U.S.

Asian American communities seek public office wins after year of hate

In mid-March last year, as the coronavirus pandemic was on the rise and as the nation was seeing an uptick in documented racist incidents and hate crimes against members of the Asian American community, then-president Donald Trump repeatedly called the pandemic a “Chinese virus” from the White House podium.

Trump and members of his administration defended the use of the term even though advocates and experts warned it would lead to stigmatization against Asian Americans. One administration member reportedly referred to the virus as the “Kung flu” to an Asian American reporter, Weijia Jiang

Come November, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders increased their voter turnout by 46% from the 2016 election, a larger increase than any other group in the U.S., said Varun Nikore, president of AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC focused on mobilizing Asian American and Pacific Islander voters.

The record engagement from Asian Americans in 2020 can be attributed in part to the anti-Asian rhetoric of Trump’s White House and other actions his administration took on immigration and other policies, Nikore told USA TODAY.

Now, organizations focused on electoral engagement for  that community want to harness that momentum and see more Asian Americans run for office at the local, state and federal level.

They argue that having political representation at every level of public office will open the possibility of more Vice President Kamala Harrises and Sen. Tammy Duckworths – Asian Americans in national office, with the power to shape laws and governance.

“This work is based around making sure we have representation at staff, communications, advocacy levels, those running for elected office, commissions, appointments … across all walks of life when it comes to public service,” said Madalene Mielke, president of the nonpartisan Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

TOP: Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, speaks during a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, following the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on April 22. ABOVE: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Unity Summit on May 19.
TOP: Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, speaks during a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, following the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on April 22. ABOVE: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Unity Summit on May 19.
LEFT: Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, speaks during a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, following the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on April 22. RIGHT: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Unity Summit on May 19.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images; MANUEL BALCE CENETA, AP

Nikore said more engagement of Asian Americans, including through diversifying those in office, is needed to cement “a permanent shift and change within the AAPI community that will last awhile going forward.”

“Unless continued investment happens in the AAPI community, we can see a flattening of the turnout in future elections for AAPIs. We have to continue engaging them,” Nikore said.

Harris, the daughter of immigrant parents from India and Jamaica, is both the first woman and first person of Asian descent to hold her office. She delivered the keynote address at the first AAPI Victory Alliance Unity Summit last month, lauding the engagement of  Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the electoral process.



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