By Celisa Calacal
Statistics show that Asian Americans make up the smallest voting bloc out of any racial group: a miniscule 4 percent. But the Ithaca College Asian American Alliance is hoping to change that.
Senior and AAA President Sara Kim said she chose to center this meeting around Asian American/Pacific Islander voting because of the seriousness of the 2016 election between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“With this election, the candidates are so on the opposite side of the spectrum that I feel like people need to make an educated decision on voting,” she said.
The low voter turnout in the Asian-American community seems to be antithetical to the rapid growth of Asian Americans in the U.S. They have become the fastest growing racial group in the country, reaching a population of about 18 million in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.
This low voter turnout could be attributed to the fact that Asian Americans are often left out of the political process. Junior Candice Tan, treasurer of AAA, said many Asian Americans do not vote because of the lack of representation in U.S. politics. In Congress alone, only 11 percent of representatives are Asian American, according to the Pew Research Center.
Historically, before the boom in the Asian American population in the U.S., they made up a small percentage of the U.S. population. Politicians running for office thus did not make much of an effort to reach out to the community, believing that it was not worth their campaign efforts to reach out to a small segment of the population. Phuong Nguyen, assistant professor in the college’s Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, said the lack of outreach on behalf of politicians makes voting seem unimportant to Asian Americans.
“This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “The lack of personal relationships with those in power has hurt Asians the most because it’s through that social capital that Asians would learn what government can actually do for them.”
The relationship between government and the Asian-American community stands on rocky ground, however, given the historical trajectory of policies that have limited the rights of Asian Americans. Policies that have barred Asians from marrying whites, from immigrating to the U.S., from testifying in court against a white person — and policies that placed certain Asian Americans into internment camps — paint the picture of a government that is hostile to this particular racial group.
But despite this, Nguyen said Asian Americans should use voting to influence government policies. And with the swift growth of the Asian-American population, they could very well become an influential force in U.S. politics.
“Rather than withdraw from government, I want Asian Americans to see that government is the product of collective action,” Nguyen said. “Just as other people used government to discriminate against Asian Americans, so can Asian Americans — who number almost 20 million — use government to create opportunities.”