One of my most recent experiences with Chinese Americans for Trump (CAFT) came about because of "Meet the Flockers." The 2014 track, for those unfamiliar with the rapper YG's work, is about robbing people and opens with the lines, "First, you find a house and scope it out / Find a Chinese neighborhood, cause they don't believe in bank accounts." The members of CAFT, perhaps understandably, were ticked off, and I was invited to a WeChat group dedicated to protesting it. In the group chat, posters organized protests and discussed strategies to shut the video down.
The conversation at one point turned to ways to protect oneself against the threat of violence, and that's where things took a turn, as people posted photos of their firearms—handguns, semiautomatics. One photo featured someone's arsenal laid out neatly atop an oriental rug in a living room.
Asian Americans as a whole have moved leftward in recent decades, making CAFT an outlier, and something of a head-scratcher given that Trump impersonated a Chinese man onstage last year. But though small, the group's existence shows an emerging schism in Asian American politics: On one side are those who believe in progressive causes, and on the other are new Chinese American immigrants who are wealthier than earlier generations of immigrants, and maybe more willing to embrace right-wing rhetoric.
"Members of CAFT and other members of Chinese American society, we are pretty much 99 percent [in agreement] with what Trump said. Not 100 percent. What's the 1 percent? The recent news of what he said something about women," said David Tian Wang, the group's 32-year-old founder, who calls himself an independent investor. (When we spoke, news about Trump's 2005 boasts of grabbing women "by the pussy" had just broken.) "I don't think anyone would agree with that, but you got to look at the big picture, it's either that or having Hillary as president. Jesus, plus when he said it, it was ten years ago."
Chinese Americans for Trump was born from a WeChat group started by Wang in June 2015. It took a while to build momentum—the group had about 100 members by the end of that year, then swelled to 1,000 after Jeb Bush dropped out from the race in February. I first met Wang in May of this year, when I attended a CAFT press conference held at a Shanghai restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley—a cluster of cities east of Downtown Los Angeles known for their sizable Chinese and Taiwanese American populations. Amid a roomful of journalists from the local Chinese press, I was the only representative of the English-language media. And I've been following this group since, hanging out in the invitation-only Chinese-language WeChat groups where they largely exist.
Wang estimates there are now around 6,000 CAFT members, 95 percent of whom are first-generation immigrants from mainland China. Some of these are US citizens, while others, like Wang himself, are green-card holders. (Wang said he put in his papers to become a citizen earlier this year, but won't likely get that status in time to vote this November.) Many of them are professionals: doctors, lawyers, small business owners, a far cry from the first-generation mainland Chinese immigrants of the 1980s and 1990s, who largely came from the working and lower-middle class. One professor from Maryland, Wang says, quit her job to canvass full-time for the GOP candidate in Florida.
I've talked to several members of CAFT online and off. Some are pro-gun, others are anti-LGBTQ rights, and many are against high taxes and Obamacare. They are anti-illegal immigration, precisely because they are immigrants themselves.
"I am a big gun supporter, I want to tell everyone that if you want to stop crime, you have to get guns," said Jay Hu, a 34-year-old CAFT member in Los Angeles who also works as a National Rifle Association instructor.
"I think illegal immigrants are criminals. They knowingly come here, walking across the border and take our tax money. That is not fair for us, we are legal immigrants, we fought our way here, we spent a decade trying to get a green card. We did everything the right way," said Wang, who also serves on Trump's Asian American outreach committee.
But the real rallying issue for the group is higher education. An important embryonic moment came in 2014, in the fight against a legislative proposal in California called SCA-5, which would essentially reintroduce race-based affirmative action in higher education in the state. Many Asian American groups supported the amendment, but it eventually died in the California Legislature, due to protests organized by Wang and others.
"Our number-one priority is on education. We understand the universities here are the top in the world," said Wang, a father of three. "And right now, an average kid, to go to UCLA, an average Chinese American kid has to score an average of 4.3 or more. We have to score 200 or 300 points over [others] on the SAT. How is that fair?"
A similar battle was fought recently in California over the bill AB1726, which would have broken up the umbrella term "Asian American" to include a range of Asian ethnicities—like Taiwanese, Laotian, and Filipino—for data-gathering purposes. The original proposal called for data disaggregation in both healthcare and education. Again, Asian American groups overwhelmingly supported the proposal. But the version that ended up passing in the legislature applies only to healthcare, because of opposition from Chinese Americans, Wang among them, who said they felt that those policies are ultimately discriminatory because they pit Asian Americans against one another.
"Asian American is a minority group in the US. Why do we have to further divide them: You are from China, you are from Taiwan, you are from India," said Wei Zhang, a 42-year-old professor of computer engineering in Virginia who serves as the organizer of the CAFT chapter in that state. "Why do we have to single out the Asian Americans, which is only 5 to 6 percent of the US population, and further divide them? That is not equal. I don't want our politicians to further divide us into black Americans, white Americans, and Asian Americans."
The part of Trump's message that speaks to Chinese Americans, and some other minority GOP supporters, seems to be the idea of America as a colorblind meritocracy. CAFT members think laws put in place by Democrats—particularly policies like affirmative action—are not giving Asian Americans a fair shake.
"Donald Trump to me, he is going to develop policies based on merit, not just race," said Zhang, who identifies as a moderate conservative.
I asked both Zhang and Wang what they think about the use of "alt-right" to describe the network of Trump supporters. Neither was familiar with the term, and when I told them about its white nationalist connections, they both rejected the connection immediately.
"I don't agree with that view. Probably some of the white Americans, their voices were not heard for a long time. They become very passionate about Trump's policies," said Zhang. "I don't think we should define Trump's movement as just for white people. I think his policies benefit every American. We want to have a better economy, more jobs, better security. We want to have law and order, we want the rule of law. I am Asian American, I want that, too."
Fiona Ng is the cohost of Shoes Off, an upcoming podcast about Asian Americans.