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Democratic Presidential Candidates: Meet Texas’ Fastest-Growing Demographic Groups

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
Connie Kim adjusts the hair of Kyong Ah before they take the stage to perform Uh Woo Dong, a traditional Korean dance. The Korean United Pentecostal Church hosts a Parents' Day celebration in 2014 for the parents and senior citizens of the community.

From Texas Standard:

The days when Democratic presidential hopefuls would think of Texas solely as their ATM – a place to raise money – are over. These days, candidates are actually campaigning in the Lone Star State, vying for Texas’ 228 delegates. And, since candidates are meeting voters face-to-face, it would be good for them to learn as much as they can about who lives here.

The Texas population is close to 40% Hispanic now, and more than 5% Asian. If willing, candidates could take this knowledge as a crash course in the state’s demographics.

It’s true that for several decades, campaigns have specialized in crafting their messages for black and white voters. But political consultant Matthew Dowd says candidates need to approach Texas with fresh eyes.

“The campaign you ran 10 years ago is no longer valid in what you need to do today,” Dowd says.

Candidates should also account for the fact that Hispanic and Latino voters come from diverse “geographic, demographic and generational” communities, Dowd says.

A first-generation, 40-year-old Latino voter in Odessa is very different from a 40-year-old, fifth-generation Latino voter in Laredo. And a 40-year-old new American citizen who lives in Houston has different interests than the other two.

Smart candidates will understand that a campaign photo in which an office-seeker is eating a particular cuisine, or is surrounded by people of color doesn’t cut it anymore.

“Just because you can pronounce ‘fajita’,” Dowd says, “it doesn’t mean you have some connection to the Latino community or Latina community [in Texas].”

It is common, for instance, to hear mariachis playing at political rallies in Texas. And there’s nothing wrong with tipping your hat to the community in that way. But keep in mind that mariachis are originally from Mexico. And Hispanics and Latinos have ancestry that can be traced to at least 20 Spanish-speaking countries located across the globe.

Dowd likes to remind candidates that putting a website together and translating it into Spanish is the bare minimum a campaign can do. His message to candidates is: Don’t be afraid to learn more. And while you’re at it, learn about Asian Americans, too.

In Texas, Asian Americans arethe fastest-growing demographic. The Asian American community has grown by42% since 2010. Evidence of this is the fact that every major city in Texas now hostsLunar New Year celebrations.

Just as Latino and Hispanic voters are not a monolith, Asian American voters come from many countries and experiences. The issues they care about are as diverse as the communities themselves.

I met Rekha Joshi as she waited for her 7-year-old to get out of school. Her wait wasn’t calm or peaceful; it was full of cardio. She’s in the thick of rearing her 2-year-old. And waiting outside the school actually means running up and down the school’s sidewalk. Joshi’s little girl is a picture of health and strength. She giggles every time her mom gets close to her. But like every toddler, she often gets sick. Joshi says health care is her No.1 concern. Joshi is originally from India, and she is also her parents’ caregiver.

“It is important to take care of your family,” she says, “[but] it is getting harder by the day.”

She needs health care coverage that includes children and older adults.

Asian American mothers and fathers outside the school talked about gun control, education, the environment, the coronavirus and fears that the virus is reigniting racism against Asian Americans.

Karthick Ramakrishnan teaches political science and public policy at the University of California, Riverside. He says Asian Americans are also interested in political life. They want to run for local, state and national offices. Proof of that is Andrew Yang. Even though he ended his Democratic presidential bid earlier this month, Yang's candidacy challenged the old stereotype that Asian Americans are the “silent demographic

Ramakrishnan called Yang’s candidacy “refreshing,” in part because he focused on the threat of automation, an issue “that most people wouldn’t identify as an Asian American issue, or even a minority issue,” he says.

Often, candidates of color are presumed to have an interest only on immigration issues. And that is another misconception.

So, the big picture when it comes to the Texas of 2020 is that politics here are no longer just black and white. There is a lot of color to be had.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Texas has 228 delegates, not 261.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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