May 29, 2008
Perhaps Vincent Chin, whose death in 1982 fomented the pan-ethnic Asian American movement, can rest assured that America’s leaders have finally heard his community’s voice. On May 17, 2008, APIA Vote, in conjunction with the Ninth Annual Convention of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (NCAPACD), hosted its first ever presidential town hall meeting at University of California Irvine’s Bren Event Center.
Asians comprise one of the United States’ fastest-growing ethnic groups making Asian voting participation a major factor in the 2008 elections. The town hall event discussed many of the Asian American and Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) community’s primary issues and concerns.
Historically, Asian Americans had to fight for recognition within the political arena. Things began to change after the 1965 Immigration Act, which led to unprecedented growth of the U.S. Asian population. Today, there are currently over 14.4 million Asian Americans and approximately 1 million Pacific Islanders. While their numbers increase, many Asians face voting barriers, such as a lack of language assistance at the polls. This hasn’t stopped the AAPI community from engaging in the political process.
A 2004 News California Media poll showed that 62 percent of AAPI voters thought that the 2004 presidential election was the most important election of their lifetime. Voting impediments, such as lack of interpreters, have not deterred Asian Americans from voting. In 2004, 85.2 percent of registered Asian American voters participated in the election, showing the tremendous rise within the AAPI presence.
Getting AAPI Youth Involved
A crucial element within the AAPI community is its increasingly active youth voter constituency. In Los Angeles County alone, over 23,000 Asian American youth voted in the 2004 general election and 61 percent of those were first-time voters (PDF). Although there is an increase in youth participation, there is a divergence between political parties among the older and younger generations. According to a Harvard University Institute of Politics survey, 47 percent of Asian American youth identified themselves as Democratic, 39 percent as Independent, and 15 percent as Republican.
“I think there is a huge generation gap,” says sophomore Grace Young, co-president of UC Irvine’s Asian Pacific Student Association. “As a second-generation Taiwanese American whose parents came as grad students, [there is] a pretty big political gap between my parents and I. They are pretty conservative and vote Republican.”