SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s imitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech has stirred a backlash among Asian-American lawmakers in California and across the United States.
California state Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, is leading a fight in demanding an apology from Limbaugh for what he and others view as racist and derogatory remarks against the Chinese people.
Yee has rallied civil rights groups to boycott companies like Pro Flowers, Sleep Train and Domino’s Pizza, which advertise on Limbaugh’s national talk radio show.
“The comments that he made — the mimicking of the Chinese language — harkens back to when I was a little boy growing up in San Francisco and those were hard days, rather insensitive days,” Yee said in an interview Thursday. “You think you’ve arrived and all of a sudden get shot back to the reality that you’re a second-class citizen.”
During a Jan. 19 radio program, Limbaugh said there was no translation of the Chinese president’s speech during a visit to the White House.
“He was speaking and they weren’t translating,” Limbaugh said. “They normally translate every couple of words. Hu Jintao was just going ching chong, ching chong cha.”
He then launched into a 20-second-long imitation of the Chinese leader’s dialect.
The next day, Limbaugh said he “did a remarkable job” of imitating China’s president for someone who doesn’t know a language spoken by more than 1 billion people.
“Back in the old days, Sid Caesar, for those of you old enough to remember, was called a comic genius for impersonating foreign languages that he couldn’t speak,” Limbaugh said. “But today the left says that was racism; it was bigotry; it was insulting. And it wasn’t. It was a service.”
Limbaugh’s station operator Clear Channel Communications Inc. did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Networks Inc. is home to Limbaugh, Jim Rome, Ryan Seacrest, Glenn Beck, Bob Costas and Sean Hannity.
An e-mail to Limbaugh’s show requesting comment was also not returned.
Other Asian-American state and federal lawmakers agree that Limbaugh’s comments were inciting hate and intolerance amid a polarized atmosphere. A number of civil rights groups, including Chinese for Affirmative Action, Japanese American Citizens League and the California National Organization for Women, have joined Yee in calling on sponsors to pull advertisements from Limbaugh’s program.
An online petition has been created on Yee’s website.
“I want an apology at the very least,” said New York Assemblywoman Grace Meng, a Queens Democrat. “Making fun of any country’s leader is just very disrespectful for someone who says he is a proud American.”
There are about 14 million, or 4.5 percent, Asian-Americans in the United States, more if counting those of mixed races. In California, Asians make up more than 12 percent of the state’s 38 million population.
While Asian-American lawmakers demand an apology from Limbaugh, some are increasingly concerned for Yee’s personal safety. Public officials have been put on alert after the deadly rampage in Tucson where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot while meeting with constituents.
Shortly after condemning Limbaugh’s remarks, Yee said he received racist death threats to his San Francisco and Sacramento offices. The lawmaker also received a profanity-filled telephone message Thursday.
The caller, who did not identify himself, called Yee a “cry baby” and urged him to resign from office.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Tony Beard Jr. confirmed the Legislature has launched an investigation and is cooperating with other security agencies. He said Yee had received similar faxes in April after he called on a state university to disclose how much it was paying Sarah Palin for a fundraiser.
“We need to stand up for civility and be respectful of one another. Otherwise the consequences are dreadful as we can already see in the death threats against Senator Yee,” said Rep. Judy Chu, a Democrat who represents a large Asian district outside Los Angeles.
Yee, who has a chance to become San Francisco’s first elected Asian mayor, said he has no plans to change his behavior because doing so would amount to “stepping down.” He said his staff has received additional security training.
Associated Press writers Don Thompson in Sacramento and Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.