Medium: The Potential Power of Asian-American Voters in the 2020 Election

Image source: The potential power of Asian-American voters in the 2020 election

When I saw this Medium article posted titled “The potential power of Asian-American voters in the 2020 election,” I was reminded of and learned some interesting and frustrating facts about Asian American involvement and engagement in politics, which has motivated me ever since I myself became more politically involved starting in 2004 and blogging about it since 2007):

  • Nearly 7 in 10 Asian-Americans don’t vote. According to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), only about 1 in 3 (34%) of Asian-Americans voted in 2018. This is on par with average turnout of Asian-Americans from 2006 to 2016 (33%). By comparison, in the same period of 2006 to 2016, national turnout was 53%.
  •  Asian-Americans are not only less likely to vote, but are also less likely to be politically active. Among major racial and ethnic groups, Asian-Americans were least likely to have attended a political meeting, put up a political sign, work for a candidate, attend a political protest, contact a public official, or donate money to a political candidate in the past year. Indeed, despite relatively high wealth, Asian-Americans’ average contribution to candidates was $41, the lowest of all major racial and ethnic groups, and 45% less than the national average of $76.

The voter turnout was what I was really disappointed in. I have blogged about that in the past, but it is always disappointing to read.

Because of low Asian American political engagement, it’s no surprise that Asian Americans don’t donate much, and when they do, donate much less.

Another thing that the article highlighted, and I have read and see myself, is that Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic in the nation, and within some swing states, can make a huge difference given how close the race is. The example the article gave was:

“In these ten states, Asian-American voters would only need to average 32% turnout to match the margin of victory for each state; but in each of these states, Asian-American turnout in 2016 was lower than that of the state average. For example, in Michigan, the margin of victory was under 11,000 votes (10,704). In 2016, Asian-American turnout was 24%, less than half of the overall turnout (57%). If Asian-Americans had simply voted at the same turnout rate as the rest of the state, over 51,350 votes would have been cast, or nearly 5 times the margin of victory.”

In a recent national poll, Asian Americans favor Biden 52% to Trump’s 34%.  If more Asian Americans are voting, especially in swing states, they can make a HUGE impact even though the relative population may be small (Michigan’s AAPI electorate is 3.5% of the total electorate).

As always, I encourage all Asian Americans to become more civically engaged, because we still have a lot of catching up to do. As the saying goes, “If you’re not at the table you’re on the menu.” If you think America is not paying attention to Asian Americans, maybe not enough Asian Americans are paying attention to what is going on in America.

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“A Sugar and Spice Holiday”, An Asian American Christmas Movie, Premieres December 2020

Lifetime channel is premiering “A Sugar & Spice Holiday,” which is the channel’s first movie featuring Asian American leads, in December 2020.  Tzi Ma (Mulan, The Farewell), Jacky Lai (V-Wars), and Tony Giroux (Motherland:  Fort Salem) headline this feature.   In this story, a young architect (Jacky Lai) goes back home to Maine where her parents (Tzi Ma and Lillian Lim) run a local restaurant.  She teams up with an old high school friend (Tony Giroux) for a gingerbread house contest, who “grew up into a catch.”  You can pretty much guess the rest.

I never saw Asian or Asian Americans in any American Christmas special or movie when I was growing up,  so it’s great that A Sugar & Spice Holiday continues a trend that started last year.  Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh were in Last Christmas.   Let It Snow from Netflix also had Asian American lead characters, played by Jacob Batalon (MCU Spiderman and Avengers movies) and all around talent Anna Akana (Ant-Man, YouTube).  It was great to see an actual Filipino family portrayed in Let It Snow, and I am happy that Lifetime is focusing on an Asian family in this latest movie.

(photo credit:  Gordon Correll under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

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2020 Asian American Voter Survey (AAVS) Results

The 2020 election is coming up, and every presidential election cycle the non-profit and non-partisan group AAPI Data does their Asian American Voter Survey (AAVS).  2020 is no different, and AAPI Data released the results of their survey recently.  The two results I’m always interested in are the presidential race and the party identification.

