By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – The political big guns of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community came in full force Saturday for an early vote rally in Las Vegas Chinatown to whip up enthusiasm for President Obama’s re-election.
Representatives Judy Chu and Mike Honda, both Democrats from California, led a bevy of celebrities and politicians at the rally attended by hundreds of supporters.
“President Obama is the first Asian-American president, and I want to see the brother back in the White House,” Honda said. “He’s gonna kick some major kokole.”
Obama was born in Hawaii, and though he grew up in Indonesia, he was raised by his grandmother in Honolulu, and attended high school there.
For his Hawaiian roots, he has been considered one of their own, said Honda – and the president has been a strong advocate for the AAPI community, which now numbers around 18 million, but still remains a marginalized one.
But this election, which is expected to be close and down-the-wire, the AAPIs will go from“from being marginalized to becoming the margin of victory,” according to Chu.
Chu, a former mayor of Monterey Park in California, is the first Chinese woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
The heavily Democratic state of California is considered safe for the president, allowing Honda, Chu, and another prominent Californian, former Los Angeles Laker great Earvin “Magic” Johnson to come to Nevada to urge voters to vote for Obama.
“The biggest difference between Obama and his Republican opponent is trust,” Johnson said. “We know we can trust the President. That’s what’s missing from the other candidate.”
He said Romney will “take us back to the Bush days,” and we can’t let than happen.
Also on hand was Kimora Lee Simmons, former wife of entertainment mogul, Russell Simmons and owner of a clothing line, who said she considered herself “part of the 47 percent that Romney wrote off.”
“We have to fight for our rights, and not step backwards,” she said, referring to the infamous leaked video of Romney at a fund-raiser calling 47 percent of Americans moochers and not willing to take responsibility for their own lives.
The noontime event was spiced up by hula dancers, a lion dance and martial arts demonstrations by students of a martial arts school.
Free dimsum and light refreshments were served at the Harbor Plaza restaurant, compliments of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Group, the sponsor of the event.
A sobering note, however, is the recognition by community leaders that the AAPI community is not politically engaged.
According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly 18 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders live in the U.S., the fastest-growing ethnic group in the nation, according to the census.
Yet Asian Americans remain one of the most politically under-organized, under-engaged segments, with only 55% of them registered to vote — the lowest among all races.
Political consultant Ron Wong calls Asian Americans “pocketbook voters, focused mainly on practical issues that affect their day-to-day lives. When those issues are highlighted, and they learn about them in their own language, that will get them to the polls.”
In Nevada, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders comprise about eight percent of the population, but in a tight election, that can make the difference. They tend to be Democratic, but nearly one-third are independents or refuse to identify their party affiliations.
Early survey results say Obama is winning the early vote, 57 percent to 42 percent, in the balloting that began Oct. 20 and will end Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.
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