Over 60 community members came together in Des Moines to be trained on how to participate in the Iowa caucuses.

Engaging AAPIs in Caucuses and Primaries

A critical step in ensuring our communities have a voice in every step of the electoral process.

The first caucus/primary across the country is set to take place next Monday, on February 1st, in Iowa — and AAPIs in the state have been preparing to participate in next week’s caucuses. The Asian population in Iowa has grown over 72% since 2000, while the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population has grown a rapid 172% over the same period.

Our partners in the state organized the first ever AAPI caucus training in Des Moines last weekend—and of over sixty community members in attendance, only four had previously ever participated in the caucuses.

This marks a sincere need of training, educating, and assisting our communities in Iowa, particularly as the results of the Iowa caucuses have profound implications for the party nomination process — AAPIs deserve a loud and clear influence in the entire electoral process.

“I came to the training with my mother who is 73 years and older sister both of whom are limited English proficient. All three of us are new Americans naturalized in the last year… This training was incredibly helpful to us in helping us understand this new right we have as New Americans.”

With the partnership of the Iowa Asian Alliance and the Iowa Department of Human Rights, an energized focus on AAPI civic engagement has sparked dialogue on the ground and in Iowan AAPI communities. Particularly in states like Iowa where the population is overwhelmingly white (over 92% in Iowa), the participation of minority voters is critical to a more representative depiction of the presidential party nomination process.

Sanjita Pradhan, Executive Officer at the Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs in the Iowa Department of Human Rights, commented on the training and upcoming caucuses:

“There have been many caucus trainings around Iowa in the last few months, however sometimes our community members don’t know about them, don’t feel comfortable attending with the fear of not understanding, or not feeling a sense of belonging…”

“A program focused on the community makes people feel welcomed, as they are less conscious of being new and not understanding everything. They feel more comfortable in the setting with others who look like them, and most importantly, they feel encouraged to be involved.”

Community members participate in the interactive caucus training in Des Moines, Iowa.

Nu Huynh, Executive Director of Iowa Asian Alliance, agrees, “It is without a doubt that it has to be a grass-roots effort and AAPI community leaders must be leading that charge. It is only when we unite can we make significant progress… ultimately to ensure our voice will be heard and valued.”

This interactive caucus training gave attendees direct practice and a simulation of the actual Democratic and Republican caucuses taking place next Monday, moving around the room and engaging with peers just as one would at the caucuses. Participants were also given context and information about the importance of the caucuses, the role of delegates to national conventions, and next steps to continue sustained engagement throughout this election season.

Bindiya Nepal, a training participant, reflected on the training: “I came to the training with my mother who is 73 years and older sister both of whom are limited English proficient. All three of us are new Americans naturalized in the last year.”

“They feel more comfortable in the setting with others who look like them, and most importantly, they feel encouraged to be involved.”

Voter education must remain at the core of our civic engagement work, and if we are to envision AAPI communities to be self-determined, empowered, and engaged, education and mobilization must extend beyond the general election to the primaries and caucuses.

Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote, remarked, “Engaging emerging AAPI populations in states like Iowa is a core part of APIAVote’s strategy to ensure AAPI voices and issues are heard in every part of the United States.” Reflecting on the success of the Iowa training, she continued, “The enthusiasm to which this caucus training was received only further demonstrates the need for engaging our communities with the political process — even where AAPI voters and voices receive little attention.”

Nepal added, “Without this training we have no clue what a caucus is and why we should participate. This training was incredibly helpful to us in helping us understand this new right we have as New Americans.”

This is an edited version of an APIAVote newsletter distributed on Jan. 26, 2016.

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