From Systematically Silenced to Outright Ignored, It’s Time to Respect the AAPI Voice
Last year, Asian Americans appeared to get what we’ve been asking for: to be included. The election was historic for Asian American candidates and voters. Vice President Kamala Harris made history, as did young Asian Americans like HI State Rep. Adrian Tam and NYS Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani. In early voting alone, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) turnout increased 310% from 2016, and in every single swing state, the Asian American vote increased more than any other racial group.
Now, we are seeing a backlash against our presence. Only a few months from the election, there have been multiple violent attacks on our community, substantiated by misinformation and baseless fears, and a rampant increase in anti-voter bills across the country. Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising. Asian Americans have had to fight against a political system and social structure that has continually and historically dismissed us and our needs. The triumphs we had in 2020 show progress, but we must continue to fight not only to be seen but to be heard and respected.
Historically, Asian Americans have been outright prevented from being a part of politics and the country as a whole. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which played into xenophobic and anti-Asian fears, severely limited Asian immigration and access to citizenship until 1965. Almost sixty years later, we are still fighting for inclusion. Despite young Asian Americans rallying around issues like COVID-19, healthcare, and the economy, both parties struggle to fit the AAPI community into their platforms. 40% of young Asian Americans reported that they had been contacted by a party or campaigns, compared to 50% of all youth in 2020.
The perception that Asian Americans, particularly young ones, are not engaged ignores the fact that, like other people of color, we are impacted by policies meant to suppress the vote. Unforgiving signature matching requirements, English-only voting information, ballots, and assistance, and targeted voter ID laws depress our voice. These struggles are often overlooked because of the Model Minority Myth which distorts our reality and ignores our history of activism and struggle. The combination of systemic barriers, minimal outreach, and misconceptions, places additional strain on our voters. This means that our concerns and perspective are effectively excluded like our presence was decades ago.
The combination of systemic barriers, minimal outreach, and misconceptions, places additional strain on our [AAPI] voters. This means that our concerns and perspective are effectively excluded like our presence was decades ago.
I found myself frustrated by the lack of resources and assistance available when I first voted in 2016. As I became involved with youth voting advocacy as The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s student Ambassador at UC Berkeley, I noticed that a majority of students who needed more detailed help were Asian American. These interactions helped me make sense of my experience and motivated me to address this critical information gap. I created digital voter guides and social media posts breaking down the voting and electoral process step by step so that students could have unlimited access to this necessary information, and the flexibility to make a voting plan on their schedule. To address this at a larger scale, I partnered with other student leaders and campus administrators to synthesize civic information and messaging at UC Berkeley, and to create and ensure space for minority voices, including AAPI ones, in these conversations.
For too long young AAPIs have been silenced from the political and cultural realms, but we are taking it upon ourselves to be seen and demand our community and our struggles are acknowledged and addressed. Last year nearly half of young AAPIs mobilized their friends and families around politics and social movements, and this year we are continuing to fight against anti-Asian hate and white supremacy, and for proper inclusion. Young AAPIs and Asian Americans as a whole have repeatedly demonstrated that we are and will be an important part of the country and electorate.
About the Author
Rachel Sondkar is the Communications Associate at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. She is a UC Berkeley graduate, and a former Andrew Goodman Ambassador.