Asian-Americans gather in Las Vegas

OCA Las Vegas participants in a recent mentorship program

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – With the 2012 elections less than 100 days away, Asian-Americans from around the country gather in Las Vegas to plot moves to make their voices heard and finally get national notice.

The event is the annual OCA Asian Pacific American national convention, which will be held starting Thursday and through the weekend at Planet Holywood & Casino.

More than 1,000 delegates from across the United States are expected to attend the four-day event, with around 100 from the host, the Las Vegas chapter of one of the oldest and largest Asian-American organizations in the nation.

“We’re excited,” said Rozita Lee, a leader in the growing Filipino-American community in Las Vegas. “This being an election year, regardless of party affiliation, we have to get out there and our voices heard.”

The convention’s theme is “GOTV2- Get Out To Vegas, Get Out The Vote!”

“It will not only focus on efforts to ensure that voices of APAs are amplified through electoral participation,” said OCA executive director Tom Hayashi. “But it is an opportunity for us to engage more deeply on a number of pivotal issues for our communities, such as immigration reform, economic development, education at all levels, access to quality health care, and advocacy against violence.

The convention comes at a time of growing prominence of Asian-Americans and its recognition by both political parties as a crucial demographic in what is expected to be a close presidential election.

The Asian population in the United States increased by 43 percent between 2000 and 2010, more than any major race group, Census statistics say.

From 10.2 million in 2000, the community rose to 14.7 million in 10 years, and now comprise 5 percent of the total U.S. population of about 314 million.

That is the “Asian alone” population, not including those of mixed races, or Asians in combination with other races, which add another nearly 1 percent.

It is now the fastest-growing race group, surpassing Hispanics, the 2010 Census say, and could make the difference in several swing states, including Nevada.

In Nevada, which had the most rapid population surge among all states, Asian-Americans grew by 116 percent, making up approximately 8 percent of the population.

Another state that Asian-Americans can influence the election results is Virginia, where the Asian American population has doubled, according to the census, from 2000 to 2010. Almost 7 percent of the total population is Asian-American.

In Colorado (3.7 percent), Pennsylvania (3.2 percent), Florida (3 percent), North Carolina (2.6 percent), Iowa (2.1 percent) and Ohio (2.1 percent), Asian-Americans can affect the results in a close election.

“Any politician that ignores us will lose,” Lee said.

Hayashi, the OCA executive director, said his organization is a non-profit and is non-partisan, and will not endorse any candidate.

Both the Obama and Romney campaigns, however, are expected to send representatives and meet with the delegates.

Janice Ma, president of the OCA Asian Pacific American chapter, said one of the focus of the convention is bridging the generational gap.

“First generation Asian-Americans are not generally politically involved unless they are directly affected,” Ma said. “But we have college students who are active and we encourage them to talk with their families.”

One of the featured workshops is about the next generation of Asian Pacific American leaders, moderated by J.D. Hokoyama, one of four honorees this year, which will be held on Friday.

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