The California Citizens Redistricting Commission has released its draft maps.
California is redrawing its district lines, which could shift how issues important to Alhambra residents are represented in state and national politics. Amid the possible changes, Asian Americans have been vocal advocates for Alhambra and the west San Gabriel Valley to be placed in unified districts.
Alhambra currently belongs to Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts which all have different ethnic majorities. In the State Assembly district, the largest ethnic group is Asian, followed closely by Latino. In contrast, in the larger Congressional district, which includes Glendale and parts of downtown LA, whites are the largest group. And in the Senate there is a strong Latino majority. Alhambra’s current population is 53 percent Asian, 34 percent Latino, and 10 percent white, according to the 2010 census.
Some Asian-American advocates are asking for cities such as Alhambra, Monterey Park, and San Gabriel—all with at least 18 percent of its populations comprised of Asians—to be placed in the same districts.
Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said that the organization is pushing to educate Asian residents on the redistricting process, as well as helping them sound off on their concerns about their districts. The effort is not reflective of a fear that the West San Gabriel Valley will be scattered into separate districts, Lee said, but simply an attempt at fostering awareness of the Asian-American community.
He added that this is especially urgent when considering that the California Citizens Redistricting Committee, the first ever voter-approved body charged with redistricting duties, has been in existence for less than a year.
Citizens have unprecedented influence in the process this year. The commission, comprised of 14 residents, was established in 2010 through the approval of the Voters FIRST Act. In the past, redistricting duties were handled by the State Legislature. Redistricting occurs after each census, which takes place every 10 years.
Asian-Americans spoke on their need for fair representation at an April 29 hearing at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse hosted by the Redistricting Commission, reported the Pasadena Star-News.
John Wong, a member of the Chinese-American Citizens Alliance, spoke of an instance in which a Chinese American candidate lost his bid for office in Chinatown because his district included a large Hispanic population. Wong said such examples have deterred Asian Americans from running for office.
Monterey Park resident John Gee agreed, saying that, "The Asian American community has been a victim of willful and premeditated fragmentation.” Gee's concern was shared by attendees who claimed that their districts were formed as the result of gerrymandering, the act of drawing district lines that are politically beneficial for a specific party. Speakers noted the seemingly haphazard shapes of some of their districts.
Other speakers drew the attention from politics to the intangibles of daily life for Asian-Americans. Janet Chin, president of the Garvey School Board, said that Asians and Pacific Islanders have a shared need for language accommodations, citing an example of a car-buying scheme that was carried out in the San Gabriel Valley during the early 2000s. The car dealership used Mandarin-speaking employees to bait Asian car-buyers into signing scam contracts that were written in English. This led to a law requiring businesses to provide certain contracts in a language consistent with the verbal negotiations. Chin said that the decisive response was made possible because the community was placed in a district that understood the issues that were faced by residents. Chin was among the speakers who were aided by APALC in preparing a statement for the hearing.
Two weeks ago, APALC and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund each released their own district maps, outlining their vision of what the districts should look like. Their maps were similar in that they grouped heavily Asian-populated cities from the San Gabriel Valley. In its map for Congressional districts, MALDEF included Walnut and Diamond Bar, both with Asian majorities. A sense of unity is among the main concerns when it comes to district lines, according to Steven Ochoa, national redistricting officer at MALDEF. “The number one fear is having a district line go right down the middle of your city,” Ochoa said. “The next thing you look at is, ‘Is my city placed in a district with other cities that is like my own?’”
As the commission looks at which cities should be grouped in the same districts, it is asking residents to name their “communities of interest,” which it defines as a group of cities that face similar social and economic needs. According to APALC, the communities of interest in the West San Gabriel Valley include Alhambra, San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Rosemead, Arcadia, Temple City, and San Marino.
Draft maps of Congressional, State Assembly, State Senate, and State Board of Equalization districts will be released Friday on the commission’s website. Finalized maps will be submitted by August 15.