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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are a community to be reckoned with in American politics, John Feehery correctly posited in The Hill’s Pundit Blog publishing of “Asian American Republicans” on October 25, 2010. There are currently over 16 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US, and our community’s rate of naturalization and political participation is drastically increasing. Feehery errs, however, when he argues that the Republican Party is the one that draws the support of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
As vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I know that he is irrefutably mistaken.
Firstly, AAPIs are trending Democratic by a landslide. In 2008, 62 percent of AAPIs supported President Barack Obama, while 35 percent supported Sen. John McCain, according to national data. These Democratic leanings are even more evident when the community is broken down by ethnic subgroup — for example, more than 90 percent of South Asians voted for President Obama in 2008.
Importantly, yet unsurprisingly, this Democratic trend exists particularly among young voters in the AAPI community. Among Asian Americans aged 18-24, 47 percent identify themselves as Democratic, according to the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Only 15 percent identify themselves as Republican, and 39 percent Independent. This report found that young Asian Americans were more Democratic than any other ethnic group, except African Americans in the survey.
Democrats also invest real dollars, expertise and human resources to engage the AAPI community to vote. This year, under the leadership of Chairman Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee announced the largest-ever investment in voter education, mobilization, and paid media in the AAPI community for the midterm election – much of it in-language. This is the most comprehensive, focused, and meaningful effort ever in a non-Presidential year.
Second, the Democratic Party is also a fertile ground for rising political stars in the AAPI community throughout all levels of government. Not only does the Democratic Party have the majority of support of AAPI voters, Asian American and Pacific Islander elected officials and candidates are also overwhelmingly Democratic.
Take the U.S. Congress for example. Of the thirteen AAPIs serving in the Senate and House of Representatives, ten are Democrats, including Senator Daniel Inouye, the Senate President pro tempore, as well as Senator Daniel Akaka. This is not surprising given the Democratic Party’s commitment to issues that matter most to the AAPI community, as well as to diversity through both its AAPI voter outreach and the support of its AAPI candidates.
There is also a full slate of AAPIs running for US Congress in this midterm election in districts all around the country. This diverse group includes Hansen Clarke (MI-13), who would be the first Bangladeshi American to serve in the US Congress; Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), Hawai’i ‘s first female State Senate President, Dr. Ami Bera (CA-03), a physician and educator in Sacramento, Kansas legislator Raj Goyle (KS-04), Pennsylvania’s Dr. Manan Trivedi (PA-06), an Iraq war veteran who served as Battalion Surgeon for a Marine Corps Infantry Battalion, Ravi Sangisetty (LA-03), and Surya Yalamanchili (OH-02).
This groundswell of AAPI interest in running for office under the Democratic banner should not surprise anyone, given that Democrats place great value in representing diverse constituencies, and ensuring that all of us have a voice in our government. Democrats not only espouse these values of inclusion, they act upon it.
Finally, AAPIs support the Democratic Party because it is Democrats who best address the needs of our diverse community. Democrats fight hardest to reform our broken and outdated immigration system, and reunite AAPI families who suffer the longest family immigration backlogs, sometimes lasting over two decades. Democrats are the ones who fight to end predatory lending through Wall Street Reform, advocate for greater funding for higher education and who fight to expand access to affordable and quality health care through historic health care reform legislation.
Feehery knew better when he based his arguments on the monolithic stereotype that everyone in the AAPI community is healthy, wealthy, and wise. There is tremendous diversity within our communities, including great disparities within our community with respect to educational attainment, socio-economic diversity, access to health care, and linguistic isolation, only to name a few. These disparities become evident when we disaggregate data by ethnic subgroups. For example, 30.2 percent of Hmong Americans, and 22.2 percent of Cambodian Americans receive public assistance income, compared with 9.5 percent of the overall US population. With respect to health insurance, particular ethnic groups have overwhelming rates of uninsurance. For examples, 31 percent of Korean Americans and 24 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are uninsured. The model minority myth renders utterly invisible these underserved populations among our communities.
I am proud that the Democratic Party is the party for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The support that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have shown to the Party is by no accident. The Democratic Party is the one that invests in voter outreach in our communities, that is the breeding ground for AAPI rising political stars, and that addresses our communities’ concerns in national policy debates.
The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion. Together, we ensure that all voices are heard in our government, including those of our most vulnerable populations. This commitment is not missed by the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. After all, they do not serve green tea at the Tea Parties.
Rep Mike Honda is the Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.