In the wake of Super Tuesday’s results of how Asian Americans voted, particularly in California, there’s been a flurry of activity among APIA bloggers to figure out what happened. In particular, Jeff Chang’s article does a great job of breaking down Clinton’s political machine.

To our community and allies, let’s not give up because for all the discussion about how Clinton has a more diverse campaign staff, we have to remember that when Obama first came onto the scene as a presidential candidate, many (including myself) didn’t think his campaign would become what it is now. I’m not surprised that many organizers of color signed up early in Clinton’s campaign because it was more established.

Name recognition played a huge role in what had happened. But there is a clear difference between Obama and Clinton. The New York Magazine recently described Obama’s campaign as a “white boy campaign“. Despite the usual spin on race and ethnicity from mainstream media, I find that this article’s analysis is incredibly off. Obama’s campaign is a break from the old way of politics. His campaign is about movement building, not name recognition. What electrifies me about Obama is that he is talking about transforming our politics and ourselves, not giving out quick, token favors to our leaders and figureheads. Professor Scott Kurashige articulates this important distinction in his recent post (long but very worthwhile to read in its entirety). Here’s an excerpt:

The Obama campaign is about transcending the “minority politics” mentality that carves us all up into “interest groups” and pushes the hot buttons that reinforce our sense of victimization and vilify the other side. Mainstream observers focus on Obama’s invocation of “hope” as a rhetorical device, which appeals to the common decency in all of us to both transcend partisanship and support an agenda driven by the discourse of change. No doubt this is part of the appeal he is making, especially as he seeks to fashion himself as someone who can unite voters in both “blue” and “red” states and also “change the way Washington does business.”

But I sense there is something much deeper to both Obama as an individual and his campaign, which has the potential to develop into a movement. Obama has a deep respect for what Charles Payne (in I’ve Got the Light of Freedom) has called the “organizing tradition” that sustained the Black freedom struggle in the South. He recognizes the debt we owe the likes of Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, and Rosa Parks, but more importantly the lessons we must learn from their struggles. If you are just a “minority leader,” then you’re not really a leader at all. If you are only fighting for your “fair share” of the riches controlled by those in power, you’ll never address the root causes of oppression. Above all is the sense that none of us can be free in America until we change the whole country. Obama speaks in poetry and he is writing a song of redemption.

Yet, as Obama admits, his work is not done. To have built an impressive biracial coalition in the North and South is impressive. So is having won both the Black and white vote in California, which really should put to rest the media’s endless drivel about that divide. Yet, we now know that a biracial victory doesn’t cut it anymore, for all that historic act has done is create new challenges. I wonder how Obama’s campaign is processing their drubbing among Latinos and Asians in California. Was it just a lack of time? Is it an idiosyncratic result of the Clintons unique appeal? Was it a failure of execution? Or do they need a better strategy rooted in a deeper understanding of Latino and Asian communities and new people to be a part of the decision making process? My sense is that it is mostly the latter. In the future, I’ll try to say more about what is shaping interethnic attitudes and relations today, especially to counter the mainstream media’s new sophomoric fixation on “Black/Latino tensions.” What should stand out, however, is that we need to know a lot more about interethnic relations and recognize they are not a sideshow.

Remember, it was the media that asked if Obama can “transcend race” — Obama never spoke these words himself because his message is not about colorblindness at all.

I’m confident the numbers will change and that more Asian Americans will change support for Obama’s campaign. In some weays, our “loss” in California is very positive because it is continuing the contest between Obama and Clinton, giving us an important moment to talk to our community, peers, friends and family members. We can really highlight what sets Obama apart from Clinton. I don’t think we are last minute at all — Transformation is very different from identity and coalition politics, which is what Clinton is solely relying upon. We’ve seen the upsurge in the last two weeks, where folks went to the poll en masse to change their vote for Obama. Let’s keep building and reaching our communities.

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  1. I believe the issue of apathy within many Asian youth communities is a big concern for me. Only now in my 30’s am I truly finding an interest in the state of affairs within our government. For many years, voting was really another “TO DO” on the list. I voted but not with a deeply informed mind. Growing up in an Asian household, there was not much importance placed on politics and the participation in our government system. The “Rock the Vote” campaigns and others directed at our youth don’t seem to have large impact within the Asian communities. Communicating to this community seems to be a struggle.

  2. Thanks for your input. I think activism among Asian American youth is a highly unexplored issue, and I’m in the school of thought that there are more of us who are “active”, or interested in politics and community, than we may know.

    I agree that Rock the Vote does very little to reach our community. There are more effective youth-directed voter initiatives (see League of Young Voters), and even more locally-based youth initiatives that we may not really hear about at the national level (see Detroit Asian Youth Project).

    And it certainly is a struggle (a beautiful struggle) because our family’s, particularly those who are recent immigrants, are not encouraged to “rock the boat” and disagree with the status quo. Don’t make noise and just get by — it’s a survival approach. My parents are naturalized U.S. citizens but are more interested in elections in Taiwan than those in the U.S.

    If Obama is able to sustain the core message of change that was so exciting during the early phases of this campaign, then perhaps there will be a renew awakening among youth, Asian votes and other disenfranchised populations. Maybe each of us can find new purpose to voting, rather than just another task that we feel has little impact to shaping our individual lives.




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