By MELODY CHAN
This year’s U.S. electorate will be the country’s most “racially and ethnically diverse” ever, according to Pew Research Center.
Yet, Asian American voters are still an afterthought during the presidential election season despite their growing presence.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been the fastest-growing racial group in the United States for nearly two decades.
But former City Comptroller John Liu said the Asian community is still a relatively small group of the national population. Asian Americans only make up about 5 percent of the overall U.S. population.
“We definitely are to some extent invisible in the last couple of debates,” Liu told Brooklyn News Service. “Candidates often mention African Americans and Latinos and they don’t always remember to mention Asian Americans.”
“But we also have to take some ownership of that and increase our voting rates and speak up more,” he added.
Steve Chung, president of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, said Asian American public officials are the voice of the Asian community.
The new National Asian American Survey reported a significant increase in Asian Americans’ political presence. Congressional candidates grew from 10 in 2010, to 30 in 2012 and 40 in 2016.
“We are underrepresented,” Chung said. “When your voice is not loud enough, nobody hears it. But I see change now. It is improving.”
In addition, there is an average increase of 600,000 registered voters per presidential election cycle. The Asian American electorate is growing because of population expansion. Also, more Asian Americans are naturalizing as U.S. citizens and registering to vote.
Still, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the group had the lowest voter turnout rate with 48 percent in the 2012 election.
Nancy Tong, Democratic district leader for the 47th Assembly District in Bath Beach and parts of Bensonhurst became the first Asian American elected political leader in Brooklyn in 2014. She said Asian Americans don’t vote even if they’re encouraged to.
“A lot of people don’t even bother registering to vote,” Tong said. “But what good does registering to vote do if they don’t even come out?”
“What we should really be doing is educate them,” she continued. “I try to but there are only so much people I can reach.”
A host of Asian Americans and non-profit organizations that serve the needs of the Asian American population, such as United Chinese Association, register voters and try to drive the voter turn out.
However, Chung said there is still a language barrier.
At 35 percent, Asian Americans have the highest rates of limited English proficiency, according to a report from The Center for American Progress.
Chung said because a lot of people don’t understand the candidates’ political agenda, they don’t know whom to vote for. As a result, they don’t bother showing up to the polls.
“The first generation of immigrants, quite frankly, they have so many things to work out,” Liu said, “such as, putting food on the table and making sure their kids are well clothed and well educated. It’s often the second generation who realizes what it’s like to be American.”
“The younger generation should take it upon themselves to educate the older generation who sacrificed a great deal for them,” he added.
According to the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote survey, young Asian American voters, aged 18 to 34, are a rising force in elections. It reported this group would help shape the politics of the United States in the 21st Century.
Yet, only 30 percent of Asian American registered voters say either of the political parties contacted them about the presidential election. The Democrats contacted the vast majority.
“It’s a shocking statistic but not a lot of people vote,” Liu said.
He said candidates are going to prioritize reaching out to prime voters, people who have a history of voting.
Even so, Chung believes Asian Americans are more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton as most of them are registered as Democrats.
Just 20 years ago, less than a third of Asian American voters voted Democrat, NPR reported.
Now, 41 percent of Asian American-Pacific Islander registered voters are not affiliated with any party, while 41 percent identify as Democrats and only 16 percent identify as Republicans, according to the National Asian American Survey.
Liu believes it might have something to do with the interest of younger Asian Americans in civil rights and the history of inclusion.
“While Hillary, herself, has a history of working closely with the Asian American community,” he said, “Trump’s barely trying or barely even recognizing that the Asian community is significant.”
He suggested giving Asian Americans more visible top candidate positions and providing multilingual campaign materials. Liu also wants the candidates to address issues that specifically influence Asian Americans.
“Back then, the [Asian] immigrants were poor,” Chung said. “But now they have money. And when you have money, you look beyond your basic necessities. You look for social recognition and social respect now.”
“The thing is, are they willing to come out and vote?” Tong said. “That’s the question.”
Photo: Former City Comptroller John Liu was the first Asian American to serve as a citywide elected official in New York City. (Baruch College)