Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration Day all in one


The mug of my first cup of coffee on this day reads “Ebenezer Baptist Church,—where the dream began.”

I got it while in Atlanta recently when I visited Dr. King’s church and the eternal flame that marks his gravesite.

So now I can say, it’s 49 years after the Civil Rights Act, and all I’ve got is this lousy coffee mug.

Of course, that’s not entirely true.  

I’m part of a vast American middle class that now includes Asian Americans and other minorities. But I’m also part of that same vast American middle class that has been devastated by the stultifying economy where only the top 1 percent have flourished. 

Our modern reality: What progress we’ve made since Dr. King on race has been undone on the class side by the bull market on inequality.

I was just a child when I first saw Dr. King on my family’s black and white TV, but as an Asian American of Filipino descent growing up in California, I was too young to understand the dream was just beginning.

Now I’m old enough to realize, we’re still dreaming. Dr. King’s dream is still a dream deferred.

Even with my 42 inch flat screen TV.

Indeed,  the occasion of MLK Day and the 2nd Obama Inaugural marks a grand coincidence.

For a new generation of Asian Americans, Obama represents a continuation of the hope that Dr. King started.  And many of them only know Dr. King from their history books, if they know him at all.

According to an AALDEF exit poll of the 2012 elections revealed  last week, the profile of the Asian American voter is truly in a state of flux. The poll sampled 9,096 voters in 15 key states, and while voters aren’t exactly the mirror of the general population of Asian Americans, they are the ones that choose to participate in our democracy.  In essence, they are our political voices.

But identity politics is great when you know your identity and right now, we’re not sure what an Asian American is really.  

After years of mostly Chinese and Filipino dominance, the mix has changed in our political class.  The exit poll showed South Asians now nearly rivaling Chinese. The poll also showed Korean and Vietnamese voters closing in on Filipinos, which has long been the 2nd largest group of Asian American voters.

A more startling finding is that only 21 percent of the voters were born in the U.S.

79 percent were foreign born or naturalized, with nearly 34 percent immigrating here within the last ten years.

Through assimilation and immigration, Asian America is constantly changing. The future may depend less on our ethnic sensibilities and more on how we coalesce with other  non-Asian centered racial and interest groups.  Certainly, it seems we are open to all suitors. Asian Americans certainly are bucking the trend that stereotypes all minorities as Democrats. The AALDEF exit poll shows that while 57 percent are registered Democrats and 14 percent are Republican, nearly a third of all Asian American voters are independent.

But the glue that holds us together—at least in 2012—is Barack Obama.

Ninety-six percent of Asian American Democrats were joined by 13 percent of Asian American Republicans, and 73 percent of Asian American independents to back Obama.

It’s hard to imagine the increase in Asian American Republicanism among some of our ethnic Asian groups. Maybe that’s an outcome of Asian Americans topping the nation in both median household wealth and income.

But if the GOP has what Colin Powell called a “dark vein of intolerance” we can see it emerging within our own ranks.

The AALDEF exit poll shows that of the Asian Americans who voted for Romney, 70 percent mentioned the economy and jobs as the most important factor in their vote.  Only 52 percent of the Obama supporters mentioned the economy.

The biggest margin of difference was found when it came to the issue of civil rights/immigrant rights. Only 11 percent of Romney supporters said it was an important factor in their vote. For Obama supporters, 31 percent said it influenced their vote.

I guess if you’re a Republican you don’t need civil rights.

Certainly, immigration will be on the Barack 2.0 agenda. We have deferred action, but no Dream Act yet. Will we see an end to mass deportations, perhaps a pathway to citizenship in a comprehensive reform bill? 

We can keep dreaming. Maybe President Obama will do something this second term that will give us more than a  brief waking moment.

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