By 2016 ILF Fellow Sean Fisher
I was recently given the incredible opportunity to attend the 2016 Presidential Election Forum presented by Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIA Vote) and the Asian American Journalist’s Association (AAJA) on August 12th in Las Vegas. ILF participated in it and sponsored it as one of partner organizations.
This was a historic event serving as the largest gathering of its kind, bringing members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities together. I had the chance to hear several notable speakers talk more about the upcoming election on November 8th, how the Asian American and Pacific Islander community factors into it, and how the presidential nominees plan to address some of the biggest issues affecting the United States today.
This event took place in the context of a conference organized by AAJA where there were also numerous workshops covering a wide range of topics, from the importance of mobilizing the youth vote to how the upcoming election would specifically affect the Hawaiian community. It was so motivating to see how many people in the AAPI community realize the importance of civic participation and this could not have come at a better time for me. After my summer in Washington D.C. with the ILF Fellowship program, I learned a lot about how crucial civic involvement within the extremely diverse Asian American community is if we want our views to be represented and also how my own cultural background as a Chinese American is important.
The speakers at the Forum were the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, former President Bill Clinton on behalf of his wife Hillary, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes on behalf of Donald Trump. The Election Forum gave each speaker a chance to talk about their agenda and how the AAPI community is relevant. Each speaker made a concerted effort to reach out to AAPI voters, especially its growing youth component, stressing how they are becoming an increasingly large portion of the electorate and their civic involvement is an important issue that transcends one’s political affiliation, explaining that the community needs to vote in order to make their viewpoint heard. For example, Mr. Sean Reyes did this by greeting the audience in the languages of his racial background, which includes Filipino, Japanese, Hawaiian, and Spanish, while also expounding upon his own upbringing and cultural background. Each speaker also made sure to discuss the importance of diversity in the United States of America, a place born of immigrants and strengthened by its incredibly vibrant cultural background.
This message was re-emphasized by other notable speakers that represent the AAPI community at the national level. Congresswoman Judy Chu of California’s 27th Congressional District, the first Chinese American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, spoke as the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and reflected upon her experience at the Democratic National Convention. She described feelings of unity and patriotism, especially when her fellow American citizens spoke with her afterwards congratulating her and sometimes admitting they knew little to nothing about things such as the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Congressman Mike Honda of California’s 17th Congressional District also spoke at the Forum, re-iterating the importance of voting to represent the views of the Asian American community, most notably issues such as education, terrorism, jobs, and gun control, among others.
While I felt encouraged by the overall mood of solidarity and positivity while many of the candidates spoke, I was disappointed by the disrespect respect shown to Sean Reyes, the representative for Donald Trump. Many people began leaving in the middle of his speech and he did not receive the support that the other speakers were given. This seemed to run counter to the message of the Forum concerning solidarity and unity within the AAPI community despite one’s political beliefs. This is such an important message; as the Asian American community continues to be the most rapidly growing demographic group in the United States, the views of minority communities will become important. It will require cooperation and unity between all the minority groups in the United States to form coalitions in order to facilitate positive and meaningful change. However, I will say that I believe the 2016 Presidential Election Forum was a resounding success and will only grow in importance as the Asian American and Pacific Islander community continues towards greater recognition and success in the United States.