Not enough resources are allocated to accommodating the vast diversity within the Asian American label and researching the unique characteristics and needs of each community.

By Klarize Medenilla
Asian Journal | August 16, 2016  —

Cross Cultural Asian Americans


ASIAN Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in the United States.

In the last five years, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community increased by 19 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau.

And it’s not stopping there.


A recent UCLA study reported that by 2040, the AAPI voter population in the U.S. is projected to double with an expected population of 12.2 million.

Current naturalization trends can explain this phenomenon as hordes of Asian immigrants are making their way to the U.S.


Since 2012, approximately 60 percent of newly eligible AAPI individuals have gained the right to vote, meaning that the 2016 election will have the most diverse electorate by far, according to a 2016 report from Pew Research Center.

With the AAPI community growing exponentially, there’s no doubt that their presence at the polls later this year will be crucial.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties have announced efforts to further engage with the AAPI community, but their needs are still not adequately addressed.

The multicultural pool of the AAPI community is a major drawback. The Asian community is comprised of hundreds of cultures, ethnicities, nationalities and identities — it would be laborious to canvass to each individual group. Moreover, the linguistic diversity of Asians is a significant limitation when navigating voting processes.

Another issue is the minimal studies on AAPI voters. The scarcity of these findings was described by George Gao, digital producer at Pew, who said that most studies on ethnic subgroups don’t yield significant AAPI data because the participant pool is usually too small.

In short, to simply tackle the “Asian American” vote is far too broad and replaces individual engagement with generalization, according to Gao.

“Not only do they speak dozens of different languages they also hail from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and are only bound together because they claim racial/ethnic roots from the vast continent of Asia,” Gao said in the report.


Not enough resources are allocated to accommodating the vast diversity within the Asian American label and researching the unique characteristics and needs of each community.

But Cal State LA’s Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs (PBI) released a comprehensive study that looked into the voting behaviors and attitudes among four Asian American groups: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Korean. The study comprised of a multidisciplinary study that gathered information from over 1,600 participants in the Los Angeles area and measured Asian American voter behaviors and attitudes.


The study found that Asian Americans are rather complex in their voter behavior, and it proved that tackling the Asian American vote as a singular entity is misguided.

The study not only compared attitudes and behaviors among the four ethnic groups, but also yielded comparative results between young and old, foreign born and American born, native English speakers and foreign language speakers among other brackets.

Socially liberal

It’s no surprise the PBI study found that younger Asian Americans tend to be more socially liberal than older generations, but numerous surveys from Pew, Gallup, the Washington Post and other pollsters have concluded that AAPIs as a whole are more liberal.

Asian Americans tend to lean politically left because of the policies introduced and supported by Democratic leaders that address community concerns and noted a “strong contrast” between Democratic and Republican policies, said Shu-Yen Wei, northeast regional press secretary for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).


The 2000 presidential election marked the first time a majority of Asian Americans voted Democrat, and that trend continued in 2004 when 56 percent of Asian Americans voted for then-Democratic nominee John Kerry. President Barack Obama’s 2008 election win and 2012 re-election garnered 62 percent and 68 percent of the AAPI vote, respectively, according to exit polls from National Election Pool.

“President Obama has made it a priority to get input from the community and push legislation [that addresses AAPI] concerns,” Wei told the Asian Journal. “The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) was established by Obama to establish further engagement with the community, and [they’ve used] these interactions to draft policies that address AAPI concerns.”

The PBI study indicated that religiosity and economic change like minimum wage are important to Asian American voters.

Moreover, health care, immigration, commerce and education are issues of high salience to the AAPI community, and the Democratic Party’s positions on these issues tend to coincide with those of the typical Asian American voter, said Wei, who said that Democrats are more likely to enact laws that address AAPI concerns.

Immigration, in particular, is a keystone for AAPI voters, who are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which allows parents of American-born children to apply for naturalization, was authorized by Obama in 2014 and has been received positively among the AAPI community.

The U.S. Supreme Court could not come up with a consensus on Obama’s Executive Order to suspend mass deportations, grant undocumented immigrants with work permits and implement DAPA and expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on Thursday, June 23.

Nonetheless, undocumented AAPIs have received these two proposals as a step forward, said Wei.

“AAPI voters understand that Democrats support the path to citizenship and more comprehensive immigration reform,” said Wei, who noted the contrasting immigration stances between the two parties.

Wei added that the “strong anti-immigrant strain” from Republicans, particularly with Trump’s campaign, whose proposals — including his proposal to “end birthright citizenship” — leads to “an overwhelming rejection” of the Republican presidential nominee among the AAPI community.

“[Asian Americans] have grown up with the ‘perpetual foreigner stereotype’ and I think that kind of language is something that really resonates with the Asian American community,” said Wei.

A massive, collective study from APIAVote, Asians American Advancing Justice (AAJC) and AAPI Data reports that only 19 percent of Asian Americans hold a positive view of Trump, whose rating pales in comparison to Clinton who touts 62 percent favorability among Asian American voters.

Filipinos: part of the rule or the exception?

In terms of policy, the opinions expressed by Filipino-American voters tended to coincide with the rest of the AAPI electorate, who hold significant importance to policy related to education, immigration, social security and health care.

