Nevada’s former Senator Harry Reid was perhaps the first politician to take advantage of the state’s changing demographics.
In the heat of a close election in 2010 and a target of the radically conservative Tea Party, Reid won the endorsement of Manny Pacquiao, the champion boxer who although he wasn’t a US citizen, was wildly popular with Filipinos and Filipino Americans.
“Manny Pacquiao and I came from different parts of the world, but we came on the same side of the street,” Reid said of Pacquiao, who at the time was a congressman in the Philippines and in his fighting prime.
“Manny fights for those who cannot fight for themselves,” said Reid. “It’s not enough to fight yourself. It’s not enough to want to be a champion. We want to be champions for others.”
In the days before election day, Pacquio flew to Las Vegas from his training site in L.A. to attend a Reid rally and that may have been the difference in the close contest.
Today, there is no doubt that the Asian American Democratic vote is one to be watched as Nevada’s voters caucus to determine who they favor among the candidates.
Since 2010, the AAPI vote is even more influential. The number of AAPI voters in the state grew 35% from 2010 to 2016, zooming past the 13% growth rate for all eligible voters statewide, according to APIAVote, which tracks demographic and voting data. Filipino Americans make up about half of that community.
At a time when Republican action and rhetoric has made xenophobia a real fear, it is not surprising that AAPI voters have swung towards the Democratic Party in recent elections.
According the US Census, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders now account for roughly 10% of the state’s 3 million people.
CNN’s lead-up to the election featured the story of Filipino American Dan Santos, a Filipino who became a political activist for this election. He will be managing one of the caucus sites, greeting Filipino American voters with a “Mabuhay.”
Earlier this month, Santos was picked to be chairman of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Democratic caucus, which represents the community in the county Democratic Party.
At the caucus sites, the state’s Democratic Party, for the first time, is handing out preference cards in Tagalog, along with the Spanish and English voting materials.
The Las Vegas Sun also used a Filipino American to focus it’s story on AAPI voters’ growing importance.
Christian Bato, a volunteer at another caucus site, isn’t so sure the Tagalog material was the best way to outreach to the AAPI voters since most Filipino Americans are fluent in English.
“As a son of Filipino immigrants, I appreciate the gesture,” Bato told the Sun. “But there are a whole lot of other ways we could have diversified our resources … maybe hiring an Asian American staffer for example.”
For some Filipino American, the Tagalog literature may have more importance as a symbol of respect. “We’re proud that they are recognizing us,” said Margie Gonzales, who chairs the county’s Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) commission,. “It means a lot — it means recognition.”
For a community often overlooked and marginalized, recognition and respect means a lot.
“The mere fact that a lot of politicians are calling me and other Filipino American leaders, it shows you that we are becoming important,” she told the Agence France Press.
“They are paying attention to us, because they know now that we vote.”
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