Lost in Translation

Posted Nov. 11, 2010, at 5:12 p.m.

One of the ugly leftovers of the 2010 election are ads meant to scare voters about independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler’s ties to China. Instead, the mailers, sent by the Maine Democratic Party, were offensive to Chinese Americans and made a mockery of the importance of China as a growing economic and political power.

One mailer, sent as part of the Democratic Party’s efforts to elect Libby Mitchell governor, had two giant fortune cookies on one side with the words “Eliot Cutler knows your fortune.” On the other side, the fortune is revealed: “Maine jobs could go to China.” Never mind that this was not what Mr. Cutler, who headed a law office in China, was trying to accomplish when he brought Chinese businessmen to Maine in the summer.

The fortune cookie gambit is in poor taste. It could even be viewed as xenophobic, a harmful image for one of the most white states in the country.

“Just like any modern campaign would be crazy to use fried chicken or jungle drums to depict Africans or African-Americans, using fortune cookies and gong sounds to depict China is just as offensive and just lazy,” Democratic consultant Frank Chi wrote in a Boston Globe opinion blog earlier this week.

Because of the country’s high unemployment rate and the perception that many American jobs have been shipped to China, many campaigns across the country featured China as a scapegoat this fall. Saying a candidate helped this job shift may be fair game. Stereotyping Chinese and their culture (or worse, what is mistakenly thought to be their culture — fortune cookies are likely of Japanese origin, were popularized in California and aren’t found in China) shouldn’t be.

Another Democratic mailer in Maine featured a red star and what looks like a help wanted ad ripped from a newspaper. The ad’s text was in Chinese. “Eliot Cutler’s advice for Mainers looking for a job,” the mailer said, “learn Chinese.”

Here’s a revelation to the Maine Democratic Party: Learning Chinese is a smart move in the global economy. Students who learn Chinese now will be prepared to work with businesses from the world’s most populous country. A country with a growing middle class. A country that will play a growing role on the world stage with regard to diplomacy, military affairs and economics.

“Given its rise on the world stage, we will be talking about China in campaign ads for the rest of our lives. We can either treat this issue thoughtfully and seriously — or we can continue to offend Americans and crack racial jokes.” Mr. Chi wisely wrote.

No one should want to continue on the latter path.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/11/11/opinion/lost-in-translation/ printed on November 26, 2014