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'Model Minority' or Not, Asian-Centric Political Action Just Isn’t a Thing in America

by Pamela Chan Jan 26, 2016

Politics has always meant trouble in my little family. My parents were immigrants to America with only one thing on their minds: to work hard and to live happily in a land filled with brand new opportunities.

Ahh – poorr—tuu—nity,” my mother always says, drawing out every single syllable. “We come to America for better job. Better education. Better life. You continue do same.”

Though the imminent threat of deportation or anything else for that matter is now far far away, I can still remember a time — like it or not — when fear loomed amidst members of my family. There were people in my family who didn’t know whether or not they’d be able to get a green card or permanently obtain citizenship. Their struggles to succeed in a new country were (and still are) something that precedes all other priorities. And it’s certainly something that’s been instilled in me since birth.

Face it. Delving deep into the political sphere is not at all the way to go about “succeeding” in America. It’s out of the question, really. So when it comes to Asian Americans and political participation, things have never seemed to mesh well. At least on my end, I’ve pretty much been as apathetic about politics in my 26 years as any of my friends or family.

Our voicelessness and invisibility in politics is no doubt depressing. Most of the time, even if we do end up showing solidarity or go about pressuring politicians to do something about it, the outcomes aren’t all that great. Take organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, who push against the disenfranchisement of Asian Americans by encouraging various communities to be more involved. The work they do is inspiring and empowering, but it still isn’t enough. Plus, there’s always been that problematic cycle in which politicians don’t acknowledge AAPI wants or needs. And we, as a minority group, have a historically limited representation in the government — there is only one Asian American in the Senate and just 10 in the House of Representatives. So what’s the point?

There is a point, actually. Like it or not, the entire nation is embroiled in a messy crisis that’s been causing loads and loads of trouble. All. The. Time. President Obama no doubt acknowledged the many problems currently facing the country during his farewell State of the Union speech last week — gun violence, climate change, student loan debt. Sure, his speech has gotten its fair share of oohs and boos from both sides —  but it has also given us, as Americans, more to think about. How can we remain “clear-eyed,” “big-hearted,” and openly “optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”?

Sure, we may be a country “by the people, for the people.” But the problem is, after all these years, it’s become all too easy for Asian Americans (such as myself) to become disillusioned with the American system. It’s already been noted that barely any Americans truly care about the issues that really matter when it comes to government and politics. The closest we come on a day-to-day basis may very well be bingeing on episodes of House Of Cards or Scandal. And when you add the invisibility of Asian-Americans in the political sphere, the problem really just explains itself. It’s hard to “care” or even be particularly interested when you feel like you don’t exist, or that your opinions don’t count.

When presidential candidates speak about racial injustice, they have a habit of referring to the “Big Three”: Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. Initiatives such as #BLM and Netroots Nation are being aimed to build ties with the African American community. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have been broadening their appeals to find better footing with the Latino population. What’s aimed at “most-Americans” in this country doesn’t ever seem to include Asian minorities.

“Model Minority” or not, Asian-centric political action just isn’t a thing. So why not change that this election season? The best way to go about shaking things up is to treat Asian-American voters as Americans first. Let me explain.

It’s been noted that only 4 percent of all Asian Americans take part in politics related to the country of their origin — i.e. we’re not all harping on just immigration and higher education issues. Surprisingly immigration, as currently framed, is not even a top policy priority for Asian Americans, but instead, falls short of issues such as the economy, jobs, health care, the budget deficit, environmental protection, and race and racism. A full 65 percent of Asian Americans support taxing high-earners to give the middle class a tax break. We’re also incredibly supportive of universal health care and especially favorable of a “bigger government with more services over a smaller government with fewer services.”

Case in point: These issues cannot be categorized as “Asian-American issues,” but things all American voters should be looking out for. But since the ranks of Asians in this country have actually been swelling in recent years — increasing at four times the rate of the overall U.S. population — we’ve been provided with a unique sort of political power that desperately needs to be tapped into.

In order to erase the all-too-wide divide sitting between Asian Americans and the world of politics, many steps and initiatives would have to be taken. It would not only require an increase of Asian Americans to engage more fervently with local, state, and national politics, but a commitment by politicians to work and provide resources for AAPI communities, instead of totally ignoring all of our interests. It also needs to be fully understood that Asian American experiences are not all that different from those of other people of color. We’ve been marginalized, we’ve been left out. Our voices have constantly been muted — it feels terrible.

Nonetheless, we are American born and bred. Despite what it seems like today, we have had rich histories in social and political activism and might even continue to do so. It’s up to us and politicians to take all this into consideration so that we can eventually work up to that “better,” brighter, and more “hopeful” future that Obama’s been harping about all along.

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