Changing the Face of Political Power: Mobilizing Civically Engaged AAPI Women
with Diana Hwang of the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative (AAWPI)
Approximately 4 million Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election — a substantial increase compared to 2016.
Diana Hwang, Founder and Executive Director of the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative (AAWPI), joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to ensure AAPI women have a voice in democracy, and a new fellowship program dedicated to building a community and network of civically engaged AAPI women.
May 01, 2023
Anderson: In November 2021, Michelle Wu made history, becoming the first woman and Asian American to be elected as mayor of Boston. And while the number of Asian American women running nationally and locally continues to steadily increase, the overall AAPI population remains underrepresented in politics, making up less than 1% of America's elected officials. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Joining me to discuss increasing civic engagement among Asian American and Pacific Islander women is Diana Hwang. She is founder and executive director of the Asian American Women's Political Initiative. And, Diana, thank you so much for being here.
Hwang: I'm so excited to be here.
Anderson: So, tell us, why are the number of AAPI women running for office so low?
Hwang: It's a complicated issue. I think, in part, our families and our communities come from countries where it's politically unsafe to be even politically active. So we really have to start, from the beginning, just around registering to vote, turning out to vote, all the way up to the reason why we're so invisible in government. I think, in part, it's really hard to imagine you even belong in government if you don't see yourself. So it's a self-reinforcing cycle that we're trying to break by really working on the full pipeline.
Anderson: So your job is to basically get women to say, "I can either run, or I can either support those who are running."
Anderson: So I'm wondering, what sort of tools and guidance and education you're actually giving them so that they can participate in the civic process.
Hwang: I think some of it is even about ensuring that they feel like they can even imagine running, that they can imagine being part of the process. So it goes that deep. And I think that's really our superpower and really what we focus on is providing not only these AAPI women with tools but also role models. It's really creating a full community support and structure to lift up everyone and feel like they can be involved.
Anderson: A large number of the people that you work with actually do go on to work in politics in some way. I think the figure is like 90% or so.
Anderson: So can you tell us about a couple of them and what they're actually doing within politics if it's not being an elected official?
Hwang: Yeah, it's all the way up from, you know -- some of them do run, but, really, it's just even basic getting involved and volunteering on campaigns, working in government. But our core programming this year is an incubator fellowship program, which, really, we invest in the ideas going on on the ground, civic impact projects that are coming from low-income and immigrant women who have ideas to make change for their community and mobilize our community. So what they come up with is so brilliant. It includes a garden in Boston's Chinatown that also hosts voter education programming. It's in South Philly, community fridges that also have culturally relevant foods for our elders while also advocating for food insecurity. So it's both.
Anderson: So they're they're working the gamut of positions here.
Anderson: And I know that, you know, there are people who do run for office, but not everyone can win. And I also know that you say that that's not necessarily a bad thing. Explain what you mean.
Hwang: I ran for office, in part, to represent and fight for Boston's Chinatown, which, like all Chinatowns across this country, are disappearing. And every single candidate, every single AAPI woman candidate that I talked to has one story about having a little girl come up to her and say, "You look like me." And what I realized, and it's really infused in all of the work we do, is that bravery inspires bravery. People are watching. And your bravery leads to the next generation and other people believing that they can do it, that they can belong and they can be in these positions of power.
Anderson: You started your work on the local level in Massachusetts in 2009. In 2022, you scaled to work on the national level. How did you know it was time to scale, and what are your priorities for the future now that you have?
Hwang: Look, it was of the moment. In 2021, there was a shooting of Asian women in Georgia, and it really caused a lot of collective trauma and hurt in our community. And we always knew the need was there. But now it was urgent, changing the invisibility that leads to anti-Asian hate that we still see going on today. It was urgent that we scaled. So we are now expanding to a new state every year. States that have the fastest-growing Asian American populations, as well as where our votes and our voices can make the difference.
Anderson: So I know people are going to want to know more about your work. What is your website? Where should they look?
Hwang: We would love to hear from you. It's AAWPI.org. You can go there to see what we're up to, join our community, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and all the socials, and we hope to hear from you.
Anderson: Diana Hwang with the Asian American Women's Political Initiative. Thank you so much for being here.
Hwang: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to you, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.