Not just M.I.A.: Super Bowl political ad using Asian woman decried


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It wasn’t just rapper M.I.A. who got into hot water for her actions during the Super Bowl. Republican senatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra stirred the pot with a political ad that featured an Asian woman speaking broken English, sparking immediate protests from Democrats and civil rights groups.

During the halftime show, M.I.A. made an obscene gesture, extending her middle finger. Both the NFL and NBC, which broadcast the show, have apologized for the offense.


Hoekstra’s campaign ad was broadcast only in Michigan, where the former congressman and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate is seeking the GOP nomination to run against Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat seeking her third term. Hoekstra, a conservative, is seen as ahead in the three-way primary battle for his party’s nod.

The 30-second ad, filmed in California, begins with the sound of a gong accompanying the Asian woman as she rides her bicycle on a path lined by rice paddies. She stops pedaling, smiles into the camera, then breaks into broken English.

“Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spends so much American money. You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spenditnow,” she says.

Hoekstra then appears in front of fire. “I think this race is between Debbie Spenditnow and Pete Spenditnot,” he says, stressing his position.

Even though it was a broadcast locally, the ad drew immediate condemnation, including from the nonpartisan Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote – Michigan, which said it was “deeply disappointed” by the ad, which, the group said, ‘plays on harmful stereotypes of Asians speaking broken English and has stereotypical Chinese music playing in the background.

‘It is very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful and negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment,” the group said.


Democrats also were quick to condemn the ad, which is scheduled to run on local cable for the next two weeks.

State Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, decried the ad and the website, which uses several Chinese cultural symbols to attack Stabenow.

“Pete Hoekstra’s ad and marketing ploy is not only offensive, but a blatant attempt to demonize Asian culture,” Yee said in a prepared statement. “Using stereotypes in an attempt to win votes is ignorant and bigoted, and has no place in our discourse for public office.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer also lambasted the ad in a statement emailed to reporters:

“Politicians like Hoekstra run shameful, deceitful ads like these when they cannot defend their own records,” he said.

In a conference call Monday morning, Hoekstra defended the ad.

“We knew we were taking an aggressive approach on this. But this is a time where the people in Michigan and across the country are fed up with the spending, and we wanted to capture that frustration that they had with Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This ad … hits Debbie smack dab between the eyes on the issue where she is vulnerable with the voters of Michigan, and that is spending.”


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-- Michael Muskal