‘I need to vote.’ Why more Asian Americans are staking a political claim.

By Ann Scott Tyson, The Christian Science Monitor |

About 150 Chinese American high school and college students from across the United States are engaging online with a young presidential and congressional campaign worker, peppering him with questions.

“When you’re campaigning, how do you really mobilize Asian Americans?” asks Luis Xu, a high school student from Illinois, during a weeklong civics program designed to empower a new generation of leaders.

“I’m really impressed by your activism at such a young age. … How did you network so effectively in high school and college?” asks another student, Arthur Sun.

“Have you ever had any difficulties in your political career as a Chinese American? How did you overcome them?” inquires Lin Pei, a student at the University of Maryland. 

Asian Americans say their community is experiencing a broad political awakening, reflected in such enthusiastic exchanges between students and elected officials, activists, and community leaders attending the civics program organized by the Washington-based nonprofit United Chinese Americans. Though the 23 million people who identify as Asian American today are a vastly diverse group, they’ve united to a degree against a surge in racism and attacks during the pandemic.

“What you’re seeing right now at the national level … but also at the state and local levels, is this kind of reckoning” in response to heightened polarization during the Trump presidency and a wave of anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, says Vivian Louie, director of the Asian American Studies Center and the Asian American Studies program of Hunter College at the City University of New York.

“Folks who have never really been politically active … have responded by mobilizing, by seeking to build coalitions within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and across Americans of all different backgrounds.”

Voter turnout by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders surged by 10 percentage points and 14 percentage points, respectively, in the 2020 election compared with 2016, more than for any other racial or ethnic categories, according to census data analyzed by the demographic research group AAPI Data. Exit polls indicated that 63% of the Asian American electorate voted for Joe Biden, compared with 31% for President Donald Trump.