Opinion: Asian-Americans Breaking Through In Politics - NBC Chicago
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Opinion: Asian-Americans Breaking Through In Politics



    Progress Illinois has an article today about an ignored, underrepresented demographic in Illinois politics: Asian-Americans.

    More than 1,100 Asian American and Pacific Islander voters from across the country were surveyed in April. The poll, organized by nonpartisan Asian American Justice Center, APIAVote and the Asian American Institute, marks the first time voting trends among Asian Americans have been examined.
    Conducted by Lake Research Partners, results show that approximately 4 out of 5 Asian Americans in Illinois report being almost certain to vote this November.
    Majority of Illinois’ AAPI voters favor the Democratic Party at both the congressional and presidential levels, according to the poll results; however a significant percentage of individuals see no, or doesn’t know, the differences between the parties.
    “Political candidates and parties who ignore us as a voting population do so at their own peril,” said Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center. She was the first Hmong American woman elected to a state legislature, where she served as a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party from 2002 to 2010.
    At more than 670,000 people, the Asian American population in Illinois has increased more than 40 percent since 2000, according to the 2010 Census.
    “There is a stereotype that our community doesn’t vote,” said Andrew Kang, senior staff attorney at the Asian American Institute. “We need to have more consistent engagement between legislators and the Asian American population.”

    In Illinois, Asian-Americans have had to follow a different path to political power than other minorities. Unlike blacks and Latinos, they don’t make up a majority in any ward or legislative district, and they are not covered by the Voting Rights Act. Those who’ve been successful have run in white-majority areas, without making racial appeals.

    Ameya Pawar became the city’s first Asian-American alderman when he was elected to represent the 47th Ward last year. Bob Kuhn, the Timber Lanes owner who allowed Pawar to set up a campaign office in his bowling alley, attributed the victory to the liberal, educated voters who have colonized Lincoln Square in recent years. A decade ago, when the neighborhood was still populated by old Germans, Pawar might not have been elected.

    (The 50th Ward has the city’s largest Asian population. In 2011, Indian-American Ahmed Khan ran for alderman, but received less than 5 percent of the vote. The winner, Debra Silverstein, is a member of the ward’s well-established Jewish bloc.)

    In the 8th Congressional District, Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth was born in Thailand to an American father and a Thai mother of Chinese descent. (In the primary, Duckworth defeated an Indiian-American, Raja Krishnamoorthi.) But Duckworth is not emphasizing her Asian roots, preferring to talk about her military experience, as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in Iraq.

    In 2010, Steve Kim, a Korean-American lawyer, ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General on the Republican ticket. Kim recently accompanied State Treasurer Dan Rutherford on a trade mission to South Korea.  

    There are no Asian-Americans in the General Assembly, but there is now an Asian-American caucus, made up of members who represent Chinatown and the north suburbs. Its inevitable that Asians will elect a senator or representative -- but whoever it is may not even be from a district in the Asian-American caucus. 

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