According to AAPI Data, Asian Americans constitute a critical mass in several competitive states, including Arizona (4.3% of the electorate in 2016), Pennsylvania (6.4% of the electorate in 2016), and North Carolina (3.2% of the electorate in 2016). Although the percentages are relatively small, these are swing states. Remember that in 2016:

“The most important states, though, were Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump won those states by 0.2, 0.7 and 0.8 percentage points, respectively — and by 10,704, 46,765 and 22,177 votes. Those three wins gave him 46 electoral votes; if Clinton had done one point better in each state, she’d have won the electoral vote, too.”

Asian Americans tend to vote way less than your average American, but then lean Democratic (where in 2016, 69% voted for Clinton where 25% voted for Trump, based on one study).

In 2020, it’s no surprise from above that Asian Americans prefer Biden (54%) over Trump (30%), as increasingly, Asian Americans have been voting for Democrats over the past 30 years. Personally, I can’t believe that 15% of Asian Americans don’t know who their preference is … No surprise, Vietnamese Americans prefer Trump over Biden, as I imagine the older generation, having traditionally been very conservative given the Communist takeover of South Vietnam. But I am sure the younger Vietnamese Americans, over time, may become more Democratic in their voting.

Overall, Asian Americans identify more as Democrats (44%) over being Republicans (23%) – with a larger percentage preferring to remain Independent – an increasing trend among younger voters who have dissatisfaction with both parties.

If you want a copy of the summary slides of the result of the survey, you can get them here. – as well as the executive summary here.

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8Books Review: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Nancy Jooyoun Kim’s first novel The Last Story of Mina Lee is a thoughtful, heart-wrenching dive into the story of a mother and daughter. When Margot Lee’s mother–the eponymous Mina Lee–stops answering her phone, Margot wonders what could have happened. Until she drives to Los Angeles and finds her mother’s body in the apartment they had shared.

From here, the narrative shifts perspectives between Margot in the present day, desperate to find answers about her mother, to Mina in her first year in the United States as she struggles to find work, a refuge of the Korean War and an undocumented immigrant. Back and forth, the story teases out the threads of these two women’s lives.

It is in many ways a familiar tale, an immigrant mother and her American daughter who had always struggled to understand each other. But the added puzzle surrounding Mina’s mysterious death and depth of character that the author layers onto each as they struggle through the ordinary and the extraordinary keep the novel moving along — an altercation at the grocery store where Mina works, Margot’s frantic calls to the detective working her mother’s case, Mina and her secret grief (no spoilers), Margot and a life spent looking backwards.

On the drive back, her mother had seemed so utterly deflated that Margot didn’t have the courage to ask why they had driven so far. She always assumed that her mother didn’t want to talk about the things that hurt her. But maybe Margot was wrong about that. Maybe now as an adult, she was growing into a woman who could understand and support her mother, despite the different languages they knew.

I get tired, sometimes, of the back and forth narrative, split between two characters. But something about the desperation, of varying kinds, of our two protagonists kept me going. And in the end, this was a one-sitting book for me, let that stand in as the review.

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Asian Americans using the Covid-19 Lockdown to learn Family Languages

Like a lot of millennials, the Daughter moved back in with us after college.   One surprising result of her move was that she began to pick up Tagalog.  Although she grew up in an Asian neighborhood and some her aunts and uncles live nearby or even with us, only after coming back did she began understanding more of the conversations around her that weren’t in English.  As people are stuck at home in quarantine, this report from NBC News Asian America reports that some Asian Americans are using the lock down to learn their family’s heritage language, including some second generation adults like Danielle Colayco, (pictured above with her daughter) who never learned when she was growing up.

Like with Danielle’s parents, learning Tagalog was not a priority for my own parents.  For many Filipino Americans of my generation who were born in the United States, Tagalog was used, as essayist Jia Tolentino mentions in a book review, as a way that Filipino parents could talk between themselves so their children could not understand.  Attempts to speak Tagalog were usually met by fluent Tagalog speakers with mockery at the unavoidable accent, usually from aspirating Tagalog consonants.  I think it is great to see that Asian Americans, particularly Filipino Americans, trying to learn the languages of their ancestors.  One of the online learning sites mentioned in the article, Tagalog with Kirby, and a number of their classes, which notably are not free, are filled up.  Also encouraging to see are learning resources for kids, which I never saw when I was young.

