silence ourselves, and smile quietly. And then we wonder why we are taken for granted. 

For lack of a better term, Hong went for his amok moment, as all of us should more often than not. When matters of public import are at stake, it is far better to stand up, speak out, and be heard. 

Others might say there was a more strategic way. You mean like fainting behind the president during the rollout speech?  No, as Hong figured, what did he have to lose.

At some point there will be a time when you can no longer hold it in and be the dutiful Asian American.

At that point, remember Ju Hong.

He was no heckler. Not even a presidential heckler.

Hong was an outspoken Asian American activist with the president's ear. There is a difference.

* * *

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Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


1. He was no heckler. Not even a presidential heckler. Hong was an outspoken Asian American activist with the president's ear. There is a difference. "There is a difference." Wrong. This guy was a heckler. Maybe he was also an "outspoken Asian American activisit with the president's ear", but there is no difference. He was a heckler and perpetuating this victim mentality does not to accomplish our goals. Yes, our. I also happen to be an Asian immigrant and while I am fortunate enough to be here legally, I have relatives who want to come to the US and those who already have. Some of my relatives are here illegally. I don't think they belong here. Yes, I want them here. But that they broke the law is a fact, and denying this by saying we should just end all deportations is rewarding people for breaking the law. You can say all sorts of things about how the family is more important or about how we need to be "human", but that isn't what our government is supposed to do. We are human; we can be human by being activists, signing petitions, holding fundraisers, etc. But the government is not and ought not reward people for coming in illegally and then seeking some form of citizenship/residency. Rather, it ought to encourage legal routes of immigration, which exist. Yes, it is hard to get into the country legally. But part of that is due to illegal immigration and poor immigration laws which are in the process of being modified right now. There's a legal way to do things, and that's how it should be done. Making just one exception in the law for that one thing you're personally tied to defeats the purpose of the government - it begins to serve individuals and not the populace.
Posted by: Heckler AKA an outspoken Asian American activist | Nov 26, 201310:55 AM

2. A teaching moment.
Posted by: Ming Lowe | Nov 26, 201311:46 AM

3. Right On Emil for your coverage! Great to see our Asian youth are still taking up the torch of direct action challenging the Prez and speaking truth to power. We have so many young heros and there are more to come. They are reforming our immigration system with or without legislation. Just heard the terrific interview of Brother Ju Hong on Democracy Now! Ju Hong is soooo Right On. DACA does not promote family values or reunification. Stopping deportations is the only way to go no matter how long or how terrible the immigration bills snail through the Congress.
Posted by: sjx | Nov 27, 2013 8:52 AM

4. SJX, so you basically want this country to have open borders and allow all sorts of illegal immigrants to come in. You don't think America is a sovereign nation that should have the right to choose who can come in? Since when all immigrants are good and necessary? If we elect to reform our immigration system with or without legislation like you suggest, this would be a lawless nation. There's already a very generous system in place that allows LEGAL immigrants to this country. Get in line like everybody else and pay your fees and follow the legal procedures. The only thing that is really keeping this young man from joining his family is himself. He just needs to get on the plane and reunite with his family. Then he can try to immigrate to the States legally and forget about this ridiculous activism. Better yet, with his college education at the University of California subsidized by the taxpayers, and his English proficiency, he should be able to get a very cozy job in South Korea. He may not want to come back at all.
Posted by: JW | Nov 27, 2013 7:52 PM

5. Let me be as presumptuous. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving like I did hanging with family and friends. Unfortunately for too many, holidays accent the loss of their families busted up by detention and deportation even when they entered with valid visas but overstayed thus committing civil violations but not criminal acts. Now, it's become a moral and political struggle for our hearts and minds in the media and polls. So far, the legalese blinds too many of good will that builds a legal divide and provides a political excuse to turn away from the agony of so many families. Drawing this legal line in the sand does not block administrative temporary discretionary relief like staying deportations, especially when the Administration and Congress cannot get their acts together. Right On! to my Brothers and Sisters for carrying our struggle for fundamental immigration reform to the electeds and making it personal. Congressional inaction made it personal for the millions of families detained or deported. Thank you to our heroes confronting, fasting, marching, occupying and making it personal for the electeds charged with redrawing that legal line regardless if it's administrative or legislative. It's no longer a question of "If" but "When."
Posted by: sjx | Dec 4, 201311:37 AM

6. SJX, you are obviously very passionate about this issue and I can appreciate that. However, you points are rather reactionary and stray from facts. For one thing, there are no "millions of families detained and deported." You're simply stating erroneous information there. Even if you include hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens locked up in our state prisons thorough out the country, they don't amount to "millions of families." There are millions of illegals living in this country at the moment, popping out anchor babies, however. But these folks are rarely detained and deported by authorities. Same goes for those who overstay their visas. They are almost never detained and deported unless there are other serious substantive reasons for doing so. I really cannot figure out what you are propagating here, except for open borders for anybody to come into this country when relatively just immigration laws are already in place. It's almost like you want some kind of anarchy with mob rules mentality to coerce our officials to "redraw the legal line." The U.S.A. is not some banana republic but a representative democracy. We abide by laws of the land fairly and equitably. Finally, what I truly cannot understand is why people like you support illegal immigration - mostly from third world countries - when I don't see any true benefits for us Asian-Americans.
Posted by: JW | Dec 5, 2013 1:13 PM

7. Let me be more presumptuous. Overstating your fears of open borders, anarchy, and millions of "illegals" with anchor babies can be viewed at best as inartful jingoism, or at worst, naked nativism. Your opinions are not grounded in government enforcement data, current polls, or our common history of immigration laws and policy where limited legalization programs have been enacted several times since 1929 thus redrawing that legal line (by a government of a sovereign nation with borders). In my opinion, change does not come about unless those who make the laws (administrative and legislative) have their feet held to the fire by a militant movement challenging the electeds to act today and not in the endless tomorrow.
Posted by: sjx | Dec 6, 2013 5:28 PM

8. There are too many people in this country already. I dislike development, like open spaces, and my views on this will not be changed. Because of this, I am adamantly against these things...I want it to be hard to get into this country, and I don't want illegal immigrants to become citizens because that will cause more development. And there are plenty of people who came here legally. No, I'm not sorry, I am completely unapologetic and most Americans would agree with me. I have no problem preserving my quality of life. I don't care if this guy went to Berkeley or whatever, he did not follow the rules. He needs to get into line like the rest, not get a shortcut.
Posted by: Sean | Jul 11, 2014 4:25 PM

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