Link to Original Article from San Francisco Chronicle
Asian Americans grab Obama’s attention
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
President Obama, born in Hawaii, raised in Indonesia and dubbed by some “the first Asian American president,” looks to be embracing that label with an exclusive, $40,000-a-head Bay Area business roundtable for Asian American and Pacific Islander supporters Thursday.
The morning event at the boutique Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto is not only a chance for Team Obama to pick up a lot of cash, but it will also provide an exclusive group of fewer than two dozen Silicon Valley power players the opportunity to bend the president’s ear on key issues such as immigration, trade policy and education.
With just over five months until what’s expected to be a razor-close election, the Obama campaign’s ethnic-centered fundraiser in California – home to the nation’s second-largest group of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders – puts a sharp focus on a key demographic expected to vote in record numbers in November.
Both Republican and Democratic campaigns are “trying to find a community of interest that might be moved – and one of the unturned stones has been the Asian community,” says Vincent Pan, executive director of the San Francisco group Chinese for Affirmative Action.
The diverse swath, also known as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, includes large communities of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese; as well as South Asians such as Indians and Pakistanis; and Pacific Islanders such as Polynesians, Samoans and Tongans.
Pan said Obama feels comfortable with outreach to those groups because the president has lived in Asia and the Pacific Islands. “He has a natural relationship with those communities. He understands the model: that we have a lot of strengths and we have a lot of needs, too.”
Up for grabs
The political focus on the group – at 17.6 million about 5.6 percent of the country’s population – comes with recognition it might be up for grabs this year, according to a May poll by the National Asian American Coalition.
Faith Bautista, the organization’s president and CEO, said the poll showed that “Asian Americans throughout the nation are probably close to equally divided as to who would make a better president between (Mitt) Romney and Obama.”
So “in key swing states such as Nevada and Virginia, the absence of effective campaigning directed at Asian Americans could be fatal to the campaigns of the presidential candidates,” she said.
“It’s not just the fact that (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) are really a force to be recognized within the political process, but collectively have demonstrated incredible purchasing power and entrepreneurial power in technology and Silicon Valley,” said Julia Rhee, co-chair of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
Rhee’s group recently received an outpouring of support from Asian American elected officials around Northern California when it produced the first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander version of “The Vagina Monologues” in San Francisco – an effort to showcase the diverse voices within the population.
“People are also recognizing that our community has real issues and real needs, particularly for women,” she said, “whether it’s sweatshop workers, arranged marriages or hotel workers.”
The ranks of Asian Americans boomed 46 percent in the last decade, “faster than any other racial group nationwide, including Latinos,” according to the Asian American Justice Center, which recently commissioned a poll of the electorate.
Their national survey of 1,100 Asian Americans by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake in February found a whopping 73 percent favored Obama, compared with just 29 percent for Romney.
And Democrats in recent months have ramped up their outreach efforts considerably – led by Obama himself, whose White House initiative uses webcasts and high-profile Asian American leaders to reach the group. Last month, the president addressed the community at the start of AAPI Heritage Month. The Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and Co-Chairman Rep. Mike Honda of San Jose, accompanied by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, appeared in San Francisco’s Chinatown earlier this month and promised to address concerns about health care, education and jobs.
Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration trade official and a leading Silicon Valley Democrat, said the president has also made strides by generating “great enthusiasm” among an increasingly influential swath of Indian Americans, who represent some of the biggest success stories in Silicon Valley and who are likely to be represented among attendees at this week’s exclusive fundraiser.
“My sense is that issues that will come up are those around American competitiveness,” especially with regard to education and tax policies, he said.
Entrepreneurial Indian Americans, he said, are also deeply concerned about “the issue of a skilled work force: How do we continue to attract the best and the brightest to the United States?”
Many are confronting “a skills gap,” said Khanna. “A lot of these tech companies are having difficulty trying to find people … so it’s more about making sure that people who have graduate degrees and skilled jobs will figure out a way to have them be citizens and productive contributors to our country for the long run.”
Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said there’s growing recognition that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent “a community of contrasts” with vastly different interests and socioeconomic backgrounds.
While the Asian “model minority” stereotype – affluent, educated and upwardly mobile – persists, Yeung said AAPI communities also include some of the poorest and most exploited immigrant workers in the country, even in the Bay Area. “To be cynical, we tend to get more attention when they’re seeking our political donations,” she said. “Many of us are saying, you’ll also be held accountable to our community between elections.”
Community activists like Pan say there’s reason to be concerned about the high-priced fundraising that accompanies such outreach in the AAPI community – but he notes that this may be one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats agree upon.
“The only saving grace is that it’s open and we can talk about it,” he said. “Whether it’s Obama or Romney, (when it comes to) race and ethnicity … the color that matters most is green. Affirmative action is green.”