From left to right, top to bottom: Albert Shen, Akemi Matsumoto, Elaine Akagi, and Murthy Kalkura
Asian Americans a potential force in nation’s politics
By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
“We have often been overlooked,” Elaine Akagi, educator and past president of JACL, said. “Due to the small number of API voters, so it is important that all eligible API voters are registered and vote.”<!–more–>
In 1993, when Bill Clinton started shifting the U.S. politics from a Republican to a Democratic administration, many would have described Asian Americans as the “invisible” minority. A group wrought with language obstacles and cynical views of government due to experiences in home countries, Asian Americans did not participate in the American political arena on a significant scale — at least not a scale that would have drawn party interest.
As stated in a report by Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics Inc. (LEAP), language “was the most frequently cited barrier to engagement in the Asian American community.”
Another prominent deterrent cited in the report is the lack of media coverage about “important political and policy issues, especially within the Asian American ethnic media.” Ethnic media is especially crucial to Asian American communities as they are often the only news source for immigrants.
Because Asian Americans sometimes experience a “reluctance to speak up/speak out based on cultural norms,” political and civic engagement activities are sometimes incompatible with cultural norms.
This is changing, appropriately at a time when the nation is on the brink of a history-making presidential election.
“You can’t take the API vote for granted,” said Akemi Matsumoto, who is a Bellevue Community College advisor and an activist. “Asian Americans have learned in the last election that they did not do much in the Bush election. He won and they were shocked. With this election, Asian Americans have to work hard to mobilize their community. You cannot complain unless you do something and participate.”
Asian American civic and political engagement has become a prominent issue because of the group’s population growth. From 1990 to 2007, the Asian American population nearly doubled, going from 7.3 million to 13.4 million. By 2030, the Census Bureau has projected the population to be 22.6 million — 6.2 percent of the population.
According the LEAP’s report, party identification is central in shaping how Asian Americans act on politics. The picture we have grown up with is that the majority of Asian Americans are foreign born (the highest of any immigrant population in the U.S.). Because of this, it can be difficult for this group to develop emotional connections to candidates who do not speak their language or have a shared background. Additionally it is difficult for different Asian ethnic groups to reach out to one another to organize because they don’t speak the same language.
However, as the population ages and grows, the picture tomorrow will have more assimilated English-speaking second and third generation Asian Americans. As this group of Pan-Asians grow, they will become an increasingly important voting bloc.
Here in Washington state, we only need to look back four years to the 2004 governor race between Gregoire and Rossi with Gregoire barely edging ahead by 129 votes. Now in 2008, history is looking to repeat itself with another super-tight race.
“Every vote matters in every election,” said Albert Shen, Board President of NW Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans. “It is even more imperative that APIs take one hour out of their busy lives to vote in this upcoming election on the future of our children and this planet.”
Many Indian CEOs are facing visa quota restrictions for their skilled employees, says Murthy Kalkura, president of the India Association of Western Washington. Something that he feels doesn’t get top priority by local elected officials. “In order for the officials to understand our challenges with the immigration quota, or lack of high curriculum standards at schools,” said Kalkura, “it is imperative that we exercise our rights and show them the strength of the Indian constituents. The fact of the matter is, if we don’t vote, we are forfeiting our right to make a difference.”
As a group whose voter turnout (37 percent of Asian American adults vote) has thus far consistently been far below Blacks (where 68 percent of adults vote) and whites (73 percent), there is untapped potential here.
Information for this article was supplied by a report by Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics Inc. (LEAP), with collaboration from the UC AAPI Policy Multi-Campus Research Program (MRP).
Assunta Ng contributed to this report.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.