Political Participation Among Chinese Americans in Manhattan is on the Rise, Increasing The Community's Clout

As we continue our coverage of Asian American Heritage week we turn to Manhattan, where Chinese-Americans are making huge strides in gaining political clout. Our Michael Scotto has the story.

In Chinatown, dozens of people are registering to vote for the first time.

The presidential race is galvanizing them to get involved. And so are issues closer to home — such as the conviction of police officer Peter Liang in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, and the tough working conditions exposed at nail salons.

"They felt that maybe the elected officials should represent some of their perspective, and I think that really galvanized a lot more participation and interest in terms of signing up, become a voter," said Christopher Kui Executive Director of Asian Americans for Equality.

This spring, two Asian-American candidates ran to replace disgraced Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. While both lost, the election brought out some 19,000 voters, just slightly fewer than voted for the presidential primaries in that district.

Yuh-Line Niou says she's running again.

"I think that this election has shown that we can get folks out, people are wanting to cast a ballot, cast a vote," said Niou.

It has taken some time for Chinese-Americans to gain political clout. Over the years, language barriers and skepticism of the voting process have kept many from the polls.

There is also a reluctance to enroll in a political party. That wish to remain unaffiliated keeps them from voting in party primaries, which sometimes determine the ultimate winner of a race.

"Especially those who are immigrants, not from this country, they think it means you're signing up for something, you're signing a contract, you have to go to all these meetings," said Mae Lee with Chinese Progressive Association.

Margaret Chin, the first Asian-American elected to represent the neighborhood, says once Chinese-Americans  get involved on the community level they will become more active at the polls. 

"People really need to know they have rights," Chin said. "And when people realize that they come forward and tell you suggestions."

And Asian-Americans do have the numbers to make a difference. From 2000 to 2010, the number of eligible Asian-American voters in New York grew by a third, compared with 2% for the state's overall population.

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