Rush Limbaugh's imitation of the Chinese language during last week's speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House has stirred a backlash among Asian-American lawmakers.
California State Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, is leading a fight in demanding an apology from the radio talk show host for what he and others view as racist and derogatory remarks against the Chinese people.
In recent days, the state lawmaker has rallied civil rights groups in a boycott of companies like Pro Flowers, Sleep Train and Domino's Pizza that advertise on Limbaugh's national talk radio show.
"The comments that he made -- the mimicking of the Chinese language -- harkens back to when I was a little boy growing up in San Francisco and those were hard days, rather insensitive days," Yee said Thursday. "You think you've arrived and all of a sudden get shot back to the reality that you're a second-class citizen."
During a Jan. 19 radio program, Limbaugh said there was no translation of the Chinese president's speech during a visit to the White House.
"He was speaking and they weren't translating," Limbaugh said. "They normally translate every couple of words. Hu Jintao was just going ching chong, ching chong cha."
He then launched into a 20-second imitation of the Chinese leader's dialect.
The next day, Limbaugh said he "did a remarkable job" of imitating China's president for someone who doesn't know a language spoken by more than 1 billion people.
"Back in the old days, Sid Caesar, for those of you old enough to remember, was called a comic genius for impersonating foreign languages that he couldn't speak," Limbaugh said. "But today the left says that was racism; it was bigotry; it was insulting. And it wasn't. It was a service."
Yee has been joined by Asian-American state and federal lawmakers who say Limbaugh's comments are inciting hate and intolerance amid a polarized atmosphere. A number of civil rights groups, including Chinese for Affirmative Action, Japanese American Citizens League and the California National Organization for Women, have joined Yee in calling on sponsors to pull advertisements from Limbaugh's program.
An online petition has been created on Yee's website.
"I want an apology at the very least," said New York Assemblywoman Grace Meng, a Queens Democrat. "Making fun of any country's leader is just very disrespectful for someone who says he is a proud American."
She added: "He was, in his own way, trying to attack the leader of another country, and that's his prerogative as well, but at the same time he offended 13 percent of New York City's population."