The Asian American population grew 72% between 2000 and 2015 (from 11.9 million to 20.4 million), the fastest growth for any major racial or ethnic group in the US; in California, 1 in 7 votes were cast by an Asian American.
That is a powerful statistic.
Though Asian Americans have not been politically active historically, believing that their votes did not matter statistically, there are signs this may be changing. More political contenders are reaching out to ethnic communities they have overlooked because, by virtue of numbers, Asian Americans are a voting bloc with clout.
Five Californian elected officials participated in a Civic Leadership Forum on October 30, co-sponsored by India Currents and Ding Ding TV in Santa Clara, and shared their perspectives with ethnic media outlets that included Ethnic Media Services, VietPress USA, Mail Business Newspaper (Wall Street Journal in South Korea), Lion Television Channel 16.10, North California, GlinkNews, Tan Phuong Media, Voice of Chinese America, and design2market.
The officials included:
- Anna Song, Vice President, Santa Clara County Board of Education (running in 2020 for State Assembly District 25)
- Kansen Chu, California State Assembly member District 25 (running in 2020 for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors)
- Johnny Khamis, San Jose City Council member District 10 (running in 2020 for State Senate District 15)
- Ash Kalra, California State Assembly member District 27 (running for re-election in District 27)
- Rishi Kumar, Saratoga City Councilmember (running in 2020 for US Congress in Congressional District 18).
Vandana Kumar (Publisher, India Currents) and Diana Ding (CEO, Ding Ding TV) moderated the forum. The key takeaways were:
How does the narrative in DC affect trust in government?
Ash Kalra commented that plummeting trust in our highest office “undermines trust in government” and impacts all communities, especially immigrants. After serving in the State government, Kansen Chu has decided to run for local office in the next election because he believes he can have a stronger impact in his community.
Johnny Khamis was a Republican who became an Independent after the Trump Family Separation policy; he pointed out that true conservatives did not have a voice in the federal government “nobody trusts them because they have an R next to their name”.
Chu and Kalra have created a Hate Crime select committee in Sacramento to combat hate crimes against immigrant communities and people of color that have increased since the last election. But, despite a growing culture promoting minority phobia, said Rishi Kumar, Silicon Valley remains a testament to the idea of a melting pot.
Ensuring ethnic communities get counted in Census 2020
“Everyone counts. It’s important to get that message out,” said Anna Song. She believes the Korean American community is one of the most siloed ethnic groups in America, and their lack of civic participation forces candidates with limited resources to dissect their ethnic data and reach out only to “high propensity voters”. So she would be more likely to canvass Chinese, Vietnamese or Indian- Americans, rather than Korean, said Song, simply because they show up at the polls more regularly.
Kansen Chu said that voter registration is critical. He hoped that a Korean woman running for office would generate interest in civic engagement in the Korean community. Chu emphasized the danger of an undercount leading to lost congressional seats and reduced federal funding for critical services (transportation, education and health care) for California. He also confirmed that the state has allocated the resources and budget necessary to ensure an accurate census.
Getting Minority Voters to Vote
Johnny Khamis reaffirmed the importance of voting because he won by a single vote in his very first race, while Vandana Kumar called on elected officials to spend their marketing dollars on not just the mainstream media but also the smaller ethnic media outlets to urge minority communities to vote.
Focusing on Local issues
With wildfires raging across the state, Ash Kalra drew attention to the climate change crisis and the irresponsibility of allowing PG&E to operate as an investor-owned utility. “PG&E sees no reason to change its model, if the state keeps bailing them out,” he added, calling the influence of money in politics “detrimental to society.” Kalra believes the state government must make PG&E accountable and compensate those affected by the power shut offs. As for the housing crisis, Kalra blamed housing costs for keeping California’s poverty level high and opposition from builders and developers to market price housing initiatives.
Are regulations throwing off the balance between innovation and human values for gig-economy workers in the Silicon Valley?
A spirited debate rose between Ash Kalra and Johnny Khamis about the impact of regulations on California’s economy, with Kalra contending that “complete depletion of wages” rather than taxes and regulation, was responsible for stifling the fifth largest economy in the world; he asserted it was “harder for people to survive… because productivity, wealth and profits have gone up ..but wages have not”.
Khamis argued that excessive regulation and taxing was responsible for some of the housing crisis, while complex environmental regulations were making it burdensome for builders to construct more affordable housing.
Anna Song worried that Silicon Valley innovation has created a society of haves and have nots, with wealthy homeowners from companies like Uber outpacing Uber drivers economically. She sees this inequality also play out in the County Board of Education, with parents asking for Interdistrict transfers because we have “created a community where we cannot live where we work”.
Both Kalra and Khamis agreed that tax reform was vital. Kalra noted that the wealthy have a voice in the system which is why there are no increases in payroll, wealth or estate taxes because these are easier for corporations to support. “We only tax the middle-income earners because that is easy to do,” said Khamis, so “we need different voices in the state legislature.”
Kalra also explained that the California law CB5 which did not include gig economy workers like Lyft & Uber in its exemptions, was not about stifling innovation but about respecting existing laws that other industries have to comply with to make the economy fair to all citizens.
“Everyone wants a free flowing economy and the only reason to throttle it would be to protect citizens,” said Rishi Kumar.
Should Facebook be a technology gatekeeper for political speech or for free speech?
There is general consensus that Facebook should be regulated if it’s violating norms when deciding “what we see, who sees it and how much they see it” based on their analytics and revenue generation model. All speech should be protected said Kalra, with only exceptions for public safety because there could be consequences “if people don’t like what you say.”
Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.
Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal