Senator Rand Paul in his speech to the Republican National Convention Wednesday night highlighted the personal stories of Southeast Asian immigrants, including the Taing family from Cambodia and Vietnamese brothers Hung and Thuan Trinh, who risked their lives to sail to America on a boat from Vietnam. He told us about the risk they took to flee their war-torn countries – a risk often unimaginable to many of us born in the United States – to find freedom, peace and opportunity in the country we call home.
As a second-generation Vietnamese-American, I was proud and encouraged to see Republicans not only praising immigrants who worked hard to build their own success, but calling attention to the often politically-overlooked group of Americans who so embody the American dream and are increasingly important to the future of our country.
Some interesting facts to consider: Asians recently surpassed Hispanics to become the largest group of immigrants to the United States, with Asians approaching 40 percent of immigrants in 2009 while immigrants of Hispanic origin were just over 30 percent. To add to that, the number of Asian-Americans running for Congress this year has more than tripled since 2008.
Republicans take note: As the Asian-American population continues to grow and become more and more politically engaged we have a huge opportunity – and a huge responsibility – to include Asian-Americans into our party that promotes and defends our shared values of family, small business ownership, and freedom from big government.
According to a Pew Research Center study released in June of this year, Asian-Americans place a particularly strong emphasis on family, with 54 percent naming it “one of the most important things in life” compared to 34 percent of all American adults. When it comes to the idea of hard work, Pew reports that 69 percent of Asian-Americans believe “people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard,” whereas only 58 percent of all Americans agree.
Most importantly from a values perspective, many Asian-Americans, particularly political refugees, understand the core values that define American exceptionalism. That America is founded on the truth that our rights come from our creator, not from any government, dictator or king.
My mother, who fled Vietnam as Saigon fell in April 1975, knows what it’s like when government oversteps its boundaries and freedom no longer exists. She knows what it’s like to have to choose to leave your own country, and to choose risking your own life, in the mere hope of finding freedom elsewhere. And she knows that America is the last place on earth for people in the world to run when staying in their own country is no longer an option.
Republicans and conservatives, who have taken the lead in defending America from the increasingly big-government policies of the left, must include Asian-Americans in our effort to preserve our shared belief in American exceptionalism.
From a pragmatic perspective, there are a few important statistics for Republicans leaders to know:
1. The population of Asian-Americans grew 46 percent over the last decade – at a rate higher than any other race, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. As the make-up of the United States continues to change in the years and decades to come, Asian-Americans will become an increasingly large percentage of the voting population, looking for political leaders who will best represent their values. It’s up to Republicans to include Asian-Americans into our party – as voters and as elected officials – starting today.
2. The number of American businesses owned by people of Asian origin grew more than 40 percent between 2002 and 2007, reaching 1.5 million, and increasing at more than twice the national rate, according to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners: Asian-Owned Businesses. These businesses employed nearly three million people in the United States. President Obama this year has made the choice quite clear. By insulting every American small business owner with his now-infamous “You didn’t build that” remarks, the president has thrown the door wide-open for Republicans, as defenders and promoters of small business, to reach out to and engage Asian-American business owners.
3. Thirty Asian-Americans ran for Congress in 2012, which more than tripled the number of Asian-American candidates of 2008, according to the Asian Pacific Institute for Congressional Studies. Twenty-five of these candidates ran as Democrats. To put it simply, Democrats have done a far better job reaching out to Asian-Americans. The GOP must make a concerted effort to include them in the Republican Party if we want to be a national majority for generations to come.
In the past decade there have been several promising signs that conservatives are awakening to the importance of Asian-Americans – not only to the Republican Party but to the future of America. For example, in 2001 U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao became the first Chinese-American to serve in the Cabinet under President George W. Bush, and Republican Joseph Cao was the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress in 2009.
But it can’t stop here. The Asian-American community will continue to grow and become more politically active each year. Republicans have the opportunity to engage citizens like the Taing family and Hung and Thuan Trinh, if we are to truly represent all the people and all the values which make America exceptional.