- - Monday, May 18, 2015

Presidential contenders of both parties are advised to take note: The Asian American community is the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group, with China and India superseding Mexico as the countries of origin for recent immigrants, and members of this “model minority” are gradually overtaking their fellow Americans in education and income.

And their votes are up for grabs in 2016.

The remarkable success story of Asian immigrants in the United States may explain why many forget that as late, as the 1960s, Asian Americans were treated like second-class citizens, and did not have equal access to housing, education and jobs.

Indeed, during this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, it’s important to recall that thousands of Chinese were brought here to work in terrible slave-like conditions, building the transcontinental railways that connected America’s east to the west in the second half of the 19th century.

American citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up and interned in camps after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II, even as 33,000 second-generation Japanese Americans volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army.

In the second half of the 20th century, Koreans and Vietnamese who fled their war-ravaged countries for the United States were not received with warmth until recently.

Nonetheless, Asian Americans have managed to overcome these obstacles.

According to a 2011 Labor Department study, 57.5 percent of employed Asian Americans 25 years or older had a college degree, more than 60 percent higher than non-Asian Americans. Moreover, 7.8 percent of high-tech industries jobs are going to Asian Americans, so they are overrepresented compared with their overall presence in the labor force (5 percent). They are similarly well represented in science, technology, engineering and math occupations, accounting for more than 9 percent of jobs in these disciplines.

Asian Americans are also more likely to be employed in the private sector, with more than eight out of 10 of those employed working for private companies. At the same time, the number of Asian-owned businesses grew at the rate of 40.4 percent, more than double the national average between 2002 and 2007.

Yet their historic lack of knowledge or reluctance to use the political process to assertively advance their causes and protect their interests has resulted in Asian Americans being taken for granted by the political elites in this country.

Hence, Ivy League schools, including Harvard, have been using race to deny admission to Asian Americans because they are “over-represented” in the student population.

To be sure, as the head of the oldest and largest organization representing Asian American business owners, more than once, major corporation procurement representatives have expressed disinterest to me in meeting more Asian American suppliers because they are “over-indexed” among their pool of high-tech suppliers.

Such an unfair practice by leading public and business institutions is unacceptable and cannot continue. Asian Americans intend to make their voice heard in Washington where the job of the government is to ensure equal opportunity for all.

Two other reasons why for so long politicians have not paid attention to the concerns of Asian Americans were that, even though the fastest-growing demographic group, this is still a small community with less than 7 percent of the population, and the voters have in the past aligned with the Republican Party.

Indeed, during the post-1945 era the majority of Asian Americans, including refugees from Communist China, Korea and Vietnam, tended to identify with the staunchly anti-communist agenda of the GOP. The majority of Asian American voters went for Ronald Reagan, whose economic principles, social values and foreign policy seemed to be in line with theirs.

However, Republican presidential candidates have been losing Asian American voters in recent years. While George H.W. Bush still received 55 percent of their votes in the 1992 election compared to 31 percent for Democrat Bill Clinton, 12 years later, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won 56 percent. In 2012, 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for Democrat Barack Obama’s quest for a second term, up from 62 percent in 2008.

Even so, it would be incorrect to conclude that Asian Americans, many of whom are concentrated in key swing states Virginia, Nevada and Florida, are becoming a pro-Democratic voting bloc. Exit polling suggests that the vote was spread almost equally between major party candidates in the 2010 and 2014 midterm congressional elections.

While the White House advances its geo-strategic “pivot” to East Asia reflecting the shift of the country’s interests, and while the declared candidates for president discuss how best to strengthen America’s superpower status, a domestic pivot is needed too, one that recognizes the growing demographic, political and economic power of Asian Americans and pay heed to their concerns.

No longer are Asian Americans willing to be taken for granted, and it behooves the political class to take note.

Susan Au Allen is CEO and national president of the United States Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce.

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