Does Obama have an Asian problem? We’re still debating

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Last week, I penned an article for Time.com titled, “Does Obama Have an Asian Problem?” The story predicted the senator from Illinois would handily win Hawaii’s primaries, which were to occur later that day. He did. But it also sought to explore why other states with large Asian populations saw their Asian votes go overwhelmingly to his rival, Hillary Clinton. We asked the very touchy, even ugly question: Could it have to do with race?

Here’s how the story came about. The week prior, I’d posted here on WiP about a CNN report I’d just seen. The report, by Gary Tuchman, purported to explore why Asians were voting for Hillary—and in the end insinuated that it had to do with Asians’ racism, without coming right out and saying so (see the clip on my original post).

Some of you wrote to say you too found the CNN report patently offensive. Others of you found my post’s title patently offensive. But a few wrote to say, Well, hold on a minute here; my old Chinese uncle says he won’t vote for Obama because he’s black.

That got me to thinking. This deserved some actual reporting. So I called up experts, scholars, ethnic-media journalists, pollsters and ordinary voters. My conclusion was that plenty of Asians are voting for Obama, for reasons they articulated clearly: his vision, his passion, his mantra of change. And plenty of Asians are voting for Clinton, for equally well-argued reasons: her experience, her resolve, her ability to get things done. I bet more than a few will wind up casting for McCain. But for some Asians—just as for some Caucasians, some Hispanics, and some blacks—race does indeed play a role in their vote.

For a very good and nuanced TV analysis of the same subject, see CeFaan Kim’s recent report on NY1. In it, one expert explains the possible reasons behind Clinton’s overwhelming Asian support: skewed exit-poll results.

“The Asian-American community is bipolar, particularly the Chinese-American community,” said Peter Kwong, a professor of Asian American Studies at Hunter College. “You have the very wealthy, what I call the Uptown Chinese; professional, educated, English-speaking. They don’t live in Chinatown. They live all across the suburbs. And then you have working class, non-English-speaking new immigrants. They tend to live in concentrated neighborhoods. So, a lot of surveys are done in those concentrated neighborhoods, so therefore the sample reflects working-class backgrounds.”

Fascinating. Here, too, is a letter from two readers who objected to my Time.com story. We don’t yet have a way for readers to comment on stories elsewhere on the site, so I asked them if I could post it here.

The media’s portrayal of the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) voter, specifically the APIA’s view of Barack Obama, has been minimal and oftentimes skewed and inaccurate. Lisa Takeuchi Cullen’s article on the Asian-American voter perpetuates the notion that APIA’s are apathetic, uninformed, disengaged and insignificant in the political process. She deeply offended Asian Americans by implying that Asian Americans do not choose their candidates as thoughtfully as other minority groups do.

The article cited APIA voters as the least likely to vote. However, it failed to indicate that when APIA’s are registered to vote, they actually become the most likely to vote. According to APIA Vote, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that focuses on raising civic participation in the APIA community, 3.7 million APIA’s out of approximately 6.7 million eligible voters were registered to vote. 3 million of those registered voters actually voted in the presidential general election in 2004! Cullen’s article stated that APIA’s “may not have the numbers to sway the nomination in one way or another,” but in 2004 the APIA voting population was greater than the difference that captured the electoral votes in seven states!

The APIA community is a unique, diverse community, but we are not too different from the rest of the American population in choosing elected officials. We want what’s best for our families. We want elected officials who listen to our needs. APIA’s are participating in the political process now more than ever. Like other Americans, APIA’s make their decisions on who to vote for based on who can best represent their needs, regardless of race, gender, religion. For many APIA’s that choice is Barack Obama.

Since its inception one year ago, the Barack Obama presidential campaign has focused on “Change We Can Believe In,” and a “Yes We Can” attitude that encompasses all segments of the American population-including the APIA community.

Melissa Montenegro-Tri-Cities, WA

Celia Wu-Seattle, WA

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