I’m so confused.

It’s just two days before Hawaii Democrats hold a presidential preference poll, and I’m getting all sorts of different messages from the Hillary for Hawaii team.

It turns out that scores of Japanese-American leaders are backing the former secretary of state for president, including U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, former Gov. George Ariyoshi and Irene Hirano Inouye, the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye.

I know this because I received a press release titled “Prominent Hawaii Japanese-American Leaders Endorse Hillary Clinton.”

Former governors Ben Cayetano, George Aroyishi and John Waihee helped open Hillary Clinton's Honolulu campaign headquarters this year.
Former governors Ben Cayetano, George Aroyishi and John Waihee were among those helping to open Hillary Clinton’s Honolulu campaign headquarters. Hillary for Hawaii

There are about 30 other names on the list, such as Mark Takai, Colleen Hanabusa, Scott Saiki, Ron Kouchi and Jill Tokuda — even Bob Toyofuku, who I would describe as a lobbyist and not a leader per se. But whatever.

“From her plan to help veterans struggling with homelessness to her policies that would help families get ahead and stay ahead, Hillary Clinton has shown time and again she is committed to breaking down the barriers (the italics are mine) that hold us back and to making a real difference in people’s lives,” said Ariyoshi.

OK. But why is it important that Japanese-Americans specifically endorse Hillary? Are homeless veterans and families falling behind and the need to break down barriers unique to them? Does Bernie Sanders not approve of all that?

Hillary for Hawaii also informs me that “Nearly 100 Hawaii Filipino-American Leaders Endorse Hillary Clinton for President.” They are led by former Gov. Ben Cayetano and educators like Amy Agbayani and Jeff Acido.

The Hillary for Hawaii team is dealing race and gender cards.

“Hillary has spent decades fighting for full equality for Filipinos and other underrepresented groups. She is committed to tackling the barriers of bigotry and systemic racism that hold too many of our families and communities back,” said Agbayani.

TV personality Emme Tomimbang Burns is also on the list.

UPDATE: Nicole Velasco was also listed, but the City and County staffer and former legislative candidate told me Friday that she has not endorsed Clinton. Hillary for Hawaii told me Saturday that Velasco’s name was included “inadvertently” and said it was due to a clerical error.

But the campaign also shared that they had added more names to the list, prompting a new press release: “Update: 100+ Filipino-American Leaders Endorse Hillary Clinton for President.”

Fine. I’m all for “breaking down barriers.” But I’m not Filipino and I’m not Japanese, and I wonder how other people who are also not of those ethnicities feel — like Koreans, Chinese, Tongans, Micronesians and so many more.

I’m not Hawaiian either, which is important to note because Hillary for Hawaii says “Native Hawaiian Leaders Endorse Hillary Clinton for President.” They include former U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka, former Gov. John Waihee and U.S. Interior official Esther Kiaaina.

“She recognizes that, for too long, too many communities have been left out and left behind, and it’s time to break down the barriers that hold us back,” said Waihee.

Former legislator Annelle Amaral and activist Robin Punani Danner are on that list, too.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is all about breaking down barriers. Wikimedia

In case there are still any doubts about Clinton’s devotion to Japanese, Hawaii for Hillary reminds me that she also supports funding for the Honouliuli National Monument (“I will take on the barriers of bigotry and systemic racism that hold Americans back,” says Hillary).

And in case there are any doubts about Clinton’s devotion to Hawaiians, Hawaii for Hillary (or Hillary for America, which also sends me press releases) reminds me that she is for the Native Hawaiian community’s “ongoing work” toward self-determination and nationhood (“As President, I will work to break down all of the barriers that hold people back and create ladders of opportunity to help everyone achieve their full potential,” says Hillary).

But wait, there’s more, says another press release: “Hillary for America Announces AAPI Leadership Council.” AAPI stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and there are more than 150 of them supporting Clinton, from the grassroots level to high office. They include Hirono, Takai, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui and U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

Among other things, the AAPI Leadership Council says Clinton is dedicated to ensuring “that cost is not a barrier for students going to college.”

Well, I’m not AAPI either. Nor am I woman, so I guess I’ll just ignore the endorsement from the Hawaii State Democratic Women’s Caucus (“a woman has a real chance to shatter the hardest, but not unbreakable, glass ceiling,” says a press release — the biggest barrier of them all).

There are white males supporting Hillary, including U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (he likes her stance on climate change) and Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who is among 135 mayors backing Clinton (“Nobody is better prepared to be the President of the United States and as the father of two daughters I can think of nobody better equipped to be a reminder to them that there are no barriers to their success,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Florida).

I get it. I understand that white males dominate government, business and more in this country. The other four remaining contenders for the presidency are also the same in terms of gender and skin color (although Donald Trump appears to have eaten too many carrots).

America is still seriously underrepresented by women and minorities in public office and a whole lot of other places. Sexual assault and harassment and racism and racial profiling are rampant. And it’s very exciting to think of a first female president.

Hillary for Hawaii logo 2016

But let’s call this for what it is: The Hillary for Hawaii team is dealing race and gender cards.

Why? Because it wants to win.

Women vote more than men, Japanese-Americans have traditionally voted in larger numbers than other island groups, and Filipino-Americans and Hawaiians (that last word is not joined with a hyphen to “Americans” in any of the press releases that I came across, but that’s a column for another day) comprise large percentages of the state’s population.

When Hillary for Hawaii opened its Honolulu headquarters earlier this year, it looked like a cross-generational ad for United Colors of Benetton. (“Hillary Clinton has spent her life breaking down the barriers that hold people back, and she has outlined a bold, progressive agenda to create jobs, raise incomes, and help our youth live up to their full potential,” said Nam Le with Hillary for Hawaii).

Hillary for Hawaii is also doing what politicians and the media across the country (including me) invariably do when writing about race and gender. But, it’s a disservice to the actual diversity of the electorate.

Clinton may have won the South because of the black vote, and Trump may appeal to uneducated white males (and David Duke … but I repeat myself), but young people including women are turning out for Bernie Sanders. Like many voters, they are drawn more to ideas and leadership potential than characteristics such as race and gender.

The first time I saw Hillary Clinton was in Honolulu in 1992. She came to campaign for her husband, Bill, just as Jane Sanders campaigned here this week for her husband. (The Sanders audience at Church of the Crossroads, by the way, looked pretty diverse to me, as are the Clinton supporters I know.)

The occasion for the Clinton visit was the opening of a campaign headquarters on Beretania Street, and Hawaii First Lady Lynne Waihee introduced her. Waihee remarked how Bill would be a great president but also surprised the media — and Hillary, I think — by saying that Hillary would make a pretty good president, too.

My sense was that Waihee’s views were informed by the fact that Clinton was a smart, educated, experienced person — and that was almost 25 years ago. 

I am not making an endorsement, but Waihee certainly did not need a press release to tell her that a Clinton presidency would break down barriers. Nor did she have to say “I’m a Japanese-American woman married to a Hawaiian who is endorsing Clinton for president.”

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