The “Inclusion, Not Exclusion” study reported that 54 percent of Filipinos are registered Democrat, 16 percent are Republicans and 27 percent did not identify. Moreover, 60 percent of Filipino-American voters chose Obama.

The study reported that Fil-Am voters hold a 59 percent approval rating of Clinton, beating Trump who only received a 23 percent favorability among Filipinos.

But although these studies provide a sound projection on how Filipinos will vote, there’s still widespread voter apathy among older Filipinos.

Arianna dela Rosa told her parents to vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders during the California primary, and without knowing anything about the Democratic presidential hopeful, they said, “Okay.”

And they did, according to dela Rosa, who was disappointed in her parents’ quickness to make such an uninformed decision.

“Even though it was nice that they were able to vote for who I wanted, I really wanted them to understand the importance of the issues and the importance of why we should vote,” dela Rosa told the Asian Journal.

This raises a common phenomenon among older Filipino voters, especially those who are low-information voters and rely on information from the younger generation, as indicated by dela Rosa, a fourth-year business and economics student at UC Davis.

Dela Rosa also expressed the importance of educating Filipinos on the American political system to generate more engagement among all Filipino Americans.

Filipinos comprise the second largest Asian American demographic behind the Chinese community in LA with more than 300,000 Filipinos living in LA County, and dela Rosa said that Filipino engagement is essential to empowering the community.

“We have a lack of representation in a lot of different things whether it’s in politics or higher education, and those things really intertwine with each other,” said dela Rosa.

The PBI study concluded that older generations tend to lean more conservatively on social issues and younger Filipino Americans tend to be liberal-leaning. Moreover, Filipino Americans born in the U.S. are more likely to participate in politics more than foreign-born Filipinos, who are more unfamiliar with the voting process.

But perhaps history is important to consider when understanding Filipino American voter attitudes.

The Marcos era, for example, left many Filipinos “unwilling and unwanting” to engage in the government because many felt they didn’t have a voice in Philippine democracy, remarked Stephanie Uy, field representative of California Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez.



“A lot of apathy comes from internalized colonization because our country has been suppressed by so many governments and different authorities, so there was never a strong want to be involved,” Uy told the Asian Journal.

Moreover, Filipinos who  immigrated after the Marcos era came to an unfamiliar country where the voting process was foreign to them. These two factors wouldn’t “leave for much desire for participation,” said Uy.

But the younger, more politically-involved generation of Filipino Americans promise a more informed and engaged electorate, said Uy.
Can the GOP compete?

Despite the reported Republican Party’s lackluster approval with the AAPI community, the Republican National Committee (RNC) remains active in AAPI engagement and support.

A main vehicle for this is recruiting AAPI leaders through the Republican Leadership Initiative, according to Ninio Fetalvo, APA press secretary for the RNC.

The RNC designed the initiative to generate engagement among AAPI Republicans and encourage them to be leaders within the party.

“Whether it is attending a local community event during AAPI Heritage Month, naturalization ceremonies, meeting with local AAPI community and civic engagement organizations, or meetings with AAPI faith leaders, the RNC continues having a strong presence and building meaningful relationships to ensure no voter is forgotten,” said Fetalvo.


Because of the studies and trends that show Asian Americans leaning left for the upcoming election in November, it’s projected that Clinton will be the choice for the Asian American electorate. However, there’s one crucial element that can reverse that: voter turnout.

During the 2014 midterm elections, which produced the lowest voter turnout since World War II, NEP exit polls showed that the Asian American vote was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

According to a Washington Post report, the AAPI Republican vote in 2014 was twice the amount that supported Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, according to NEP exit polls. This prompted celebration among the Republican Party.

“This was a rejection of the failed Democrat policies of the Obama administration and the previously Democrat-controlled Senate,” said Fetalvo. “Our continued engagement efforts resonated with all communities and proved effective at the ballot box in 2014.”

Representation matters

The PBI study indicated that Asian Americans tend to mismatch politically across age groups, place of birth, levels of religiosity, and the needs of the population are complex and varied.

However, among all four surveyed groups, Asian American representation in the elected positions was a universal concern as more Asian American elected officials are more likely to bring the community’s concerns to the table.

Janelle Wong, political scientist from the University of Maryland, told Voice of America that it’s important “just having faces that reflect the Asian-American population.”

“I think the more important aspect of political incorporation is having meaningful influence over public policy,” she added.

Across all federal, state and local government positions, Asian Americans account for 0.008 percent, according to data from UCLA and the U.S. Census Bureau. However, quantity-wise, the number of Asian Americans in public office has increased from 100 in 1976 to 4,000 in 2014, according to a 2014 report from UCLA.

With the exponentially growing population of AAPIs in the US, that number is soon to increase.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) became the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress in 2009. She said in an interview with NPR that as America becomes more ethnically diversified, Congress needs to accurately represent and accommodate the changing demographics.

“Asian Americans are finally seeing that it can be done,” she said. “We are finally bearing fruit.”

“It is so important to have people at the seat of the table where the decisions are being made that look like America.”


(Klarize Medenilla / AJ Press)
Published in Dateline USA, US