As the race to the presidency goes full throttle, candidates should not ignore the best-kept demographic secret in politics: the rise of Asian-American voters.
Our ranks have swelled by 46 percent over the past decade, making us the fastest growing racial minority in the nation and ready to wield power and influence in the 2012 election.
Asian-Americans, who today make up 6 percent of the country’s population, are likely to cast a record number of ballots in 2012. It’s time for the presidential hopefuls and political parties to heed the voice and needs of this emerging political force.
In fact, while Asian-Americans remain strong constituencies in California and New York, they are also emerging in unexpected places like Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and New Hampshire – states that promise to be contentious throughout the primary and general election season. Texas currently has more Asian-Americans than the state of Hawaii.
That means that as candidates speak to voters on immigration reform, they must also address the Asian-American community’s concerns. Almost 1 million Asian-Americans live here undocumented; others wait decades to enter this country.
Despite these challenges, Asian-Americans have become the face and fabric of this country.
We run more than 1.5 million small businesses that provide jobs for more than 3 million Americans. We own homes and have very high rates of citizenship. At the same time, certain ethnic groups, such as the Hmong, Bangladeshi and Cambodian communities, continue to face lengthy unemployment, high poverty levels and lack of access to job training and other government programs. Yet, increasingly and across ethnic lines, more and more of us are voting.
All this shatters long-held stereotypes of Asian-Americans as the “invisible” or “model” minority.
A new report just released by the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, “A Community of Contrasts: Asian-Americans in the United States, 2011,” finally lifts the veil on the Asian-American voting bloc and how crucial it has become to our elections.
Take the 2008 presidential election. Nearly 4 million Asian-Americans cast ballots — 86 percent of all Asian-American registered voters and the largest Asian-American turnout in this nation’s history. Asian-Americans were also pivotal during the 2010 senatorial elections in Nevada, Washington and California.
With Asian-American voters set to break old records in 2012 and grab the political establishment by the ear, community and advocacy groups too must do all they can to harness this voting power and mobilize it to its full potential.
Organizations like the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Southern California and the Asian American Institute in Chicago have started building the infrastructure to do this. For example, the center has launched a massive effort to increase the number of Asian-American registered voters nationwide. It is also building a voter education and mobilization program in California.
And as for the candidates themselves, they should know that Asian-American voters have the power to make a crucial difference next November. We intend to exercise that power.
Karen Narasaki is president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center. Stewart Kwoh is the founding president and executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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