The mug of my first cup of coffee on this day reads “Ebenezer Baptist
Church–where the dream began.”
I got it while in Atlanta recently when I visited Dr. King’s church and the
eternal flame that marks his gravesite.
So now I can say, it’s 49 years after the Civil Rights Act, and all I’ve got is
this lousy coffee mug.
Of course, that’s not entirely true.
I’m part of a vast American middle class that now includes Asian Americans and
other minorities. But I’m also part of that same vast American middle class that
has been devastated by the stultifying economy where only the top 1 percent have
Our modern reality: What progress we’ve made on race since Dr. King has been
undone on the class side by the bull market on inequality.
I was just a child when I first saw Dr. King on my family’s black and white TV,
but as an Asian American of Filipino descent growing up in California, I was too
young to understand the dream was just beginning.
Now I’m old enough to realize we’re still dreaming. Dr. King’s dream is still a
Even with my 42-inch flat screen TV.
Indeed, the occasion of MLK Day and the second Obama Inaugural marks a grand
For a new generation of Asian Americans, Obama represents a continuation of the
hope that Dr. King started. And many of them only know Dr. King from their
history books, if they know him at all.
According to an AALDEF exit
of the 2012 elections revealed last week, the profile of the Asian American
voter is truly in a state of flux. The poll included 9,096 voters in 14 key
states, and while voters aren’t exactly the mirror of the general population of
Asian Americans, they are the ones who choose to participate in our democracy.
In essence, they are our political voices.
But identity politics is great when you know your identity, and right now, we’re
not sure what an Asian American is.
After years of mostly Chinese and Filipino dominance, the mix has changed in our
political class. South Asian, Korean and Vietnamese voters are now rivaling
Chinese and Filipino voters in numbers.
A more startling finding is that only 21 percent of the voters polled were born
in the U.S.
Seventy-nine percent were foreign-born or naturalized, with nearly 34 percent
immigrating here within the last ten years.
Through assimilation and immigration, Asian America is constantly changing. The
future may depend less on our ethnic sensibilities and more on how we coalesce
with other non-Asian racial and interest groups. Certainly, it seems we are open
to all suitors. Asian Americans are bucking the trend that stereotypes all
minorities as Democrats. The AALDEF exit poll shows that while 57 percent are
registered Democrats and 14 percent are Republican, nearly a third of all Asian
American voters are independent.
But the glue that holds us together–at least in 2012—is Barack Obama.
Ninety-six percent of Asian American Democrats were joined by 13 percent of
Asian American Republicans, and 73 percent of Asian American independents to
It’s hard to imagine the increase in Asian American Republicanism among some of
our ethnic Asian groups. Maybe that’s an outcome of Asian Americans topping the
nation in both median household wealth and income.
But if the GOP has what Colin Powell called a “dark vein of intolerance,” we can
see it emerging within our own ranks.
The AALDEF exit poll shows that of the Asian Americans who voted for Romney, 70
percent mentioned the economy and jobs as the most important factor in their
vote. Only 52 percent of the Obama supporters mentioned the economy.
The biggest margin of difference was found on the issue of civil
rights/immigrant rights. Only 11 percent of Romney supporters said it was an
important factor in their vote. For Obama supporters, 31 percent said it
influenced their vote.
I guess if you’re a Republican you don’t need civil rights.
Certainly, immigration will be on the Barack 2.0 agenda. We have deferred
action, but no Dream Act yet. Will we see an end to mass deportations, perhaps a
pathway to citizenship in a comprehensive reform bill?
We can keep dreaming.
Maybe President Obama will do something this second term that will give us more
than a waking moment.