SAN GABRIEL, Calif. – Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton began her wooing of the influential Asian American community with the launch of her “AAPI for Hillary” initiative here Jan. 7, denouncing the hateful rhetoric that has characterized the campaigns of several of her Republican challengers.
“They forget a fundamental lesson about our great country. Being an open and tolerant society does not make us vulnerable. It’s at the core of our strength,” said Clinton, obliquely referring to statements by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on any Muslim entering the country. Moderate Republican contender Jeb Bush also took a hit late last year when he suggested that Syrian refugee efforts should be directed to Christians, rather than Muslims. Bush was further taken down when he explained his nebulous plan for identifying Christian refugees.
“She is one of the only candidates to have AAPI-specific outreach,” Indian American political activist Shekar Narasimhan told India-West. “I feel as though the Asian and South Asian community have always been ignored when it comes to votes, but she actually cares,” said Narasimhan, managing partner of Beekman Advisors, and chairman of the new AAPI Victory Fund, which was launched Jan. 14 (see separate story).
According to the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of the nearly 3 million Indian Americans who live in America identify themselves as Democratic; 85 percent of this group also voted for President Barack Obama during the past election.
In her half hour speech to several hundred people gathered at the San Gabriel Hilton, Clinton said one of her first priorities would be to fix the country’s broken immigration system, and reduce the backlogs that currently keep family members apart. “If you’re a U.S. citizen and your brother lives in India, it will take at least 12 years just to get him a visa,” the former secretary of state said.
“I know how important family is to all of you,” she continued as she looked through the audience. “That is how I see our country. I see us when we are at our best, as lifting up families, helping families be strong, helping families get the support they need to do the best they can for their children and for their parents.”
Clinton also expressed her support for allowing undocumented immigrants with “deep ties to the community” to remain in the U.S.
The Democratic candidate – once considered un-opposable – expressed her support for affordable college education, guaranteed equal pay for women and a higher minimum wage. She also discussed incentives to create success for small businesses, a key issue for the Asian American community.
“Incentives and growth for small businesses and immigration are at the core of Clinton’s campaign,” Ajay Jain Bhutoria, a “Hillblazer who has raised $130,000 for Clinton’s campaign coffers, told India-West.
“We gifted Hillary a Lord Ganesh statue at the beginning of this event so that all of the obstacles on her way to winning presidency could be removed and so she can continue helping the progress of our community,” said Bhutoria, who serves on Clinton’s National Finance Committee and was also recently appointed to the candidate’s National AAPI Leadership Council, comprised of 250 Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders across the country.
“We have always told our daughters that ‘if you see it, you can be it,’” said Sanjay Nambiar, a supporter of Clinton’s campaign and author of “The Super Duper Princess Heroes.” “Hillary fights for women, she fights for diversity, and she understands that the country children grow up in really affects how they view themselves,” he told India-West.
University of Southern California’s student body president Rini Sampath — the first female, minority president at the school since 2006 — took the podium prior to Clinton and expressed her support for the candidate’s anti-racism and women’s empowerment platform.
“My dad loves to tell the story of how my grandfather had five photos hanging on his wall while he was growing up – Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and John F. Kennedy,” Sampath said. “Little did I know that my grandfather’s passion for politics would get passed down to me,” she added.
Sampath said that politics is about engineering social change and that there is a lot at stake during this election, including affordable housing, women’s reproductive rights and LGBT equality. She concluded her speech by saying that the only candidate she foresees being able to tackle all of these issues is Clinton.
In late December, at a meeting organized by New America Media, Marlon Marshall, director of state campaigns and political engagement with the “Hillary for America” campaign, met with four ethnic media outlets, including India-West, and stated that the minority vote was key to Clinton winning the race.
“We’re making sure our message is getting out to people of color. And that’s how we’re going to win this campaign,” said Marshall, who worked on Clinton’s first presidential bid in 2008, and then migrated to President Barack Obama’s camp after Clinton dropped out of the race.
Marshall has also served as deputy director at the White House Office of Public Engagement.
“Hillary Clinton is a fighter for women, children and families. She will fight for the issues you care about, the issues that keep you up at night,” he stated.
Marshall affirmed Clinton’s support for pathways to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents, and implementation of Obama’s executive order which would expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and also allow undocumented parents of U.S. citizens to legally remain in the country.
Marshall also stated Clinton’s support for expanding the Affordable Care Act to include undocumented residents and legal permanent residents who currently do not qualify for subsidized health care coverage until they have legally lived in the U.S. for five years. The ACA currently excludes more than 33 million people.
“Health care is a very important issue for Hillary,” he said, adding that the candidate supports a re-formulation of prescription drug prices and setting limits on costs, and an expansion of Medicare.
“No one else has the experience to think about big picture foreign policy,” stated Marshall, referencing Clinton’s stint as Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term. He could not answer questions regarding Clinton’s position on India, and whether the candidate would seek to continue the relationship built by Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
AP adds: Republicans suggested Clinton’s visit is more about raising campaign cash.
“The reality is Democrats have long taken the AAPI community for granted, and Hillary Clinton will be no different,” said Ninio Fetalvo, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Clinton made her appeal to Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters in a region where a number of cities are now majority Asian-American.
“Their party identity is not cast in stone,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an Indian American professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside. “There’s still potential for persuasion there.”