This article is timely.  I learned to understand Tagalog after knowing only English through high school. I have found that knowledge to be very useful, mostly socially but on one occasion, useful for my career.  Like my parents, The Wife and I have sometimes resorted to using Tagalog as encryption so that the kids and others don’t understand, even with my broken, highly accented speech.  That doesn’t work with The Daughter any more, and I would be happy if it also did not work with Number One Son and Number Two Son.  Since like many tech companies here in Silicon Valley, my company may keep me home until June of 2021, I am wondering whether I should work on becoming fluent.   As other Asian Americans are experiencing, now may be the right time.

(photo credit: Courtesy Danielle Colayco)

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Din Tai Fung Las Vegas Opening October 19th

Back in February before the COVID-19 pandemic (which seems like years ago), I was in Las Vegas and had seen and had blogged about Din Tai Fung “steaming this summer” at the Aria. I thought that due to the pandemic, Din Tai Fung’s opening might be delayed indefinitely, but it looks like it’s opening up on October 19th:

“The wait for Kurobuta pork xiao long bao finally comes to an end this fall when the highly respected Taiwanese dumpling specialist Din Tai Fung arrives at Aria. The masters of soup dumplings, which require 18 folds to carefully hold the soup within, open their 13th American restaurant, replacing Aria Cafe, once known as the largest 24-hour café on the Strip, on October 19.

Din Tai Fung takes over 5,580 square feet with a view through the massive tilted windows looking out onto Nancy Rubins’ Big Edge canoe sculpture and Vdara. Aria allocated an estimated $2.2 million in construction costs alone to renovate the dining room and an open kitchen that gives diners a glimpse of the handiwork involved in preparing xiao long bao, steamed pork soup dumplings, precisely made with 18 lucky folds, 16 grams of meat, and 5 grams of dough.

Din Tai Fung originally planned to open in April, but with the coronavirus pandemic, postponed until fall. The restaurant plans to be open from 4 to 11 p.m. nightly. For highly recommended reservations, visit here.”

I really wonder how well Din Tai Fung will do in Las Vegas during this pandemic, as tourism in Las Vegas has plummeted. I’m looking forward to checking this new Din Tai Fung out in the near future!

(photo credit: Las Vegas Review-Journal)


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ESPN/ABC Commentator Jalen Rose shares some Filipino Culture during the NBA Playoffs (Walis!)

Even though Filipino and Filipino Americans are known to really love basketball, I was still surprised when ESPN/ABC commentator Jalen Rose pulled out a Filipino broom during the Milwaukee Bucks/Miami Heat pregame show this weekend and said “Walis!”  Walis refers to a broom in Tagalog (there are different kinds), and as shown in the video above from Sports Update PH, he has a history of bringing one out when he things a team will get “swept” in a playoff series from as far back as 2013.

walis tingting

I couldn’t find out why he picked a Filipino reference to brooms, but as I mentioned above, Filipinos love basketball.  Books such as Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball and Playing with the Big Boys: Basketball, American Imperialism, and Subaltern Discourse in the Philippines.  The Golden State Warriors have a Filipino Heritage Night every year, and they also sell shirts combining their logo and the Filipino Flag.  I have coached a lot of Filipino kids in basketball, and there are a lot Filipinos in pick up games and leagues.

walis tambo

Jalen Rose does get things wrong some times.  There are two types of walis, a walis ting-ting and a walis tambo (I have pictured both in the post), and he will occasionally mention the wrong one or both.  He also got it wrong with the Heat/Bucks game – the Bucks were not swept despite losing their star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Coincidentally, the Miami Heat’s coach is half Filipino.  Rose did get some positive responses, such as this tweet from half Filipino NBA player Jordan Clarkson and this one from Filipino American ESPN personality Pablo Torre. Whether Jalen Rose is wrong or not, I like hearing Filipino references on U.S. national broadcast television.

