Asian’s in American Politics

IMG_0278-1Race is a large determinant in American Politics however, Asians and Asian Americans seem to be left out. In the current electoral race (2016), we hear analyst speak of which candidates are getting the ‘White vote’, the ‘Black vote’, or the ‘Hispanic vote’ but we never hear which candidate gets the ‘Asian vote’. This is not a recent trend, it has been occurring since the day the constitution was written. Many have attributed this to the small number of Asians compared to other ethnicities and though it may have been true, the numbers have exponentially risen and in 2016, we should have heard some of the politicians speak about it. Bernie Sanders, who has been courting the votes of people of color yet he has not mentioned any issues Asians face that other races may face too.

In addition, certain aspects of policy bills discourage Asian voters to vote. The Affordable Care Act for example, until very recently, did not benefit citizens of Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, even though they are fully-fledged American citizens. The common stereotype for Asians in terms of class is that they are of middle to high class and that is often not the case. In reality, there are a large number of Asians in the lower class and not including them into certain welfare oriented policy bills is a form of institutional discrimination.

In this collection of articles you will find out that American politics has systematically undermines and discourages Asian’s to participate to the extent where it seems as though Presidential candidates do not even court the Asian vote. This has great sociological significance because ones state policies can make a certain group living in that state very hard and often times policy bills are a reflection of the current society. Although Asians may have been discouraged, they are slowly finding their voice and stance within the political world and finally demands change.

Asian Americans Are Invisible To Politics & Politicians, Which Is A Major Problem When The Personal Turns Political

144254742When Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks about racial justice, he has a habit of referring to three specific groups of people: white, African American, and Hispanic. I think Sanders is finally finding his footing in movements like #BlackLivesMatter, and actions like those at Netroots Nation and at his Seattle rally are pushing him in the right direction. But while I’m glad to see that major Democrats are finally starting to talk explicitly about racism, there is something I still don’t completely understand — why are Asian Americans practically invisible in the political sphere?

Deciding to become a journalist was a controversial choice on my part. My parents were largely supportive of this decision when I made it five years ago, but we run in South Asian circles that are not nearly as enthusiastic. Growing up, “education, job, money” was like a mantra — we were immigrants to America, and I was supposed to refrain from making trouble, study, and get a good job (preferably as a doctor or engineer, of course). Politics were typically out of the question; family friend gatherings weren’t for talking about politics, but about technology, cricket, and “that aunty’s new sari.”

It’s relatively easy for me to sit behind my computer demanding that my fellow South Asian Americans examine their radical histories in this country and become more involved in the political process. What tends to be more difficult is for me to confront why Asian Americans aren’t necessarily interested in doing so. There are some great organizations out there, like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, that work against the disenfranchisement of Asian Americans and to encourage AAPI communities to be more involved. But it’s not that simple — a problematic cycle has long been in existence, in which politicians don’t acknowledge Asian Americans and Asian Americans have a historically low rate of political participation.

This is, of course, not true of all Asian Americans. For instance, I write about politics, I’m involved in political organizing, and I pay close attention to local and national elections. But I cannot discount how the immigrant experience informs one’s willingness — or lack of — to pay attention to politics. In my eyes, my personal has always been political; I am a woman of color in a system that simultaneously tries to portray me as a model minority while perceiving my brownness as a threat. However, until I left the confines of Silicon Valley for college, I was almost as apathetic about American politics as my family friends. And apathy is dangerous, because it engenders complicity. But for many Asian immigrants to America, the struggle to succeed is a very real and very urgent one. It precedes almost everything else, because it determines whether or not we will be able to stay here, to get a green card, to ultimately obtain citizenship if we want it. What is political jargon in the face of that lived experience?
But our invisibility in American politics is not entirely our fault. After all, a lot of Asian Americans are out there doing the hard work of pressuring politicians on issues of racial justice and showing their solidarity with movements like BLM. They draw attention to the inter-sectional nature of racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. And Asian American political participation is increasing, albeit slowly. The other side of this issue is how politicians talk about and treat us. We have relatively limited political representation, with only one Asian American in the Senate and 10 in the House. I have been involved in political activism since my first year of college, but I have grown quite disillusioned with the American system because I’ve genuinely started to feel like I don’t exist within it, except when it’s convenient.

It’s convenient when politicians need donations from Silicon Valley elites. It’s convenient when conservatives want to talk about “good immigrants.” It’s convenient when we’re made out to be a “model minority,” as an example of people of color who can work hard and succeed because racism totally isn’t a thing! But what politician will fight for me? What politician will expose the disadvantages of Asian American women in tech? What politician will draw attention to the poverty rates of Asian Americans, despite the stereotype that we’re all rich and successful? What politician will talk about immigrants from Asian countries when talking about immigration policy?

Any solution to this divide between Asian Americans and the political sphere would require a couple of things:

  1. An increased willingness on the part of Asian Americans to engage more deeply with local, state, and national politics.
  2. A commitment by politicians to provide resources to and work with Asian American communities instead of completely ignoring our existences.

But more than that, there needs to be widespread recognition that the lived experiences of Asian Americans are different from those of other people of color and the ways in which we are marginalized — often depending on whether we are East or South Asian — differ as well. We have rich histories of political and social activism and have shown our support for various movements. It’s time we honor that legacy and demand that American politicians work for us, too.

Written by: Madhuri Sathish

August 12, 2015

Asian Americans, growing in number, struggle to emerge from political shadows

TW160202_11741454530512Sixteen Asian American men and women boarded a van in Springfield, Va., early one recent morning, armed with brochures and talking points. They were headed to Richmond for a day of lobbying, strategizing and mingling with state legislators and officials.

Some were seasoned advocates, such as Dewita Soeharjono of Arlington, 50, an Indonesian immigrant who has spent years pushing for minority access to Virginia’s Democratic Party machinery. Others were neophytes, such as Trung Nguyen, 28, a youth worker in Falls Church and the son of Vietnamese refugees whose first civic experience was serving on his fifth-grade student council in New Orleans.

Everyone in the van was anxious about the journey ahead, both the long-planned day of outreach events and the uncharted future of their fast-growing minority as it begins to test the rough waters of public life.

Over the past 15 years, Virginia’s population of Asian Americans has soared from 261,000 to 628,000, including 250,000 U.S. citizens of voting age. But despite their potential to influence elections in a closely watched battleground state, many remain reluctant to engage in politics. The group in the van, and a growing number of younger Asian Americans, are determined to change that.

“The older generation was told to be quiet, not to participate,” Nguyen said as the van cruised south on Interstate 95. “I grew up here speaking English. . . . I want Asian Americans to speak out and have our voices heard.”

With immigrants a focus of angry debate in the 2016 presidential race, activists are working to mobilize the nation’s 18 million Asian Americans, about 75 percent of whom are U.S. citizens. One national nonprofit group is setting up phone banks in every state with a significant Asian American population. A new progressive PAC, the Asian American Pacific Islander Victory Fund, aims to register 100,000 voters in six battleground states.

Some advocates say they hope the anti-immigrant vitriol that has marked this year’s campaign can propel new activism from Asian Americans who have stayed on the sidelines.

In Virginia, Asian American activists from both parties are gearing up for Super Tuesday on March 1, when Virginia and 14 other states and territories will hold primaries or caucuses. They have been visiting Korean churches, speaking at Filipino community halls and seeking coverage in Vietnamese-language newspapers, trying to reach potential voters in their comfort zones.

But even though 61 percent of adult Asian American citizens in the state are registered to vote — a total more than double the margin of victory in many recent elections — advocates say they face a struggle to translate that potential into action.

According to U.S. census tables, turnout among Asian American citizens in Virginia has been consistently lower than among the overall population; in the 2012 election, Asians had lower turnout than all other ethnic groups. Their participation has zigzagged from race to race, with 61 percent voting in 2008, a presidential year, but only 23 percent voting in 2010. In the most recent state election, in 2014, turnout was 42 percent overall, 45 percent for whites, 34 percent for blacks, 32 percent for Asians and 25 percent for Hispanics.

“We are a pivotal constituency in a swing state with close elections, and both parties are trying for the Asian American vote. You see candidates shaking hands at all our events. But it is still very hard to mobilize people,” said Wesley Joe, an adjunct assistant professor of government at Georgetown University whose father immigrated from Korea. “We have the values and the education, but we just don’t have the turnout.”

