Efforts underway to boost engagement by fast-growing Asian American community

Anabel Munoz Image
Friday, March 1, 2024
Efforts underway to increase civic participation by AAPI community
Asian Americans are the fastest growing group of eligible voters in the country and efforts are underway to increase their civic engagement.

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (KABC) -- Asian Americans are the fastest growing group of eligible voters in the country.

Nonprofits and local leaders are spearheading efforts to understand and uplift the unique needs of these diverse communities and continue increasing civic engagement.

The city of Monterey Park is predominantly Asian American and offers a glimpse into the rich diversity within AAPI communities; from religion to immigration status and language.

"You look at some of our dancers, they're singing Chinese, different dialects of Chinese," said Vinh T. Ngo, Monterey Park's mayor pro tem. "This group here is Mandarin. The group behind there was Cantonese,"

"When you look here in Southern California, you're talking about more than 40 different ethnicities that speak more than 40 different languages," said Connie Chung Joe, CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California.

The organization is the largest legal service and civil rights organization in the country for AAPI communities. It is currently leading a statewide policy initiative called Combating Asian Invisibility.

"Because we know that our community is still sometimes overlooked or when we're seen as an afterthought," said Chung Joe.

They've partnered with other organizations on immigrants' rights, language and health care access. Underscoring for example, that Asian Americans are 50% less likely than other racial groups to seek mental health services.

Part of the challenge is cultural stigmas.

Monterey Park leaders are working to combat those stereotypes and provide culturally and linguistically appropriate resources. The nonprofit Chinatown Service Center recently hosted a workshop on trauma-informed approaches to working with victims of mass violence.

Just over a year ago, a gunman killed 11 people and injured nine most older Asian Americans at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. "Since September to now there's been over 6,000 people who have come through this community center, this Resiliency Center, to seek help and counseling," said Ngo.

A new AAPI Data/AP-NORC poll of AAPI communities found healthcare, immigration, and gun issues among their top priorities in 2024; issues that may determine how people vote in the upcoming elections.

"Do not forget or underestimate the power of the API vote," said Chung Joe.

AJ SOCAL is partnering with other organizations to ensure AAPI voters have fair and full access to exercise that power.

"In 2022, the community was upset when they found out that there were going to be no voting centers within the centers of Koreatown or Chinatown," said Chung Joe.

An alliance of organizations helped secure a Koreatown YMCA and two other spaces in Chinatown for voting. They also developed voter guides in 13 AAPI languages, and will be monitoring polling places across SoCal.

AAPI voter turnout has been increasing. For example, it jumped from 28% in the 2014 midterms to 42% in 2018. They're not just showing up at the polls, they're also putting their names on the ballot. In 2022, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders sought state and federal elected office in record numbers, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

"I'm still puzzled how I got here as an elected official," said Ngo.

Ngo, who works in banking, was encouraged to run for office in 2022 after years of serving on different boards and volunteering with nonprofits.

"You want the community to be better - then give back," he said.

It's estimated roughly 15 million Asian Americans will be eligible to vote in November.

"We're trying to really make sure our community recognizes we have a tremendous role," said Chung Joe. "And it's also a wakeup call when we talk about combating invisibility to our elected officials that you can't ignore our vote. It's incredibly important."