Representative Mike Honda Speaks Out on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Posted by AC Team on Thursday, 01 June 2006.

Another Asian Pacific Heritage MonthMay has come and almost gone as quietly as it has arrived. It has been mostly unnoticed by mainstream media, and yet as public servants, this May feels different, for there is a growing political energy, excitement and electricity, for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans (APIAs) across the country.

APIA POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT GROWING NATIONALLY

by Congressman Michael M. Honda

Congressman Honda represents the 15th District of California and serves as the Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee.

"...courageous and promising Asian Americans are running not only in states with traditional APIAs population centers, such as California, New York and Hawaii, but also in states such as Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Maryland, and Connecticut."

Another Asian Pacific Heritage MonthMay has come and almost gone as quietly as it has arrived. It has been mostly unnoticed by mainstream media, and yet as public servants, this May feels different, for there is a growing political energy, excitement and electricity, for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans (APIAs) across the country.

Over the past few election cycles, APIAs now numbering almost 14 million nationwide have reached inspiring levels of civic participation in a way that turns heads and quickens heartbeats. According to a recent report released by the Asian American Action Fund that draws on current scholarship, APIAs have lately entered the political process as candidates, office holders, contributors, and voters in unprecedented numbers. In other words, APIAs are raising the level of public debate as candidates and officials, raising money as contributors, and raising their hands to be counted as voters.

There is truly electricity out there: For example, for the first time in Californias history, APIA candidates have a strong chance of winning at all levels of state governmenta record four Asian Americans are currently seeking to serve in state constitutional offices (the ticket includes John Chiang for State Controller, Judy Chu and Betty Yee for State Board of Equalization). In Illinois, Tammy Duckwortha war veteran and army captain who lost both legs in Iraq as an Army helicopter pilotis one of the top Democratic candidates nationally seeking to join Congress.

So courageous and promising Asian Americans are running not only in states with traditional APIAs population centers, such as California, New York and Hawaii, but also in states such as Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Maryland, and Connecticut. And many are not simply election campaignsthey are re-election campaigns: Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese American from Texas; Swati Dandekar, an Indian American from Iowa; Mee Moua, a Hmong American from Minnesota; and Susan Lee, a Chinese American from Maryland, are all defending their seats this year.

Not so long ago, in 1978, a mere 120 elected Asian Americans held office nationwide. By 2004, this figure had almost tripled. In this election cycle, the number is expected to increase even more. According to figures from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Asian Americans have made large gains particularly at the local level making key decisions about social services, taxes, zoning, how well we teach our children, and how safe we keep them. Over just a decade, the number of city council members has increased by more than half, and the number of state representatives has more than doubled.

Off the stump and away from the spotlight, more APIAs are voting. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Asian American voters grew from less than a million to almost two million. Many are participating in the political process for the first time. In 2004, almost three million voted a third of which were new voters. APIAs have one of the highest voter participation rates, prompting The San Jose Mercury News recently to call the Asian American voting bloc a hot commodity in this election cycle. And most voted for Democrats in an increasing trend over the past four presidential cycles. More Asian Americans are giving, too. In 2000, almost one in five U.S.-born Asian Americans reported that they had donated to a political campaign.

The increase in Asian American political engagement and now, clout is the product of the hard work of many dedicated organizations such as APIAVote.org which registers voters, and the AAA-Fund which raises money and mobilizes supporters for promising candidates, and other organizations. It is the product of the work of countless APIA volunteers and their supporters, countless doors knocked on, phone calls made, dollars spent, pamphlets dropped, town halls held, and websites created. Those volunteers are now finally seeing their work begin to pay off as Asian Americans are at an unprecedented height of engagement.

This is in no way to say that APIAs ought to be represented solely by other APIAs, or that APIA office holders only represent other APIAs. But it is to say that in a true democracy, diversity in representation is important. We must still fight, and fight very hard, to ensure that the backgrounds and experiences and yes, the faces of our leaders mirror those of our citizens. To us, that is the true meaning of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: The notion that the best way to remember and honor our cultural, political, and immigrant past is to make it part of Americas and our collective future.

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