Historic, cultural obstacles

Mark L. Keam (D), 49, one of two Asian Americans in the Virginia House of Delegates, describes one of the challenges as “permanent foreigner syndrome.” Keam’s district includes part of Fairfax County, home to 183,000 Asian Americans. “Many people have arrived recently, and mentally they are still in the old world,” he said. “I have a hard time convincing them they have to cross over to the new.”

Among first-generation immigrants, obstacles to political involvement include concentration on moving up economically, poor English skills, unfamiliarity with the American political system and reluctance to invite public scrutiny.

Many, especially those from China and Vietnam, harbor memories of political intimidation abroad. Others remain glued to issues in their homelands — often through foreign-language cable TV — rather than shifting their attention to U.S. politics.

Among second-generation Asian Americans, there is more political interest. Yet Asian-born parents tend to steer their children into professions rather than public service, community leaders said, leading to a dearth of candidates and role models. Even in Northern Virginia, only a handful of Asian Americans have been elected to local office.

Sharon Bulova, a Democrat who chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said many Asian newcomers have been too focused on work to join homeowner associations and other “portals” to politics. Even their more assimilated children, Bulova said, “have to be invited to feel comfortable.”

Another reason for the disconnect between size and clout is ethnic balkanization. Despite various efforts to form pan-Asian coalitions, many Asian immigrants identify themselves chiefly by country of origin and socialize in their native languages. Some remain divided by historical conflicts, such as the rivalry between Pakistan and India.

And although Asian Americans tend to share common concerns, such as small business benefits and high-quality education, there are differences in ideology and partisan affiliation. Indian Americans tend to be Democrats; Vietnamese Americans tend to be Republicans. Nationwide, nearly half of Asian Americans register as independents or undecided, making them hard for political groups to target.

“Our biggest challenge is diversity. People bring baggage from home, and they are still fighting old battles,” Keam said. “I tell them, only if we join forces can we be strong and fight for our rights and become a swing vote.”

‘Go right up and greet them’

After arriving in Richmond, Soeharjono and the others were guided to a caucus room in the capitol for a formal welcome to the 12th annual Asian American advocacy day. Ting Yi Oei, a retired teacher from Reston who chairs the Council of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans of Virginia, urged them to venture out and practice their lobbying skills.

“Feel free to seek out your own delegates. Remember to go right up and greet them,” Oei said.

For the next hour, Soeharjono and two other women wandered the carpeted corridors, stopping often to consult a floor map, and poking their heads in several doors.

In the office of Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), they sat primly on a sofa and asked him about understaffed schools and improving health-care benefits. In the office of newly elected Del. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon), they chatted about her bill to expand immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses.

Soeharjono said she went door to door campaigning for Boysko, whose district is 21 percent Asian. She noted that the delegate lost her previous race by only 32 votes, but then triumphed in November. “So we really do count,” she said, beaming.

Senior Democratic figures in Virginia, including Sen. Timothy M. Kaine and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also have received strong support from Asian American voters and taken pains to court them. Former senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), whose wife is Vietnamese, won election in 2006 with widespread backing from that ethnic community.

“Both candidates and elected officials know they can’t ignore the Asian Americans in their regions anymore,” said Jason Chung, a former Republican activist in Virginia who is now on the staff of the Republican National Committee. With surging numbers and many uncommitted voters, he said, “these ethnic groups are all up for grabs.”

The activists’ day in Richmond was capped by a reception in the penthouse of a downtown bank, hosted by Oei’s council and several other groups. A stream of politicians and officials, including Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), made brief welcoming speeches. State Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) was especially effusive, saying, “We are extremely lucky that you all chose to come here. You are making a phenomenal contribution to the United States and Virginia.”

The only sobering moment came when Keam introduced Karen Korematsu, an activist from California whose late father legally challenged the 1942 presidential order confining most Japanese Americans to wartime internment camps.

“There are echoes of the same thing today,” she told the momentarily subdued crowd. “Some candidates want to round up Muslims and put them in concentration camps. It could happen again, and it is up to all of us to stand up.”

Oei was one of several leaders there who suggested that the current political animosity could galvanize Asian immigrants who have remained aloof from politics.

“The Muslim experience of today is definitely waking up this community,” Oei said. “In the past, it has been tough to confront our ‘model minority’ image, to get people to identify with the struggles of other groups. But now . . . people are beginning to see the parallels. This is not just about immigration. It is about all our rights.”

