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Texas Standard

Gun safety, personal networking may get Texas’ AAPI communities to the polls

People walk on a staircase behind a sign that says "Vote Aqui."
Salvador Castro for KUT

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) make up a relatively small portion of Texas’ population. But as a collective U.S. Census ethnic group, it’s the fastest-growing in the state. Rise AAPI wants to draw attention to that.

The group is in affiliation with the national progressive group AAPI Victory Alliance and launched just this month. Rise AAPI Executive Director Nabila Mansoor says the group is focused on political activation on all fronts: voting, lobbying and lifting up AAPI political candidates.

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity. 

» RELATED: ‘Overlooked no more: How Asian Texans shape the state’

Texas Standard: How is Rise AAPI reaching the many different AAPI communities? 

Nabila Mansoor: What we’re finding is that the community of AAPIs has grown tremendously, but there really hasn’t been a lot of conversation that’s happened between the many diverse communities that make up AAPIs. So what we’re trying to do is really act as a convener and allow that conversation to start happening so that we can start working on making sure that we’re flexing our political muscle, not just before the elections, but year-round.

AAPIs are an especially diverse group. Are you finding many are connecting with the progressive mission of Rise AAPI? 

Well, you’re right. AAPIs are not a monolith. But what we’ve found, at least from our research, is that there is some unity, especially on progressive issues in that younger cohort, so that 18 to 29.

And 50 percent of AAPIs right now in Texas are in that age group. And as that age group kind of grows older, we expect to see a real possibility of making gains in that progressive arena.

What are your lobbying priorities?

We have done some focus groups with our partner organization, AAPI Victory Alliance. And what we found is that for AAPIs, some of the issues that we’re most concerned about are the same ones everyone else is concerned about: health care, infrastructure, as well as — and this is something that is a little bit different — gun safety.

» RELATED: Anti-Asian hate top of mind for Texas’ fastest-growing population

How is the focus on gun safety among AAPIs different from what we’ve been hearing from other progressive groups since the Uvalde shooting?

What we’re finding is that after Uvalde, that’s certainly something that’s become a priority. But if you ask them what they’re voting on, what most people will say is that they’re voting on jobs, economy, health care. But for the AAPI community, it just tends to be higher up on our priorities. So, for example, racial discrimination is very high up on a priority for the AAPI community, and gun safety is also one of those top five issues for us. And I know that’s going to just increase with Uvalde.

Are certain channels for reaching the AAPI community more effective than others? 

One thing we found in the AAPI community, your personal networks matter a lot more than certainly finding something on social media or being contacted with a cold call from a campaign.

So that relational organizing is something that is very effective in the AAPI community, because if it’s coming from your aunt or your uncle, if it’s coming through a WhatsApp group that is your family WhatsApp group, it is just way more effective in getting you to the polls as opposed to something that’s just coming in directly from social media.

Your group also wants to promote AAPI candidates. What will that look like?

Eighty percent of AAPIs reside in the metropolitan areas of Dallas and Houston. We’re also seeing growing populations in Austin and certainly San Antonio. So seeing AAPI leaders come in the pipeline and get elected to office is certainly something that we’re interested in.

And we’re making sure that we’re supporting candidates that are already running, that have an AAPI background and encouraging others to also run, in order to make sure that our political power is being kind of flexed.

What got you into this sort of political engagement? 

The Trump years were hard, and we saw what happens when political groups “otherize” certain communities. And I just want to make sure that our community is not otherized in that way ever again.

We’re seeing that we can actually make a lot of political change. So I want to make sure that when we do that, make that change, we make it in a trajectory that is best for our communities, for our state, for our country.

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