NEW YORK – The flier came innocuously enough, by mail, postmarked and delivered by the United States Postal Service, to residents in the town of Edison, New Jersey, on Wednesday.
But the flier’s racist, vile content, has stirred up what was an otherwise docile local school board election into a volatile one; put focus on the bitter, almost transparent divisiveness that exists in areas around the United States where minorities are burgeoning, the local Caucasian populace feel threatened their culture and way of life is eroding, waning to extinction.
The flier specifically targeted an Indian American attorney, Falguni Patel, 32, and a Chinese American, Jingwei ‘Jerry’ Shi, both of whom are running as teammates for the School Board.
Headlined “Make Edison Great Again” in a box which has the color blue in the background, and perhaps has political connotations — with the words itself a spinoff from President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — the flier has pictures of both Patel and Shi, on either side of that box, with a red “DEPORT” stamp under their faces.
The message is terse, simple enough: ‘Stop Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel from taking over our School Board.’
To further drive home the point of ostracizing immigrants, there’s another box at the bottom of the flier, with the wordings: “The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town!” “Chinese school! Indian school! Cricket fields! Enough is enough!”
On the reverse of the flier, there is a traffic ‘Stop’ sign, reiterating ‘Stop the overcrowding!’ ‘Stop taking over our sports fields!’, ‘Stop the McMansions!’, ‘Stop the multiple families living in the same house!’, ‘Stop wasting school holidays!’, ‘Stop the Outsiders!’. The last line at the bottom declares: ‘Let’s take back our Edison.’
No group or individuals(s) have come forward to take responsibility for the fliers. It’s not known if all the 100,000 residents of Edison got the flier, or only some pockets of the town were targeted.
Edison, which also houses the stretch of ‘Little India’ known as Oak Tree Road, is one of the areas in the US where minorities have dwarfed the Caucasian population. More than 45 percent of the township was born overseas; about a quarter of the township was born in India. Nearly half of the population is of Asian-origin.
NJ101.5 pointed out that in recent years cricket pitches in the town have become more popular than baseball diamonds in parks. More than 4,800 other residents were born in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. On weekends, a Chinese community group pays the school district rent to hold Chinese language classes in classrooms. Another 4,200 have Latin America roots, according to Census estimates.
Edison is the fifth-largest municipality in the state and is New Jersey’s most populous suburb, according to 2016 census estimates.
Since the politically motivated flier doesn’t identify the group that paid for it, it violates state election law. There is bound to be an investigation. A call by News India Times to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office on the status of the investigation, or if it had even commenced, was not returned, as of going to press.
In a joint statement to News India Times, Patel, who was born and grew up in New Jersey, and Shi termed the flier as ‘un-American’ and ‘unfortunate attacks.”
They wrote: “We decided to run for the Edison Board of Education so we can improve educational opportunities for all the students of Edison, this is the only reason we got involved. Edison is a wonderful community full of amazing people of all backgrounds, this is our strength. So, we will not be distracted by these unfortunate attacks. They are un-American and not the Edison we know. Those who are responsible for these actions should be held accountable.
“When our naysayers go low, we will go high and double our efforts to build a better future together. We will continue to focus on our campaign and work for the students and taxpayers of this town that we love,” they added, with a touch of former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s insouciance to it.
The flier immediately drew flak from both Democrats and Republicans, who denounced it.
Incumbent Mayor Tom Lankey posted his comments on Facebook: “A vile, racist campaign flyer has been distributed around Edison Township. Our community proudly embraces our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. My Administration, in keeping with our progressive Democratic principles, has supported and encouraged our newest residents to get involved in public affairs, to run for elected office, to work in public service, and to hold appointed posts on local boards and commissions.
“This despicable mailer, from an unidentified source, contains the Trump-Republican sentiments that Edison’s Republican mayoral challenger and some of his supporters have chosen to embrace. This mailer appears to be an act of desperation meant to misdirect and confuse voters.
“Make no mistake, we will do everything possible to expose the shameful people behind this. We referred all documents to our Police Chief and the Middlesex County Prosecutor for action that they deem appropriate.
“As Mayor, my top priority is to protect the safety of all residents. Rest assured, Edison will react swiftly to any potential threats that result from this flyer being disseminated in my community.”
Lankey’s rival, Republican challenger Keith Hahn, also came down hard on the flier, vowing to find out the “anonymous cowards” behind it.
“Disgraceful and offensive campaign tactics cannot be tolerated,” Hahn posted on Facebook. “If anyone else has received this piece please message me, it will help the investigation greatly.”
In interviews to News India Times, some Indian American Democrats and Republicans felt the flier was generated with political motivations, rather than merely a blatant racist attack.
Democrat Virbhadra ‘Viru’ Patel, who was sworn-in last year to replace James Major as the Woodbridge town, New Jersey’s Fourth Ward’s Councilman, is the first Indian American to be on the Town Council. He is up for election next week.
“It has nothing to do with racism, but is just out of political motivation,” said Patel.
Patel, who has lived in Woodbridge, the adjoining town to Edison, said he’s not surprised at the vicious words in the flier.
“A few years ago, there was a feud between the local law enforcement and Indian residents in Edison,” he said, referring to a protest by the community against the police, for what they alleged was overt and abusive tactics. “The police at that time were shouting at that time to the Indian community, ‘Go back to the country where you come from.’ So, I’m not surprised by what is happening in Edison, but this doesn’t look like a case of racism to me,” he added.
Veteran community activist and businessman Peter Kothari, a Republican, put the blame of the flier on the Democrats, to try sway the election, and said he didn’t buy the notion of a racist angle to it.
“This is the easiest way to divide the community,” Kothari said, referring to the election for Mayor between Lankey and Hahn.
“There is no hate here, just a political end game to sway the election. It’s not going to work,” Kothari opined.
Former Assemblyman Upendra Chivukukla, a Democrat, who had twice made a run for the US House of Representatives, and currently serves as Commissioner on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, termed the flier as “more of an election ploy”.
“It is racial, and it is illegal as there is no disclosure, and a cowardly act, trying to make use of the divisiveness, that the Indians are coming, the Chinese are coming,” Chivukula said, but added that, “one has to be careful of giving this more prominence. One has to focus on the election and support candidates.”
Chivukula said while the flier was meant to “provoke some voters,” he said it was also important to remember that the Indian and Chinese community have been “waiting for their turn for many, many years” to be elected at the grass-root levels, to school boards and town councils.
“The community needs to speak up at the polls, loud and clearly, by voting for their candidate,” he said.
Chinese American Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, condemned the mailer.
“One of our country’s greatest strengths is its vast diversity, and this hateful rhetoric has no place in our democracy and runs contrary to everything the Garden State stands for,” said Meng, in a statement. “More than one in five New Jersey residents is an immigrant, and nearly half of Edison, New Jersey’s residents are Asian. These include hard working business owners, taxpayers, teachers, mothers, children and neighbors who love their communities. This racist mailer is shameful and disgusting and was produced for no other intention than to empower divisive forces of bigotry and hate.”
She added: “I hope that the good citizens of Edison will reject this disgraceful mailer and I urge officials to do all they can to find out who is behind it.”