Cultural Differences, Lack Of Resources Impede Asian-American Voter Outreach

Feb 20, 2016
Originally published on February 20, 2016 11:02 am
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Democrats in Nevada are caucusing today. Nevada is on the cusp of becoming the country's next majority minority state. Asian-Americans account for its fastest-growing group of minorities. Since 2000, Nevada's Asian population has more than doubled, but Asians remain the least likely voters. NPR's Asma Khalid reports on the efforts to change that.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: The other night, I was at an Asian caucus training in Las Vegas. And there were multiple languages being spoken simultaneously, and that's part of the difficulty in organizing this community. It's hard to reach them all in one language at the same time. At this event, there were Asians with roots stretching from India to Japan, munching on egg rolls and Vietnamese sandwiches and officials from both state parties trying to explain how a caucus works.

OMAR DE LA ROSA: Casting a ballot - so, again, you can do that between 5 and 8:30 p.m. at any time.

KHALID: That's Omar De La Rosa with the Nevada Republican Party. There are plenty of questions and people are confused about the dates and the times. And then Marjie Gonzalez gets up to give her spiel.

MARJIE GONZALEZ: From the country we come from, we do not have caucus elections.

KHALID: Gonzalez is originally from the Philippines. She's in charge of Asian outreach for Democrats in Nevada. She's trying to explain why it's important to caucus.

GONZALEZ: The common attitude is, you know, we'll just wait in November and we'll vote for our candidate in November. But the candidate that you like may not reach November.

KHALID: In the crowd, there's a mix of new immigrants and people like Evan Louie, who's a fifth-generation American with family that came from China and Guam. And this diversity adds to the complexity of trying to organize Asians. Louie is a Democratic activist excited by the potential of energizing the next generation.

EVAN LOUIE: Looking at the youth is key. You know, we're looking to the colleges and energize up and, you know, sometimes we have multigenerational households, right, and trying to work within those multigenerational households to get the - kind of the elders involved.

KHALID: Stats show young Asians tend to be the most educated demographic, but, again, the least likely to vote, which is counter to how education and voting behavior normally works. Nineteen-year-old Daniel Tamayo is studying to be a doctor and says voting just wasn't a habit in his family.

DANIEL TAMAYO: Coming from an immigrant kind of background, our family wasn't really interested in politics. We were mostly focused on following the rules and getting a job.

KHALID: Both national parties and campaigns are trying to reach these voters. Lisa Changadveja is with the Clinton campaign. She's been working with Asian voters in Nevada since Christmas.

LISA CHANGADVEJA: People like to think of us as one monolithic group, but, of course, we're not. There's so many languages, so many communities, so many cultures, so what we've tried to do is identify leaders in each particular subgroup community to kind of step up and kind of lead the charge.

KHALID: But the biggest hurdle is voter apathy. While I was at that caucus training, I met 18-year-old Michelle Le.

MICHELLE LE: My family is from Vietnam.

KHALID: And do they caucus or vote?

LE: They don't, none of my family does.

KHALID: It turns out, she can't caucus either today. But she says...

LE: I plan to caucus in the future, so, like, I wanted to see how it went 'cause this is a lot of new information that I didn't know.

KHALID: And the thinking is whatever voter education is done now could filter into the general election. Asians are a small community, but in battleground states like Nevada, they could make a difference come November. Asma Khalid, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.