Given that Andrew Yang, the first Chinese American presidential candidate, and Senator Kamala Harris, the first Indian and African American female presidential candidate, are in the race, will their Asian American identities give them a leg up among Asian and Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) American voters?
The answer is clearly no, at least not in San Francisco.
Rev. Norman Fong, who is the executive director of Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), featured Yang’s presidential candidacy in his weekly column with Sing Tao Daily but also confessed to not knowing who he is. When Yang visited San Francisco on July 16, there was no news coverage or even mention of his visit in Chinese media.
But just days before Yang’s visit, former Supervisor Jane Kim, the first Korean American elected official in San Francisco, led Dr. Jane Sanders, wife of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, to visit the City’s Chinatown public housing project, Ping Yuen. They were joined by Fong. And when Longtime Ping Yuen tenant leader Mrs. Lee tightly held Dr. Sanders’ hand and said she hoped her husband would win the presidency, it signified the importance of ideology and policy over identity politics. The visit was captured in a video posted on Kim’s social media and covered in local Chinese newspapers.
Meanwhile, there may be a lack of local news reports on Harris, but whenever she makes headlines in English media, the news is included in local Chinese newspapers identifying her in her given Chinese name, which continues her name identification among Chinese American voters.
While there has been a recognition that AAPI voters can swing elections at the local, state and even national levels, there are also questions around how to rally this voting bloc when AAPI communities are so diverse in their political views and range widely in their social-economical backgrounds. As a result, AAPI communities are often ignored or marginalized when candidates are courting voters everywhere except in San Francisco.
I sat down with a group of AAPI community leaders recently including Dr. Tung Nguyen, chair of AAPI Progressive Action, and Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Fund, to discuss the issue. They said they are rallying to change those dynamics this Fall because their data shows today, 75% of AAPI registered voters are voting Democrats.
Their group is hosting the AAPI Victory Fund Presidential Forum this September in Orange County, where they have invited all the top presidential candidates to address the most important issues to the AAPI communities. Those issues include immigration, gun control, climate change, education, and health care, which AAPI communities often experience differently due to language and cultural barriers; the group will be looking for policies that specifically address those aspects of these issues.
When I asked them what they think AAPI voters are looking for in a presidential candidate, without hesitation, Dr. Nguyen answered, “showing up!” What does showing up mean? “It starts with coming to the Forum,” said Nikore, and that’s because so far this is the only national AAPI event for the Democratic presidential primary.
Why pick Orange County as a location? AAPI votes helped flip the traditional GOP congressional districts in that area in the 2018 midterm elections. Placing the forum there is intended to serve as a glaring reminder for presidential candidates that not only are AAPI voters turning out to vote — they are voting for Democrats. Of course, the proximity to Hollywood also makes it an attractive location; Nikore half jokingly said that one of the best results from the Forum he could hope for is “when Awkwafina tweeted: this is dope!”
No doubt, if Awkwafina and fellow AAPI celebrities start to get involved and showing up, for sure so will the presidential candidates.
So now, will the real presidential candidate(s) for AAPI voters please show up? But most importantly, come November 2020, will AAPI voters please show up?
Connie Chan has worked for more than a decade as a communications and policy advisor. In that time she has held positions with the District Attorney’s Office, Recreation and Parks and City College of San Francisco, and has served as a legislative aide to two city supervisors. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.