When Mike Park first hears about the latest shootings in Atlanta, he feels angry and scared. But almost immediately another thought occurred to him.
“We can’t just relax,” he said. We can no longer sit in our little enclave.
Born in South Carolina to Korean immigrants, Mr. Park grew up wanting to escape his Asian identity. He resented being the only student to speak on the Asia-Pacific day, and he felt embarrassed when his friends refused to dine at his home because of the unfamiliar pickled radishes and cabbage in his refrigerator.
“I think this horrible crime has brought people together,” said Mr. Park, who works as an insurance agent in Duluth, Galabama, a suburb of Atlanta that is a quarter of Asia. “It’s really an awakening.”
For years, Asian Americans have been among the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to vote or join a community or advocacy group. Today, they are entering public life, running for a record number and turning out to vote unlike ever before. They are now the fastest growing group in the American electorate.
But as a political force, Asian Americans are still taking shape. With a relatively short voting history, they differ from demographic groups whose families have built party loyalty and generational tendencies. Most of their families arrived after 1965, when the United States opened its doors more widely to people in Asia. There are also huge class divisions; the income gap between rich and poor is greatest among Asian Americans.
“These are your classic electoral votes,” said Kartik Ramakrishnan, president of AAPI Data. “These immigrants did not grow up to be home to Democrats or Republicans. You have a lot more persuasiveness. “
Historical data on Asian-American voting patterns are tarnished. Analyzes of the initial polls show that the majority voted for George W. Bush in 1992, Mr Ramakrishnan said. Today, the majority of Asians vote for Democrats, but this masks deep differences in subgroups. Vietnamese Americans, for example, lean more toward Republicans, and Indian Americans strongly toward Democrats.
It is too early for the final collapse of the Asian-American vote in 2020 on party or ethnic lines. But one thing seems clear: turnout for Asian Americans seems to have been higher than it has ever been. Mr Ramakrishnan analyzed preliminary estimates from the voter data firm Catalist which were based on disposable incomes from 33 countries, representing two-thirds of eligible Asian-American voters. The calculations found that Asian-American adults had the highest registered turnout among any racial or ethnic group.
As relatively new voters, many Asian Americans are unequivocally interested in the two major parties drawn by Democrats for their stance on guns and health care, and Republicans for their support of small business and the emphasis on independence. But they do not fit into neat categories. The democratic position on immigration attracts some and repulses others. The republican anti-communist language is convincing to some. Others are indifferent.
The re-reference of former President Donald J. Trump’s “Chinese virus” has repelled many Sino-US voters, and Democrats’ support for school-based policies has sparked strong opposition from some Asian groups. Even the violence and slander against Asians, which began to increase after the coronavirus began to spread last spring, pushed people in different directions politically. Some blame Mr Trump and his followers. Others see Republicans as supporters of the police and law and order.
Yon Jae Kim, 32, voted for the first time last year. His parents had moved from Seoul to a Florida suburb when he was a child and started a truck repair business. Mr. Kim went on to graduate from Georgia Tech and then work at Coca-Cola in Atlanta, but, like his parents, he was so focused that he didn’t vote or think about politics at all.
He changed his mind last year. But how do I vote and who do I choose? He and his wife spent hours watching YouTube videos and talking in church with a politically experienced friend, also a Korean American.
“It was quite difficult for me,” said Mr Kim, who described himself as politically “in the middle”. “There are some things I really like about what the Democratic Party is doing. And there are some things I really like about what Republicans do. “
He wanted to keep his voice private. But he said his vote made him feel good.
“It made me feel really proud of the country,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. It helped me feel connected to other people who also voted. “
Part of the new energy in Asian-American politics comes from second-generation immigrants, who are now 30-40 years old and start families that are far more racially mixed and civically engaged than those of their parents. A new Asian-American identity is formed by dozens of languages, cultures and histories.
“It’s coming of age,” said Mark Ang, a 39-year-old conservative political activist and business owner in Orange County, California. His father, an immigrant from the Philippines of Chinese descent, came to California in the 1980s. worker in the steel industry. About a third of the country’s Asian-American population now lives in the state.
“Suddenly we are the best doctors, top lawyers, top businessmen,” said Mr Ang, who said that approximately 6 million Asians in California are the size of Singapore. “It’s just inevitable that we become a voting bloc.”
Mr. Ang, a Republican, is working to win the positive proposal in California last year. But he praised Democrats and their efforts to draw attention to the storm of insults and physical attacks over the past year, which he said is a stimulus that unites even the least politically engaged people from countries like China, Vietnam, the Philippines and South Korea.
More Asian Americans are running for power than ever before. These include Andrew Young, one of the early leaders in the New York mayoral race, and Michelle Wu, a city councilor running for mayor of Boston. Filipino-American Robert Bonta has just become California’s attorney general.
At least 158 Asian Americans have run for state legislature in 2020, according to AAPI, 15% more than in 2018.
Marvin Lim, a representative of the state of Georgia, is called a 1.5-generation immigrant: He came to the United States from the Philippines when he was 7 years old.
Mr Lim spent several years on public assistance and said his family “had not seen the shoes work for us”. He became a civil rights lawyer and started voting for Democrats because his values are more in line with his. Now 36, he won a seat at the House in Georgia in November and met with President Biden last month during a post-shooting visit to Atlanta.
“I’ve never felt more like something important,” he said.
Asian Americans are pro-Democrats. Even more so among those born in America. But there are things that repel Asians from Democrats as well.
Anthony Lam, a Vietnamese immigrant who fled as a refugee in the 1970s and grew up working class in Los Angeles, usually votes Democrat. But as the owner of a hair salon in San Diego, he became increasingly frustrated by the coronavirus blocking directives and excluded from the unrest during the Black Lives Matter protests. Criticizing the robbery, he said some white Democrats had punished him.
“They said, ‘You don’t understand racism,'” he said. “I’m like, ‘Wait a minute.’ Are you getting racism right now? I have been living with this for 40 years. “
Mr Lam voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He backed Mr Young at the Democratic Championship last year. But he said he ultimately voted for Mr Trump, mostly out of frustration with Democrats.
Despite the recent increase in political representation, some Asian-American communities still feel invisible, and some members argue that this could lead to a turn to the right.
Rob Young, a Hmong American who owns shoe and clothing stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, grew up poor as a refugee. He has witnessed the turmoil since the assassination of George Floyd in his traditional, largely Hmong working-class community. His own shops were stripped of their wares during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Mr Ian voted in favor of Mr Biden. He said he supported the Black Lives Matter movement, but some in his community did not support it. Years in which they felt invisible had disappointed and demoralized them.
The way he sees it, Asians still don’t have enough voice and are worried that the pressure to keep everything for years is reaching dangerous levels. He said he was worried that the populist Asian leader, “Asian Trump”, might have a huge following following the disappointment. “We’ve been holding everything for so long, it’s just going to take the right circumstances to blow,” he said.
For Mr. Park, an insurance agent in the suburbs of Atlanta, the attacks in his city and others in America were a terrifying reminder that economic success does not guarantee protection from the racial animus that is part of American life. Now Asian Americans, he said, must stand up and assert their place in American politics.
“It is moving away from the idea that the ‘protruding nail is driving in,'” he said. “We realize it’s good to stick out.”