As Democrats make a push for the Michigan AAPI vote, some wonder where the GOP is

By: - November 2, 2022 3:59 am

APIAVote-Michigan registers Michiganders to vote during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in September. | Ken Coleman

During the final days of the 2022 general election cycle, APIAVote-Michigan Executive Director Rebeka Islam said the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) has reached out to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community to assist in voter turnout. 

“[Republicans] have not,” Islam told the Advance in an interview last week. 

APIAVote-Michigan provides voter support through voter education materials and webinars, voter registration drives, and community support through provision of resources such as food, school supply and hygiene supply distributions to mitigate socioeconomic barriers to participating in civic engagement processes. 

Rebeka Islam | Courtesy photo

The organization has provided informative webinars in Bangla, Tagalog, Chinese, Thai, Hindi, Urdu, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Khmer, Hmong and other AAPI languages.

As of September 2022, APIAVote-Michigan has placed 151,000 phone calls and texts to that API community, and cavassed more than 10,000 doors. As part of its Election Protection Plan, APIAVote-Michigan will send volunteers to polling locations in Hamtramck, Warren, Sterling Heights and others locations, if needed. 

On Wednesday, APIAVote-Michigan and the Michigan Democratic Party held a get out the vote rally designed to engage members of the AAPI community. 

“It’s great to see as we are getting out in the community. With community members, we see a lot of people who are active and interested in participating in our democracy and we’d like to encourage them to get out and vote,” said Nadia Alamah, APIAVote-Michigan program coordinator.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and state Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy) attended the event, which was held in Warren. 

It comes at a time when the AAPI community is growing in Michigan to 3.3% in 2020, up from 2.4% in 2010, according to the U.S. Census bureau. The state has 10.1 million residents. The majority of Michigan’s immigrant population was born in Asia, making up 51.5% of Michigan’s immigrant population, according to the nonpartisan Michigan League For Public Policy (MLPP). 

From 2010 to 2020, the number of eligible AAPI voters in Michigan grew by 59%, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. 

In the last decade, more AAPI Michiganders have been elected to office, especially in metro Detroit.

In 2015, a bipartisan group of lawmakers formed the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus. One of them was Chang, then a state House member and the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the Michigan Legislature. It also included, according to the Michigan House Democrats press release, former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton), who is white and first ran for state office during the Tea Party wave of the 2010 elections. He has since become a prominent figure denying former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) | Ken Coleman photo

This year, state Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit), a businessman who immigrated from India, is poised to win the heavily Democratic 13th U.S. House District that includes a portion of Detroit, the Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Highland Park, as well as western Wayne County suburbs. 

“We are reaching out to voters through phone calls and social media posts,” Thanedar told the Advance last week. 

He is facing Republican Martell Bivings on Nov. 8. The Michigan Republican Party did not respond to the Advance’s request for comment for this story.

Kuppa, who is running for a state Senate seat against former Rep. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills), believes that both parties “try,” but the Democratic Party does a better job of connecting with the AAPI immigrant community. 

“[The Republican Party] deals in fear. That’s what they do. That I am going to somehow take away this or that and that is the fear that they try to create around a person or an issue,” said Kuppa, the first Indian immigrant and Hindu to serve in the Michigan Legislature. 

Last month, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature passed a bipartisan supplemental budget that included funding for business incentives. The Whitmer administration said the economic development plan helped land a Chinese battery company Gotion High Tech manufacturing facility, which is estimated to bring $2.4 million in private investments and 2,350 jobs to Big Rapids. However, Whitmer’s Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, attacked the deal with a “Chinese company.”

“We are truly bringing in a company that has its corporate ties in China,” Dixon said on Breitbart Radio. “This where where they come from. They’re a Chinese company. They incorporated a leg of their business into California. And they’re like, oh, this is now an American company. This is not an American company. This is a Chinese company. And you and I both know how China works.”

State Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy), a candidate for Michigan Senate District 9 | Ken Coleman

Members of the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus have tried to bolster their communities through legislation, especially amid rising incidents of anti-AAPI hate during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last year, Kuppa and Chang introduced bills to the House and Senate, respectively, that would honor Fred Korematsu Day in Michigan. Korematsu was a Japanese American recognized for his work in civil rights after refusing to report to an assembly center for placement in an internment camp during World War II. Neither bill was taken up by the GOP-led House and Senate. 

Chang also introduced a bill, SB 797, to ensure public school students are taught Asian American and Pacific Islander history. The bill was part of a package that would introduce Latin American, Hispanic American, Caribbean American, African American, Native American, Arab American and Chaldean American history as part of the public school curriculum. That legislation also has stalled in the Senate.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes told the Advance that she is proud of her organization’s outreach to Michiganders of color, including the AAPI community. 

Michigan is an incredibly diverse state and we have Black, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, Arab and Chaldean voters in all 83 counties. The MDP works every cycle to increase the diversity of voter turnout all over the state,” Barnes said. “Often voters in these communities are targeted with disinformation meant to keep them away from the polls on election day. Because of this we have a robust voter protection team that includes a voter protection hotline with support offered in English, Spanish, Arabic, and additional support for the Native American communities.” 

Rising Voices canvassing kickoff in Macomb County | Courtesy photo

Barnes encourages all voters encountering barriers to voting or who have a question about voting to call the party’s voter protection hotline at 1-833-MI-Votes.

Rising Voices is a Michigan nonprofit organization that is focused on Asian American women and youth. It has engaged voters in Macomb County and across the state in a campaign to increase Asian American participation in the November midterm elections and beyond.

“The 2020 elections brought unprecedented numbers from Asian Americans communities to the polls that were a margin of victory in those historic races,” said Jungsoo Ahn, Rising Voices executive director. 

Jasmine Rivera, Rising Voices’ communications director who is a Detroit native, said that both parties have fallen short this election.

“It’s clear that the parties have not made a sincere effort to engage communities like ours, and have not yet begun to invest in the long-term outreach necessary to activate voters in the same way grassroots organizations working in battleground states like Georgia have for decades which made 2020’s campaign victories possible,” said Rivera. “Culturally competent outreach in language, simplified messaging that uplifts and encourages, and investment in on-the-ground relational organizing that provides welcome and respectful recognition of communities is necessary to win.” 

Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) Vote Michigan holds a voter education town hall at Kabob House in Hamtramck on July 16, 2022. | Courtesy photo

Rising Voices’ canvassing blitzes will be held every weekend until Election Day on Nov. 8 with a focus on voters in Macomb County. 

“Macomb and Oakland counties have some of the most concentrated Asian American communities in the state, and their participation would have both a local and national impact,” Ahn said. “Now is the time for our families to come together as a voting bloc with enormous potential for change for not only Asian Americans but all who have been historically marginalized and unseen over time.” 


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.