Here’s the thing I’ve always tried to teach my children: Don’t stand idly by when someone makes a racist remark.
And yet, there I was at the Livermore Downtown Inc.'s 25th birthday gala Wednesday listening to our mayor do exactly that. Perhaps he thought he was being humorous.
He was not.
He was being insensitive to the point of making people around me squirm in their seats. It’s not the first time the mayor has shown a lack of restraint when it comes to letting his mouth lead when his brain should put on the brakes.
Marshall Kamena is not mean spirited. But as our mayor, it would be nice if he realized that a casual remark could put an entire town in a bad light.
This was a wonderful event celebrating our town, with local restaurants providing some tasty treats while business people gathered for a well-deserved pat on the back for all their hard work to revitalize the downtown. After the reception, the association gave out awards, swore in new members and showed a video on the history and growth of downtown.
Kamena’s remarks came during a riff about the history of Livermore, the downtown and even a pop quiz -- did you know once was the site of a Safeway?
Then he took a sudden turn down Crazy Road, with a monologue on Livermore native Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
The mayor started joking about Livermore being known as a backward town when he was growing up in Oakland. So when his father, Marshall Sr., taught him how to drive, he took Junior to Livermore because it was so sparsely populated. Dad knew Junior wouldn’t have a chance of hitting anyone downtown.
OK, fair enough.
But that took him to another place in his ramblings as he spoke of Quan, who grew up in Livermore and became the mayor of Oakland, and himself, who grew up in Oakland and became mayor of Livermore.
“I think I bought fireworks from her family,” joked Kamena, unaware that he’d just slipped in a slur that surely would not have sat well with Quan.
During an interview with the Oakland Tribune in December, Quan talked about the difficulty of growing up in Livermore as a minority.
Quan’s family history in the Bay Area began in 1870, and her family came to Livermore from Oakland when her father was hired to run , Livermore’s long-standing Chinese restaurant.
Quan was born in Livermore in 1949, lived in a modest home by the railroad tracks and was 5 when her father died. Her mother continued to work at Yin Yin to support her family.
In the article, a friend of Quan’s talks about how the girl was ridiculed in elementary school for how she spoke. Quan says in the article, “I was the only Chinese kid and it was very hard. I remember being little and being discriminated against. People would say ‘Ching chung Chinaman’ and ‘You’re a Jap.’ So I was pretty intense and very quiet.”
When she graduated from , she was voted most likely to succeed. She left town to study at UC Berkeley.
Quan came to speak at the earlier this month. She spoke about being one of only a handful of Asians in Livermore back “when the city wasn’t as diverse.”
Livermore still isn’t a racially diverse town. The latest demographics put the city at about 78 percent white, with less than 8 percent of the population listed as Asian.
Here’s the thing. Livermore may not be the most culturally diverse city, but that doesn’t mean we tolerate racism.
When our mayor speaks without thinking, he makes us all look as if we're stuck back in a time when racial taunting and cruel bullying of minorities was acceptable behavior.