Wisconsin Organization for Asian Americans
Making the invisible visible
At the fall meeting of the Wisconsin Organization for Asian Americans, the League of Women Voters gave a presentation on the fall elections. And as the
discussion evolved, several members of the group began to reflect on the national treatment of Asian American voters and how that reflected their own
electoral experience. “I was at the Farmer's Market one day during some local election time,” said Linda Park, a Ph.D. candidate at the UW-Madison about an
incident that occurred shortly after she arrived in Madison. “There was a politician shaking people’s hand and introducing himself. However, right as I
approached him, he turned away. So at first, I didn’t think anything about it. But then as soon as I passed him, there he was again talking to people. I didn’t
know what to think of the situation. However, as more elections came and went over the years, I began to notice that others who campaign on campus with
flyers very rarely gave me one. Other Asian Americans on campus have commented on this status as always being perceived as a "foreigner". The person
campaigning on campus will either ignore or will look through me and tap the non-Asian person immediately behind me. To be Asian/Asian-American in
certain parts of our country — like Wisconsin — is to be both hyper visible — in terms of Asian stereotypes — and invisible at the same time.”
Although Lakshmi and Shree Sridharan have been progressive members of Madison’s community for over 40 years, they still have a sense of being outsiders
to the local political process. While Lakshmi will lobby her friends to vote for a particular candidate, she is hesitant to venture forth in the larger political arena.
“I remember vividly, about 10 years ago, Shree — my husband — and I were very excited and went to participate in a victory celebration after a great election
campaign,” Sridharan, a retired manager for the Wis. DNR, recalled. “Needless to say, that we were probably the only Asian Americans in the crowd. We knew
some in the crowd and they were polite and smiled at us, but could not have a meaningful conversation with anyone there. We returned home very
disappointed. We felt that we were a non-factor in the election and in the victory of the candidate we voted for. Obviously, memory of this incident has stayed
with me for the past 10 years and we have never attempted to go to another victory celebration.”
Sharyl Kato, a therapist, recalled the struggle — and the hardships that her family has experienced while trying to be a part of the American Dream. “My
father was a Japanese American who served in the Armed Forces during WW II, fighting for his country, jumping out of planes, risking his life, as a paratrooper,
while my mom and her family, on the West Coast, were marched into internment camps with barbed wire and armed guards, for 3 years,” Kato said. “My
grandfather lost most of what he owned, as an attorney in California, due to the war. His practice and his community were torn apart. He was a proud man. He
at first was bitter and returned to Japan after the war and renewed his visa every seven years. But he wanted to live near his family and he soon moved in with
us in Chicago, trying to get by. He ironically became very patriotic and loyal to the US government, but he died a poor man, financially.”
And Kato has her own story to tell about being invisible to the local political scene. “I recall overhearing several elected officials commenting that no
speakers of color were present at a public hearing to discuss a budget item related to race relations,” Kato recalled. “And yet, as I looked around, there were at
least three people of color present, who in fact did testify. And all three were Asian Americans, including myself.”
Yet in spite of the treatment Kato and her family never stopped participating. “I am proud of my mom,” Kato exclaimed. “She is in her eighties and had been
planning her voting day, in detail, for weeks. She was going to have her flu shot right after her vote and didn’t know if she would have to wait hours and hours or
not, but she was prepared to wait and vote no matter what. None of us knew at the time that she had tripped and fallen a week ago and had a fractured hip
requiring three pins set in surgery the day after the election and she was cheering and crying from happiness from her hospital bed the next day watching the
acceptance speech and all the news coverage.”
Sridharan and her husband feel that Asian Americans need to get more involved — and visible — in the political process. “It is now our — Asian Americans
— turn to seize the opportunity that has come our way,” Sridharan said. “With the historic election of Barack Obama, an African American, as the President of
our Country and with his moving forward with his promised change, including the appointment to his Cabinet so far, members with diverse ethnic backgrounds,
he is leading the way for us. We now need to get to work .Here are things that Shree and I feel we should seriously consider doing:
• Infuse face-recognition. At Public hearings-frequently register and talk (even if the subject does not relate specifically to Asian Americans).
• Participate in radio talk-shows and bring up the Asian American point of view.
• Write letters to the Editor on many common subjects--(even if the subject does not relate specifically to Asian Americans.
• Publicize achievements by Asian Americans in main-stream media
• Participate in civics.
• Attend public hearings.
• Volunteer to become a member of boards, commissions.
• Attend ethnic group meetings and give a talk on the importance and ease of becoming a board or commission member and volunteer to mentor them.
• Contribute to your optimum ability to political parties and candidates who support WOAA's vision.
• Impress upon politicians to commit to include Asian Americans in their appointments.”
And speaking of the appointment of Asian Americans, while Kato was impressed with and enthusiastic about the election of Barack Obama, her enthusiasm
was kicked up to a higher level with the appointment of Steven Chu as the Energy secretary and Retired General Eric Shinseki as the head of Veterans Affairs.
“I was not totally sure where Obama stood on Asian American representation,” Kato admitted. “Many political leaders do not see Asian Americans as a part of
the diversity and affirmative action population. As excited as I was when he was elected, and believe me, that was a big time excitement, I am as days and
weeks and months pass even more impressed on a deeper level and to a level that I can hardly believe. He appears to be a very smart man and making
decisions that are unprecedented in being an ideal model president.”
While much progress needs to be achieved — Asian Americans will make up nine percent of the population by 2050, there are signs that Asian Americans
may be engaged today in America’s political proves.
Ruby Paredes (l-r) Linda Park, Lakshmi
Shridharan and Sharyl Kato are troubled
by the “invisibility” of Asian Americans in
By Jonathan Gramling
In the fervor of the recent presidential campaign, especially down the campaign stretch, almost always in the
case of Barack Obama and in many cases John McCain, one would see the candidate speaking passionately
while hordes of African American, Latino, “Joe the Plumber” and “hockey mom” supporters could be seen
shouting and waving signs in the background. And as the major networks counted down the days to November 4,
they also were watching the numbers of what seemed like fifty different polling organizations that kept the pulse
of the electorate in every state of the country
There were the polls telling us what African Americans were feeling and Latinos and hockey moms and
disenfranchised Clinton supporters and low-income voters and many other demographic indicators were feeling.
The electorate was sliced and diced any number of ways to predict what was actually going to happen on
But there was a demographic segment of America that was strangely missing from the mix. They weren’t seen
waving behind the candidate or reported on in the national polls. It was as if Asian Americans — who make up
five percent of the electorate — were not participating in a race that was expected to be decided by a
percentage point or less.