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Andrew Yang: Helping Biden win could be Asian American 'political awakening'

“We get out in force and help Joe and Kamala win, this could be the major political awakening that Asian Americans have been waiting for a generation or more,” Yang said.
Image: U.S. Democratic presidential contenders attend a party dinner
Andrew Yang speaks at a Democratic Party fundraising dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 1, 2019.Eric Thayer / Reuters

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang says that the November election could prove a pivotal moment for Asian Americans if they turn out to the polls.

During a fundraiser Monday hosted by the Asian Americans Against Trump project, Yang said on a panel of prominent Asian Americans that the racial group could experience a “major political awakening.”

“We get out in force and help Joe and Kamala win, this could be the major political awakening that Asian Americans have been waiting for a generation or more,” he said.

The event, which included other leaders in the Asian American community including the author Min Jin Lee, the actor Daniel Dae Kim, and former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Jane Kim among others, raised roughly $115,000 to go toward Asian language voter outreach in swing states. Yang said during the fundraiser that the rising anti-Asian bias incidents, catalyzed by the Covid-19 pandemic has thrust many Asian Americans into political participation. He also advocated for Asian Americans to take proactive measures in carving out a place in the U.S., describing actions like civic engagement as a “nonchoice.”

“If we allow the narratives to be constructed for us, we’ll never realize our place in this country and our potential, not just as communities, but as families, as people that want something better for our kids,” he said.

The former presidential candidate challenged Asian Americans “to roll our sleeves up and do things we have not done as a community as high of a level as, frankly, people in other communities," he said.

“Asian Americans have not voted, have not donated, have not volunteered, have not run for office as high a level as people from other communities,” Yang said.

Paul Ong, a research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, told NBC Asian America that while he doesn’t believe that mobilizing around any one candidate will lead to a political awakening for the racial group, he said that more people in the community are being exposed to the reality that Asian Americans aren’t protected from being racially targeted. The surging unemployment and discrimination the group is confronting amid the ongoing pandemic are glaring examples.

“These phenomena are forcing many Asian Americans to recognize systemic racism, and in turn, be willing to take stronger political stances,” Ong said. “And they cannot ignore that President Trump is a driver of the anti-Asian narrative. That translates into the majority Asian American support for Biden and Harris.”

According to Ong’s research, 83 percent of the Asian American labor force with high school degrees or lower have filed unemployment insurance claims in California, the state with the highest population of Asian Americans. In comparison, 37 percent of the rest of the state's labor force with the same level of education also filed. Ong previously said that people likely abandoned Asian American establishments due to the associations between Covid-19 and the group, adding that the plight of these businesses show “that racializing COVID-19 as 'the China virus' has profound societal repercussions.”

However, Trump has continued to use language like “China virus,” despite warnings from public health officials and Asian American legislators alike that the rhetoric could dangerously stigmatize the racial group.

“A win over Trump would certainly benefit Asian Americans because the new administration will be very likely to address and counter the anti-Asian rhetoric, to provide the type of leadership that will try to reduce the level of racism rather than elevate it for political gains,” Ong said.

Asian American civic participation is low compared to some groups, with a 42 percent voter turnout rate in 2018. The group lagged behind the Black community, for example, who had a turnout rate of 51 percent. But Ong noted that the Asian community is made up of predominantly immigrants. In order to be part of the political process, Ong pointed out that immigrants have to engage in multiple stages of political acculturation including naturalization, registration, and finally voting.

“Naturalization often requires learning a new language, as well as American history and civics. Many come from countries where political engagement is discouraged, culturally and by the powerful,” he said. “It is not just the immigrants, but also their children because political education starts at home. Despite these barriers, I think it is remarkable that Asian Americans are as engaged as they are.”