Opinion

The Great Debate

The power of the AAPI voting bloc

By Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Judy Chu
November 2, 2012

The Asian-American and Pacific Islander vote could very likely be the margin of victory on Tuesday.

From health care to education, this community has a lot to win, or lose — based on who shows up at the voting booth. The group’s buying and political power is irrefutable. There are more than 1.5 million AAPI-owned firms in the nation, which added  more than 2.8 million new jobs to the workforce.

The AAPI voting bloc was the crucial coalition in 2008 — voting overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama over Senator John McCain. In this election, we cannot afford to overlook a single AAPI voter in the turnout efforts.

Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are the nation’s fastest growing ethnicities, increasing 46 percent from 2000 to 2010. In North Carolina and North Dakota, the AAPI community grew at a rate of 85 percent, with 95 percent in Arizona and 116 percent in Nevada. One in six AAPIs lives in a battleground state and, at 51.55 percent, they make Mike Honda’s new 17th  congressional district in California the first AAPI-majority district in the continental United States

Despite this impressive growth, however, only 55 percent of AAPIs are registered to vote and one third remain undecided. Since the country’s elected body must reflect the makeup of its people, our community needs greater representation in Washington — because the needs are great.

Consider health care. More than one in five Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Korean and Cambodian Americans is uninsured, and health disparities disproportionately affect AAPIs. The Affordable Care Act addressed our community’s cultural and language barriers, ensured better data collection, multilingual health care services and expansion of accessible and affordable health care. Under this health care reform, nearly 3 million AAPIs have gained coverage.  In 2016, another 2 out of 2.5 million AAPIs who would otherwise be uninsured are due to gain or be eligible for coverage.

On education, only 61 percent of Hmong-Americans have a high-school diploma, while only 12 percent of Laotian-Americans have graduated from college. For AAPI undergraduates who pursue higher education, community colleges serve as engines of opportunity. Close to half all AAPI undergraduates attend these commuter schools. That’s why investing $50 million in Asian-American Native American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions — which serve nearly half of these AAPI undergraduates — and improving the Head Start program, which helps an estimated 28,500 AAPI children gain access to early childhood education, is smart economics.

On immigration, we need a leader who understands the value and opportunity of each immigrant, supporting deferred action and lifting the shadow of deportation for high-achieving young people who have grown up in this country. South Korea, for example, ranks third overall in terms of the number of deferred action application submissions. We need a leader who fights for the DREAM Act and its 1.8 million undocumented high-performing young people — of whom 1 in 10 is AAPI.

On November 6, we urge the AAPI family to honor the generation who came before us and get out the vote. From gurdwaras to ethnic language schools, from AAPI student unions to local spas, we have a responsibility — and a right — to make our voices heard.

PHOTO: Chinese characters appear with English and Spanish outside a polling place in Brooklyn on April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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