Investigating the Apolitical Asian American
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Politics and Activism

Investigating the Apolitical Asian American

The American political landscape doesn’t fit how most Asian-Americans think about issues that affect their livelihood.

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Investigating the Apolitical Asian American

It’s no secret that conversations about Asian-Americans in the American political landscape often lead to generalizations about the apolitical nature of Asian-Americans. While that is not entirely untrue, it’d be unjust to leave this topic unelaborated upon.

If we look at data, lack of Asian American political participation is definitely apparent. In 1990, Asian American turnout rate was significantly higher than that of Hispanics but dropped almost 10 percentage points in 2010, lagging behind Hispanics, whites, and blacks. To put it plainly, fewer Asian Americans are registered to vote than Hispanics, blacks, and whites. In addition, only 12% of Asian Americans donate to political campaigns compared with 25% of Hispanics and 22% of blacks. Why does this happen even though Asian-Americans are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the US?

The American political landscape doesn’t fit how most Asian-Americans think about issues that affect their livelihood. For example, in a survey, nearly two-thirds of Asian-Americans opted out of the liberal-conservative dichotomy that drives American politics. Most of these people either identified as a moderate or an independent. In fact, according to a survey conducted in 2012, nearly half of Asian-Americans identify as politically independent. Even though the last twenty years suggest that Asian-Americans are switching from identifying with Republicans to Democrats, Asian-Americans largely remain as swing-voters and unknown political actors due to their low participation rates and distinctive subgroups. Asian-Americans view their identities more in terms of group experiences. For example, there are trends that Vietnamese-Americans more support a bigger government than Indian-Americans. In addition, native-born Asian-Americans are more split on their opinions of bigger governments while Asians in general prefer a bigger government to provide more services. Regardless of the lack of political party identity however, Asian-Americans still care about often politicized issues such as the economy, healthcare, and immigration. The lack of political participation is more complicated than a simple disinterest in politics; it comes from cultural and language barriers.

Being that 90% of Asian-Americans either are immigrants or come from immigrant families, the mentality to assimilate and avoid conflict is a goal for Asian-Americans. However, the development of Asian-American identities often siphon into two spheres: those too “foreign” to be seen as American, or those who are seen as America’s “model minority.” It’s difficult to build a political identity when you are not seen as part of the national population. Oftentimes, Asian-Americans have to battle between giving up their cultural heritage and participating in the mainstream. In addition, when Asian-Americans are perceived as part of the American public, they are seen as a “model minority,” nothing more than a stereotype perpetuated by white people who feel threatened by the demands for equal civil rights by black activists. This perception not only harms Asian-American identities in general, it harms their participation in politics. Asian-Americans are ostracized from civic participation when they can’t assimilate into white society and when their cultural distinctiveness have been erased and reduced to their material success. Buying into this idea only takes away Asian-Americans’ voices.

Logistically, it’s hard for Asian-Americans to participate when lingual barriers and lack of access to a ballot box get in the way. Translations are often poor and biased and don’t encourage further participation. In addition, there’s an incredible lack of education in this country about the history of civil rights in America for newer Asian immigrants. Less experience with partisan politics leads to lower rates of inclusion in the political system and less loyalty for political parties. Furthermore, neither parties consistently target Asian-American voters. A survey from Asian-Americans Advancing Justice in October of 2014 found that two-thirds of registered voters had not been contacted by Democrats and three-fourths had not been contacted by Republicans.

The history of Asian-American participation is complicated, convoluted, and can’t be fully explained in a single article. We must note that using the term “Asian-Americans” affords the language to speak in broader terms but doesn't mean to undermine the vast subgroups that encompasses different socio-economic and immigrant backgrounds. Encouraging more voter registration, reaching out to the Asian-American population, and fostering the importance of community involvement among institutions of higher education can completely change the political landscape. Asian-Americans aren’t simply apolitical; they need a more accessible platform to express the issues they care about and leaders who want to reduce the cultural gap to make that happen.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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