Last night at The Asia Society, I attended a great speaking event about Asian Americans and the community regarding the 2008 elections. The speakers included prominent voices on the issue. Glenn D. Magpantay, a Staff Attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (ALDEF), where he coordinates the voting rights program. He is also working on litigation for immigrant rights, and is a committee member of Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY). Glenn was also named one of Instict Magazine’s “25 Leading Men of 2004”. Vijay Prashad is Professor and Director of International Studies at Trinity College. His recent books are The Darker Nations: A People’s history of the Third World. Two of his other books were chosen by Village Voice as books of the year in 2000 and 2001. He also writes a column for India’s Frontline magazine. Also speaking was Carmen Van Kerckhove, the co-founder and president of New Demographic, the host of the podcast “Addicted to Race” and edits many blogs including “Racialicious”, “Anti-Racist Parent”, and “Race in the Workplace”. The mediator was Mae Cheng, Executive Editor at amNewYork.
The presentation started off with an informative Power Point presentation created by Glenn D. Magapantay. It demonstrated the different demographics of Asian Americans and their influence and involvement of voting in America. Some of the main issues, according to him, are in the primaries, as with previous elections, voters of states with the highest Asian American registration (top 5 being CA, NY, HI, TX, WA) have a low percentage of registered voters but a high percentage of those registered voters do vote. This means that more people in the communities should be registering for a particular party, or in general vote as part of the community. The Asian American voting population was ranked by percentage, Chinese (38%), South Asian (27%), Korean (14%), Southeast Asian (8%), Filipino (7%), and Other Asian (6%). Overall, the voting population is 59% Democrat, 12% Republican and 27% Not Enrolled in a Party.
Glenn D. Magpantay and the other speakers expressed concerns of a recent article on CNN, where Asian American voters wanted Hillary over Obama due to racial prejudice. They expressed that is simply not true. There are more signs that Asian American voters do not vote according to race or gender but by who they feel represents them in the community and reaches out to them as voters. In the past Asian Americans have voted for candidates who are strong on the issues of immigration and other specific issues. Overall, Asian Americans voted yes 75% to 25% to legalize immigration. An example, was the large Asian American support for Giuliani due to his advocacy for immigration.
There are some barriers to achieving the Asian American vote. For example, 51% of voters read the Non-English “Ethnic Press”. Many feel they are racially profiled or ignored by candidates, not helped at the polls, denied ballots and do not have access to the mandatory translations that should be present at the polls.
Vijay Prashad spoke on the issues of South Asian and Asian American voters. He expressed how important it is to have a movement and voice in the country. He said he is an activist and it is time to show the “stakes in fighting” for the vote. He said it is better to not complain about being taken seriously, but instead take the steps to organize and give voice to the community and becoming more political. Carmen Van Kerckhove said it is true that there must be activism and an organization of Asian American voters but it is good to remember social justice should be for all groups and not just one group. By working together Asian Americans could achieve more.
When the audience asked questions about the younger generation vs. the old, the speakers said there are differences among the generations. Carmen said she has found most young Asian Americans were in support of Obama. This was contrasting the CNN findings that there was a larger percentage of Asian Americans overall supporting Hillary. It was said that there was not enough campaigning by the candidates, Obama, Hillary, and McCain to the Asian American voter, though Vijay commented that it was interesting McCain’s Vice President could be South Asian, even though he did not support his politics.
It was asked why more Asian Americans were not running for office in the communities and Glenn said it depended on the area and community. For example, in Flushing Queens there were many Asians running for office, but in another area there were less. This seemed to make sense with the demographic of the area.
A professor of Asian Studies at Hunter asked why her students were very motivated in business and their professions, but seemed to be political only after taking her class, “not to toot her own horn”. The speakers said they could not answer directly why that was but that all young people can become involved in politics. Speaking about the younger generations in general, they said it is important for young people to do not only what is expected by parents or as a part of the Asian American community, but to follow their talents and dreams.