Super Bowl Stereotypes: Pete Hoekstra's Racist Campaign Ad

5 years ago

Apparently election season means open season on Asians -- at least, it seems that way in one political ad that ran during the Super Bowl. It was chock full of derogatory stereotypes of Asians: mysterious flute music, a woman wearing a conical hat riding her bike ... through a rice paddy. In broken English, she thanks a U.S. senator for sending jobs to China.

The spot was a locally run commercial for former Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), who is now campaigning for the Senate seat currently held by Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) -- or as the ad calls her, Debbie "Spend-it-now."

The local ad seems even more inflammatory given where it ran: The state of Michigan, which already has an emotional history of anti-Asian sentiment dating back to the 1980, when laid-off Detroit autoworkers blamed Japanese car manufacturers (or even anyone vaguely Japanese-looking) for their plight. Remember the movie Gung Ho? Remember Vincent Chin?

Asian American activists, including Rep. Judy Chu (D-Ca), Asian Pacific Islander Vote Michigan, and the Asian American Action Fund condemned Hoekstra's ad.

And it's not only Asian advocacy groups that have condemned Hoekstra's rhetoric. The ad has caught national attention, with stories by Latino Rebels, Gawker, the Washington Post, and CNN. Politico reports that the ad sparked backlash from Hoekstra's Republican party, while ABC News reports that several Detroit pastors called for Hoekstra to pull the ad:

"The Asian woman speaking in this video would be no different than him having a black person speaking in slave dialect," said the Rev. Charles Williams II of Detroit's King Solomon Baptist Church, where civil rights leader Malcolm X spoke in the 1960s. He added that Hoekstra's "using the whole politics of fear, and the whole politics of division, and he knows it."

Hoekstra's campaign website,, is full of chopstick lettering, dragons, fans with Stabenow's face on them, the "Great Wall of Debt," and even more stereotypical images that echo the sentiments in the TV ad.

What worries me is that a person who wants to represent citizens in Senate is conflating the struggling U.S. economy with China, Chinese Americans, or simply Asians. On Fox News, Hoekstra defended his ideas that U.S. trade policies with China are hurting the American economy -- along with the anti-Asian imagery used in the ad, saying,

"There's nothing in here that has a racial hint in it at all."

Anyone who would say that this commercial full of racial insinuations has nothing to do with race has probably never experienced the fear of being a victim of a race-based hate crime. Thirty years ago in Michigan, Vincent Chin was beaten to death in with a baseball bat by two laid-off autoworkers who blamed Japan for the loss of their jobs. Chin was Chinese American.

Nothing to do with race, huh?

Race and Ethnicity Section Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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