AAPI Presidential Candidates Can ‘Inspire’ the Next Generation in Politics


by Amy-Xiaoshi DePaola, AsAmNews Contributor

It’s made history: the most Asian American candidates vying for the presidential seat. So far.

The 2020 presidential race has included Black and Indian American Sen. Kamala Harris (CA), Samoan American-Hindu Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI), and Taiwanese American entrepreneur Andrew Yang, all Democratic Party candidates.

“Three folks of AAPI descent getting that kind of attention is a big deal,” said Jennifer Baik, communications and policy associate of APIA Vote.

Baik says she believes there has been an impact for voters in correlation with having three visibly Asian American candidates, particularly in breaking the “common misconception” of Asian Americans not being politically engaged. Andrew Yang in particular “changed that narrative” with his candidacy.

“We care a lot, we are engaged, and we can be leaders,” Baik said.

Baik referred to Yang as “one of the most visible AAPI candidates” who “actively” galvanized voters, particularly a new generation of young Asian political donors. Typically, Baik said, Asian American donors are older and have higher income brackets.

Yang racked up the most campaign contributions from the Asian American community, with over $1.4 million, according to an APIA Vote analysis in Dec. 2019. Former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) followed as the next top receivers.

However, NBC News noted that the donor population isn’t “perfectly reflective” of the Asian American voting population, referring to a California survey where Yang was ranked as “haven’t heard enough of” by 41% of eligible AAPI voters.

But in terms of media attention, Yang was the most visible, Baik said.

“He ran his campaign on the fact he’s an Asian guy,” she said.

Yang, however, isn’t the only one. Baik noted that Pacific Islanders “get left out a lot of the time” in issues involving the AAPI community — and that Gabbard, the only Asian American now remaining in the race, speaks to them. Support for her has largely been boosted from within the Hindu American community, according to The Intercept.

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said the diversity of the candidates helped people “recognize that were are quite a diverse community” — not a monolith.

Historically, both parties have failed to reach out to the Asian American community, Baik and John C. Yang said. But this time, the Democratic Party has been reaching out, holding events geared towards specific Asian American issues.

For example, thirteen Democratic candidates held events focused on the community in Nevada in 2019 alone, and now, “every single remaining campaign is hiring for or has hired outreach coordinators to the AAPI community,” Baik said.

Candidates have worked with community leaders on a different level to create AAPI-centered platforms, such as with Warren acknowledging wage gaps in different Asian communities and Harris addressing specific challenges that the Filipino nurses have. (Harris suspended her campaign in Dec. 2019.) Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has also directly courted Asian American voters in state elections, as well as led the rest of the candidates in AAPI donors during his 2020 presidential campaign.

This campaign season is a change from 2016, where 70% of the AAPI community reported that they were not reached out to in the presidential race, by either party, said John C. Yang.

Having visible Asian American candidates adds a normality, that “we are just as American as anyone else in this country,” he says, and the issues reflect that. AAPI voters are mostly issue-based, concerned about “bread-and-butter” voting issues such as gun control, environmentalism, and immigration.

And they might be able to put their ideas into action — there has been a “notable increase” of the fastest-growing ethnic population in terms of voter engagement, with the AAPI voter turnout having “tripled” from 2014 to 2018, Baik said.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), agrees this election’s representation has inspired more Asian Americans.

“Seeing more AAPIs in positions of power, whether an elected official, an appointed judge, or a member of the media, inspires younger AAPIs and reinforces that they belong in these spheres as well,” Chu said in an email statement. “I’m glad that having more diverse candidates has inspired more diverse participation in our democracy, and I hope to see more AAPIs getting involved in the process in any way.”

Still, though Yang and Harris have suspended their campaigns, leaving only Gabbard remaining, John C. Yang says it “shouldn’t be seen as a loss.”

“It should be seen as progress,” John C. Yang said. “It gives hope to our next generation that this is a path that they can choose, that they can help make the country better by becoming an elected official or politician.”

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