Politics are the foundation of American society. It is where change occurs. Without a voice in politics, one becomes invisible, which is why it is absolutely necessary that everyone be represented. America is a melting pot and our politics should reflect that.
With the recent demands for more diverse representation in politics, minorities have been placed under the spotlight. Their opinions, ideas, critiques—their voices—are finally starting to be heard.
The voices of minority groups have often been suppressed during past political campaigns. Minorities are becoming accustomed to being put on the back burner.
However, minority groups are now starting to become a dominant force in American politics and one group in particular stands out—Filipino Americans.
The Filipino American demographic has rapidly grown over the course of the past two decades. Filipinos Americans are now the second largest Asian American group, just behind Chinese Americans according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Thus, one can consider Filipinos to be a dark horse in American politics, a rising force that no one saw coming.
Although Filipinos and the rest of the Asian American community are the fastest growing demographic in the United States, they have not been very active in elections when compared to other minority groups, particularly African Americans and Hispanics who for long have been the face of the minority vote.
Being the fastest growing demographic, along with having one of the highest income and education rates, one would expect Filipinos to have a larger presence in American politics. Yet Filipinos, as well as the rest of the Asian American demographic, have a history of having the lowest voter turnout rates.
Dr. Jay Gonzalez, a professor at the University of San Francisco and author of Filipino American Faith in Action: Immigration, Religion, and Civic Engagement, explains why Filipino Americans don't have a large presence at the polls stating, “A large portion of the FilAm population come from the Philippines. Many left the Philippine to 'run away' from the politics so they just would like to work and send money back home and not have to deal with the chaos of American politics. Some are not citizens so they are not eligible to vote.”
As a result, politicians for decades have largely ignored Filipinos and their fellow Asian Americans during elections, keeping their focus on demographics they feel will bring them the most votes. (There are some who disagree with this observation and believe both the Democrats and Republicans do their best to reach out to the Filipino community as well as other minority groups.)
The low voter turn out rate, which has led to Filipinos being cast aside during past elections, can be attributed to a variety of reasons. Filipino immigrants—who make up 69% of the Filipino American population—may feel a bit overwhelmed or confused by the partisan political system. And with political parties not making an effort to target the Filipino demographic, it is not shocking that this trend has continued throughout the years.
However, one can expect this to change with the next generation of Filipino Americans becoming more engaged in politics and now leading the effort to have the Filipino and Asian Americans voice heard.
Their efforts are already making an impact, and that can be seen in the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
A welcome surprise, the last presidential election saw a shift occur. The Filipino community in the 2016 presidential election exhibited an upward trend. According to a report done by the AAPI on Asian Americans and the 2016 election, Filipinos had one of the highest registration and voting rates, 59% and 50% respectively, among Asian American groups, just behind Indians and Japanese Americans.
Does this increase in interest and presence signal a new era for Filipino representation in American politics?
The combination of Filipinos being the second largest Asian American group along with having one of the highest voter turnout rates makes them highly appealing, and we are sure to see them play a much larger role in upcoming elections.
With Filipino Americans becoming an important demographic in politics, the question arises about which political party—Democratic or Republican—do Filipinos lean towards?
The Filipino demographic is very diverse, holding contrasting opinions on social and political issues.
Many Filipino Americans come from conservative backgrounds with 65% identifying as Catholic, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2015. As a result, Republican candidates have been appealing for Filipinos as the Republican platform is much more socially conservative compared with the Democrats’.
In fact, Filipino Americans have one of the highest registration rates for the Republican Party among Asian Americans. According to a report done by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 23% of Filipinos are registered as Republican. From the Asian American demographic, Filipinos were one of the most active groups in support of Trump's presidential bid. “Many Filipinos are aligned with the Republican party because of their Christian/Catholic Church influenced conservative value system. They were energized by Trump and so participated heavily as part of his mass base,” Dr. Jay Gonzalez explains.
However, although Filipinos are one of the most conservative groups among Asian Americans, overall they have largely voted Democratic with each election. In the same report by the AALDEF, 71% of the Filipino Americans registered to vote chose Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
The trend of Filipino Americans increasingly voting Democratic over the years is sure to continue with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party taking a hard stance on immigration.
President Trump has criticized and proposed ending chain migration, stating during his 2018 State of the Union Address, “Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.”
This stance on immigration has upset many Filipinos, especially those who have immigrated to the United States and hope to bring their families over from the Philippines one day. Filipinos who have immigrated to the United States while leaving their families back in the Philippines are worried about Trump's new immigration proposals and fear that their hopes of having their children come to the United States will be crushed.
With Filipino Americans being a politically diverse group, they are sure to catch the attention of both Democrats and Republicans in future elections as their vote—contrary to popular opinion—is not affiliated with just one party.
Their political diversity can be seen through Filipino Americans who hold public office. One can find Filipino Americans holding important positions in both parties. In fact, the 2017 race to represent District 21 in the Virginia House of Delegates was between two Americans of Filipino descent—Kelly Fowler of the Democratic Party and Ron Villanueva of the Republican Party, with the former winning the race.
As the Filipino demographic continues to grow and prosper, we look forward to hearing their voice in American politics.
Amarjot Aulakh is an undergraduate student at the University of San Francisco where she will be receiving her BA in History this upcoming fall. Through her writing she enjoys exploring political and social issues