Your Vote: The Future of South Asian American Politics

As the election nears, it is crucial to understand just how important this election will be for our community. Just a few years ago, the concept of major South Asian campaign groups, let along major South Asian candidates, was unthinkable. South Asians were a small group that didn’t get out to the polls in sizable numbers and those who did were usually spoken to solely on the issues of immigration and U.S.-India relations. This election, however, has dramatically changed the nature of the South Asian community’s involvement in politics. India Post recently had a great piece where they highlighted a few young South Asians who have been making their voice heard this election season, and it gives a good overview of how our community has mobilized this year.

The article profiles South Asians from a variety of backgrounds, all motivated to become active during this election season for different reasons. Bhavini Dhoshi, 25, is “currently working as a legal intern for a not-for-profit immigration services organization,” and especially cares about reproductive rights, the environment, and healthcare, amongst other issues. Shashi Dholandas, a 24-year old young law student, counts “the current state of the economy and the US standing in the international arena” as his major concerns. Niki Shah, an organizer with South Asians for Obama, says “My generation is overburdened with the cost of education. We want a decent education but the attached cost may outweigh the long-term benefits.”

The profiles are interesting and definitely worth a read, and are notable because of the breadth of interests and activities of the surveyed group. The article does mention U.S.-India relations, and these are surely important issues for members of our community, be they immigrants who once called a South Asian nation their home, or the children of those immigrants. Yet for every single young South Asian, these issues were secondary to topics such as healthcare, the environment, the war, or the economy.

At the DNC, Hrishi Karthikeyan, the founder of South Asians for Obama, noted that one of the reasons he started SAFO was because he wanted politicians and campaigns to realize that there were many South Asians for whom every issue was important, just as they would be for any American. For far too long, politicians had felt as though they only needed to talk to South Asians about issues such as immigration and U.S.-India relations, and they would have their vote. The massive activation in this campaign is changing this perception as more South Asians get involved and voice their concerns on every issue of importance. In this campaign, Indian-Americans have played a major role in issues concerning foreign policy, domestic policy, and finance, amongst other issues. Over the past year, one Indian-American has shined as the governor of a very Southern state while another is in a tight congressional race in Minnesota.

South Asians have worked hard in this election to rise from a small niche group to an important part of the electorate. Groups such as SAFO, Asian Americans for Obama, and non-partisan groups including SAALT have put forth their best efforts to transform the South Asian vote into a prominent piece of the American electoral map. It will all be for naught, however, if we don’t vote en masse this Tuesday. So tomorrow, your vote is not only about the direction of this country, but our community’s place in the American political spectrum. The choice between non-voting and voting is the choice between leaving our community a niche group that will always be on the periphery of the political scene or helping us emerge as a crucial bloc that can make our voices heard for many elections to come.

42 thoughts on “Your Vote: The Future of South Asian American Politics

  1. Obama is hopelessly unqualified to be President. He is an empty media-created phenomenon, and likely a puppet of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. You cannot possibly put this phony “community organizer” in the White House!!! He will be a disaster!!! Obama is just an Al Sharpton with lighter skin. Would you vote for Sharpton?? Of course not! But you’d vote for Obama because he is “better looking” and has “better features”???

  2. Obama is hopelessly unqualified to be President. He is an empty media-created phenomenon, and likely a puppet of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. You cannot possibly put this phony “community organizer” in the White House!!! He will be a disaster!!! Obama is just an Al Sharpton with lighter skin. Would you vote for Sharpton?? Of course not! But you’d vote for Obama because he is “better looking” and has “better features”???

    …. And he is a godless African Muslim Ayrab terrist. And he surfs and speaks French too.


    “Vote early — and vote often” — certain famous Chicago Democratic politicians

  3. OBAMA is so naive, that he thinks, running a Washington Belt machine is as simple as running a volunteer community organization. If Obama gets elected, he will be a fiasco to the nation that our country has never seen in history both economy-wise and foreign pollicy-wise. My personal projection of Obama, is that, he will even be worst than current President Bush. Trouble is, we don’t have much of choice either….. however, I would rather take a known devil in John than go for risks in BARCK. Moreover, he has had big chunks of money (don’t know where from?)to buy-out the media. UNFAIR! Yes, but it is what it is when you have tons of MONEY at your disposal!! Did anyone notice (media and CNN has not yet made any Hoop-la on it) in his saturday interview with CNN with WOlf, on a question what will be a high priority task from his 5-point agenda for the nation (healthcare reform, economy, taxes, education ….)? and OBAMA qickly responded “possible none of above…. and maybe injecting more money into Wall Street..). His so-called message of CHANGE is also changing ….. so is’t he a ‘flip-flop’ now? So why is not media picking-up on that thought thread and beating him-up on it, instead of only Palin mis-steps? Becuase media has been bought-out……