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The First US Television series featuring an Asian American Actor is Lost and Probably Gone Forever

The blog title above might make you wonder if something happened to Fresh off the Boat.  Perhaps if you were older or well versed in pop culture, you might wonder if something happened to copies of All American Girl (1994), Mr. T and Tina (1976) or even The Green Hornet (1966).   August 27, 2020 was the 69th anniversary of the premiere of the first television series featuring an Asian American actor, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. In this show on the DuMont television network, Asian American pioneer Anna May Wong plays an art gallery owner who also solves crimes.  This sounds to me like a great premise for a show. So how did all trace of this series get lost, with no copies or scripts behind left at all?

The fact that I had never heard of the DuMont network and that I would be surprised if any of you had heard of it, helps explain how Anna May Wong would get a chance to be the lead of a series during the 1950’s.  According to writer Nicole Chung, who wrote about her own search for the series, The DuMont Network always lagged behind the big networks of NBC, and CBS.  That desperation of being behind would lead them to take a chance at having Anna May Wong headline a show.  The network even featured an African American in a show, the Hazel Scott Show.  Anna May Wong’s birth name is Wong Liu-Tsong, from which the title of the show came.  The show lasted one season and had ten episodes. In 1976, copies of DuMont shows were said to have been loaded onto trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay.

This is not the first time that historic television shows have been lost, and the list of lost shows is pretty long.  There are other lessons than the obvious one to make sure that there are usable, readable back up copies  (a lesson usable in multiple areas of life).  First, pioneering efforts such as the Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong need to be remembered, recognized and patronized.  It is sad that this show and other performers on similar shows, like Hazel Scott, are not better known.  Efforts like Gold Open are helpful in this regard.  Second, just showing appearing in media is not enough – having influence on what is made is just as important.  It was a long time between The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong appearance in 1951 and The Green Hornet in 1966, and definitely a long way until Fresh off the Boat in 2015.

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California Asian Americans divided on Proposition 16, which would reestablish Affirmative Action in California

(source: Ballotpedia)

On November 3, 2020, one of the ballot measures that Californians will vote on is Proposition 16, which would reestablish the use of race in public education, employment, and contracts. The use of race in these areas was prohibited in 1996 with a previous ballot measure, Proposition 209.  As you might expect, the use of race, particularly in public education and college admissions, has Asian Americans divided.  This article in the Pasadena Star News summarizes the positions of Asian Americans for and against this proposition.

Some Asian American groups support the initiative, such as the California API Legislative CaucusA petition against it has plenty of Asian American signatures.  The article has more on the divisions, and it is worth reading the arguments of proponents and opponents.

Proposition 209 passed in 1996 and inserted Section 31 into the California constitution.  Proposition 16 looks to eliminate the section as shown above, and it isn’t the first attempt.  SB 185 was vetoed by then governor Jerry Brown in 2011.  In 2014, SCA5 attempted the same thing and was strongly opposed by a number of Asian American groups.  But 2020 is a different time.

It’s an open issue whether passing proposition 16 would affect Asian American admissions to the University of California System (UC), which is a focus area of the opposition to Proposition 16.  UC has already been practicing holistic admissions, and recently voted not to required standardized tests. For Fall 2020, 35% of students admitted freshman are Asian American.



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US Department of Justice sues Yale University for Discrimination against Whites and Asian Americans

The US Department of Justice has notified Yale University that they are in violation of the law, saying Yale’s admissions process discriminates against white and Asian students.  In this letter, the DOJ attorney Eric Dreiband cites a two year investigation and says:

“the likelihood of admission for Asian American and White applicants who have similar academic credentials is significantly lower than for African American and Hispanic applicants to Yale College.”

In response, Yale University president Peter Salovey says that the accusations are baseless.

When I saw that headline, I wondered if Students for Fair Admissions was involved.  This organization has filed lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.  Harvard won the lawsuit, but Students for Fair Admissions has appealed.  The DOJ filed this amicus brief to support them in their appeal.

The DOJ also has taken some other actions against people associated with Yale. Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith pleaded guilty of taking bribes to recruit non-athletes to his team, as part of the “Varsity Blues” college admissions admission scandal.  You can keep track of the fate of the defendants, including some Asian American parents, in this table provided by the DOJ.

