Lisa Chan, Miss Napa Valley 2012, has found herself embroiled in a racially charged controversy over her participation in a political ad for former Michigan congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra.
In the ad, which ran in Michigan during the Super Bowl, Chan portrayed an Asian person riding on a bicycle and standing near what appears to be a rice paddy.
Titled “Debbie Spend it Now,” the target of the ad was Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Hoekstra’s opponent. Hoekstra’s campaign has criticized Stabenow for “big-spending policies,” a “growing dependence on China” and a weakened U.S. economy.
In the commercial, Chan’s character bicycled up to the camera and appeared to be wearing a straw hat on her back. A gong sound and stereotypical “Asian” music could be heard in the background.
Using broken English, Chan’s character thanked Stabenow for weakening the U.S. economy and overspending.
“Debbie spend so much American money,” Chan’s character said. “You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good.”
The ad also included a link to a campaign website that read “The Great Wall of Debt” and included Chinese graphics. That website is no longer active.
At first, Hoekstra defended the commercial.
“The ad is anti-Debbie Stabenow,” Hoekstra said in a Fox news interview on Feb. 6. “There’s nothing in here that has a racial tint at all.”
Hoekstra also accused his opponent of “playing the race card.”
After an outcry among Asian-American groups, the ad was removed later and replaced with a different ad discussing “wasteful government spending.” Chan is not featured.
“I am appalled at the Hoekstra campaign’s offensive and insensitive Super Bowl ad that relies heavily on negative Asian stereotypes,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., wrote in a statement.
Chu is the first Chinese-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress and chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“I am glad to see the anti-Chinese Hoekstra political ad and website have been taken down,” Chu wrote on Facebook after the ad was removed.
“There is no place for stereotypes and prejudice in our national discourse. Hoekstra should recognize that fact and take responsibility for his actions. Quietly removing a racist ad and website does not demonstrate remorse for all of the people who were offended; it merely demonstrates that Hoekstra was concerned for his political image. Rep. Hoekstra should be ashamed of himself.”
A message left for Hoekstra was not returned.
Chan, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, said she chose the title of Miss Napa Valley so she could compete in the Miss California USA pageant this past January.
Chan is also CEO and president of TheStrive. com, a nonprofit she founded when she was 17. In a 2011 interview, Chan said she was 21 and lived in San Francisco.
Chan did not return phone calls or email requests for comment this week, but released this statement Wednesday:
“I am deeply sorry for any pain that the character I portrayed brought to my communities,” she wrote. “As a recent college grad who has spent time working to improve communities and empower those without a voice, this role is not in any way representative of who I am. It was absolutely a mistake on my part and one that, over time, I hope can be forgiven. I feel horrible about my participation, and I am determined to resolve my actions.”
The video may have been removed from Hoekstra’s website, but it can still be viewed on YouTube. A number of parody videos lampooning the commercial have also been created.