At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Ninth Circuit nominee Kenneth Lee told a powerful story of his experience with racism as a child and the uplifting lesson his dad gave him about America.
Lee’s family immigrated from South Korea during his childhood. Some time after their move to the U.S., Kenneth’s parents took him and his three sisters to Disneyland, he said.
To save money on the trip, the family packed a meal of traditional Korean food, which Lee noted was “very exotic” in the U.S. 35 years ago. He said he was mocked at the park by other children for what he was eating and what his family looked like.
“Little kids started coming up. Some said it smelled. Other said it looked like feces; they used a slightly different word,” Lee said. “One of them, I remember, was pointing to my parents, making kind of faux Asian-sounding names and pulling their eyes.”
“When you’re a kid, the smallest things seem like the world to you,” the nominee recalled. The next day, he told the committee, maybe because he “felt helpless, I blamed my dad for this whole thing, and I said ‘I want to go back. I want to go back to Korea. You never asked us if we wanted to come here, move to a new country.’”
“My dad was a stoic man, but he said, ‘I know it’s tough for you; it’s tough on your sisters; it’s tough on me, your mom,’” Lee said. “‘I know it’s tough here, but you don’t want to go back,’ he said, ‘because things aren’t fair there.’”
Lee said his father told him that in South Korea, family-owned conglomerates (known as Chaebol) wield oligarchic power and influence. “‘They control the government, they control the economy, they control the laws, so you’re not gonna get a fair shot there.’”
“But, he said, here in America, things are different,” Lee recalled. “It doesn’t matter that you’re not white. It doesn’t matter you weren’t born here. It doesn’t matter that our family doesn’t have wealth or power. He said everyone here is treated equally.”
“My dad wasn’t a lawyer; he never read the Federalist Papers,” Lee concluded. “But he had a gut understanding of what makes our country and our Constitution so great, so powerful, and so unique in the world. And I’ve always remembered that.”
This answer flies in the face of concerns from committee Democrats and liberal outside groups over Lee’s views on race because of things he wrote about affirmative action as a teenager.
The answer was prompted by a question from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. The relevant portion of the answer is below, and video of the full committee hearing is here. Watch:
“My dad … never read the Federalist Papers. But he had a gut understanding" of what makes this country great.
9th Circuit Judicial nominee Kenneth Lee tells Senate Judiciary about how his immigrant dad turned an experience with racism into a lesson about the American promise. pic.twitter.com/MYlFMlgnhi
— Nate Madden (@NateOnTheHill) March 13, 2019