By Julia Tong, AsAmNews Intern
In 2021, Linh Nguyen, senior adviser of RUN AAPI, reviewed the results of a study of Asian youth politics the organization conducted. Among numerous significant findings, she told AsAmNews, she was struck by a central sentiment many of the respondents expressed “multiple times over and in a variation of different ways.”
“Young Asians that we’re talking to pretty much told us, ‘f*ck the model minority,’” she recalled. “We have to abolish that that kind of oppression that we’ve been experiencing for years for decades, for centuries.”
Giving voice to young Asians, redefining political involvement, resisting monolithic narratives of the model minority myth: these are central goals that RUN AAPI hopes to tackle as it relaunches in March 2022. The organization styles itself as a cultural hub full of young change makers, activists, organizers, and more, in order to uplift and engage Asian American youth across the country.
Nguyen says the impetus for the organization came from the glaring lack of research into Asian American youth and their politics. Despite their increasingly significant electoral power, she observes, Asian youth are consistently marginalized and ignored by mainstream political parties and organizations.
“We’re growing in political influence. We’re becoming the marginal voters in so many swing districts and so many critical elections,” Nguyen says. “And yet, we’re so far behind in actually understanding who [young Asians] are—who we are—and actually honoring that.”
To do so, the organization has anchored its relaunch in a “character study” of Asian American youth nationwide. The results, Nguyen claimed, are “gonna shock a lot of people,” shining a critical light onto key issues such as politics, engagement, identity, representation, and more.
RUN AAPI’s character study was conducted online in November and December 2021. 831 respondents were recruited via social media ads and text messages. They each responded to a series of multiple choice questions, followed by an open ended segment. Respondents were then stratified by gender, geography, education, ethnicity, 2020 vote, income, and other categories to ensure a broad range of Asian American voices were captured.
Among the key statistics the group found: only 49% of Asian youth agreed with the statement “I feel a sense of community with the AANHPI [Asian American, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander]” community, with only 44% agreeing that they felt isolated as an Asian American. These results indicate a level of unease and disidentification with conventional labels; 60% agreed they felt part of an Asian American community. Importantly, however, they also reflect what Nguyen identifies as the political establishment’s consistent overlooking of Asian American youth.
One central issue is representation: 76% of respondents disagreed that the “Asian American community is well represented in American political life,” with 50% indicating that people of their background were “not very well” represented at all.
“Whether it’s been through media through politics, and entertainment, we just haven’t seen the depth of representation that young Asians are demanding for,” Nguyen says. “We’re just so much bigger than Andrew Yang. We can ask for more. We can ask for better.”
However, Nguyen stresses that these results don’t indicate that Asian American youth prioritize candidate race over their platforms. On the contrary, the survey shows that a majority of youth do not consider a candidate’s race while voting, prioritizing their platform and character instead. Instead, the lack of representation also leads to a lack of recognition of the unique issues Asian American youth prioritize.
69% of Asian Americans disagree that politicians are “working as hard on issues facing Asian Americans as they are on issues facing other communities.” Beyond that, Asian American voices are often ignored during the electoral process. 68% have never received outreach from a political organization, including calls to vote, volunteer, and otherwise get involved.
To Nguyen, these results reflect the need for meaningful, sustained investment in supporting AAPI youth. For instance, the Democratic party, which she had previously worked for, is “not there” in “the cultural understanding of who we are.” Hiring more Asian advocates and conducting more research, she says, is critical to ensuring young Asian Americans are heard.
“We are demanding that campaigns make a better effort and really put actual money behind this. Run a real budget so that again, your engagement isn’t just these boba events and these translated materials, but it’s really going to honor what young Asian voters actually want,” Nguyen said. “We need people, we need candidates, we need elected officials, actually speaking on our issues. We want you all running round tables, showing the whole umbrella of who we are.”
These results are also crucial in how RUN AAPI will shape its future activities; as Nguyen stresses, the study is only the first step towards future advocacy. After its relaunch, the organization plans to continue engaging AAPI youth in creative and relevant ways, such as working with influencers and content creators.
Nguyen is confident that the organization, bolstered by the information gathered during the study, will be able to enact change, amplifying Asian American youth throughout their future content.
“We’re uniquely positioned to do this kind of work. We are a political organization just for young Asians, you know, we are going to tell their stories, and we’re gonna be so unfiltered, it might make people very uncomfortable,” Nguyen said.
“But these are the real hopes. These are the real dreams. These are the deepest and darkest thoughts that our own Asian community members are feeling. And we are absolutely going to see that through our content.”
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