Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) applauded the 2016 Presidential Election Forum presented by APIAVote and Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) Friday in Las Vegas, Nevada, for addressing over 3,000 attendees, 40 organizations, and watch parties livestreaming the event in 20 states, according to APIAVote.
"Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will vote in record numbers in November," Christopher Kang, national director of National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), told NBC News. "We will be the swing vote in swing states — we could very well determine the presidency and the future of our country — and this historic gathering will be the campaigns' chance to hear our priorities and to tell us how their rhetoric, policies, and values address those concerns."
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) chairperson, spoke at the forum about the importance of AAPI voters in the upcoming presidential election, particularly in swing states such as Nevada and Virginia, where AAPI voters could be the margin of victory.
"Just two weeks ago, our community reached a significant milestone when — for the first time in our nation's history — we in CAPAC were given the opportunity to speak on stage during the Democratic National Convention," said Chu in a statement. "And now we are at another historic first as Presidential campaigns make their case directly to Asian American voters. In the past, AAPIs did not have a voice in this democracy, and because of that, we became victims to policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during WWII. But today, AAPIs are the fastest growing ethnic demographic in the country and today's forum demonstrates the growing political impact of the AAPI vote."
Attendees used social media and the hashtag #PowerUp to note the importance of having four presidential campaigns address the AAPI community — former President Bill Clinton represented Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Utah's Attorney General Sean Reyes represented Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Libertarian presidential nominee former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, and Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein.
Recurring themes discussed by speakers included the diversity of the AAPI community and the importance of AAPIs registering and getting out to vote. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) spoke about how AAPIs "have come from marginalized to the margin of victory." Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) reminded AAPIs that "democracy is not a spectator sport. We have to go for the gold medal."
Honda also pointed out that the AAPI electorate has the power to swing elections. "We have six swing states," he said. "We have 85 congressional districts that are 10 percent AAPIs in their districts, 31 swing congressional districts that can make a difference, and every day, every day, 7,000 17 year olds are turning 18."
Attendees paid close attention to how the presidential nominees and their representatives addressed the AAPI community and its concerns.
MSNBC's Richard Lui interviewed Johnson, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party.
President Bill Clinton spoke on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, discussing inclusion, economic plans, immigration reform, and education. Clinton said, "The metaphor for this election will be walls or bridges. Are we stronger together or apart?"
"President Bill Clinton's remarks at the 2016 Presidential Election Forum reminded us why the AAPI community is standing behind Hillary Clinton this November," Jason Tengco, the AAPI outreach director for the Clinton campaign, told NBC News. "She's had a career-long record of fighting for the issues that AAPIs care about — from helping small businesses thrive, to pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, improving and expanding access to healthcare, and gun violence prevention. Secretary Clinton is committed to breaking down barriers for AAPIs, improving their everyday lives, and ensuring that the AAPI community is represented throughout her administration once elected."
Reyes, Utah's attorney general, spoke on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Reyes spoke about his own personal experiences growing up and tried to clarify Trump's recent comments about Filipinos. He closed with a rap.
"Utah AG Sean Reyes is a great representative of the common sense, conservative values that AAPI communities share with the GOP," Jason Chung, Republican National Committee national director APA Initiatives, told NBC News. "He made a compelling case why AAPI voters should elect Donald J. Trump and Governor Mike Pence and deliver real change in Washington and move our country forward."
Gregory A. Cendana, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliancem AFL-CIO (APALA), told NBC News that Reyes' attempts to reach out to the AAPI community missed the mark. "Attorney General Sean Reyes' attempt to backtrack Trump's insensitive and uninformed comments about Filipinos is a sad reflection that the Trump campaign doesn't understand the political landscape of the Philippines and the larger issues of mass criminalization at hand in the U.S.," Cendana said. "Reyes' reiteration that undocumented immigrants are not welcome too easily dismisses the hard work [of] millions of families and their children who are already contributing to the U.S. economy every day."
Groups also gathered in 20 states across the country for "watch parties" of the event, according to APIAVote.
"Today, 22 of us are gathered in our conference room watching this historic town hall," Lloyd Y. Asato, Asian Pacific Community in Action executive director in Phoenix, Arizona, told NBC News. "It is a group that represents the diversity of our community (Democrat, Independent, and Republican) but we all are coming together to raise our visibility and build power. I am very proud of my community and our willingness to put partisan politics aside to educate, register, and turn out the vote."
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