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Opposition to affirmative action has long centered on white men and conservatives complaining about “reverse discrimination.” Challenges to those policies have also come from some Asian-Americans who worry that their success in winning jobs and college admission spots may suffer in a quest to open opportunities to other racial and ethnic groups.

While polls have indicated that many Asian-Americans, particularly younger ones, support affirmative action programs, the funding and organizing for the current campaign to uphold Washington’s prohibition has come overwhelmingly from members of that ethnic group.

Mr. Locke, who also served as a former commerce secretary and ambassador to China, said he felt compelled to step forward — in part because he has benefited from affirmative action .

He said some recent immigrants do not appreciate the depth of racial inequality upon which the United States has grown.

“We came to the United States because the country has equal opportunity for everyone,” Mr. Yao said.

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