When many people think of the South in the United States, visions of the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and plenty racial tension between blacks and whites comes to mind. But what about the Asian-American people down South. Some of you may have not even thought there was such a thing. Of course with a rise in Asian-American communities and their rise in political presence, one has to question where are the Asian-American activists and politicians helping to lead these communities down ‘South? Well this article after the jump will give you an idea of who these key players are and who they are representing.
Writers Ivan Natividad & Lin Yang
America’s Southern states used to be a bastion for discrimination against minorities, with the reins of power concentrated in the hands of mostly white and mostly male political leaders. But as barriers to civic participation fell after the 1960s civil rights movement, more minority communities, including Asian Americans, began gaining political leverage and sending their members to higher offices and leadership positions.
The Southern crop of Asian American leaders, which includes politicians and political activists, are in many ways unique compared with their peers in other parts of the country. For one, they are relatively young. Many were born after the civil rights movement and have never experienced barriers to voting or Jim Crow laws. Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, Indian American governors of Louisiana and South Carolina, respectively, were both elected in their 30s. The same holds true for state and local leaders like Ramey Ko, who at 32, is the youngest municipal judge in Austin, TX.
These Southern trailblazers also tend to do work that crosses beyond the Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) line, which is a result of the smaller and less concentrated API population in the South. For example, Keish Kim, an undocumented Korean student, founded a youth organization to advocate for undocumented immigrants, who are overwhelmingly Latino. Given the region’s political leanings, it’s perhaps unsurprising that API elected officials such as Jindal and Haley also lean Republican (by comparison, 24 out of 29 API congressional candidates nationwide in the 2012 elections ran as Democrats).
With API populations nearly doubling over the last decade in several Southern states, conditions are ripe for growth in the number of API elected officials and the political influence of API communities in the South. By running for office and constantly pushing to be a part of the political debate, the individuals highlighted here are trailblazing a path and encouraging more APIs to become involved in their communities.
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