Why is the minority group boasting the highest per-capita income and fastest growing population not voting?
Nationally, about 3 out of 10 Asian American eligible voters cast ballots in midterm elections since 1998, according to the Pew Research Center. Even though that number was predicted to increase in Tuesday's election, Asian American turnout has historically lagged behind other groups. In 2010, Asian American turnout was at 31 percent, compared to 49 percent for whites and 44 percent for African Americans.
There is no question that increased Asian American voters could make a difference in Alhambra. This week's election for Alhambra City Council's 1st District seat appears to have come down to 176 votes. Less than 1 out of 4 registered voters turned out. Asians make up more than half of Alhambra's population, and could have played a more influential role in Tuesday's election if they had turned out in larger numbers.
As a group, Asian citizens prioritize education, healthcare, and services for the elderly; many own small businesses and lead lives that would be drastically altered by tax policies, according to the National Journal. Virtually all registered Asian voters can call themselves American citizens as a result of policies and elections.
Which begs the question: Are Asian Americans not being represented and heard because Asian Americans are not engaging — or are Asian Americans not engaging because Asian Americans are not being represented?
Older citizens would remind us that former California Attorney General and 30th Governor of California, Earl Warren, was the moving force behind the internment of Japanese American citizens in 1942. Or that even though the Chinese Exclusion Act — widely considered the most restrictive act on immigration in US history — was repealed in 1943, the law in California prohibiting marriage between Chinese and whites was not repealed until 1948.
Younger citizens do not need to reach too far back in history to bring up issues around race. Education debates around affirmative action policies that adversely affect Asian Americans have been conducted in the name of helping minorities while excluding the needs of Asian American students. The death of Chinese American soldier Danny Chen, who would have now been 22 years old if he was not harassed and beaten by his fellow soldiers while serving in Afghanistan in 2011, also reflects the silent stabs of prejudice many Asian Americans feel, despite the "model minority" myth that idealizes the Asian American population.
It is possible that a culture of knowing one’s place, and not sticking up for fear of being struck down, plays a part. Many Asian Americans come from a place where political engagement — and even an education — were dangerous. Yet, even today, we see democracy protests for suffrage in Hong Kong, progress towards Democracy in Myanmar, and a 22-year-old activist and advocate in Pakistan stand up to the Taliban, and even challenge our president.
The Alhambra numbers alone say enough: If two Asian candidates could not even muster more than a quarter of the Asian potential votes in a city with where more than half the population is Asian, it is clear that drastic action needs to be taken to ensure that citizens are provided with resources and support, that local agencies comply with federal and state language-assistance laws, and that citizens are informed and educated.
Demographic researcher for Asian Americans Advancing Justice Dan Ichinose sums it up simply: “Candidates must engage the Asian American voter if they want to win," he told NBC News in early November. Low voting turnout correlates with groups that have the greatest language barriers. For citizens to engage, the process needs to be smoother, with better voter outreach.
The support of Asian America and the Asian American vote is worth fighting for, and if Asian Americans want their families to be uplifted from exclusion, unfairness, and bullying to be heard, represented, and included, they must show up to the polls.
A version of this story first appeared on Ray Tran's blog, "R.L. Tran."