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Ana Wong Wood takes her vote and sense of liberty seriously. She knows what it’s like to have one’s freedoms stripped away.
As an 11-year-old Chinese girl born in Cuba, she was forced to flee with her parents when Fidel Castro took over. Now in her mid-60s, Wood is a unique Asian American of Cuban descent — a proud member of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, and a participant of her very first Republican Caucus in Nevada.
“I thought it was very enlightening,” Wood told NBC News about her caucus experience. “This is a very important time for [Asian Americans] to voice our opinions and express our views.”
In the most diverse state in the campaign so far, the Nevada caucuses were important to show the strength of Asian-American voters of both parties. After the Democrats had their say over the weekend, Tuesday night was the Republicans' turn.
Wood said she voted for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, as did some members of her precinct. And even if Donald Trump was projected as the winner within minutes of the first votes tallied, Wood made one thing clear: she and others she caucused with would be party loyalists.
“We’ll still vote Republican,” Wood said, though many in her group thought Trump was “unstable.”
“That’s what they were saying about his demeanor,” Wood said of the GOP frontrunner. “He’s not customer friendly.”
A little more than a week ago, the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce held caucus trainings to help Asian Americans feel comfortable attending the caucus of their choice. Wood said the trainings were successful, and many precincts in Clark County experienced long lines and waits to vote within the four-hour caucus period.
But Wood said she was disappointed she didn’t see as many Asians at her precinct caucus as she’d hope.
“We tend to be more withdrawn,” she said noting her own community has as many as 300 Asian households. But she didn’t see them at her caucus. “Unless someone they know is there, they won’t be more active.”
She also pointed out that, in Nevada — with its 24-hour life and work styles — people are just busy to make the caucuses work on both a school and work night. “It takes a lot of word of mouth, talking to family and friends to get people to come out and voice their opinion. We ought to do better," she said.
“The biggest issue is confusion, disdain for the caucus, even contempt. A lot just want a primary.”
Wood added that she didn’t experience any problems in her precinct, but it was different throughout Las Vegas, where some voters complained about crowds and a lack of preparedness.
That wasn’t the case in Northern Nevada’s Washoe County, where Reno is located. Adam Khan, a South Asian American and chair of the Republican Party of Washoe County, told NBC News he was less concerned about Asian American participating and more concerned about making sure his part of the state ran smoothly.
But he heard complaints.
“The biggest issue is confusion, disdain for the caucus, even contempt,” Khan said. “A lot just want a primary.”
Khan said even though there was double and triple-checking of votes, the system is hardly high tech, with a digital photograph taken of the tally of the hand count and then emailed to party headquarters.
“I would love to have a primary,” Khan said. “But that’s not my decision.”
Originally, there was concern about a lack of turnout. But the attention soon switched to whether the caucuses would have the capacity to handle the pre-registered attendees.
“We had more than 37,000 pre-registered,” Ninio Fetalvo, the press secretary of Asian Pacific American engagement for the Republican National Committee, told NBC News. “It’s larger than the turnout of 2012. We’re very excited.”
In 2012, Gov. Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucus with 50 percent of the vote, although just 8 percent of the state’s GOP electorate voted.
Fetalvo said the low-turnout of that year in part was the reason the GOP stepped up aggressive efforts to reach out to Asian Americans in the state starting in 2013.
For a relatively new caucus state like Nevada, engaging the community means education efforts like pre-caucus training, said Alton Wang of APIAVote.
“The value of the mock caucus training APIAVote hosted on both the Democratic and Republican caucus process was critical in ensuring AAPIs in the area are comfortable, well-versed, and confident to participate and engage in the caucuses,” Wang said in an email to NBC News. “Caucuses are more challenging for unexperienced voters to understand and participate in, especially for Limited English Proficient AAPIs or those that have never been exposed to the intricacies of a caucus.”
Wang said the focus now is on the Super Tuesday states, where calls are being put out to Asian-American communities of both parties to make sure they get all the information they need to meet qualifying deadlines before they head to the polls.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Wood's first name as "Anna." It is spelled "Ana."