This Memorial Day, Texas Standard is taking a bit of a break – as we hope you are able to do as well: to remember, to recuperate. We’ll be back to following the latest news out of Uvalde and the rest of Texas on Tuesday. Thank you.
We’re revisiting a special program, “Overlooked No More: How Asian Texans Shape the State.” We first brought you these stories in September of 2020 – when the pandemic was less than a year old and the race for president had yet to be decided. 2020 was also a census year. That’s why we decided to focus our attention on the state’s fastest-growing population: Asian Texans.
This new interview with Christine Chen, executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), and Helen You, senior demographer at the Texas Demographic Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio, reveals why Texas politicians should be paying attention to the growth of AAPI communities.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: Can you give us a broad picture of the growth of Asian communities in Texas?
You: According to the new census, the Asian population account for about 5.4 percent of the population in Texas. This is a growth of about 60 percent from the 2010 census. And when I said that, I meant the growth was mainly the non-Hispanic, Asian alone population. If you included all Asian groups, the Asian alone and in combination with other races accounted for close to 10 percent of the Texas population. If you look at the Pacific Islander population now, the official term is Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander population, it experienced about the same scale of growth, about 70 percent growth in Texas. Although they’re still a very small portion of the Texas population, accounting for about 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent, depending on whether you were including these alone or in combination with other races.
Can you talk about what we mean when we talk about Asian-Americans? What types of groups that term encompasses?
You: From a data point of view, I think you see these terms and groupings in various reports and studies, mainly because of data availability. For example, it was not until the 2000 census that the Census Bureau began to separate the Pacific Islanders from the Asians. And even when data are available, because of the population or sample sizes in the surveys, studies, research also has to group them to be able to create stable and reliable statistics.
Considering what we just heard about the diversity of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, what are the challenges in connecting with all of those communities to engage them as voters?
Chen: You know, the community still, even though it’s growing, a lot of the growth is actually being driven from immigration. So nearly two-thirds of our community are still first-generation immigrants. A number of them may be limited English proficient, and when it comes to talking about also AAPI voters, they may be unfamiliar with the voting process and especially since every state has their own process and it varies with different deadlines and rules and regulations, is something that really needs to be educated at the local level in itself. Also, with each of the diversity of the Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, they all have a different context in terms of understanding of how politics work. And also, if they’re coming from a specific country that may not necessarily be promoting democratic values, they may have some preconceived ideas in terms of what that is. And so it really goes back to a lot of education and one-on-one working with the community at the grassroots level with trusted messengers of people that actually they trust within their own communities to educate them.
Early in the pandemic, access to health care, unemployment and hate aimed at Asian-Americans were top of mind. Are those the same issues still resonating with AAPI voters?
Chen: You know, I would love to say that it has gotten better, but unfortunately, even if the news is not necessarily covering it, anti-Asian hate and incidences have actually increased. And so that is still top of mind for the community in itself. But one great thing that is coming out of this is that the community, I think more Asian-American, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders are leaning in at this moment, making sure that anyone within the community who wants to get involved, can get involved and learn how to organize on different issues. A lot of it has been centered around, how do we incorporate Asian-American studies and curriculum into our K-12 education. So that way there’s a better understanding of what this population may look like. And so, you know, people are trying to figure out ways in terms of how to utilize this energy to organize and to make change and to work with ally groups as well. But, you know, the biggest issue still continues to drive them to the polls is really about their experience in hate crimes, harassment and discrimination because of what has really transpired out of COVID-19 and this time period in itself.
Is it possible at all to see the impact of the pandemic on Asian American population movement or growth? Or is it too soon to tell?
You: It is still too soon to tell. So far, we haven’t got statistically sound information about the race/ethnic details. But one thing we know is that immigration has come to be very slow and even to a halt to the United States in the past couple of years. So echoing what Christine was saying earlier, most of our Asian population still came from outside the country. So we probably will see a little bit of slowdown in the growth of that group as an impact of the pandemic.
Are economic reasons still driving growth and where it happens?
