Thu, Oct 06, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Trump appears to be helping push Asian-Americans into Democratic arms

The Republican Party is perceived as hostile to immigrants and minorities and that is driving Asian-American voters into the arms of its rival

By Jeremy Peters  /  NY Times News Service, LAS VEGAS

Illustration: Mountain People

On paper at least, Asian-Americans seem like perfect US Republicans. Many are small-business owners. Their communities tend to be more culturally conservative. And a lot of them, having fled oppressive communist governments, found comfort in the Republican Party’s aggressive anti-communist policies.

However, in what could be a significant realignment of political allegiance, Asian-Americans are identifying as US Democrats at a quicker pace than any other racial group. And many Republicans worry this election will only accelerate that trend, damaging their party for years to come with what is now the fastest-growing minority in the US.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is not helping. His attacks on Chinese — which he has sometimes delivered in a crude, mocking accent — are a feature of his populist campaign. He has suggested cutting off immigration from the Philippines, citing fears that the longtime US ally poses the same national security threat as countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

Trump’s talk of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants has also stirred up painful memories among a group that has been singled out under US law before, whether by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred the immigration of Chinese laborers until 1943, or by the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“It’s like we’re going back in time,” said Marc Matsuo of Las Vegas, who grew up in Hawaii with parents of Japanese ancestry and recalled how his family used to feel uncomfortable expressing their heritage, to the point they would not speak Japanese.

He now helps register Asian-Americans to vote.

“I was always brought up that you don’t talk about religion, you don’t talk about politics. Not anymore,” he said.

Though Asian-Americans are still just 4 percent of the overall eligible voting population, their political power is concentrated in important swing states like Nevada and Virginia, where both parties have been building on their efforts to reach out.

In and around Las Vegas, home to one of the US’ largest Asian populations, this means printing campaign leaflets in Korean, having a Vietnamese translator on standby at speeches, publishing opinion-editorial articles in the local Filipino newspaper and hiring employees who know enough Mandarin to recruit voters at the Chinatown seafood market.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign has a resident staff member in Las Vegas dedicated to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Staff members and volunteers there speak Chinese, Korean, Hindi and Tagalog, a Filipino language.

The campaign has recently been conducting native language training on how to use voting machines in a local Chinese cultural center. Volunteers are sent to court supporters in Buddhist temples.

Although Trump’s campaign last week announced a new Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee, a Republican National Committee spokesman, Ninio Fetalvo, said Trump’s outreach to Asian-American voters had been coordinated until now mainly through two staff members at the party’s Washington headquarters. The party, he added, has also printed materials in a variety of Asian languages in cities like Las Vegas.

Republicans’ difficulties with Asian-Americans are similar to those the party has faced with most minority groups. A sense that the party is hostile to immigrants and minorities has driven more Asian-American voters into the Democratic Party lately, political scientists and community leaders said.

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