An Ohio Democratic Senate candidate is being criticized by Asian-American community advocates for a campaign decision involving fortune cookies.
In his campaign against Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican incumbent, Senate hopeful and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland's team created fortune cookies to distribute outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, with a message criticizing Portman's record on trade.
"Rob Portman: the best senator China's ever had," the message in the fortune cookie reads, according to the Statehouse News Bureau.
Strickland introduced the fortune cookies to reporters Monday during a Democratic Party “counter convention” press conference a few blocks away from the site of the RNC.
When asked after the press conference on Monday by a Statehouse correspondent if Strickland thought the use of fortune cookies might be racially insensitive, Strickland responded, “No, 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 added that fortune cookies were associated with "what you get when you go to a Chinese restaurant" when the reporter pointed out that fortune cookies were invented in America.
In statements to NBC News, members of the Asian-American community criticized Strickland.
"Our Ohio elected officials fail to accurately represent our communities when they equate Chinese Americans and our contributions to American culture with foreign trade, highlighting their own blindness to the cultural relevancy of Chinese Americans," Lisa Wong, president of Greater Cleveland Chapter of OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates, said. "We must protest against this insensitive behavior no matter the candidate or their political affiliation."
OCA National President Leslie Moe-Kaiser echoed Wong's remarks, adding, "As others have pointed out, the fortune cookie is actually an American invention, so using it as a means to draw a negative association with the Chinese government's trade policy is extremely misguided at best. Using Chinese American customs to criticize a foreign government will result in a negative association between Chinese Americans and a foreign threat, an association that was used to justify the dehumanizing Chinese Exclusion Act."
NBC News has reached out to Strickland and Portman for comment.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated both Lisa Wong and Leslie Moe-Kaiser were leaders at Greater Cleveland Chapter of OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates. Moe-Kaiser is the national president of OCA National Center.