Growing up in Texas, it was rare to see politicians at an Asian-American community event. In the landscape of American politics, Asian-Americans were, and to a large degree still are, the invisible minority.
Some of the perceived Asian invisibility is due to the fact that Asian demographic power is a relatively new thing.
Asians make up a much smaller slice of the electorate (an estimated 4 percent in 2016, according to Pew) compared to Blacks (12 percent) or Hispanics (12 percent). However, that’s changing: Pew also concludes that the largest growth in the voting public is among Asians, who grew four times faster than any demographic group from 2000 to 2010.
[Therefore,] this power of the Asian voting bloc is only lately being realized, unlike America’s Hispanic and African-American votes.
However, the main reasons why Asians are left out politically is due to our own choice.
I can’t remember a time when there was a political discussion at a dinner table or talking about the latest news from Washington DC at a family gathering. We listened to our elders, usually male family members who griped about the politician in our homeland, but never engaged in a conversation about the politics in the U.S.
My family, like most Asian-Americans, treated American politics like a spectator sport, always watching from far but never really getting involved in the issues, and never thinking that any of it really impacted our lives.
Then again, there wasn’t a lot of effort from the politicians to reach out to the Asian-American communities either. In the 15 years of living in Houston, I don’t remember anyone from either of the political parties reaching out to our community, holding town hall meetings or making the rounds in the neighborhoods where Asian immigrants resided. In fact, there was very little acknowledgment that Asian immigrants even existed at all.
Most Asian-Americans in my community felt that the conversations or the policies dictated by Washington DC had no impact in our lives, and speaking out and voicing immigrants issues only exacerbated negative and derogatory sentiments, like in the 80’s when the fear of Japanese taking over our economy and country were rampant.
For many years, the only political platform Asian-Americans had was to be held up as the model minority, a poster child for obtainment of the American Dream and the success that can be had with hard work and perseverance.
It is deeply instilled in our community and has made a lasting impression on most Asian-Americans who grew up in my generation.
As a child, I was told not to make trouble, not to speak up, and certainly, never to criticize or say anything negative about the U.S., the country that has taken us in and has given us the opportunity for a better life.
Any form of criticism was chastise as being ungrateful, or worse, warranted a reliable racist response, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to where you came from!”
Asian-Americans are viewed as perpetual immigrants, and even if you are born in America or are a second or third generation American, you are rarely viewed as being American enough to have an opinion much less express your opinion about what’s happening in this country.
However, it’s important for Asian-Americans to become political and speak up. As citizens, businessmen and women, educators or entrepreneurs, we need to use our platform to support and reach out to others, advocate for justice, and promote the issues that matter to our communities.
As my hero, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said,
Immigration is really about who we are as a country and what we’re willing to stand up for. Even though personally I always feel very humbled by the stories of other immigrants who have had it much, much harder than I have, I still have a deep connection and experience myself of how difficult it is to be an immigrant. It gives you a deep understanding, empathy, and resolve to correct the horrendous things that the other side says about immigrants. I mean, it is personal.
People want to utilize that to question patriotism or to question ability. There’s this sense that somehow there’s a definition of what it means to be an American patriot.
Refuse to be patronized or minimized. Stand up for yourself, speak out, deal your power, and don’t be afraid to share it. You can speak for the communities you represent, you can embrace your story proudly as an immigrant. Don’t listen to people who tell you you should try to hide somehow that you’re an immigrant. It enriches who you are, and it enriches the country.
This is the greatest democracy in the world. There is no other country that has the kind of diversity and the kind of attachment to an immigrant narrative as the United States. And that doesn’t mean there are no blemishes on our history, there are so many blemishes on our history. But this has always been an experiment. A very, very successful one on so many levels. The opportunity to perfect democracy, the opportunity to have free speech and to fight for the values that define us as a nation, and the opportunity to continue to ensure justice for all is an incredible honor.
It’s an incredible honor indeed!