These are interesting times in college admissions.  Many colleges and universities, including the Ivies, will not be requiring standardized tests because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition, I have heard that in some high schools have been lax about grading during this time (somewhat understandably), as have many universities, including the one that Number One Son and Number Two son attend.  In addition, with the killing of George Floyd, there are calls for more African American students in elite public and private universities.

The Department of Justice has given Yale until August 27, 2020 to agree to comply with their request.

(Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

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Collin Morikawa wins the 2020 PGA Championship

23 year old Collin Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship on August 9, 2020, joining Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jack Nicholas as one of the youngest ever winners of the tournament.  While I am not a fan of golf, his win caught my interest for a number of reasons.

First, he just graduated last year from UC Berkeley with a degree in business.  Some pride that he is a fellow Cal Bear, but I also thought it was fitting that he would win his first PGA major at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, in what could be considered his own backyard on a course he played many times.  I was also surprised to where Harding Park is located – I must have driven past it dozens of time but never realized that such high level tournaments would be played there.

Second, as is revealed in the video below, he was coached in golf at a high level since age 6.  This is a continuing trend since Tiger Woods was a child, getting kids to concentrate in a sport at a very young age.  I see have seen this in basketball and other sports and wrote  about how it happens with golf and other sports. I glad it has worked it out for Collin, but I have seen some kids get extremely messed up by that kind of pressure.  His girlfriend, Katherine Zhu (also shown in the video below) is an excellent golfer (All American D1) who also started young, winning her first tournament at 13.  Collin talks in the video about having a lot of fun playing as a kid – that is a key aspect of youth sports that is too often forgotten.

Finally, I am intrigued by what could be the emergence of a major Asian American sports star.  He grew up in the heavily Asian American San Gabriel Valley and has an Asian Canadian girlfriend too.  He seems composed and well-spoken in his interviews and has become popular enough to the point where Steph Curry joined a media session to ask him questions  yet confident enough to tell Curry that he was NOT a fan.  I wish him continued success.

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Asian American Cultural Landmarks: The San Gabriel Valley and Beyond

Liu Fang Yuan (photo credit:  Caroline Liou for Hyperallergic)

While conflicts have increased about American historical monuments and landmarks, especially regarding statues of slave owners or institutions named after racists, this article from Hyperallergic asks, what kind of cultural landmarks do Asian Americans establish?   In “In American’s “First Suburban Chinatown,” Asian Americans Have Negotiated Cultural Representation,” Caroline Liou looks at the Asian American community in the San Gabriel Valley and what cultural representation that the community there has managed to create.  Her article made me think about Asian American cultural landmarks in my own community, which on reflection, I realize that there are many.

The San Gabriel Valley contains one of the longest established Asian American suburban communities in the continental United States.  Many of the residents are quite prosperous, so what kind of cultural landmarks have been established?  Liu Fang Yuan (or Garden of Flowering Fragrance) at the Huntington Library is one.   Liou notes that other landmarks like the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights were once opposed by the local residents there.  She also notes that another local landmark, Santa Anita Racetrack, has only a small plaque and one sentence acknowledging its history as a staging area for sending Japanese Americans to internment camps.

A while ago, one of our writers talked about an exhibit hosted at Santa Anita about the internment and how he grew up around there yet never knew or thought about its history.  His story and Liou’s article made me think about the local Asian American cultural landmarks that I never think about or visit.  I live in an Asian American neighborhood in Silicon Valley, but I have never been to the Chinese Cultural Garden in my city.  I only learned of the existence of the Viet Museum when I ran by it during a 5K race.   I will have to visit those places (note that the Viet Museum is temporarily closed because of the pandemic).  There are other Asian American landmarks and cultural institutions here that I do look at more often, such as the Chinese and Japanese named streets in my neighborhood, a Buddhist temple, and memorials and information plaques in San Jose’s Japantown.

Liou makes other interesting observations about “cultural negotiation”, such as how zoning laws were put into place to try to restrict large houses built by Asian American.  I recommend you read it.  A book that also discusses these issues is “Trespassers?:  Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia.”  I would say both the article and the book are worth your time.

(Viet Museum photo credit:  shin ben zi licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

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