TOKYO — The political influence of Asian Americans continues to grow in the United States and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s pick of Sen. Kamala Harris, a woman of Asian and African descent, as his running mate for the Nov. 3 election is perhaps the most notable evidence of the trend.
According to the Pew Research Center, a U.S. think tank, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S. electorate and more than 11 million Asian Americans will be able to vote this year, making up about 5 percent of the nation’s eligible voters.
Washington state legislator Sharon Tomiko Santos says Biden’s pick of Harris — the first woman of color to accept a major party nomination for vice president — “is an important signal of his recognition that communities of color are to be seen, heard, an engaged in a Biden administration.”
Santos, an American of Japanese descent born in San Francisco and Democratic member of the Washington State House of Representatives, also believes the two would not tolerate illegal and unconstitutional actions against people of color, based on their careers as attorneys.
“Until recently, neither party paid particular attention to Asian Americans since we were not perceived as a significant voting bloc,” Santos, 59, said in a recent e-mail interview.
“This has changed because, not only are we the fastest growing population in the United States, but our voting history also suggests that our votes are ‘up for grabs,’” she said.
Gwen Muranaka, an Asian American journalist in Los Angeles, said Harris, a daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica who grew up in Oakland, Calif., is a well-known figure in California since her days as state attorney general.
“The fact that she is of South Asian heritage resonates with a lot of Asian Americans, who have been watching her rise in politics,” said Muranaka, senior editor of Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese American newspaper in the United States established in 1903.
Some Republicans, however, argue that given her history of being tough on minority offenders as a prosecutor, a record that disappointed liberals and Democrat-leaning people, they are not worried much about Harris’ impact on the election overall.
“Actually if you look at her record versus minorities, she did a very poor job,” said Mark Tsuneishi, a registered member of the Republican Party for more than 40 years who runs an insurance business in Torrance, Calif., in a phone interview.
Tsuneishi, a 66-year-old Japanese American born in Hawai‘i, also hailed GOP President Donald Trump’s economic policies over the last four years, citing a fall in the unemployment rate among Asian Americans except for the period after the novel coronavirus hit the United States.
According to a 2020 survey by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a national nonpartisan organization, 54 percent of registered Asian Americans say they plan to vote for Biden compared to 30 percent who favor Trump.
Fourteen percent of the 1,569 respondents were undecided, according to the survey released in mid-September.
Among the 226 Japanese Americans surveyed, 61 percent favored Biden, 24 percent backed Trump and 14 percent responded “don’t know.”
Amid the pandemic caused by the coronavirus, which was first detected in China late last year, many Asians in the United States are anxious about an increase in anti-Asian feeling, with some pinning their hopes on the Biden-Harris ticket for a change in the atmosphere.
“I think that for Japanese Americans, we grew up hearing stories about camp from parents and grandparents, but have never experienced the level of discrimination that they experienced until recently,” said Muranaka, 53, whose parents were both sent to concentration camps during World War II.
According to Santos, U.S.-born Asians, especially those whose families have long roots in the country, tend to lean toward the political philosophy and policy positions of the Democratic Party, whereas many immigrants — especially those who fled from communist nations and hold strong anti-communist views based on their experiences — tend to gravitate to the Republican Party.
Andy Nguyen, a former president and founding member of the Texas Asian Republican Assembly, an official auxiliary of the Republican Party of Texas, agreed with her view, saying he and many other Vietnamese Americans still remember the horrors of communism.
The APIA Vote survey showed support for Trump at 48 percent among Vietnamese Americans, compared with 36 percent for Biden, and Nguyen expects Vietnamese Americans to support Trump in historic numbers on Election Day.
Nguyen and Tsuneishi are concerned that the Democratic Party is leaning too much toward what Trump and some GOP members describe as a “socialist” approach on domestic policies such as health care.
“They are trying to embrace socialism. That’s not good for America,” said Tsuneishi, the founder of Asian American Freedom PAC, a registered and unaffiliated political action committee that supports Asian American conservative candidates running for elected office in California and nationally.
“Those who support President Trump see the upcoming presidential election as pivotal to preserving America’s founding values and stopping her from advancing toward socialism,” said Nguyen, 54.
“To us, socialism is the gateway to communism,” said Nguyen, a resident of Arlington in the Lone Star State who fled Vietnam with some of his family members on a small fishing boat and settled in the United States in 1981.
Despite holding opposing views to Tsuneishi and Nguyen, Santos agrees with the two Republicans that the upcoming election will be the most consequential in recent years, if not the most important in the lives of some.
“I think that the 2020 elections, in particular, are a wake-up call to the Asian American community that we must overcome our cultural loathing for engaging in politics or suffer the consequences,” she said.