Asian Americans Unite to Fight Voter Apathy

Contact Betty Yu at [email protected]

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Dozens of students from Asian-American student organizations and the Asian Greek community are crawling through campus to mobilize Asian-American voters and fight the stigma of Asian-American political apathy.

Inciting activism among a minority group that traditionally remains on the political sidelines is part of a weeklong nationwide campaign to register 1,000 Asian-American voters at UC Berkeley, as well as 20,000 Asian-American youth nationwide.

APIAVote 2004, a national coalition based in Washington, D.C., is coordinating voter registration campaigns in states where Asian Americans have the highest

concentration of eligible voters, including New York, Nevada and Michigan.

"It is culminating into a really big event and a higher awareness that this is really important for Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders today," says senior Phillip Chang, APIAVote campus coordinator. "It's becoming part of the consciousness."

APIAVote hosted training sessions at the Asian Pacific American Greek-lettered Organizations to train and educate more than 500 Asian Greek student organizers from 71 campuses.

"It's about time," says Regional Director Claudia Lam. "It's the first time so many organizations have come together to work on a project that directly affects the Asian community."

Even though Asian Americans account for 41 percent of the undergraduate student body at UC Berkeley, Asian-American political fervor is feeble on campus.

Asian Americans have the lowest voter turnout rates among major ethnic groups. Only 43 percent of eligible Asian Americans voted in the last presidential election, compared to 62 percent of white citizens and 57 percent of black citizens, according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau.

The root of apathy may be a common upbringing, says sophomore Albert Wu, external vice president of the Asian Political Association.

"It stems from immigrant families coming to America. They want their kids to have secure futures and be like doctors and scientists," says Wu. "They see (voting) as futile."

A strong showing of Asian-American voters at the polls could shift the election, says political science professor Taeku Lee.

But presidential candidates avoid targeted appeals toward Asian Americans, Lee says, which makes voters feel ignored.

Lee says he does not see a change with this year's candidates.

Lee points to a large portion of Asian Americans not being U.S. citizens, making them ineligible to vote. Forty percent of Asian Americans are not citizens, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

There are also practical barriers to student voter registration, says Kathy Domingo, president of Alpha Kappa Delta Phi.

Asian-American interest groups and Asian Greek houses have about 20 people stationed in high-traffic areas on campus, but so far it has been tough to reach out to students.

A majority of the students say it is inconvenient to stop and fill out a form when they are on their way to class. Most people say they are already registered or are international students, says Domingo.

Only about one in 10 students approached will register to vote, she says.

"We know we can't do this effort alone," she adds. "It takes a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of effort to make this successful."

Beyond pushing for more voters at the polls this year, the alliance of the Asian-American organizations will be an important infrastructure for future political projects surrounding the Asian and Greek community, says Eugene Kym of Lambda Phi Epsilon.

"I'm optimistic about any results that we'll have because everything we'll do will set a precedent for our future," Kym says.


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