Like many of my friends and colleagues, I was concerned when Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential Election. However, I was also optimistic and hopeful that this wasn’t the sign that judgement day was upon us. I felt relief that now we could move beyond the walls of heightened, ignorant rhetoric and try to address issues that face America in the present. However, I feel like it needs to be stressed that the concerns and fears of Americans over the hatred that Donald Trump promotes is very real, and must be addressed with seriousness. That being said, I wanted to write about a facet of the election that has always been of interest to me: the Asian American voting population.
The AAPI community is one of the (if not the) fastest growing racial groups in the United States, making up the majority of recent immigrants. There are an estimated 20 million Asian Americans in the United States, and yet there is a paradox that seems to plague the community year after year: voter turnout. Asian Americans seem to consistently have some of the lowest voter turnouts of any other minority group. However, to me this isn’t a surprising fact. Growing up, my parents never really got themselves involved in politics. “It’s a waste of time. They never really do anything anyways.” It’s a sentiment that has always bothered me. One of the core lessons taught in any grade school civics class is voting and representation. Democracy works because the people elect leaders that carry largely the same interests as the people they represent. Yet my parents are hard-working American citizens that have no real faith in the system.
When I talk about this issue with friends who are also members of the AAPI community, I hear much of the same. Many Asian American parents have never voted at all or vote very infrequently. They would usually have a candidate that they favored but couldn’t be bothered to invest more time into finding out policies and taking the time to cast an educated vote. The causes for this are numerous and at times hard to pin down. One reason my parents tell me is that nothing really ever affects them. You don’t really turn on the television and see anybody talking about Asian American issues or hear about politicians trying to pass policy for their Asian American electorate. A lot of people within the APA community feel abandoned and ignored, perpetuated by decades of bias and stereotypes. The Model Minority Myth definitely plays a role in the ignorance of issues the AAPI community faces, and that’s a topic I want to revisit in another article. Of course, these aren’t the only reasons. There are language barriers, cultural conflicts and concerns, among many others.
So why do I want to bring up this issue now? One of the most divisive presidential elections in history has already ended, and short of a TARDIS showing up it’s not like my parents can cast a ballot now. Of course, this isn’t the only election that matters: there’s tons of critical elections not just on the national level that affect our everyday lives. Local and state elections are just as important, and voices need to be heard if we want problems to be addressed. Many people have pointed out that one of the main causes of Donald Trump’s victory was the voice of the neglected white, middle-class voters. While it is painted negatively in media as a “whitelash” and marker of white privilege, it can also be used as an example where your voice can have an incredibly large impact. Asian Americans need more representation, and that also involves being more active in politics and promoting awareness. It doesn’t have to be just in the form of voting in elections, it can be as simple as talking about issues with friends and family.
Over the past few years, what actually got me into learning more about AAPI issues were conversations I had with friends. Being an Asian American, there were many things even I wasn’t aware about, and neither were my parents. There are already efforts to try and bring more awareness to the voter turnout issue as well as many other AAPI issues. It’s not just up to the younger generations of US-educated voters, it’s also up to the older generation to learn more about the issues and really value the power they hold in being able to vote for their representatives. We’re a long way from gaining widespread recognition, but it’s my hope that voter turnout will at least start to grow steadily.
*** Disclaimer: this article is an opinion piece and does not explicitly represent the political ideas or affiliations of Asian Student Union or the University of Virginia **