Confessions of a Chinese Campaigner

I went to a Republican convention and was mistaken for my Asian candidate 13 times. 

Wait, I can't tell the difference. Which one is Phil?

Wait, I can't tell the difference. Which one is Phil?

We were in Pasco, Washington for the Washington State Republican Convention. My candidate, Phillip Yin, is running for Lieutenant Governor. He's Asian. One of the few there that day. All told, I saw five Asian people. Three of them were staffers on the Yin campaign, one was a student reporter from University of Washington, and the last was Phil himself.

It was funny at first. I joked that I must have been the second Asian person these convention-goers had met in their entire lives... the first Asian being Phil. It was flattering! Apparently I looked well dressed enough and stately enough to run for public office. The rest of the campaign staff thought it was hilarious and suggested I be used as a body double to hit two cities at once. 

A typical exchange with a voter would be: "We loved your speech, Mr. Yin!"

"I'm not Phil. My name is Ben and I work for Phil, I take pictures and stuff."

"Ohhhhhhhhhh I'm so sorry!"

I'm not offended by things like this. It's a legitimate mistake. Everyone I corrected blanched, apologized, and promised to vote for Phillip Yin. That wasn't a problem. 

The real problem was that there weren't many other people that could be mistaken for Phil. 

I'm not a registered Republican. I'm not currently a registered Democrat either. I try and understand politics from a variety of viewpoints and I don't want to lock myself into one political leaning or another without trying to understand the perspective of another. The reason why politics is so contentious is because many portions of it are subject to interpretation. Economics, tax laws, and income disparity are complex and nuanced topics that I can't pretend to be an expert about. There are bits and segments I understand better than others, and I would describe my positions on these issues as thoroughly moderate.

The point of all this is that I'm not naive enough to write off 49-51% of the population with different political leanings.

One of worst thing you can do to someone is to dismiss them. If you say their problems don't matter, you marginalize them, no matter their political party preference. A variety of contentious topics have a high degree of complexity, and the cause and effect of these problems may not be immediately clear, and the solution may be even more difficult to discuss. Politics is about giving people a voice. It may be the voice of men, of women, of minorities, or of pluralities, but the essential goal of politics is to change and improve lives.

One group that I want a louder voice for is my fellow Asian Americans. 

Currently, out of one hundred United States senators, only one is an Asian American. 

Out of 535 seats in Congress, only 10 are Asian Americans. 

In 2011, the United States Asian American population was more than 18 million people, but they make up a dismal proportion of elected representatives in higher office. Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States, but voter turnout was embarrassing compared to other groups in the United States. Researched conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only 31% of Asian Americans voted in 2010. 

Many of those polled said they were "too busy" to vote, but many suspect that Asian Americans are disinclined to vote due to the significant lack of Asian Americans in politics. 

The oversight is linked to one glaring omission in the political sphere: the dearth of Asian representation in politics overall.

- Asian Fortune News

I'm involved on a political campaign because having my people in office will make a big difference. Representation matters. It can be on the TV. It can be on advertisements. But it can also be in politics. 

I'm working to put my candidate in office because if even one of us can get into politics, 100 more will see it and consider politics too. That gives my people a voice, and a conduit to have their concerns heard by a larger crowd. And this goes for things further than just politics. Journalism. Academia. Social sciences. 

Seeing Phil on a stage, addressing concerns of voters, brings me pride. Having a leading candidate, Republican or Democrat, means that people are willing to give us Asian Americans a chance to represent more than just our minority, too. 

Asian Americans should work together within our own communities to have our concerns heard in government. Public service is something to be admired, respected, and desired. 

And maybe, just maybe, if there are more of us in politics, I'll stop being confused for someone else.