Rise of the Blue Tiger: Asian Americans and the Democratic Party

Apr 25, 2011 No Comments

By Chasel Lee

The 2010 census results paint a rapidly changing demographic picture for California. Asians are the fastest growing racial group in the state, increasing 31.5% in between censuses to almost 4.8 million people, or 12.8% of the state population. Asian American population growth occurred over the entire state, in both traditional regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Gabriel Valley, the Sacramento delta, the Central Valley, and the Inland Empire, and in historically low Asian population communities.

Even without looking at raw numbers, we see their increasing influence in California. Asian cuisines proliferate on our dinner tables, Asian stores line our streets and malls, and aspects of Asian cultures permeate our society. What about our politics, then? What impact do they have on Sacramento and on our city halls, on our campaigns and on our party?

A Gallup poll in early 2010 indicated that Asian Americans are, in general, more liberal than any other racial group. More Asian Americans identify as Democrats than as Republicans and are generally less religious and attend fewer church services. This combination has made Asian Americans the new forefront of the Democratic wave sweeping California.

Elections in the past few decades demonstrated this new reality. The San Gabriel Valley, once white, conservative, and middle class, saw a massive influx of Chinese and Koreans, along with Latinos, and turned blue over the past few decades. Further north in Fremont, San Jose, and the Silicon Valley, the Democratic tide rose with the dot-com boom and the massive influx of Asian immigrants. Traditionally Republican Orange County and the politically-swingy Sacramento area are now becoming bluer with explosive growth in the Asian American communities there.

Asian Americans champion many social issues on the progressive agenda affecting everyday Californians. Federal and state legislators such as Mike Honda and Judy Chu fight for increased spending on social services for our seniors and children and advocate for better education from preschool past college. Asian American leaders and students march against discrimination and political neglect and for safer communities. Asian American attorneys in organizations such as the Asian Law Caucus fight for the most vulnerable, the underprivileged, and the underrepresented in the courts and the bureaucracy. As a group historically discriminated against in immigration policy, Asian Americans fight for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act. Counter to popular belief, undocumented Asian Americans make up the plurality of students who qualify for AB 540 funding. In political life, Asian Americans have made inroads into elected positions as well. San Francisco and Oakland have their first Asian American mayors, and Berkeley professor Steven Chu, the United States Secretary of Energy, serves as one of three Asian American Cabinet members.

While Asian Americans are a crucial constituency for the Democratic Party, they should not be considered a shoo-in group. First, Asian Americans are not a monolithic bloc and cannot be treated as one. The term Asian American encompasses numerous different groups, with a multitude of traditions, languages, religions, and cultures. It includes not only the more well-known and more prominent Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Vietnamese heritages, but also Indians, Koreans, and Hmong, among others.

Secondly, Asian Americans used to lean Republican. Historically, only the Japanese Americans voted Democratic. Even today, Vietnamese Americans and Korean Americans still tend to vote Republican, often cited as a result of the roles the two parties played in the Vietnam and Korean Wars. However, the policies of the Republican Party are driving away Asian Americans, while Democratic principles and values resonate with most Asian American groups, especially recent Asian immigrants, who tend to be more liberal than later generations.

For the continued growth and prosperity of our party, of California, and of our nation, the Democratic Party should celebrate its diversity by embracing and responding to the demands of the Asian American communities. Their policies and their aspirations match the progressive vision that we Democrats stand for, and they are ready to fight for a vibrant and strong Democratic California.

Resources:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/125579/asian-americans-lean-left-politically.aspx

http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/young-lives-on-hold-college-board.pdf

Spring 2011, Final
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