Asian Americans Called
the New 'Sleeping Giant' in California Politics
In the 1980s and 1990s, Hispanics were
considered the "sleeping giant" in California
politics because of their growing numbers. Now Asian Americans
are at a point where Hispanics were about two decades ago,
according to an analysis conducted by the UCLA Asian American
Studies Center and the UC Asian American and Pacific Islander
The analysis uses data from the 2005 American Community
Survey recently released by the US Census Bureau, along
with previously released data.
Asian Americans have significantly increased their potential
power at the polls in California, according to the analysis.
The number of Asian Americans in California eligible to
register to vote - that is, citizens who are 18 and older
- climbed by over half a million between 2000 and 2005,
from 2 million to 2.5 million. That boosted their share
from 10 percent to 12 percent of the state's population
of eligible voters.
"This growth has contributed to the increasing number
of Asian American state and elected officials in California,"
said Don Nakanishi, director of UCLA's Asian American Studies
Center. "The Asian American political infrastructure
of voters, donors, politicians and community groups also
has undergone remarkable growth and maturation, and will
likely have an increasingly significant impact on state
and national politics."
Two factors behind the emergence of the new "sleeping
giant" are the overall increase in the total Asian
American population and the higher rate of citizenship,
researchers said. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of Asian
Americans residing in California's households increased
from 3.8 million to 4.7 million, accounting for 38 percent
of the net gain of 2.2 million persons in California's population.
Along with population growth, Asian Americans experienced
an increase in their citizenship rate: 71 percent of Asian
Americans adults are US citizens by birth or naturalization,
representing an increase from 67 percent in 2000, researchers
said. These figures show that Asian Americans have become
fully integrated into American society through citizenship.
The growth in the potential Asian American electorate over
the last five years is a continuation of a pattern that
began in the 1990s. In 1990, there were slightly more than
1 million Asian American adult citizens, comprising about
6 percent of all adult citizens in the state. If recent
trends continue, there will be over 3 million Asian American
adults by the end of the current decade, making up about
14 percent of all Californians eligible to register to vote.
The growth in the absolute number of Asian Americans and
those eligible to become voters can have political ramifications.
"The incredible growth of Asian Americans in California
and in the United States brings as much opportunity as it
does challenges," said Assemblywoman Judy Chu, D-Monterey
Park. "Asian Americans continue to contribute to the
cultural diversity and economic success of this nation,
but the growing population also means that public services
and elected representatives will need to grow to accommodate
the unique needs of our community."
Community leaders pointed to the potential impact on a number
of public policy issues.
Vivian Huang, legislative advocate for Asian Americans for
Civil Rights & Equality, said that with increasing population
growth, Asian Americans "are poised to dramatically
escalate their political representation and power in politics
and highlight key issues important to the community, such
as civil rights, immigrant rights and access to language
This opinion is widely shared by other community leaders,
including Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of the National
Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development;
JD Hokoyama, president and chief executive officer of Leadership
Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc., and Elena Ong, former
member of the California Women's Commission.
However, there are still barriers to fully translating the
population numbers into voting power. Previous research
and data show that Asian Americans are less likely to register
and vote than non-Hispanic whites and African Americans.
"The challenge is to convert the growing numbers of
Asian American citizens into voters," said Paul Ong,
a professor with UCLA's School of Public Affairs.
For the upcoming November elections, community activists
have focused on voter registration and voter-turnout drives.
"Our bilingual voter registration efforts are yielding
record numbers of Asian American voters in the immigrant
community," said David Lee, executive director of the
Chinese American Voters Education Committee. Many Asian
American registered voters, as a result of work schedules
or other obligations, don't go to the polls on election
days. But increasingly, they are registering to vote by
"Thanks to absentee ballots, Asian American voter turnout
has been growing rapidly," Lee said.
Leading Asian American scholars believe that Asian Americans
can become an effective voting bloc by formulating a common
political agenda both among Asian Americans and across racial
lines. The Asian American population is culturally, linguistically
and economically diverse. For instance, Asian Americans
speak at least half-dozen major languages and practice various
religions, and there are wide income gaps among subgroups.
Yen Le Espiritu, a professor of ethnic studies at UC San
Diego, noted that despite these divisions, "History
has shown that Asian Americans can overcome differences
to build viable pan-Asian political coalitions to promote
and protect both their individual and their united interests."
Moreover, according to Michael Omi, associate professor
of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, Asian Americans also can
achieve greater clout by building alliances with other groups.
"Different racial and ethnic groups will increasingly
see the necessity of defining areas of common political
concern and mobilizing significant voter bloc to wield political
power," Omi said.
Graphs of the researcher's analysis are available on the
center's Web site, www.aasc.ucla.edu.
The UCLA Asian American Studies Center is the nation's leading
research center in the field of Asian American Studies and
houses a Census Information Center, which will continue
to analyze data from the American Community Survey as it