Asian Americans aren’t all members of one political party

Ahn Joseph Cao is the new Congressman from LouisianaThe national organization APIA Vote made it abundantly clear during both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, where they did a lot of recruiting and convened caucuses: Asian American Pacific Islanders are not involved enough in politics.

We’re not great at getting the vote out, we don’t participate as much as we could at the grassroots local level, and not enough Asian Americans run for and serve in elected office. A lot of that is cultural — many of us are raised with the admonition: Don’t bring attention to yourself. Don’t make waves. The nail that sticks out gets nailed down (a particularly vivid Japanese saying that my mom has used on me).

This logic steers us away from public career fields such as news media (oops, sorry, screwed that one up, mom) and politics. Given the range of offices and opportunities, relatively few AAPI politicians have national profiles.

They include former Congressman and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, Former washington Governor Gary Locke, Congressman Mike Honda of California, current Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, Illinois Veterans Affiars Director Tammy Duckworth, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawai’i, Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawai’i… OK, Hawai’i skews the curve.

Indian American Bobby Jindal is the governor of LouisianaBut Louisiana, which is probably not on most peoples’ list of Asian-rich states, now boasts two AAPIs in nationally notable positions: Bobby Jindal (left) is the country’s first-ever Indian American Governor, and as of last weekend, Ahn Joseph Cao (above right) is the country’s first Vietnamese American Congressman.

The kicker: both are Republicans, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone but still has some people pondering the preponderance of party affiliations among the Asian American community.

Jindal, for one, was one of John McCain’s possible choices for running mate, and he’s been touted as a possible presidential candidate for 2012, given his moderate social agenda and conservative fiscal outlook. Cao fled Vietnam during the Saigon with his mother (his father was imprisoned by the Viet Cong for seven years) with the wave of “boat people” refugees, and managed to defeat an incumbent Democrat in a Democratic stronghold district.

I posted an article on Facebook about Cao’s victory (the election was delayed until December because of hurricane Gustav), and the article generated some interesting comments, mostly around whether we expect Asian Americans to be more Democrat-leaning than Republican.

Here’s one response to someone who made a snarky remark about Jindal and Cao both being GOP:

And to think that until now, I thought “Uncle Tom” was a term used only by African Americans. Thanks for setting me straight!!

My family has been Republican starting with my grandmother, who was active in state politics. It’s not stopped us from building bridges, or jumping across the aisle: my sister has been active in Democratic party politics, and my uncle used to head up the Democrats for the Western Slope of Colorado.

Echoing the words of Richard Posner: “…I would be happy to see conservatism exit from the political scene–provided it takes liberalism with it. I would like to see us enter a post-ideological era in which policies are based on pragmatic considerations rather than on conformity to a set of preconceptions rooted in a rapidly vanishing past.”

After some back-and-forth, another Facebook friend posted this response:

Yes, regardless of party affiliation, it is kind of astonishing that, in the Deep South/Bible Belt, a SE Asian man is governor and a Vietnamese man is a Congressman.

I’m with you there on that “post-ideological era.” Republican, Democrat, etc.–they’re just labels. What I used to think of as Republican is no longer thought of as Republican, and … Read Moremy perceptions on what it means to be a Democrat have changed over time. That meant that the GOP that I once admired (sensible government, low taxes, personal freedoms, smart national defense) is now the Bible-touting, guns-ablazing GOP I don’t recognize or identify with. That said, it’d be interesting to see whether guys like Jindal can change the GOP mindset.

A friendly opinion from a slightly right-leaning, almost libertarian centrist who voted for Obama (and Udall, for that matter)…

I assume — although it may be a broad stereotype and not based on any provable statistics — that immigrant generations often are more conservative. Certainly, I think that’s true of communities like Southeast Asians and Cubans, in large part because of war and politics and their strong support for U.S. military efforts, and anti-Communist policies. But I don’t believe for a moment that just because you’re generations removed from your immigrant ancestors, that you’re automatically a liberal Dem.

My Nisei dad was a Republican all his life, and my sansei older brother always voted GOP, until this year. I used to have vigorous “discussions” with my dad and brother during the Reagan and Bush Sr. years.

Maybe Obama’s presidency will usher in the era of change and pragmatism, which seems to be the hope of the whole country.

Ultimately, I think all of us feel that no matter the party affiliation, it’s great news that Asian Americans are running for office … and winning.

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