- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

Many wonder why I will vote Republican in November. Here is part of the answer:

All my life, I have been a Republican, but until I came to the United States in 1970, I did not know I was one. Indeed, growing up in Hong Kong, I knew nothing about politics.

A British crown colony until three years ago, Hong Kong did not allow its citizens any role in politics. There were no elections. Queen Elizabeth appointed the colonial governor and everyone obeyed him.

There were three classes of citizens. The British rulers were at the top, the Portuguese who helped to defend the colony from the Japanese during World War II were in the middle, and the Chinese who ceded Hong Kong to England after the Opium War were at the bottom. I grew up under this system of three colors of people.

In Hong Kong, the British lived in white houses on the hill and the Chinese in red houses at the bottom of the hill. We swam at separate beaches, ate in separate clubs and shopped in different markets. It was a segregated society.

Although my parents had to support six children on a government salary, they chose to send me to private school because the standard there was far better than the public school to which I would have been assigned. Republicans believe that parents should be able to choose the best education for their children so that all students are given what children of 49 percent of members of the U.S. Senate, 40 percent of the House, and of many public school educators now enjoy the option of a private education.

I got my first job at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. There, the British worked in management on the first and top floors, the Portuguese worked in foreign exchange and international transactions on the mezzanine floor, and the Chinese in the basement, counting coins and bills. I did not want to work in the basement. There was a new secretarial job on the first floor, so I went to secretarial classes day and night for three months. The work was painfully hard and the hours long, but I got the job, secretary to the boss.

His deputy also had a secretary, a British girl. My skills were much better than hers were which was why I worked for the boss. They praised my work and I taught her new skills; but she was paid twice my salary. I called her Miss Anderson, and she called me Susan.

I felt it was not fair, dividing and paying people by race, not merit. But that was Hong Kong. Here in the United States, the Constitution gives every person equal protection under the law. That is why I have such a strong opinion against policies that treat people based on immutable characteristics such as race, color, sex and national origin.

During my spare time in Hong Kong, I volunteered for a rehabilitation center for ex-opium addicts. My work caught the attention of senior officials at the United Nations and the White House. Two invitations to the United States followed. When I arrived at Honolulu, then Los Angeles, New York and Washington, I was awed by the vastness of the America that surrounded me, touched by the warmth of the people, and mesmerized by the opportunities. The promise of personal freedom and the guarantee of opportunities in this country were awesome, in stark contrast to the place I left behind.

Here in the United States, I could work and go to college at the same time, which I could not do in Hong Kong. I paid my bills and sent money to my parents to show my appreciation for all that they had done for me. I was starting to live the American dream. Three years after getting my law degree, I left work late one December night and was assaulted and robbed by a taxi driver. I sued him, and he counter-sued for malicious prosecution. A jury trial ensued. I was confident of our system of justice and because of the strong evidence of the defendant's guilt. I thought I would prevail.

The defendant happened to be of African descent. The jury was comprised of African-Americans. Despite the clear evidence against him, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant and said I should pay him $10,000. The shocking verdict that was rendered based on race was dumbfounding. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that the color of my face and the color of the defendant's face could determine guilt and innocence. Even in colonial Hong Kong where race was an accepted criterion for where to work and where to live, this could not have happened.

At least the judge was fair; he granted a new trial. But the case was never resolved because the defendant died before the new trial. Through this experience, I learned how pernicious racial criteria are in the adjudication of right and wrong in a democratic society. It reinforced in me the ideal I nurtured while growing up in Hong Kong no one should be judged according to race or skin color.

Some think that because Republicans oppose affirmative action through preferential treatment, they are against civil rights. That thinking is contrary to the evidence in the record. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, sponsored by Sen. Hubert Humphrey, passed with majority votes of Republicans in both the Senate and the House. As a matter of fact, the NAACP honored Senate minority leader, Republican Everett Dirkson, with the civil rights leadership award in 1964 for his effort to overcome the regional opposition to the legislation.

In 1997, colorblind civil rights legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Charles Canady, both Republicans, could not move toward passage because it lacked support from the Democrats in Congress. This is reminiscent of 1964. The Republicans are ready to declare once again that every person is equal under the law; we just do not have enough Democrats to join us.

Messrs. Dirksen, McConnell and Canady give me three good reasons to be a Republican and the experience of the color line in colonial Hong Kong gives me a fourth.

Susan Au Allen is president of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce.

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