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June 19, 2012 at 7:43 AM

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Opinion: The rise of Asian Americans, the lack of political power

Asian immigrants now outnumber Hispanic immigrants to the U.S., the Pew Research Center said Tuesday. They also have the highest incomes, the highest level of education and happiest outlook on life, according to a study called "The Rise of Asian Americans."

Explore this interactive graphic from Pew below to look at the numbers for Washington state. Asian Americans make up 9 percent of Washington state, 604,251 out of our total population of 6.7 million. We're the third most Asian American state after California and Hawaii.

Does this mean the political candidates will finally start paying attention to the Asian American vote? Or that news organizations will start mentioning Asian Americans when it writes about race and elections? Maybe. Check out this New York Times story "Latino growth not fully felt at voting booth." It mentions Latinos. It mentions African American voters.

In the 2008 presidential election, when a record 10 million Latinos showed up at the polls nationwide, that amounted to just half of the eligible voters. By contrast, 66 percent of eligible whites and 65 percent of eligible blacks voted, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Hold up. Where the Asians at? It's nowhere in the main story. If you click through the graphic, they gave Asian Americans a gray line on the voter turnout chart. I'm not singling out the New York Times. It's about many stories that have and will be reported this campaign season by news organizations everywhere.

Representing Asian Americans in our civic dialogue and political representation is the responsibility of three groups.

  • Political candidates and elected officials need to listen to this fast-growing part of their constituency, consider their issues when making policy decisions and make Asian American political appointments.
  • News organizations — the source of information for candidates and elected officials — need to cover this part of their community.
  • Asian Americans need to make their voices heard with candidates and elected officials. The ones who can afford it need to make $35,000 campaign donations so they can get a photo taken with Barack Obama or Mitt Romney at fundraising lunch, and put a bug in those candidates' ears about Asian American issues while shaking hands. As Jay Z said in "H to the Izzo:"
We can talk but money talks so talk mo' bucks.

A critical mass of Asian Americans — the ones who can't afford the high-roller lunches — need to make their voice heard at rallies and campaign events. Young Latino voters made immigration a high profile campaign issue, and Obama was forced to waive deportation for young illegal immigrants to win the Latino vote. Here is our editorial last week supporting the waiver.

What are your political issues, Asian America? I'm waiting to hear, from you and from the mouths of our candidates. Email me at schan@seattletimes.com, tweet me @sharonpianchan.

A heartfelt thanks to the Pew Center for doing this research.


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