The 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.
But 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.