We're the Ones We've Been Waiting For

Asian Americans and the 2008 Presidential Election

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (dsb_nola/flickr)

NEW YORK, May 28, 2008 – While race has been the major topic of conversation in the historic 2008 primary season, the Asian American community has yet to figure prominently in that debate. Is there an Asian American voting bloc? Why aren't the candidates and media paying attention to the Asian American community, and what can be done to change that?

To address these issues, the Asia Society hosted a discussion moderated by Mae Cheng, the executive editor of amNewYork, and featuring Glenn D. Magpantay, staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Vijay Prashad, author of Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity and The Karma of Brown Folk, and professor and director of International Studies at Trinity College, and Carmen Van Kerckhove, a blogger on race issues and the co-founder of the consulting firm New Demographic.

Magpantay presented an overview of the Asian American vote based on AALDEF's polling, election monitoring, and election protection work, highlighting the disparity between the number of Asian Americans eligible to vote and the low percentage who are actually registered to vote. Magpantay also noted that, contrary to recent media emphasis on campus activism and the youth vote, in the Asian community historically the population over 60 is the segment that most often turns up at the polls.

Prashad cast the primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the context of a 20-year contest for the leadership of the Democratic Party, between its progressive and so-called centrist wings. Both Prashad and Van Kerckhove contended that that Asian Americans concerned about social issues should find common cause with other minority groups—in particular, Prashad continued, because Asians are just as vulnerable to an anti-immigrant backlash as Latinos.

Cheng questioned the panel about the potential influence of an Asian American voting bloc. Magpantay acknowledged that while Asian Americans currently constitute a small segment of the voting population, he foresaw a time when they could become the deciding factor in key close races—and added that they can already have a larger impact not just through voting but through donating, organizing, and working on campaigns. Prashad suggested that in order to become more influential, voting blocs should be reconceptualized not around racial categories but by support for central issues like immigrants' rights and healthcare.


Vijay Prashad: "[Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal will do two things for McCain and one for the devil" (1 min., 18 sec.)


Glenn D. Magpantay: Asian Americans running for office vs. Asian Americans running campaigns (2 min., 32 sec.)