Written by: Pamela Constable

February 16, 2016

In An Immigration Debate Focused On Borders And Walls, Asians Often Get Left Out

Which makes little sense if you look at the numbers.

Jose Antonio Vargas
File – In this Feb. 13, 2013 file photo, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, immigration rights activist and self-declared undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on comprehensive immigration reform. Vargas has been detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents at a South Texas airport. Border Patrol spokesman Omar Zamora says Vargas was in custody Tuesday morning, July 15, 2014, but he had no other details. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Conservative rabble-rouser Ann Coulter unwittingly summed up one misunderstanding about undocumented immigrants in America earlier this week, when she suggested “we put a few of them on buses.”

Her tweet referenced “that illegal who ‘lives in the shadows’ with his own show on MTV” — presumably referring to journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is undocumented and whose film “White People” aired on the network. But Coulter either didn’t know or didn’t care that if Vargas were to be deported, it couldn’t be by bus. He was born in the Philippines.

Immigration, especially unauthorized immigration, is often framed as a Latino or, specifically, Mexican issue. There are many examples of this: Coulter summing up deportation as a matter of putting people on buses, politicians pivoting directly to security along the southern border when asked about immigration policy, and media focusing on whether Latino voters are swayed by such policies.

Asian immigrants, by contrast, are usually left out of the discussion — even though they make up the fastest-growing undocumented population and are expected to surpass Latinos as the largest immigrant group in the U.S. by mid-century. Asian-Americans are also becoming a larger proportion of the electorate, and some Democratic politicians have made an effort to target them. But they don’t get the same level of attention as Latino voters.

Vargas is trying to bring Asian immigrants into the conversation.

“We have so relegated this to a border issue, to a Mexican issue, to a brown issue, that we are not seeing the global view,” Vargas said. “I think that is a danger.”

He came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 12 years old, and has been living here without authorization since. Vargas, now 34, “came out” as undocumented in 2011 and then founded a group called Define American that seeks to reshape the immigration debate, in part by highlighting a wider array of stories.

Last weekend, the group held a film festival in Iowa that featured movies not just about Latinos — who currently make up the largest proportion of undocumented and legal immigrants in the U.S. — but also people from Asia and Africa.

One movie screened was “The Joy Luck Club,” a story about Chinese-American women and their immigrant mothers. Janet Yang, a producer of the 1993 movie who participated in a panel at the festival, said by phone that it’s even harder now than it was then to get a film like “The Joy Luck Club” made. That’s a loss for everyone, she said.

“It’s something that is just so good for America to be reminded of these stories and how rich this country is because of it,” said Yang, who is the daughter of Chinese immigrants.

It is ironic how invisible Asian immigrants are in the debate now, when earlier immigration laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, were largely shaped around arguments over admitting people from China and Japan, said historian Erika Lee, who wrote The Making of Asian America: A History and also appeared on the panel.

When Asian immigrants are mentioned these days, it’s often as the “model minority” or “model immigrant,” she told HuffPost, which pits them against Latino immigrants in a way that is harmful for both populations.

“It further demonizes Latino immigration and it also helps deflect from the problems Asian immigrants do continue to have,” Lee said.

Asians and Pacific Islanders make up more than 80 percent of the people in the government’s employment visa backlogs, according to Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. They also account for more than 40 percent of the people waiting for family immigrant visas.

“This is significant, but few know that these backlogs force so many AAPI [Asian-American and Pacific Islander] families to be separated from their loved ones for decades at a time,” she said in an email.

Chu also noted that undocumented young people from Asian and Pacific Island nations make up only 2.6 percent of recipients of deportation relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, even though they account for about 8 percent of those eligible.

“In order to truly raise more awareness about our community, we need the media to help us share AAPI stories and to provide a more holistic narrative of those impacted by our broken immigration system,” Chu said. “It is through these stories that we can ensure that Asians and Pacific Islanders are no longer rendered invisible in our push for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Written by: Elise Foley

January 29, 2016

The Affordable Care Act and Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders

The Affordable Care Act is working in terms of affordability, access and quality, for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander families, seniors, businesses and taxpayers. This includes those who were previously uninsured and those who had insurance that didn’t provide them with adequate coverage and financial security.

Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander families have more security, and many of those who already had insurance now have better coverage. Fewer Americans are uninsured. At the same time, as a country, we’re spending our health care dollars more wisely and we’re starting to receive higher quality care.

Health insurance coverage is now more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans. The Affordable Care Act invests in prevention and wellness, and gives individuals and families more control over their care. In addition, the law addresses disparities in access to quality, affordable health coverage.

Addressing Health Disparities

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are less likely than other groups to get screened for cancer. For example, in 2010, Asian American women over 18 years of age were the least likely to have had a Pap test (68.0 percent) compared with other women: non-Hispanic white (72.8 percent), non-Hispanic black (77.4 percent), Hispanic/Latino (73.6 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native (73.4 percent).

Additionally, in 2008, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders ages 19 through 24 were 1.6 times more likely to have Hepatitis B than non-Hispanic whites2. Expanding access to coverage can be an effective strategy for reducing disparities.

Millions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders across the country are already benefiting from the stronger coverage and consumer protections made possible by the Affordable Care Act:

  • 4.3 million Asian Americans with private insurance now have access to expanded preventive services with no cost-sharing. This includes services such as colonoscopy screening for colon cancer, Pap smears and mammograms for women, well-child visits, and flu shots for all children and adults.
  • Private plans in the Marketplace are required to cover 10 essential health benefit categories, including maternity and newborn care. Over 208,800 Asian Americans in the individual market alone are projected to gain maternity coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
  • An estimated 2.5 million Asian American women with private health insurance now have guaranteed access to women’s preventive services without cost-sharing. These services include well-woman visits, HPV testing, breastfeeding support and counseling, mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer, prenatal care, and other services.
  • 121,000 Asian American young adults between ages 19 and 26 who would have been uninsured, including 53,000 Asian American women, now have coverage under their parent’s employer-sponsored or individually purchased health insurance plan.
  • About 5.5 million Asian Americans, including 2.1 million adult Asian American women, no longer have lifetime or annual limits on their health insurance coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
  • Major federal investments in quality of care are improving management of chronic diseases that are more prevalent among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
  • Investments in data collection and research will help us better understand the causes of health care disparities and develop effective programs to address them.
  • The $11 billion in the Affordable Care Act for nearly 1,300 community health centers has increased the number of patients served by nearly 5 million. Health centers provide culturally competent and linguistically appropriate care.

Getting Covered

  • Consumers have access to health insurance that fits their needs and budget through the Health Insurance Marketplace. All plans in the Marketplace cover essential health benefits, pre-existing conditions, recommended preventive care and more. Open enrollment begins November 15, 2014 and ends on February 15, 2015. Enroll by December 15, 2014 for coverage that starts January 1, 2015.
  • Enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is open year round.  Members of immigrant families lawfully residing in the United States may qualify for Medicaid and CHIP coverage, if they meet the eligibility criteria in that state; if they don’t, they may qualify for Marketplace coverage and assistance. And so far, twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C. have expanded their Medicaid programs to extend eligibility to more individuals. If all states took advantage of new opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, 90 percent of eligible uninsured Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders might qualify for Medicaid, CHIP, or tax credits to help with the cost of premiums in the Marketplace.
  • Many immigrant families are of “mixed status,” with members having different immigration and citizenship statuses. “Mixed status” families can apply for Medicaid and CHIP or for coverage through the Marketplace, where dependent family members may be eligible for programs that help lower the cost of Marketplace health insurance coverage. People without lawful immigration status are not eligible to enroll in the Marketplace. Medicaid provides payment for treatment for an emergency medical condition for individuals who do not meet the citizenship or immigration status requirements for Medicaid and are otherwise eligible for Medicaid in the state.  It is important to note that information provided by applicants or beneficiaries won’t be used for immigration enforcementpurposes.  Also, applying for Medicaid or CHIP, or getting help with health insurance costs in the Marketplace, does not make someone a “public charge” and will not affect someone’s chances of becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident or U.S. citizen.
  • For more information on the Marketplace, Medicaid, and CHIP visit If you have questions or need to find someone who can help you in person, find local help at: Or call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. Translation services are available. TTY users should call 1-855- 889-4325. The call is free.

Written by: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

November 5, 2014