Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., April 24
Pictured: A swimmer (lower left) thoughtfully considers Raku's quiet witness.
Local Man's Campaign Against Assembly Bill 376 Goes Largely Unseen; Underwater Protester Says Measure to Ban Finning Would Decimate Chinese-Americans' Lucrative and Traditional Shark-Fin Soup Industry
"Why is everybody running away?"
A DESERTED STRETCH OF NORMALLY CROWDED PACIFIC BEACH - Andrew Raku can remember the Sunday dinners of his childhood - "sitting down at my grandmother's house and being served a steaming bowl of delicious, homemade shark-fin soup." It's a memory he treasures, and a tradition he says he dreams of passing on to his own children someday, "if I can ever get a girl to marry me."
But, he says, that dream is currently under attack by the California legislature, which is considering a law that would ban the possession, sale, or distribution of shark fins. Supporters say the law is necessary to stop the decimation of the the oceans' shark population. But Raku argues that the real motivation is born of "the state's long-standing practice of marginalizing and stigmatizing the Chinaman. Ever since the days of The Heathen Chinee - a poem that was supposed to satirize Northern Californian bias against Chinese immigrants, but instead wound up being taken seriously by pretty much everyone who read it - California has sought to make us into the inscrutable bad guys. Attacking our culinary traditions is just one more example of that. They really single us out. I mean, it's not like they're thinking of banning the Jewish practice of circumcision, you know?"
"Oh, wait, never mind that last part," added Raku.
In protest against the bill, Raku has formed a kind of one-man picket line along the California coast. Instead of marching, he swims, and instead of a sign bearing a slogan, he carries a shark fin affixed to a pole. "It makes an elegant statement, I think," argues Raku. "By declaring my opposition to the bill from the water, I show that I am in solidarity with the sharks, even though I eat them."
But, he says, powerful forces within the California government are aligned against him, making his vigil a lonely one. "Every time someone spots me making my statement, the authorities are notified, and the beach is promptly closed to the public. It's happened twice now, right here in San Diego. Nobody even has a chance to consider my point of view. I thought we had the right to free speech in this country."