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Comedian Kristina Wong was on tour in Minneapolis for her one-woman show “The Wong Street Journal” when she got a text message from her manager asking if she wanted to meet Sen. Bernie Sanders. She jumped at the opportunity to meet Sanders, who she calls “the most exciting man of the campaign.”
According to Wong, it was the presidential candidate’s first meeting specifically with Asian Americans.
“This was the first time Sanders was doing a specific meeting with Asian Americans and it happened to be a one hour flight away,” Wong told NBC News. “So with one day notice, I bought an expensive flight, put on the only dress I had packed and went to meet who I think is the most exciting man of the campaign.”
According to a press release from the Sanders campaign, the March 13 meeting covered issues spanning immigration reform to affordable healthcare. Guests at the meeting also included Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Brad Jenkins, executive producer at Funny or Die and the former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Wong said that the presidential candidate’s meeting with Asian-American leaders made her more aware of how little Asian Americans are “acknowledged in general by politicians.”
“It wasn't until after I posted the photos of the meeting did I hear some discontent about how [Asian and Pacific Islander Americans] feel we are ignored by politicians,” she said. “I guess I just got so used to politicians talking about race in terms of black and white or undocumented immigrants (usually characterized as being from "Mexico" and not Asia), that I had to just infer my own experience from those media narratives of national issues.”
Hillary Clinton has been active in her outreach to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, launching an “AAPI for Hillary” initiative and establishing an AAPI Leadership Council in January.
Ricky Ly, a food writer and vocal Sanders supporter, acknowledged Clinton’s ties to the Asian-American community, but suggested that Sanders has the potential to garner the Asian-American vote.
“Hillary Clinton has enjoyed a lot of support from the AAPI community and has enjoyed exposure to the country in ways Bernie Sanders has never had,” Ly said. “But the more people learn about Bernie Sanders and what he stands for, his ideas for America where we are in it together - they grow strong in their support for him. His actions over the course of 50 years show that he is true to his word in fighting for the poor, the marginalized, for an America united.”
Wong also said that it is not Sanders’ policies or campaign that put him at a relative disadvantage within the Asian-American community, but rather his exposure.
“I don't think that Sanders has been ignoring Asian Americans, and I appreciated that there was a lot of consideration taken as to how to represent our very diverse community in one small gathering,” Wong said. “I do think Clinton has had eight years since she last ran in the primaries until now to run for office and was able to galvanize faster than Sanders has been able to.”
Ly explained Sanders’ appeal in broader terms. “To put it succinctly, Bernie Sanders stands for justice and righteousness, even when it's not popular, and this courage to fight for us makes me believe he is the best candidate for President not just for Asian America but for all of America,” he said.
Wong risked missing her own show, which was on the same day as the Sanders meeting, in the event of a delayed flight, but for her, it was worth it.
“For me it was a huge sacrifice financially and on my body to fly out the same day as the show,” Wong said. “But I wanted to feel that Bern in person.”