By Mike Honda
The Northern Virginian Asian American Pacific Islander vote is, and will be, the margin of victory in this year’s presidential election and the critical vote to re-elect President Obama and move this country forward.
It makes sense for AAPIs would vote for Obama. Speaking as an Asian American member of the U.S. Congress, there is no question that President Barack Obama is our first AAPI president. He’s Asian in his upbringing: He grew up in Hawaii and spent his early formative years in Indonesia.
One cannot come out of Hawaii and not have an Asian approach to things. In fact, the President’s family is filled with AAPIs: his half-sister Maya, his brother-in-law Konrad, and his nieces Suhaila and Savita. When he fights for AAPIs — securing our family’s safety net, ensuring affordable and accessible healthcare for our parents, children, and grandparents — he is fighting for his family and ours.
Virginia’s AAPI population — which grew at a rate of 71 percent between 2000 and 2010 — understands that. And while AAPIs make up over five percent of the U.S. population, AAPIs constitute seven percent of the Virginian population and 18 percent of Fairfax County. Despite our community’s impressive growth, growing faster than any other racial group, only 55 percent of AAPIs are registered to vote and one-third of AAPI voters remain undecided.
The AAPI voice is needed more than ever to stand alongside President Obama, the leader who rejected the “model minority” myth and invested $50 million over the next decade in Asian American Native American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions — institutions which serve nearly half of all AAPI undergraduates.
President Obama also believes that businesses drive the engines of our economy. Especially in Fairfax County, AAPI-owned firms drive Virginia’s economy. At 42 percent, Fairfax County is home to the largest number of AAPI-owned firms — higher than any other locality in the state. President has awarded $9 billion in loans to AAPI small businesses and enacted 18 tax cuts for small businesses. He’s also increased job and career training opportunities for AAPIs through Workforce Investment Act programs.
President Obama needs our AAPI community’s support. Remember, he passed health care reform that addressed health disparities and inequities, such as diabetes and hepatitis B, which disproportionately affect AAPIs; and protected nearly three million AAPIs through expanded health insurance coverage. And in 2016, another two out of 2.5 million AAPIs who would otherwise be uninsured will gain or be eligible for coverage.
We cannot afford to be stripped of these hard-fought provisions and solutions secured by President Barack Obama. We cannot afford to revert back to the Bush-Cheney trickle down policies, which the Romney-Ryan plan mirrors.
This election season, the AAPI community’s political presence is more sophisticated and mobilized than ever before. In 2006, when former Senator George Allen issued a racist epithet against his challenger Senator Jim Webb’s Indian American staffer, Virginian AAPIs galvanized against Sen. Allen, and secured Sen. Webb’s victory.
In 2008, AAPIs were the crucial coalition in Virginia — voting for President Obama over Sen. McCain 61 to 14 percent. Recent reports illustrate that AAPIs have a significantly higher approval of President Obama — at 10 points higher than the national average. When broken down further, more than 70 percent of young AAPI adults and almost 90 percent of Indian Americans support the President.
If this autumn’s election turnout parallels that of four years ago, Virginian AAPIs can give President Obama a 47,000 vote margin of victory. In this light, we cannot afford to overlook a single unregistered AAPI voter. For the sake of our family, our businesses, our community, we cannot disregard a single undecided AAPI voter.
The Virginian AAPI community must get out the vote to stand by a President who has been a stalwart supporter of AAPIs. From signing an Executive Order to re-establish the White House Initiative on AAPIs and the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, to appointing more AAPIs to federal office and judicial seats than any other President in history, President Obama knows our country is strongest and at its best when everyone has a seat at the table.
From the Korean spas to Eden Center; from the gurdwaras to ethnic language schools — I stand by the Virginian AAPI community’s efforts to reach out to the one-third undecided. To the generations who came before us and to the generations to come, we have an obligation to get out the vote.
President Obama uniquely understands the AAPI family ties and sacrifices. The story of our community — the story of our nation — has always been to seize the moment, to take that leap forward, to cross the expanse of that ocean, and to forge a more perfect union. On November 6, I urge the Virginian AAPI family to once again, forge this union with President Barack Obama.
Michael Honda (D) represents California’s Silicon Valley in the U.S. House of Representatives.