Photo: Getty Images
Rob Bonta is the first Filipino-American Attorney General of California. Photo: Getty Images

Rob Bonta’s appointment as California Attorney General is huge for U.S. Asian-American representation

Bonta was announced as the successor of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra by Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, March 24.


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Asian-Americans are making history this year in more ways than one.

At this point, the crisis their communities are facing is all over mainstream media. Asian-Americans are under attack — verbally and physically — from people who eat, sleep and breathe an astonishing amount of xenophobia and hatred.

These attacks have formed a wave of activism among Asian-Americans that hasn’t been seen before. Celebrities and other public figures have been using their voices and their large platforms to call attention to the suffering and urge people to take action.

Asian-American politicians, like Sacramento Councilwoman Mai Vang, Congressman Ted Lieu, and Assemblyman Phil Ting have been fighting to pass bills that would make it easier to report hate crimes, and protect Asian-American communities.

Earlier this week, Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono, the only Asian-American lawmakers in the Senate, vowed to oppose any nominees for Cabinet-level positions that were not diverse, specifically urging the White House to elevate AAPI leaders to higher roles.

Later in the day, on Tuesday, March 23, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced the appointment of an AAPI community liaison, leading Duckworth and Hirono to back down from their threats.

It’s clear that more political representation is required for real change to occur. That’s why the elevation of Rob Bonta to the position of California’s attorney general is being celebrated by many. 

Bonta, of Filipino descent, is the first Asian-American to be chosen for this position in California’s history. Gov. Gavin Newsom chose Assemblymember Bonta on Wednesday, March 24.

Bonta’s new role is arguably the state’s second most powerful position, and has been a strong “launching pad” for politicians seeking higher office. The last three California attorneys general were HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Vice President Kamala Harris and former Governor Jerry Brown.

Even as other candidates for attorney general have attempted negotiations with Newsom, Bonta gained the support of two very important constituencies, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as California’s rising movement for criminal justice reform.

Unsurprisingly, Asian-American officials have urged Newsom to elevate one of their own to statewide office.

This call for representation became more relevant in the wake of the violent attacks targeting Asian-Americans in California and across the nation, most notably the shooting rampage in Atlanta, Georgia that left eight people dead, six of them of Korean descent

During a press conference in San Francisco, Bonta cited the need to “protect those who are facing the forces of hate and hold those accountable who would perpetuate hate.” 

He also acknowledged the deep rooted history of anti-Asian sentiment that has been germinating out of U.S. soil since the first arrivals of Asian immigrants in the mid 1800s.

 “Throughout history, so many of us have felt the sting of hate and discrimination. I have,” Bonta said. 

Criminal justice reform advocates such as Van Jones and Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, have rallied behind Bonta, claiming that he would be best suited to expand California’s yearslong shift away from tougher sentencing laws and incarceration. 

Bonta’s legislative achievements include bills that outlawed private prison contracts and cash bail, although voters ended up dissolving the cash bail bill via a referendum funded by the bail industry. 

On Wednesday, Bonta bashed what he referred to as a criminal justice system that is “fundamentally broken.” He also said that the attorney general’s office could lead to reforms, stressing that these types of reforms have been a priority for him, and that will not change. 

“I believe deeply that we need to build more trust between law enforcement and our communities. I have seen communities that have been hurt and harmed and don’t have that trust,” Bonta said. 

If Bonta is confirmed by his legislative colleagues, he could be in the running for election in 2022. Bonta represents a Democratic district, which has helped him build up a substantial campaign fund as he has avoided competitive re-election campaigns.

Minutes after the announcement, Bonta posted a campaign-style video on his Twitter account with details about his parents’ history of activism and his legislative record.

“As California’s Attorney General, Rob won’t back down. Standing with Asian-American neighbors, and defending all our communities from hate crimes, protecting consumers from fraud and corporate greed, and creating a justice system where every Californian is equal. Rob’s fight has just begun,” the video’s narrator said. 




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