My family played a big role in why I became a proud member of the Democratic Party. My parents came to this country because, like many immigrants, they sought better opportunities for themselves and their children. They taught me that it was important to know what was going on in the world by having us watch the evening news each night. As I began to take a specific interest in politics, my father drove me to county Democratic Party meetings in our hometown of Reno, Nevada. I still remember him wearing his oversized gray wool jacket and slippers you could only find sold in Kolkata, India. Going to these meetings, and discussing the issues later around the family dinner table started off as a hobby and passion that eventually led me the job I have today.
As the Director of AAPI Engagement for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), I spend a lot of time in similar discussions, and in subsequent actions, about how our big-tent party can keep improving on its mission of inclusion and progress. I consistently see our issues framed through my parent’s eyes.
As a first-generation American, I am grateful that my parents chose to settle in this country. Their story is the basis for my belief in treating everyone with respect and dignity. This is why I get so upset when I hear Republican presidential candidates target undocumented families and when they promote outlawing birthright citizenship or banning and tracking all Muslims entering the United States. Democrats are fighting for comprehensive immigration reform and keeping immigrant families together under President Obama’s Deferred Action programs for undocumented children and parents.
My family has always respected the fact that Democrats have campaigned on increasing education access and lowering the costs of higher education. As professionals who have worked in the STEM field, they get frustrated whenever they see or hear Republican candidates deny climate change and refuse to do anything about it. Democrats are the ones pushing for investments in clean energy, calling for action to combat climate change and proposing solutions based on scientific facts.
As I began to get involved in those early years, my parents got interested as well. Those early dinner table conversations were key. The DNC has invested in and built up a voter file over several election cycles that allows us to continually engage the AAPI community through similar conversations on the ground. The online tool also allows us to identify if voters speak other languages, so we can accommodate them. As a result, staffers refine and add to the information within the system year after year, so it stays current and robust.
For elections, our campaigns and state parties work with community groups to get out the vote. Our voter protection operation makes every effort to ensure access at the ballot box, because no one should have to deal with burdensome restrictions when exercising a fundamental right.
This year, the DNC launched ProgressAAPI, a series of programs, trainings and conversations that build on the work that past AAPI Democrats have done, such as social media actions, webinars on the convention, connecting youth to campaign opportunities, and events to get our message out. We want to make sure our policies that benefit AAPI families are heard far and wide, and we will continue the Democratic tradition of meeting voters where they are, in person or otherwise.
The policies and inclusion efforts of the Democratic Party are nothing new, but part of a long endeavor, the results of which are widely evident now. More than 50 percent of AAPI registered voters identify as Democrats, and President Obama won 73 percent of the AAPI vote in 2012. Twenty years ago, the trend was just the opposite, with 74 percent of AAPIs voting Republican. And we understand the need to be continually engaged, even at the highest levels. President Obama has made a record number of AAPI judicial appointments, tripling the number who sit on the federal bench from eight to 25. All but one of the 14 AAPI Members of Congress are Democrats, and we are working to add to their ranks this election year.
The core principle that drives the DNC today is the same one that drew me and my parents in when I was a kid: that as Americans, we are greater together than we are on our own. Everyone deserves a fair shot to succeed, not just those already at the top. While we reflect on the advances AAPIs have made in our nation’s history, we continue to push forward and demand progress with a Democratic Party that is part of the greater cause.
Koustubh "K.J." Bagchi is the Director of AAPI and Small Business Engagement at the Democratic National Committee.