By Guest Contributor: Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote (@apiavote)
Edison town council member Sapana Shah realized something was wrong the moment she checked social media, learning that she and her neighbors received the same anti-Asian mailer Wednesday which featured a “deport” stamp on the photos of two Asian school board candidates. The postcard also read, “The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”
Targeting candidates based on bias and hate toward various ethnic, racial or religious identity is not new. And Shah is no stranger to it as a candidate. She recounted multiple incidents to me over the phone. Shah, a long-time resident in the Edison township of Middlesex County, New Jersey, was told to go back to her country when she ran for local elected office. She once found her campaign signs inscribed with the words “dot head,” an offensive racial slur. As a town council member, Shah endured insults from residents who shouted her down at the end of a public meeting for voting to include Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, as a school holiday.
When individuals are targets of hate, it not only affects them but also entire communities.
It seems obvious that greater electoral numbers for AAPIs should yield concomitant greater political power for our community. America is a representative democracy, wherein constituents are promised a seat at the table by a simple sociopolitical contract: our votes are offered to politicians as a quid pro quo promise of beneficial policy changes. More votes might therefore be assumed to invite better policies. Indeed, some AAPI groups – most notably 80-20 — deploy such thinking as rationale for their mission to create a national AAPI voting bloc comprising 80% or more of all voting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the group’s leaders seek to leverage that bloc for or against specific candidates.
But what if this thinking is flawed; or, at least, incomplete? What if sheer voting numbers do not alone guarantee greater political power for voters on the fringes of American politics? How do AAPI voters, and other voters of colour, build political power when we must cast our votes in a system structurally resistant to prioritizing issues of race and racism?
Earlier this month, Donald Trump spoke to a rally in Portland, Maine where he repeated one of his most infamous platform positions: that, as president, he would restrict immigration from so-called “terrorist nations” which he has previously said would include Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
While providing this expanded list, Trump reportedly said that refugees from all “terrorist nations” should be banned from entry into the United States.
“We’re dealing with animals,” he said of immigrants from these countries, including Filipino and Pakistani immigrants. Later on the Charlie Rose show, Trump was asked if he would include nations like Belgium or France in his list of “terrorist nations,” given the recent spate of high-profile terrorist attacks; Trump declined to comment.