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Asian Americans at the DNC

New America Media/Hmongtoday.com/World Journal, News report, Zuag Kimberly Chang/Photos: Kai Ping Liu Posted: Aug 28, 2008

Editor's note: Asian American presence at the DNC in Denver is growing, according to Zuag Kimberly Chang, of Hmong Today. They represent 4.6 percent of delegates, up from 3.9 percent in 2004. Photography by World Journal reporter, Kai PIng Liu. They and seven other ethnic media journalists are in Denver, sponsored by New America Media.

kaipingAsian American officials attending the Democratic National Convention. Sixth person from the left is Mr. John Chiang, California State Controller.

Denver, CO- According to the Democratic National Convention Committee, the makeup of this years delegates at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver marked it as the most diverse ever. Asian Pacific Islander Americans are now 4.6 percent of delegates, up from 3.9 percent in 2004. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the DNC, the presence of Asian Pacific Islander Americans was clear from the moment caucus attendees entered the Colorado Convention Center, bright and early Monday morning.

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Two Asian American delegates were walking in front of Colorado Covention Center and was joined by a young white man. He said "Today I am Asian American too!"

Feet from the security checkpoint inside the convention center doors, a suit-clad young man stood holding a sign that read, Asian Americans Pacific Islanders for Obama. Inside the doors of the APIA caucus, the same sign marked every row of tables. Onlookers who represented a myriad of Asian Pacific Islander ethnicities listened attentively as Illinois Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth took the stage and noted, People talk about Asian and Pacific Islanders as though we are one homogeneous group. We are not. But thats our strength. It doesnt matter. Its about us coming together and making a difference by getting Barack Obama elected.

Sam Yoon, a Councilor with Boston City Council, expressed that, at times, its hard to find similarities between the culturally and ethnically diverse Asian Pacific Islander Americans, but there is something about coming from that part of the world that unites us. Delegate Yee Chang of Minnesota explained, The issues that make us one people... people dont tend to hear it. Those issues are, education, health care and about access to opportunity. Bel Leong-Hong, chair of the APIA caucus, noted the power of unity, We learn that we are most powerful when our community leaders work together across cultures. The points mentioned during the APIA caucus reflected the message that filled every convention room and hall of the entire DNC; we are more similar than the differences that we see.

That unity serves as a tool to accomplish three goals of the APIA caucus: vote Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama into the Oval Office, vote more Asian Pacific Islander Americans into political office, and help increase Asian Pacific Islander American voter turnout rates.

Minnesota delegate Yee Chang gets autograph from Maya Soetoro-Ng
(Photo by: Zuag Kimberly Chang)

Obamas brother-in-law is Chinese American and knows the issues of Asian Pacific Islander Americans first hand, says Chang. Yoon says that Obamas Asian Pacific Islander American connection is beyond race: its values and leadership. Obamas bottom-up life story, and his path to power, came after years of struggle, hard work, undying faith, and determination. He came into politics in a non-traditional way, said Yoon, then he paused for a moment and continued; Obamas history of leadership illustrated both heart and willingness to serve.

Voter knowledge about Obama is not enough for the APIA caucus. They want Asian Pacific Islander Americans to take action and vote. According to the U.S. Census, the voter turnout rate amongst Asians Americans during the 2004 presidential elections was 44 percent. When asked why, Yoon hypothesized that no one wants to feel incompetent, however, at times due to lack of experience, knowledge of the power of their vote, or language barriers, potential voters may opt not to vote.

Onlokers at APIA Caucus(Photo: Zuag Kimberly Chang)

Education would help this, Yoon suggested. Hung Nguyen, President of the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans, added that awareness about the presence of interpreters at polls might also alleviate some potential voters worries. Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obamas half sister who was present via a slide show and in person, urged the caucus to make sure we have translators. Make sure we talk to the elders. We need to rally the youth and elders.

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Congressman Michael Honda, left, and New York City Council member John Liu, attending the Democratic National Convention.

The power of the Asian Pacific Islander American vote is not important just for the 2008 presidential race, APIA caucus attendee and actress Tamlyn Tomita said. It is the power to influence and decide, regardless of party or candidate of choice, leaders who will speak and decide for the community. You have a voice, Tomita explained, go out and vote. Be able to say that I am an American and I have an ability to say yes or no... to whatever the ticket is. Its your curiosity. Its a duty, to make this country work. And each of our voices collectively can power groups, can power communities. Many APIA caucus speakers emphasized that an increase in voter turnout could mean more Asian Pacific Islander American representatives in office.

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Congressman Michael Honda, left, and Asian American movie star Kelly Hu, right, both
are attending the Demecratic National Convention.

Duckworth and others emphasized that the minute number of Asian Pacific Islander American elected officials in the U.S., could not adequately represent the community population. U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison said it best: Its not about getting Asian Americans to the ballot box, its about getting Asian Americans on the ticket. The two-day APIA caucus ended on Wednesday, August 27th.

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Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's sister, and her husband Konrad Ng, attending the Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus meeting during the Democratic National Convention, encouraging Asian American to support her brother.

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