Vincent Cao: Too many believe that you can't be Asian and a Kentuckian

Vincent Cao, of Lexington, is a freshman at Stanford University and a writer for website The Undergraduate Times.
Vincent Cao, of Lexington, is a freshman at Stanford University and a writer for website The Undergraduate Times.

Among the myriad of established oxymora in our lexicon, the term Asian-American has surfaced as another.

It's odd that I, a natural citizen who cheers for American teams just as much as our Cats, make such a claim; however, in light of recent attacks on Sen. Mitch McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, I feel as if this statement in the minds of many could not be any truer.

According to Democratic political operative Kathy Groob of Covington, it is impossible to be both Asian and American/Kentuckian.

Weeks ago amidst Fancy Farm, in response to McConnell's introduction of his wife (who immigrated to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of eight), she tweeted appalling remarks like "She isn't from KY, she is Asian" and "Google Elaine Chao... No mention of Kentucky, she is Asian."

Groob continued by claiming McConnell's relationship with his "Chinese wife" has "wedded [him] to free trade in China."

Groob isn't the first from Kentucky — a state that featured a 0.2% Asian population growth from 2010 to 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Last year, the Democratic super PAC called Progress Kentucky tweeted that McConnell's marriage to Chao "may explain why your job moved to #China."

This utter disrespect to the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, who happens to be our state's only woman to serve in a presidential cabinet, as a result of partisan-strung politics is beyond disheartening.

And as a young student who has had the honor of meeting this prominent figure with significant contributions to worker health and safety along with the overall global competitiveness of America's work force, I am desperately afraid for the Asian youth in our state.

Lexington, which has graciously promoted the benefits of vibrant diversity through the support of Chinese language institutes and various Chinese schools/associations, for the most part remains a fortified, culturally enriched stage that features eight areas with "more than 20 percent" of Asian families, according to Fayette officials.

Yet, Groob and Co.'s attitudes occasionally bleed through.

I can empathize with Chao, having experienced my share of alienation through schooling in Lexington.

Passing bland, taupe-colored hallways, my mental and emotional state cringe as I hear insults of "chink" and "chigger" go unpunished and disregarded compared to other ethnically derogatory terms.

It begs me to ask the question, "How can I consider myself a Kentuckian — American even — if others don't see me that way?"

Truthfully, I could not be prouder to be a Kentucky raised Chinese-American.

My rich blend of cultural heritage aptly complements an unbridled Bluegrass spirit, a combination I hope to effectively utilize within my home state during my adult (maybe political) years.

Indeed, the Asian-American demographic population may not always be a monumental voice within the blanched columns that decorate our nation's Congress, yet we by no mistake should be overlooked as an influential machine.

Kentucky foreign and native-born Asians, along with Latinos, wield $5.1 billion in consumer purchasing power and we, along with our businesses' 23,000 plus employees and representative 1.8 percent registered voter demographic (American Immigration Council), constitute a critical factor in this year's close election between McConnell and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Outside the issues of coal and fiscal balance, both candidates need to invest opportunity within this wave of "New Americans."

Their success may depend on it.

After all, our nation's greatest strength is the compact unity of our widespread diversity — a seemingly contradictory statement, in and of itself.