  4. I’m trying to figure out if the anti Obama posts are parody or the real opinions, it’s hard to tell these days with the attacks coming so fast and furious. The last poster, are you seriously charging running on a platform of Change is a ‘flip-flop’ now?”. If that is parody my hats off to you sir, if it isn’t you just blew my mind.

  5. Obama is just an Al Sharpton with lighter skin. Would you vote for Sharpton?? Of course not! But you’d vote for Obama because he is “better looking” and has “better features”???

    Wrong, I’m actually writing in Al Sharpton!

  6. The choice between non-voting and voting is the choice between leaving our community a niche group that will always be on the periphery of the political scene or helping us emerge as a crucial bloc that can make our voices heard for many elections to come.

    i feel a real disconnect between he substance of the rest of the post and this allusion to a “bloc.” perhaps south asians are a “bloc” of voters in parts of new jersey and some precincts of queens, but that’s about it. we’re on the order of 1% of america’s population; let’s keep it real. jews vote democrat not because they’re jews, but because jews tend to be liberal.

  7. Yet for every single young South Asian, these issues were secondary to topics such as healthcare, the environment, the war, or the economy.

    not that i have ever been a fan of identity politics, but how is the preferred “south asian” solution for these issues different from the “american” solution? there is no reason for south asians to be any more or less unified than the average american on these matters.

    as for india being treated well vis-a-vis foreign policy and trade, that will naturally happen as india’s economy booms and becomes more substantial independent of the presence or absence of “a south asian bloc”, and we are already seeing evidence of this. hey, even indian mangoes can now finally be imported to the u.s, replacing honest, hardworking south american mangoes, so further progress can’t be far behind.

    (imo, the success of jews as a voting bloc primarily has to do with how expressing support for palestine has become a third rail in mainstream american politics. india is nowhere in the u.s. public imagination like israel is.)

  8. i feel a real disconnect between he substance of the rest of the post and this allusion to a “bloc.” perhaps south asians are a “bloc” of voters in parts of new jersey and some precincts of queens, but that’s about it. we’re on the order of 1% of america’s population; let’s keep it real. jews vote democrat not because they’re jews, but because jews tend to be liberal.

    I think he’s also referring to the SAALT agenda (i believe, not sure) that was blogged here a while back. I’m not very confident about even this 1% agreeing on a list of specific proposals: for example I can’t get down with hate-crimes legislation or immigration liberalization that doesn’t go far enough.

    There’s also a moral objection to voting in a bloc that’s related to harm reduction (i.e. faith-based public policy as the result of years of ‘bloc’ voting by religious right)

  9. imo, the success of jews as a voting bloc primarily has to do with how expressing support for palestine has become a third rail in mainstream american politics

    what i have heard is that traditionally wealth left-wing jews were big money backers for the democratic party, which was always structurally out-gunned by republicans (the party of the wealthy). likud-oriented right-wing jews are a small minority, but they care more about israel than the rest of he jewish community, and have an alliance with philo-semitic evangelicals which they can leverage. it’s no about numbers, or even uniformity, but the normal dynamics of interest groups playing out.

    I think he’s also referring to the SAALT agenda (i believe, not sure) that was blogged here a while back. I’m not very confident about even this 1% agreeing on a list of specific proposals: for example I can’t get down with hate-crimes legislation or immigration liberalization that doesn’t go far enough.

    i doubt this is true; ravi has pretty concise and intelligible prose; SAALTy types tend use activist buzzwords. but even if it is true, SAALT is just an expression of far-left progressivism. there’s nothing there that other far-left progressives would find objectionable.

  10. I am actually very surprised that South Asians primarily vote Democrat. Every Indian I know (except for my parents, odd enough) vote Republican…maybe it’s just the ultra-snooty doctor crowd they seem to frequent.

