By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – As the nation’s second-largest Asian population, Filipino-Americans are increasingly becoming a key demographic in what is projected to be a close 2012 presidential election.
About 710,000 are eligible to vote, but unless a more coordinated effort is undertaken, both in registering voters and in the actual balloting, the community will again disappear from the political parties’ radar screens.
These sobering thoughts are on the minds of community activists with the Nov. 6 election just weeks away.
“We need to register them if they haven’t done so and educate them on issues that directly affect our community,” said Gloria Caoile, president of the Las Vegas chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA). “We have to do that so we will appreciate what’s at stake, especially for our children and families.”
Caoile is also a community leader with the National Association of Filipino American Federations (NaFFAA), a nationwide group that advocates for Filipino-American civil rights and other issues.
According to Wikepedia, the term Filipino-American, with a population of 3.4 million nationwide, according to the 2010 Census, and second only to Chinese-Americans (4 million), is sometimes shortened to “Fil-Ams”, or “Pinoy“.
The Philippines was the only U.S. colony, and was granted independence on July 4, 1946 after World War II.
In August, NaFFAA, a non-profit group, met in Detroit and one of the adopted plans was a nationwide voter registration effort, like the one that Caoile and her group have initiated in Las Vegas.
Last weekend, her group set up a table at Seafood City, a popular grocery and shopping mall on Maryland Parkway that many Asians, particularly Filipino-Americans, gather on weekends.
Caoile and other volunteers register new voters and answer voting-related questions, as well as talk to Filipino-Americans about getting politically engaged.
APALA has set a target of 4,000 new voters in Las Vegas, in which Filipino-Americans, with 30,000, comprise the largest Asian ethnic group, according to the 2010 Census.
There are about 98,000 Filipino-Americans in Nevada, which is considered a swing state in the presidential election. The APALA target is 30,000 new voters for the state, according to Greg Cendana, the labor groups executive director.
Democrats outnumber Republicans among Asian-Americans, 53 percent to 16 percent. But a large percentage, 31 percent, are either Independents, or refuse to identify their party affiliations.
At 25 percent, Filipino-Americans are the most Republican among Asian-Americans.
In nearby California, the Filipino American Service Group Inc.’s (FASGI) created the FilVote campaign in 1996, following a Los Angeles Times story about political apathy among Filipino-Americans.
“Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said they do not belong to a Filipino political organization,” according to the LA Times story, “Filipinos Happy With Life in the U.S. but Lack United Voice.”
Since FilVote was created, it has registered over 25,000 Filipino-American voters in L.A. County, held multiple candidate fora and conducted voter behavior research.
In 2000, FASGI partnered with AFL-CIO to implement a national FilVote project. This year, FASGI joined forces with ABS-CBN’s Balitang America to push for Filipino participation.
But the results have been mixed overall.
In the 2004 presidential elections, only 594,000 Filipino-Americans voted—a decline of 7 percent because 122,000 registered voters did not cast their ballots.
“Potentially, there are 715,000 Filipino-Americans, or 40 percent of our total number, who can be mobilized to go to the polls,” said Caoile, co-chair of FilVote.
Eduardo Navarra, NaFFAA national chairman, said the numbers must be converted into votes.
“Our numbers alone won’t count unless we translate them into political power,” Navarra said in a statement. “This means we have to register to vote and take time to actually go out and cast our ballots in local and national elections.
“This is the only effective way we can be heard and taken seriously by our elected representatives when we advocate for those issues that are critical to our community,” he said.
Merit Salud, NaFFAA’s national coordinator for FilVote, said despite the high rate of naturalization and voter registration, “our voting rate is embarrassingly low.”
“We can not continue to be invisible. We must assert our political presence in this country by stepping up our civic participation in all aspects of American life,” Salud said.
APIA Vote, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that encourages the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community to be involved in the elections, are again spearheading the registration drive.
There are nearly 15 million AAPIs nationwide. In the 2004 presidential elections, seven million AAPIs were eligible to vote, half of that number registered and three million or 85 percent voted, according to statistics compiled by APIA Vote.
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