Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DNC Day 1 - The AAPI Matrix

I attended four Asian Pacific Islander Events today, and for the part of me that has lived out in the states for the past four years, and become accustomed to pan-ethnic rubrics such as “Asian Pacific Islander Americans” it was an exciting day. For the other part of me which is rooted in Guam, and had never even used the term “Pacific Islander” until I came out here, the day has been a bit disconcerting.

There is an exuberance this year amongst Asian Americans, in particular Japanese, Chinese, South Asian and Filipino, over their turnout at the convention and their political accomplishments in recent years. In California for instance, there are several Asian American Congresspeople and a multitude of elected officials at the state level.

According to Congressman Mike Honda, a pioneer Asian American politician, of a room of more than one hundred people, you would have only found ¼ of that number of Asian American delegates, elected officials or activists in 2004 at Boston. Twelve years ago, you would have been lucky to find two in the same room. In this regard there is plenty to be proud or excited about.

I attended the Asian Pacific Islander American Presidential Town Hall meeting in May (organized by APIA Vote) at University of California, Irvine. The event took place in a large arena with room for several thousand people. Although the three remaining Presidential candidates did not physically show up for the event, even the mere possibility of seeing them wasn’t enough to fill that room. It was largely empty with only about two thousand people in attendance, to see Hillary Clinton via live video, hear Barack Obama via cell-phone and learn that John McCain could do neither since he was rehearsing for Saturday Night Live.

I had expected a similar ambivalence at the events held at the Democratic National Convention. This was hardly the case, as all the events were well attended and in some cases packed.

It was common at each event, by different speakers to recite statistics on Asian Pacific Islander Americans. Where they have large populations, how low their voter turnout is, how many of them are elected officials, how many of them are currently running for elected office. The Asian Americans present felt invigorated to hear from their elder statesmen in the House Mike Honda, to learn more about the insurgent campaign of Ashwin Madia, and to see the exciting numbers of young Asian Americans for Obama.

The same could not be said for Pacific Islanders. Although the rubric that the Democratic Party, the House of Representatives, and a number of non-profits use is Asian Pacific Islander American, it was clear throughout the entire day, through who was speaking, who was present, what types of press was given credentials that although the rubrics was theoretically a large tent, which could fit all, there were either no room for Pacific Islanders there, or there were just no Pacific Islanders.

As I searched for potential interview subjects who could speak about the situations of Pacific Islanders in the Pacific or in the diaspora, with the exception of the Guam delegation, I didn’t find anyone.

I should have expected this. Although Guam is included, and Pacific Islanders are welcome, we are still just a footnote to the United States, to Asian Americans, to American politicians. To get our issues discussed, to even carve out a place here will require work, the act of including someone does not give them that space or their power, especially when your numbers are small, your homes are far away and your issues are exceptional. I’m hoping for better luck tomorrow in terms of finding people who are competent to comment on the situations of Pacific Islands and Pacific Islanders, and Chamorros and Guam in particular.

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