  11. jews vote democrat not because they’re jews, but because jews tend to be liberal.

    most minorities vote democratic, that is just the way it is. And there is no real difference between democrats and republicans when it comes to the policy toward Israel, so they can go either way.

  12. most minorities vote democratic, that is just the way it is.

    depends on the minority. mormons are as republican as jews are democrat (since you are defining religious minorities, that’s a kosher comparison). and blacks vote way more democratic than their supposed liberalism would warrant. jews don’t.

    And there is no real difference between democrats and republicans when it comes to the policy toward Israel, so they can go either way.

    that’s just your perspective as a non-jew who perceives rightly that both parties are pro-israel, not that of right-wing pro-likud jews. that isn’t most american jews, who share your view, but there are connections between the american republican party and the jewish right here and in israel.

  13. maybe it’s just the ultra-snooty doctor crowd they seem to frequent.

    if that’s the demographics of the group, it prob. has much to do with tax benefits.

    The choice between non-voting and voting is the choice between leaving our community a niche group that will always be on the periphery of the political scene or helping us emerge as a crucial bloc that can make our voices heard for many elections to come.

    I beg to disagree. Firstly, it is still a choice – you may have an opinion about it, but choosing not to vote at all is just as much of an expression (and right) as hoosing for whom to vote. Secondly, the element re the bloc implies that S. Asians, to some extent, will not only be voting in much the same way, but will be aware of being a part of such a bloc. As it stands, I do not see this as being the reality, on either count.

  14. 10 · razib said

    I think he’s also referring to the SAALT agenda (i believe, not sure) that was blogged here a while back. I’m not very confident about even this 1% agreeing on a list of specific proposals: for example I can’t get down with hate-crimes legislation or immigration liberalization that doesn’t go far enough. i doubt this is true; ravi has pretty concise and intelligible prose; SAALTy types tend use activist buzzwords. but even if it is true, SAALT is just an expression of far-left progressivism. there’s nothing there that other far-left progressives would find objectionable.

    “Progressivism” is not a particularly narrow term, but SAALT is not “far-left” in any sense, afaic. For example, my suggestions for the immigration section of their platform.

    I agree that Ravi is a good writer, but I don’t know to what extent that has to do with his politics being more centrist than other people’s. What is intelligibly called “democracy” to one person can’t intelligibly be understood to another person unless you call it “hegemony.” SAALT is, as far as I can see, far closer to the former type of language than the latter, so if you could spell out more clearly what you mean, it would be easier to assess.

  15. Any person of Indian origin who support Obama should hang themselves…If they have any self respect left.

  16. The other day McCain proudly declared in a rally “we are all Joe the Plumbers”. The Republican Party has become the party of plumbers. That is to say the party of white christian bhangis or untouchables. No self respecting hindu, unless he is a Dalit, would vote for the Republicans now.

  17. 17 · Harpoon said

    Any person of Indian origin who support Obama should hang themselves…If they have any self respect left.

    I agree. And as a self-respecting Obama supporter of Indian origin I’d like to inform you that I’m well hung.

  18. I agree that Ravi is a good writer, but I don’t know to what extent that has to do with his politics being more centrist than other people’s. What is intelligibly called “democracy” to one person can’t intelligibly be understood to another person unless you call it “hegemony.” SAALT is, as far as I can see, far closer to the former type of language than the latter, so if you could spell out more clearly what you mean, it would be easier to assess.

    Dr. A,

    From your non-US perspective, can you ascertain exactly where SAALT falls on the ideological spectrum? I’m not saying that you can’t, only that your determination is likely colored by politics in a country where universal health care is considered untouchable or non-discretionary spending.

    Razib,

    how is Ravi not pointing to a set of proposals? (i used SAALT as an example of policy platform presented to a potential voting bloc–not as a description of the blogger’s own politics). If you agitate for the formation of a voting bloc, you certainly are keeping in mind the prospect of certain policy proposals to be presented to the bloc in question (whether the proposals are vague or defined).

    ak,

    agree wholeheartedly. A choice is made is regardless of whether you pull the lever/punch the button/curse the touch-screen, and it would be nice if they included a ‘I choose not to choose’ box on the ballot. Question, is it ‘fair’ to discriminate in social situations against the declared non-voter (or vice-versa)?

