So POTUS gave his final State of the Union swan song a couple weeks ago. It’s gotten its fair share of ooohhhss as well as booooos from both sides—but it's certainly encouraged us, as Americans, to think more about how to remain “clear-eyed,” “big-hearted,” and openly “optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Yes, we may be a country “by the people, for the people.” The problem is, not enough Americans truly care about anything that really matters when it comes to government and politics. The closest we come on a day-to-day basis may very well be binging on episodes of House Of Cards or Scandal. I should know.
Politics means trouble, well, at least in my little family. My parents were immigrants to America with only one thing in mind: to work hard and to live happily in a land filled with tons of brand new opportunities. Their struggles to succeed were (and still are) something that precedes all other priorities—and it’s certainly something that’s been instilled in me since birth. “We come to America for better job. Better education. Better life. You continue do same,” Mama Chan always says.
Though the imminent threat of deportation or anything else for that matter is now far far away, there was a time—like it or not—when fear loomed amidst members of my family about whether or not they’d be able to get a green card or permanently obtain citizenship. Delving deep into the political sphere was definitely not the way to go about “succeeding” in America. It was out of the question, really.
When it comes to Asian Americans and political participation, things have never seemed to mesh well. At least on my end, I’ve been as apathetic about politics in my 26 years as any of my friends or family. Plus, there’s always been a problematic cycle in which politicians don’t acknowledge AAPI wants or needs, and where we, as a minority group, have historically limited representation in the government (there is only one Asian American in the Senate, and ten in the House!). So what’s the point?
Our voicelessness and invisibility in politics are no doubt depressing. Most of the time, even if we do end up showing solidarity or go about pressuring politicians to do something about it, the outcomes aren’t all that great. Take organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which works against the disenfranchisement of Asian Americans by encouraging various communities to be more involved. The work they do is indeed inspiring, not to mention empowering. It still isn’t enough though.
After all these years, it’s become all too easy for Asian Americans (such as myself) to become disillusioned with the American system. It’s hard to truly care or even be particularly interested when you feel like you don’t exist, or that your opinions don’t count.
Just think about it: when presidential candidates speak about racial injustice, they have a habit of referring to the “Big Three”: Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. Politicians work to build ties with the African American community. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have been broadening their appeals to find better footing with the Latino population. What’s aimed at “most Americans” in this country doesn’t ever seem to include Asian minorities. Are we the new Invisible Man? That may be so.
"Model Minority" or not, Asian-centric political action just isn’t a thing, it isn’t really even a thing. This election season, however, why not change that? Perhaps the best way to go about all of this is just for Asian-American voters to be treated as Americans first. Let me explain.
It’s been noted that only 4% of all Asian Americans take part in politics related to the country of their origin—i.e. we’re not all harping on just immigration and higher education issues. Surprisingly immigration, as currently framed, is not even a top policy priority for Asian Americans, but instead, falls short of issues such as the economy, jobs, health care, the budget deficit, environmental protection, and race and racism. A full 65% of Asian Americans support taxing high-earners to give the middle class a tax break. We’re also incredibly supportive of universal health care and especially favorable of a “bigger government with more services over a smaller government with fewer services.”
Case in point: These issues cannot be categorized as “Asian-American issues,” but things all American voters should be looking out for. But since the ranks of Asians in this country have actually been swelling in recent years, we’ve been provided with a unique sort of political power that needs desperately to be (finally) tapped into.
Many steps and initiatives would have to be taken to erase the all-too-wide divide between Asian Americans and the world of politics. It would not only require an increase of Asian Americans to engage more fervently with local, state, and national politics, but a commitment by politicians to work and provide resources for AAPI communities instead of totally ignoring all of our interests. It also needs to be fully understood that Asian American experiences are not all that different from those of other people of color. We’ve been marginalized, we’ve been left out. Our voices have constantly been muted.
Nonetheless, we are American born and bred. We’ve had rich histories in social and political activism and might even continue to do so. It’s up to us and them (i.e. politicians!) to take that into consideration so that we can eventually work up to that “better,” brighter, and more “hopeful” future Obama’s been harping about all along.