Asian-Americans seek redistricting to unify communities

By Leon Drouin Keith Associated Press Writer
Saturday August 11, 2001

LOS ANGELES – In an attempt to unify its different ethnic communities, Asian-American groups unveiled a statewide redistricting plan that they hope will give them more political clout. 

The plan released Thursday is an unprecedented move for California’s many Asian ethnicities, which are increasingly joining forces to make their voices heard. They will have to compete for attention with Latino organizations that drew their own map, but both groups say their proposals are similar. 

At press conferences in Los Angeles and Oakland, members of the coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting said Asian-Americans have lost political power because Assembly boundaries drawn a decade ago split their communities into two and sometimes three pieces. 

“Because we are divided, finding legislative support and building community unity is difficult,” said Diane Poon, executive director of the Chinatown Service Center, representing a Los Angeles community that is split into two Assembly districts. 

The coalition’s proposal would bring together divided ethnic communities including Chinatown, Koreatown and Pilipinotown in Los Angeles and Orange County’s Little Saigon and Koreatown. In other areas, including Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco, the proposal would organize several Assembly districts around ethnic areas with common needs and concerns. 

Kwoh said the coalition prepared its map with months of cooperation with Latino, black, gay and lesbian and other groups, as well as legislative officials. 

The plan increases the number of districts with at least 30 percent Asian, Latino or black populations. It also would increase the number of “safe” Assembly districts — ones in which one major party has at least a 10 percent advantage over the other — from 42 to 46 for Democrats and from 13 to 14 for Republicans. 

The Asian population in California rose nearly 54 percent over the last decade, to nearly 4.4 million. But although they made up about 13 percent of the state in the 2000 Census, Asians hold only 3 percent — four of 120 — of the state’s legislative seats. 

Communities united by common interests “should not be divided, should not be fractured, and their votes should not be diluted,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California. 

“If we don’t say anything, they will definitely divide our communities again, because they don’t even know where are communities of interest are most of the time,” Kwoh said. 

Two Hispanic advocacy groups — the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the William C. Velasquez Institute — released their own map last month, but Asian and Latino activists said the two plans have much in common. 

“Logistically it’s very difficult to do, because you have to work with so many different groups,” said Zachary Gonzalez, redistricting coordinator for the Velasquez Institute. “But as far as minority communities concerned, we’re all working toward the goal of fair and equal representation.” 

Thursday’s proposal reflects the growing power Asian-American groups are wielding in California politics, said Karin Mac Donald, director of the Statewide Database at the University of California, Berkeley, which collects and analyzes data used in redistricting. 

As rising numbers of Asian-Americans put more money and effort into political efforts, they could see “a little bit of the squeaky wheel syndrome,” Mac Donald said. “They didn’t have the funding or organization to do that before.” 

In working with the coalition, officials in Sacramento “have said they’re amazed by the level of participation in the Asian-American community,” Kwoh said. “Now the crucial question is whether they’ll listen.” 

The coalition will submit its proposal to the Legislature by Wednesday.