I can’t say I was expecting to have a terrific time at the AAPI caucus meeting – after all, it was at 10 AM, and the gathering was quite sparsely attended when it began. However, it was well-organized, ran on time, and I found it entertaining, educational, and informative. A comprehensive “who’s who” of Asian American politics showed up, and the rising influence of Democrats in this party was hard not to miss.
We began with statements from many of the chairmen, all who seemed to have made impressive contributions to the “AAPI Democrat” cause, and you can see all of the leadership on the AAPI website. One theme that was repeatedly emphasized (and I guarantee will be a general theme all weekend) was that of coming together and coalescing behind Obama after the bruising primary battle. Whether at the IL delegation breakfast, the interfaith gathering, or this event, leaders were urging delegates to come together behind Obama. Congressman Mike Honda was recognized by just about every speaker as a valued Asian-American pioneer and mentor, and Congressmen and women David Wu, Mazie Hirono, and Doris Matsui spoke as well. Surprise guest speakers included Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC, and Leah Daughtry, CEO of the convention, appeared, which was representative of the importance this caucus will have in this year’s election.
Dean gave a nice and detailed speech in which he outlined a few main points
A USA Today article in today’s paper points out how the Democratic delegates are very similar in ethnic makeup to our country’s population, which should be a point of pride for the party
The increase in the number of AAPI delegates to the convention this year (if I recall correctly, +27), shows that the party is open to change.
We need to get AAPI voters to register in larger numbers and to vote early so that they do not run the risk of widespread disenfranchisement on election day – we need to make sure no immigrant voters are bullied or scared away from the polls
Dean’s speech generated widespread excitement at the meeting – as did Tammy Duckworth’s short appearance. Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran who ran for Congress in 2006 and lost, and she mentioned how AAPIs make up 8% of the population of her home district, and that she lost the election by 1.25% – a large voter registration push in our community could really have an impact on the electoral landscape.
Many different leaders noted how Democrats take the lead on subjects such as immigration reform and healthcare, while Hrishi Karthikeyan, founder of South Asians for Obama, commented on how it is important to address all types of issues when campaigning with South Asians, as opposed to only discussing what a candidate would assume the community most cares about (he gave Obama as an example of a candidate who is good at talking about major problems with everyone).
Karthikeyan, S.R. Sidarth, and Ramey Ko spoke about new technologies and their potential to change the electoral landscape. With SAFO and asianamericansforobama.com, they are aiming to use “new media” to get their word out – - they mentioned it would be wise for AAPI candidates at all levels of government to do this as well.
I also had a chance to speak with Ann Kalayil, one of the founders of AAPI for Obama. She is from the Chicago area and has been working with Obama since he announced his campaign. She was confident about his chances this electoral year and we discussed one question I was very curious about – “Asian American Pacific Islanders” is such a broad term that it encompasses everyone from Chinese-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, Filipino Americans, and of course, South Asian Americans. How do these groups with contrasting cultures and disparate backgrounds come together in organizations to work for Democratic candidates and causes? She responded that people of these ethnicities did not choose to be characterized in such a fashion, but the fact that our system of categorizing ethnicity in our country has done so has forged strong bonds between these different communities and made them into a bloc with a powerful voice.