90012: Chinatown Residents May Doubt Politics But They Donate Anyway
This story is part of a Neon Tommy Special Report that follows 2012 campaign money in L.A. >>>
In L.A.'s historic district of Chinatown, small businesses selling Chinese medicine and Asian restaurants line Broadway and New High Streets. The people one would encounter in the area are mostly elderly, visitors, shoppers and new immigrants who have just moved to Los Angeles.
“Not many people are living here now. Those who came to the states settled here as the first stop because they don’t have cars yet. Living in Chinatown is easier to get around in the city. Most of them lived above the Hill Street,” said Mike Wu, an unemployed Vietnamese man who visits Chinatown regularly.
When asked about the 2012 presidential election, most passersby didn’t have much to say, saying they doubted a new president would make a difference. A few said that they were satisfied with the country as it is now and would vote for the same president.
Walking by two Chinese women on Hill Street who had just moved to Los Angeles, I asked them their opinion of the upcoming election. They seemed lost.
“ What election are you talking about?“
Though it seems the Chinatown residents I spoke to do not follow politics, the city’s contributions actually exceed the national zip code average.
As of May 2012, Chinatown has donated about $80,000-- three times the national zip code average-- with most of the money going to President Obama. Even so, this amount is less than one-third of the $250,000 Chinatown donated in 2008.
George L Pla, one of the biggest contributors in the 90012 zip code, is president of the Cordoba Corporation-- a civil engineering, construction management, program management, and planning firm specializing in education, transportation and water. He has donated $12,500 to democratic candidates and the democratic Super PAC "Make it in America" for the 2012 election year.
Pla said he supports President Obama's enormous vision and the capacity he has shown to be a good leader. Pla believes Obama has done a good job domestically as far as bailing out banks and saving auto makers. And in terms of international affairs, Pla said that trying to end wars in the Middle East has been another one of Obama’s achievements.
“I will expect the same leadership of President Obama if he succeeds in running the office again,” said Pla.
Pla's top concerns include balancing the budget, creating jobs and making education more available. He also thinks the tax structure should be adjusted to a more modern standard.
“Because we are so dependent on the real estate tax, we don’t have enough tax income to support the government,“ Pla said.
In Pla’s opinion, accelerating the development of infrastructure, such as building railways and schools, should be one of the major steps in creating jobs and boosting the economy.
For other business owners in Chinatown, the economy remains a top issue. But for some, it might not be enough to get them to donate or even vote.
A small business owner on Broadway-- a middle-aged Cantonese man -- mainly sells decorations and bonsai of Chinese style. He said his business has dropped 50 percent since 2009 and he doesn’t see signs of improvement.
The depreciation of the dollar’s exchange rates to Chinese Yuan was an influential factor as most of his commodities are imported from China. Now that Chinese currency is more expensive, he has to raise his prices. But he doesn’t see the presidential election changing the economy.
“After all, what difference will a new president will make? It’s not America’s best time anymore. Now, China is much better in terms of economy,“ the store owner said. He has lived in L.A for more than 20 years and has never voted. Pointing to the Chinese newspaper beside him he said he "doesn’t trust politicians.“
“See, those Chinese second generation of the wealthy are spending money and buying things in this country. That’s the reality.“ The second generation of wealthy he mentioned usually refer to rich Chinese businessmen's children who study in the United States.
But some business owners are not as pessimistic.
Xi Zhou, who owns a small pharmacy shop at the corner of New High Street, has been doing business in Chinatown for more than 30 years. She said she is satisfied with life here because, in the United States, the opportunities are equal for everyone.
Yet the bad economy and unemployment are two things she hopes the president will improve in the future since her business has been affected as well.
“I am angry that a lot of young and well-educated people in this country couldn’t find jobs. It’s ridiculous,“ Zhou said.
In 2008, she voted for Obama because “he was young and his slogan then was change, which was really needed at that time.“
When asked whether she thought President Obama brought about the change he promised, she was forgiving.
“A country is so big and you can’t ask a person to change it in four years. I think he took office at the worst timing of everything. But he has changed a lot of things," she said. "In the second term when he has more time, he will improve the country."
Reach Special Project Reporter Corrina Liu Shuang here.