As the country enters the throes of an already-turbulent election cycle, a growing number of people are noticing the increasing buzz around underdog Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
The man has been hustling.
He’s kicked it with Ronny Chieng of “The Daily Show,” been grilled by Joe Rogan on the host’s podcast, and even sat down with the iconic New York hip-hop legends of Power 105.1′s “The Breakfast Club.”
Media coverage of Yang has primarily concentrated on his support for Universal Basic Income ― the idea that every adult should receive a check every month “to do whatever they want” to help ease their transition into a technology-dominated future that could take away traditional jobs and workplaces. He’s also made headlines for taking a hard stance against circumcision.
But this isn’t one of those interviews.
Whether or not mainstream outlets recognize it, Yang’s identity as an Asian-American matters. The rarity of an Asian man in the election game is an undeniable reality ― especially given the historical emasculation of Asian men in the West and the pervasive stereotype that Asians are not built to lead.
Yang, an entrepreneur who’s new to politics, spoke to HuffPost about his connection to his identity and how it’s influenced him during his campaign. So far, he says, he’s definitely experienced racism online. The campaign trail, however, has been kinder to him.
“I spend a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, and I really haven’t experienced a lot of racism or discrimination,” he told HuffPost. “The people there care a lot more about the ideas I’m promoting that will help them, their families and their communities than they do about what race I happen to be.”
That’s not to say his heritage isn’t an important part of what fuels him. Yang, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, grew up in Schenectady, New York, as one of the few Asian-Americans in his class — and his classmates “frequently reminded me of this,” he told HuffPost.
“It was definitely a struggle to find my own identity as a first-generation Asian-American without a lot of representation in my neighborhood, or prominently in the public sphere,” he said.
Yang added: “I think that’s what gave me a drive to relate to and help the underdog.”
It was definitely a struggle to find my own identity as a first-generation Asian-American without a lot of representation in my neighborhood, or prominently in the public sphere. Andrew Yang
The candidate’s entry into the election in November 2017 was a defining moment for many Asian-Americans ― a bold move that shocked our risk-averse parents and even left us a bit confused that an Asian dude out there, typically portrayed as an obedient worker bee, was going for the jugular.
Asian-Americans continue to struggle in the realm of political representation. While they make up almost 5 percent of the population ― a figure that’s only increasing for the fastest-growing racial group in the country ― just over 2 percent of members of Congress are Asian-American. And it’s actually a good year. There are currently more Asian-Americans on Capitol Hill than there have ever been in history.
Yang acknowledges this disparity. He told HuffPost that while Asian-Americans are underrepresented in government, they haven’t been “reached out to very much by the political establishment.”
“It’s a bit of a chicken and an egg problem — do politicians ignore the group because they’re not politically engaged, or vice-versa?”
Both parties have failed to sufficiently connect with Asian-American voters. According to AAPI Data, the overwhelming majority of Asian-Americans reported that neither party reached out to them regarding the 2016 election.
That doesn’t mean Asian-Americans don’t want to get involved. A 2018 Asian American Voter Survey from AAPI Data and APIA Vote shows there’s an uptick in voter enthusiasm. Almost half of those polled indicated they were “more enthusiastic about voting this year”
“Not only is the Asian American community the fastest growing racial group in the country, it is also a politically dynamic population whose vote still remains up for grabs,” AAPI data founder Karthick Ramakrishnan wrote in a statement.
Perhaps that’s why Yang’s reception from Asian-Americans has been fairly uplifting.
“The reaction from Asian-Americans on the campaign trail has been very positive, I’m happy to say,” he told HuffPost. “They’re very willing to give me a platform to promote my ideas, and they’re excited to see a role model for their children that shares their Asian heritage.”
Yang ― who joins fellow Democratic candidates of Asian descent Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard, both multiracial women facing their own set of challenges in the running ― says he urges other Asian-Americans who “have a vision for where you want America to go” to run for office.
Just be prepared for the typical Asian parent reaction when you do so.
“When I first told my mom that I was running for president, I believe the reaction was, ‘That’s nice.’”