Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Editorials: Hapa Obama and Diversity; Florida's Shame

There is much to be celebrated on the momentous occasion of Barack Obama's election as the first non-white (or "half-white, half-black") Commander in Chief. As the editors were working on our elections debriefing yesterday and this morning, though, we found a mix of both good and bad in-comunity news that will be updated on the Village with snippets posted here on the Asian American Village blog.

The first blend of good and bad news from election night comes AALDEF - the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which coordinated its largest multipartner, multilingual poll monitoring and exit survey campaign to date. AALDEF's findings this year were that turnout by Asian American voters was up, with still-fuzzy but record numbers of us showing up at the polls, including many new citizens and first-timers. The bad news, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that "many encountered barriers at polling places, ranging from inadequate language assistance, improper requests for identification, and missing names on voter rolls". Taking the long-range view, AALDEF has announced that the toll-free, multilingual voter problem report hotline will be kept active to allow community members to continue reporting any election day obstacles or irregularities.

So, did we live up to our much-vaunted promise as an "awakening giant" able to powerfully and disproportionately affect the outcome? Exactly how many of us showed up and how did we vote? Well, no doubt media pollers and political strategists will be teasing that out for a long time to come. At least one early claim, from The Nation, found that in addition to our record turnout, Asian Americans continued our collective leftward trend to support Obama by 63%, joining a number of other demographic "majorities":

Obama's many majorities are, in some, the measures of a unity not seen in some
time. Obama won with overwhelming support from African Americans (96 percent), Jews (77 percent), gays and lesbians (71 percent), first-time voters (68
percent), Latinos (67 percent), Asians (63 percent), voters under 30 (66
percent), union members (59 percent) and women (55 percent). But, in key
battleground states, the Democrat was taking one in 10 votes cast by
Republicans, one in five cast by conservatives, one in three cast by evangelical

This "coalition of diverse majorities" is a line of exploration we also took in an IMDiversity editorial, Barack Obama, Diversity and the New Real America, providing our reflections on the relationship between unity and diversity in light of Obama's victory strategy.

But what is also clear is that with coalition-building around a central common goal come compromises. As Florida's Shame and the Limits of Change observes, Obama's coalition was enough to "turn Florida blue" on Tuesday, but his coattails appeared to be limited.

As far as Asian Americans are concerned, "'change' in Florida looks to have been a case of 'two steps forward, one step back,'" as the majority of voters in that actively opted for discrimination on a couple of ballot initatives. A mere 47.9% of the state's voters bothered to support the repeal of an outdated, unenforceable, "Yellow Peril-era" amendment to the state constitution, one of a series of Asian Land Laws created specifically to prohibit Asians from buying land or real estate. Let's say that again: A majority of voting Floridians actively decided to maintain the last last vestiges of the Asian land laws, enshrined in their constitution.

More election debriefing posts will follow as we work our way through the pile. Meanwhile, though, maybe rethink that planned vacation to Disneyworld this winter...