Saturday, May 15, 2004

An Asian and Pacific Islander American grass-roots organization has stepped up its efforts to increase voter education for the growing minority.

Jenelle Hu from APIA Vote said the new organization is a modified version of the National Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Campaign that began in 1996. It restructured itself last year into a broader institution that encompasses education about politics and government, as well as voting.

APIA Vote is a nationwide coalition of nonpartisan, non-profit organizations and is backed by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Caucus Chairman Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat, said, “Today, there are over 5.4 million APIAs eligible to vote. In an election as close as this one, the APIA community will make a large difference.”

Exit polls during the 2000 presidential election showed APIAs chose Vice President Al Gore over Texas Gov. George Bush, 54 percent to 41 percent.

According to the 2000 Census, only 3 percent of the District’s population is Asian American, but they own two-thirds of its small business licenses. Virginia had a 95 percent increase in Asian American residency, while Maryland experienced a 73 percent increase.

Those numbers reflect the 72 percent national APIA population increase from 1990 to 2000. There are now nearly 12 million Asian Americans living in the United States, making up 4.2 percent of the population.

APIA is planning to coordinate voter registration and education, while mobilizing campaigns in specific areas with the highest concentration of eligible voters, but activities will not be limited to those locations.

The organization has identified areas to target as: Nevada, Michigan, New York, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and California.

There have been past efforts to mobilize Asian and Pacific Islander American voters, evident in the 43 percent voter turnout for APIAs, nearing the national 51.3 percent turnout in 2000.

Still pushing for more voter participation, another APIA Vote goal is to increase the efficiency of smaller local coalitions through centralization and keeping them up to date, while creating an infrastructure that will last beyond election years.

Because language is a major barrier to many of its members, the group seeks to overcome the problem at voter registration drives by offering a toll-free voter assistance hot line to take requests for registration materials written in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian and Hmong.

The group is coordinating local town hall meetings and candidate and issue forums nationwide. It has produced a 75-page pamphlet addressing APIAs’ issues as a minority and laying out a political platform.

“APIAs are commonly viewed as a ‘model minority’ with higher-than-average incomes and educations and few serious problems,” the pamphlet states. “As this platform will demonstrate, these averages are misleading and hide significant problems of poverty and educational and other needs in portions of the APIA community.”

However, APIAs have a particularly high naturalization rate compared to other minorities. Only 61 percent of Hispanics, compared to 73 percent of APIAs, are citizens, making them a substantial minority voting bloc.

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