Experts Analyze Asian American Civic Engagement History, Potential Ahead of 2020 Election
Asia Society at Home
HOUSTON, August 18, 2020 — Asia Society Texas Center began its 2020 fall Business and Policy programming with a timely discussion on elevating civic engagement in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In conversation with Houston Public Media’s Andrew Schneider, APIAVote founding executive director Christine Chen, Baker Institute political science fellow and Rice University professor Mark P. Jones, and Outreach Strategists LLC founder and president Mustafa Tameez weighed in on developments in AAPI civic engagement throughout the years, as well as the outlook for AAPI voters in upcoming general election.
The impact of Kamala Harris on AAPI turnout
The webcast began with a discussion on the selection of Kamala Harris as former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, with Schneider asking what political significance it has for the AAPI community. Chen shared that the selection has generated interest and enthusiasm among AAPI voters, particularly within the South Asian community. She explained that voter turnout in a specific locality increases any time an AAPI candidate runs for office; an AAPI candidate in a Presidential election will have a similar effect.
Tameez and Jones agreed and offered their thoughts on how Harris would impact Texas voters specifically, with Tameez noting that while Texas has the third largest AAPI population, it’s unique compared to California and New York in that Texas is home to more South Asians than East Asians. Jones added that Harris’ selection could also be significant for key races here in Texas, such as Congressional District 22 and Texas House Districts 26 and 28, all of which have large Indian American populations. Increased voter turnout for these races could, he said, help Democrats take control of the Texas House.
Development of AAPI civic engagement
Chen shared that when she started her work in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s, there were only four national Asian civil rights organizations. Today, there are over 35 AAPI organizations that do public policy work across the country, helping educate and engage the increasingly diverse AAPI community. She also noted the existence of more AAPI members in the federal government, the continued White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and even commissions specifically for Asian Americans.
Chen explained that outreach and exposure to campaigns and voting can help create pipelines for those who will go on to run for office, who in turn garner support from their local networks and help activate more members of the AAPI community. She added that this is even visible in the younger generations, as the youth vote among the AAPI community in 2018 had tripled from that of 2014.
Barriers to engagement
Despite this growth, all three speakers acknowledged that many barriers still exist for the AAPI community. Jones said that voter registration rates among citizens in AAPI and Latinx communities remain lower than other communities’, ranging 50–60 percent due in part to lack of engagement and mobilization, as well as a dearth of candidates and groups reaching out to these voters. Both he and Tameez acknowledged the challenges in outreach as the AAPI community is incredibly diverse and spans more languages than other minority groups.
Chen added that two-thirds of the AAPI community are still first-generation immigrants, making it vital to have in-language resources for those who need them and to help organizations like APIAVote understand the issues and priorities that will motivate the AAPI electorate to go to the polls. "We can only be part of the narrative when we also have data about the community, and that’s why [APIAVote] invested in conducting in-language polling every two years,” Chen said.
The 2020 election and COVID-19
As the election approaches amid a global pandemic, all three speakers stressed the importance of educating the electorate on voting processes and options. Tameez noted that while Texas Governor Greg Abbott made a step in the right direction in extending early voting to begin on October 13, there are still mixed signals coming from federal and state leaders, especially concerning mail-in voting. Jones agreed, stating that while the Texas Supreme Court has provided the option for vote-by-mail to everyone, confusion remains about how to do so. All three speakers agreed that the bottom line for Election 2020 and beyond is to educate the AAPI — and general American — electorate on how to vote and why it’s important.
Chen said that many AAPI voters are highly motivated, especially after the last six months have seen a rise in xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment, as well as renewed energy in the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for racial justice. Tameez added that a large percentage of healthcare and other frontline workers are Asian American, and said he believes the response to COVID-19 has caused people more than ever to understand how public policy affects their lives in meaningful ways. He also noted a culture change due to the pandemic, with people having more meaningful conversations with each other. Tameez said he hopes that one of these meaningful conversations is about our civic duty, and the discussion that “elections have impacts… They have real consequences, and we should talk about that and get people to vote.”
Business and Policy programs are endowed by Huffington Foundation. We give special thanks to Bank of America, Muffet Blake, Anne and Albert Chao, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Nancy Pollok Guinee, and United Airlines, Presenting Sponsors of Business and Policy programs; Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, and Leslie and Brad Bucher, Presenting Sponsors of Exhibitions; Dr. Ellen R. Gritz and Milton D. Rosenau, Presenting Sponsors of Performing Arts and Culture; Wells Fargo, Presenting Sponsor of Education & Outreach; and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Presenting Sponsor of the Japan Series. General support of programs and exhibitions is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, Inc., the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, McKinsey & Company, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, Vinson & Elkins LLP, and Mary Lawrence Porter, as well as Friends of Asia Society.
About Asia Society at Home
We are dedicated to continuing our mission of building cross-cultural understanding and uplifting human connectivity. Using digital tools, we bring you content for all ages and conversations that matter, in order to spark curiosity about Asia and to foster empathy.
About Asia Society Texas Center
With 13 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and West. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach.
More from Asia Society
Connect with Us!
Asia Society At Home
Join us for virtual field trips, online classes for adults, and at-home adventures and resources for students!
Revisit highlights from the very best of our in-person programs — in bite-size form.
Explore insights and conversations that contextualize information around the COVID-19 pandemic.
Join us for broad-ranging webcast conversations with speakers and artists to inform, educate, and uplift.
Stay entertained indoors with the Asia Society Texas Center team's favorite books, shows, games, podcasts, and more!
Enjoy a closer look at the art and architecture of Asia Society Texas Center.
Dive into a curated variety of videos, articles, webcasts, and more from around the web.
Join us on an adventure through the diverse cultures of Asia through at-home lessons and activities for young learners!