  19. I really hope the rnc/mccain campaign is wasting time and money on trolling sepia mutiny. Yes, keep sinking your money here and sway the audience with your fine-tuned reasoning skills and eloquence! please, continue.

  20. 18 · GOP=Gang Of Plumbers said

    The Republican Party has become the party of plumbers. That is to say the party of white christian bhangis or untouchables. No self respecting hindu, unless he is a Dalit, would vote for the Republicans now.

    I’m glad that somebody has taken on the important task of keeping the caste system current for a new era. Please to provide updated table of occupation to caste so I can separate out water cooler usage starting tomorrow.

  21. 20 · Nayagan saidDr. A,

    From your non-US perspective, can you ascertain exactly where SAALT falls on the ideological spectrum? I’m not saying that you can’t, only that your determination is likely colored by politics in a country where universal health care is considered untouchable or non-discretionary spending.

    Dude i grew up in the U.S. and lived there until 2006. :)

  22. If you agitate for the formation of a voting bloc, you certainly are keeping in mind the prospect of certain policy proposals to be presented to the bloc in question

    abhi, and now ravi, are pushing a south asian ‘bloc.’ but what that really seems to mean is that the moderate center-left majority of the south asian population should vote based on their ideology. it doesn’t have anything to do with being south asian as such; i.e., no analogy can be made to single-issue ethnic blocks like cubans or armenians. a small minority of american south asians are as focused on india as the small minority of israel first american jews are on israel.

  23. nayagan, thank goodness – it’s been quite a lonely several weeks :) since i’ve made the decision not to vote, i’ve realised that people have a much more vehement reaction to not voting than to voting for a particular candidate. today, one of my colleagues, after i disagreed with the de facto two-party nature of american politics, told me that because it was a two-party system, my vote was meant to go to the candidate that i preferred relatively. last week, one of the higher-ups of our firm sent an e-mail stating that voting (for whichever candidate) was the mark of a leader. not that i really care what other people think – i’m quite secure in my decision – but it’s getting a bit much to have to hear how ‘wrong’ it is for me not to vote.

  24. 11 · Coconut Rice I am actually very surprised that South Asians primarily vote Democrat. Every Indian I know (except for my parents, odd enough) vote Republican…maybe it’s just the ultra-snooty doctor crowd they seem to frequent.

    Hear, hear, old egg. Quite so in my experience as well. You are not alone!

  25. Nayagan and ak, looks like you like your chads pregnant and hung, respectively. NTTAWWT

    does not no vote = no chads?

    Hear, hear, old egg. Quite so in my experience as well. You are not alone!

    do you think a lot of desis just say they are voting for the democrat candidate and then go ahead and vote republican?

  26. do you think a lot of desis just say they are voting for the democrat candidate and then go ahead and vote republican?

    Yes, I do–my brother cert. does (he’s the sole MD in the immediate family . . . .). Obviously, I don’t have the data to back up my impression. It’s kind of like the joke about Jewish voting patterns–they “earn like Episcopalians, but vote like Puerto Ricans.” LOL! Some, I’m sure, dissent from this cognitive dissonance and vote GOP!

  27. do you think a lot of desis just say they are voting for the democrat candidate and then go ahead and vote republican?

    Maybe. Its becoming socially unacceptable to be a Republican at desi parties. People will gang up and talk you down.

  28. 30 · ak said

    do you think a lot of desis just say they are voting for the democrat candidate and then go ahead and vote republican?

    I’m sure this happens. It’s even got a name!

    does not no vote = no chads?

    I thought you were affirming Nayagan’s vote for a “I choose not to choose” choice.

  29. http://religions.pewforum.org/portraits

    (Interesting data at the site on Muslims too)

    Pew Survey -Party Affiliation Among Hindus

    6% Republican 7%Lean Republican 13% Independent
    22% Lean Democratic 41% Democratic
    11% Other/ no preference/ don’t know/ refused

    Political Ideology Among Hindus 12%Conservative 44%Moderate 35%Liberal 10%Don’t Know

  30. 27 · rob said

    Hear, hear, old egg.

    LOL. Whadda macaulayite coconut!

  31. 36 · Deep LOL. Whadda macaulayite coconut!

    LOL right back at you! Naan yarendru yennakku theriyum. Do you??

  32. I would like to know why any immigrant, from South Asia or elsewhere, would support the rightists when they’re all about maintaining dominance of the majority community and oppressing minorities.