You: Absolutely. So the Asian population in general, I’ll come back to this point, in general, if you look at as a whole, has a higher percentage of populations who have got bachelor’s degrees compared to other race/ethnic groups. And this is where the labor force is going and the occupation trend is going where we have a higher need of skilled workers, professionals in technology. That is also where the Asian population occupation has grown the most in the past 10 years and recently. But I’d like to add, and again echo what Christine was saying, again, the Asian group is a very diverse group, and when we try to group the population, we do create stable statistics. But on the other hand, we often mask the differences among different groups, and usually the statistics are driven by the biggest group in this population, namely the Asian Indian now is the biggest group in Texas. And so Asian Indians are among the population that has the highest education and highest household income.
Is it easy to generalize the political leanings of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?
Chen: We try to make it easy for the candidates and the political parties because APIAVote, as well as with our partners, we conduct a Asian American voter survey every two years. So our 2022 survey will be released this summer ahead of the fall elections. So like, for instance, in 2020, even though we actually do some ethnic breakdowns of the top six largest Asian populations, overall, the top concerns for most Asian-Americans were jobs, the economy, health care, education, racial discrimination and gun control, which is very timely right now. So we’re looking forward to seeing what that data looks like. The other thing I’m really excited about seeing is that, in Texas specifically, we saw an increase of AAPI nonprofits working with us in first getting out the count for the 2020 census and then for the elections. But during that time period, they also had the additional burden of doing wellness checks because of the pandemic, as well as the rise of anti-Asian violence. But, you know, that mobilization did not stop. It actually continued on because, with redistricting efforts, we saw organizations in Dallas, Austin, Houston also get involved in testifying for the redistricting efforts and making sure that the Asian communities were properly represented in those efforts.
Where do we expect growth to be in the coming years for the Asian American population in Texas?
You: I think the Asian population is going to continue to grow, and we know that the Asian population in Texas is mainly concentrated in the metropolitan areas where the jobs are. And in fact, close to about 80 percent of the AAPI population lives in the Dallas and Houston metro areas. And in recent years, we have seen a significant growth also in the Austin area.
What else would you add to this conversation?
Chen: I would say that the Texas elected officials and campaigns and political parties need to take a look at what happened in Georgia. I think a number of entities in Georgia did not seriously take into consideration the AAPI vote and electorate in terms of turning out. And we saw that they actually overdelivered in the 2020 elections. And overall, nationally, we saw historic voter turnout of the AAPI electorate, where we had the highest increase of any racial group in 2020 with a 47 percent increase from 2016. But this also didn’t happen overnight, and that’s the same thing with Texas. Many of us have been investing in Texas in terms of organizing, and the Texas AAPI community is living to this moment. So, you know, it’s an exciting time period, but people in the political parties really need to make sure that they have a plan to engage the AAPI community, not only during election season but year-round.
You: Like we talked about at the beginning, 70 percent of the AAPI population in Texas is still now foreign-born. But if you look at the age structure among the native-born AAPI population, 50 percent of them are under age 18. So you can see in the coming years, when they grow up to be adults and begin to play a role in the American society, and so with this demographic trends, I think we really see the need of understanding this group of population more thoroughly.
I understand the AAPI youth vote is something you are focused on?
Chen: Correct. You know, since 2018, we’ve seen the increase continue to grow up, increase for the 18- to 29-year-old AAPI young voters. And according to the spring 2022 Harvard Youth Poll, the percentage of AAPI youth who say they are definitely voting in the 2022 elections for Congress increased from 23 percent to 36 percent from 2018 to 2020. That’s tied with Black non-Hispanics for the largest increase. In addition, 76 percent of AAPI youth still believe that AAPIs are under attack in America because of their racial background. That’s compared to 68 percent of Hispanic youth and 37 percent of white non-Hispanic youth. Meanwhile, 80 percent of Black non-Hispanic youth believe they are under attack in America because of their racial background as well. So these are things that they need to consider in understanding that the youth are really very much engaged and planning on coming out to vote this election cycle.