Elevating Civic Engagement in the AAPI Community
with Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood of the Asian American Advocacy Fund
Asian Americans voted in record numbers in the 2020 Presidential election, but still trailed white American voter turnout by 11%. Outreach to AAPI voters from within their communities played a part in boosting voter turnout in 2020, and this strategy continues to build the AAPI electorate.
Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, Executive Director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, talks with Tetiana Anderson about successful efforts to engage Asian Americans to get to the polls on election day.
April 29, 2022
Anderson: Some minority groups faced significant barriers to exercising their right to vote in the 2020 presidential election, from familiar issues around registration and access to new ones, like the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But according to the Census Bureau, a record-breaking number of Asian American and Pacific Islanders turned out to vote. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Language proficiency and voter education have proven to be persistent issues and generating strong AAPI turnout in the past. But the tide is turning. And joining me to talk about all of this is Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund. And, Aisha, thanks for being here.
Mahmood: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: So, how do you go about engaging people in the electoral process where there wasn't engagement before? Is there an example that you can share about how all of this sort of works?
Mahmood: Yeah. Of course. I think Asian-American voters, just like other voters across the country, need to make sure that we are educated about the issues that impact us in the election season but that also we have the very specific tools and knowledge about how to vote, when to vote, and sometimes who to vote for. Our work is particularly important because we have been educating and mobilizing the Asian-American community in Georgia for many years, including deepening our ties with ethnic communities, helping to register new voters at naturalization ceremonies, and showing up in all of the places where our communities are showing up every day -- grocery stores, schools -- You name it. I think a great example of why our work is so important is even in a big, important election year like 2020 and in the 2021 runoff election, where everyone around us was talking about the U.S. Senate runoff, we were talking to Asian-American families and a Korean-American family in particular who wasn't planning on voting in that massively important Senate runoff election. But they turned out to vote only because we sent a Korean-American canvasser to their door and they had promised them that they were going to show up and vote. And so not only did we remind them to go vote by giving them a phone call the day before Election Day, but they also sent us a selfie and were just incredibly excited to share with us that they had cast their first ballot back in January 2021. So we know that because of the relationships we've built with our communities, our ability to talk to them in their own languages, we know that our communities know that we care, and we can help them get those important policy and electoral victories that they so need.
Anderson: You talked about being able to communicate with people in their own languages, and that makes me wonder about the other takeaways, the other best practices you learned on educating the AAPI electorate. What are some of them?
Mahmood: Yeah. Language access is such a big part of our work. And making sure that our communities really understand what they're voting for and who they're voting for is such an important part of what we do. In addition to that, we have to work very hard to make sure that our voters have the ability to actually cast their ballot. We work in a place like Georgia, where voter suppression impacts not only people of color, but specifically Asian-American communities. And so we've learned over time that we have to also go out of our way to help people register to vote, help them to request their absentee ballots, help them return their absentee ballots and make sure that we are providing support at every step of the way. Another lesson that we've learned from all of this is just the importance to make sure that we're partnering with and showing up in solidarity with other communities of color throughout election season, throughout advocacy work, because we know that getting the victories we need for our communities are important, but we will only be victorious if we can support those around us.
Anderson: And how are you sharing what you've learned along the way with other communities across the country?
Mahmood: Yeah. We received so many calls and e-mails from partners around the country wanting to learn about our victories in 2020 and 2021 here in Georgia. And we were so excited to share with them all of the lessons learned and talk to them about how we ran our programs and how we talked to our voters. As a direct result of this, we were able to come together with a group of nine Asian-American organizations around the country to form the Asian American Power Network, which is an opportunity for us to convene and really talk about the importance of organizing Asian-American communities around progressive issues and policies. So we get a chance to directly work with folks around the country and help them ramp up their programs and provide technical assistance to them, as was provided to us in the 2020 and 2021 runoff elections.
Anderson: And how important is it for a community to know its civic power, whether they're AAPI, Black, white, Hispanic Americans, anyone else? I mean, what does it really do for a group's ability to know that it can pool its power for change, regardless of political affiliation?
Mahmood: That's the most important part of our work, actually, is making sure that people understand that their vote is not just about what happens on Election Day. We have the immense opportunity and responsibility to help thread the needle between what happens on Election Day and what happens down at the Capitol during their legislative session and what happens at their city-council meetings. And so every time we get even the smallest victory for our communities, whether it be language access at the polls or increased funding for public education, we are able to help them understand that their votes help to make this change happen. And so when they get those small victories, our communities are more excited the next year to show up and vote once again. And so because our work centers on policy issues, we center on advocacy, it's only that much more impactful to then come back the next year and get those same voters back out to the polls.
Anderson: I know that people are going to want to know more about all the work that you do. So what's your website? Where should they look?
Mahmood: Yeah. They can find us online at the Asian American Advocacy Fund -- www.asianamericanadvocacyfund. org -- or on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook -- @asianaaf.
Anderson: Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, thank you so much for being here.
Mahmood: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. And have a great day.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.