Why Do So Few Asian Americans Vote In Chicago? | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Why Do So Few Asian Americans Vote In Chicago?

Asian Americans make up the most diverse and fastest-growing racial group in Chicago. But they have yet to reach their full potential as a powerful voting bloc in the city.

The Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) Coalition hopes to change that — through a mayoral candidates’ forum on Monday Feb. 11 at Northeastern Illinois University. 

It will be the third time the coalition, which consists of 12 Asian American organizations from across Chicago, is holding such a forum that offers translations in Asian languages.

Morning Shift explore efforts to engage more Asian American voters in the city. 

What is Asian American voter turnout like in Chicago?

Mansi Kathuria: Kind of mirroring what we see across the country, Asian American voter turnout stays lower than averages in the population — and that’s something that we’re consistently working on … and really trying to target folks that are lower and mid propensity voters that oftentimes don’t get talked to by political campaigns.

Jenn White: How often do candidates reach out to the Asian American community?

Brandon Lee: I’ve been working in the Asian American community for 10 years now. And the change in that time as our community has gotten organized — through initiatives like the Pan Asian Voter Empowerment Coalition — the engagement from candidates and the engagement from political parties has gone up significantly. That’s happening in Chicago and it’s also a trend we’re seeing nationwide as people notice that the population is growing so much.

White: Is that mainly what’s driving that outreach? Is it just population growth?

Lee: There’s a combination of population growth and it’s intentional community organizing on our part. There is this direct engagement with the community and explaining that voting is important. It’s also organizing so that we have power and so that we can influence these races. 

Key barriers, issues Asian American voters face

Kathuria: When political campaigns are targeting folks that have voted in previous elections year after year after year, there are people who get consistently left out of the process. That includes folks in the Asian American community, a lot of whom also may be facing language barriers. Limited English proficiency makes it difficult for folks to have access to the information they need and also to go the polls to register to vote and be a part of the process. 

White: What are some of the issues you’re hearing as you’re out talking to Asian American voters — things they’re concerned about in Chicago?

Kathuria: Like I said before, language access is a huge thing we hear in our communities — especially from more recent immigrants. It really affects people in every part of their lives, from schools to having access to healthcare to being able to go to court. We also, across the coalition, really work on a diverse set of issues. So immigration, workers’ rights, housing, gentrification, health care, education and police accountability are issues we hear across the community and across the PAVE Coalition. 

Efforts to engage more Asian American voters in Chicago 

Kathuria: Part of our work is to make sure that the folks that are running are speaking to the issues that we care about. It’s not just about the civic engagement but organizing year-round. Every year in May during state legislative session, we take 300 Asian Americans down to Springfield for what we call AAA Day or Asian American Action Day. We have a huge rally in the rotunda. We take folks to talk to their state reps about the things that are affecting us and that we care about and have been part of passing state-level immigration policies like the Trust Act two years ago.

White: How are you reaching out to political leaders, people running for office, and making them aware of the myriad concerns for the Pan-Asian American community?

Lee: It’s really this constant engagement both as politicians are running for office and then when they’re in office. It’s continuous engagement — making sure we’re calling, making sure we’re having district meetings and making sure they know the issues facing the community and also making that ask of them, what they can do for us. 

White: But how challenging is it to talk to political leaders when you are speaking for such a diverse community?

Lee: Mansi was getting to this, it’s that we’re organizing our community, too. We’re trying to create those bonds and find and show that shared struggle between our communities and work towards these common goals. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click play to hear the full conversation. 

GUESTS: Mansi Kathuria, community organizer for the Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) Coalition in Chicago

Brandon Lee, spokesman for Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago

LEARN MORE: RSVP: PAVE’s Chicago Mayoral Candidates’ Forum (Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago)


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