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The Asian-American Voters Of Orange County

SIEGLER: And there was this one moment this past spring that made it clear that Asian-Americans were becoming a political force. Busloads of Chinese-Americans arrived at a Board of Supervisors meeting to protest plans to build a temporary homeless shelter in Irvine.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No tent city. No tent city.

Asian-Americans are the fastest growing demographic in the once tried-and-true Republican Orange County, Calif.

SYLVIA KIM: My theory has been that the demographics shifted so rapidly that Orange County was not ready for it.

SIEGLER: Kim thinks this is especially the case in suburban Orange County, now home to the third-largest Asian immigrant population in the U.S. She says, though, these Asians tend to live in more closed-off ethnic enclaves, and theyre hard to organize.

TRICIA NGUYEN: At the end of the day, you want to change, you know, especially mid-term elections. Then, you know, we have to get more people to vote and vote in the right way.

The Asian-American Voters Of Orange County

J. KIM: We support him. We very support him because we believe in what hes saying now.

SIEGLER: Nguyen isnt sure this will happen as soon as this year, but she says by 2020, Asians could swing an election. This forum was mostly progressives. But traditionally, Republicans have had the edge here when it comes to Asian-American voter registration.

The Asian-American Voters Of Orange County

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The hip and modern Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center in Irvine is a favorite lunch spot for young Asian professionals. At the Paper Lantern Dumpling House, Frank Chen, an engineer from Taiwan, is eager to discuss the upcoming California primary. He says talking politics out in the open is kind of new.

SIEGLER: Kim just wishes the president wouldnt be so hard on immigration. That appears to be, at least, one widely shared view among Orange Countys diverse and still up-and-coming Asian voting bloc. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Santa Ana, Calif.

CHEN: Asians are realizing, hey, you cant just be silent. If you have an issue, if you have a problem with something, you should talk about it. You should bring it up so that people will know where you stand.

SIEGLER: Chen says this is rightly changing, especially among young people. The Asian-American population has more than doubled in Orange County since 1990.

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FRANK CHEN: I think, in the past, because of our background, we tend to be more conservative. We kind of just handle problems mostly internally. We dont like to express our disapproval.

J. KIM: Korean immigrants – still, they are conservative. They dont want big change.

The Asian-American Voters Of Orange County

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SIEGLER: In the heavily Korean suburb of Garden Grove, the president of the Korean American Federation, John Kim, doesnt see that changing much for now.

SIEGLER: Not tent city, they chanted. The county later scrapped the plan.

S. KIM: As the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., Asian-Americans actually, as a whole, we have not yet reached our political potential.

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S. KIM: I mean, if you think about the Latino community, I always say to service providers, you just need to speak one language. When youre reaching out to the Asian community, you need to speak six languages.

The Asian-American Voters Of Orange County

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SIEGLER: John Kim says the big issue for Korean-American voters right now is the negotiations over the Korean peninsula. And so Donald Trump…

SIEGLER: Sylvia Kim heads the Orange County chapter of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

SIEGLER: Korean immigrants are conservative, Kim says, a tight-knit community. His office shares space in a shopping center lined with barbecue joints and Asian supermarkets. Most of the clientele is older, and not a lot of English is spoken.

The Asian-American Voters Of Orange County

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SIEGLER: They snacked on banh mi sandwiches and eggrolls, and was one of the first times that some of the group servicing the Cambodian, Korean and Vietnamese communities had shared a stage. Tricia Nguyen was a panelist representing the Vietnamese Community.

SIEGLER: Kim got a bunch of Asian-American civic leaders together recently to strategize on how to mobilize more voters to the polls before the June 5th primary.

Californias primary is this coming Tuesday. Lots of attention is focused on a handful of congressional seats in Orange County, a traditional Republican stronghold that voted Democratic in the last presidential election for the first time in 82 years. The fastest-growing minority group there is Asian-Americans. NPRs Kirk Siegler reports on how this demographic might affect the vote.

S. KIM: Thank you so much for coming. Good to see you.


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