This is a product of the Civic Engagement Committee of the National Agenda
This is the gist of the redistricting process: if you are absent from the table, you lose. The most evident outcomes of this process is how much (or how little) money is funneled to your community whether it be a neighborhood or a city. Decisions made are directly calculated or heavily dependent on population numbers and where a person or property ends up. It is common redistricting conversations to take place behind closed doors. Fortunately, through organizing, citizens can weigh in and ensure that their communities are not being marginalized by the process.
What is redistricting (redistribution in Canada) and how does it affect you?
Redistricting is the process of re-drawing electoral districts. This process occurs once every 10 years, following the US Census count, and the primary purpose is to ensure there are roughly the same number of people in each district. It is how we attempt to achieve “one person, one vote” representation throughout our nation. Redistricting occurs at all levels of government (from congressional districts to school board, water districts, city council, and more). Redistricting will determine how well we are able to leverage our collective votes to elect candidates of our choosing to represent us on the issues that matter most.*
In the U.S., each state is responsible for drawing their own districts and determining boundaries. While there are federal statutes and constitutional protections, gerrymandering to marginalize or dilute minority voters is still common. While historically this has applied to black and Latino populations, Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) have more recently come to realize the high stakes in this process. While not every complaint is won, it is imperative that we are proactive in the decision making process.
Loyola Law School provides an apt example of what occurs when when districts do not rightfully represent communities of interest.
In 1992, race riots in Los Angeles took a heavy financial toll on businesses in many neighborhoods, including the area known as Koreatown. When residents of Koreatown appealed to their elected representatives for assistance with the cleanup and recovery effort, however, each of their purported representatives claimed that the area was really a part of some other official’s district. The redistricting map, it appeared, had fractured Koreatown — an area barely over one square mile — into four City Council districts and five state Assembly districts. As a result, no legislator felt responsible to the Asian-American community.
Here we provide a couple successful examples of how API and Vietnamese community advocates ensured their communities were not marginalized.
Orange County Supervisorial District 1
Orange County, California is home to the largest Vietnamese population overseas and home to County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who is the incumbent in the heavily Vietnamese populated District 1. County staff drafted the original proposal for the new districts, which kept the city of Fountain Valley in District 2. That map would have divided a significant portion of the Vietnamese vote in the County. Vietnamese Americans make up 20.7% of the population in Fountain Valley (2010 Census) with many residing in the northern portion. Recognizing the potential impacts in the next decade of County representation, advocates for the Vietnamese community in the area along with Supervisor Nguyen called for a change in the maps to include the northern portion of that city in District 1. The loud reaction pushed this proposal forward and led to the splitting of Fountain Valley between two districts and the new map was approved on a 4-1 vote. While most cities in the County were kept whole in the new maps, advocacy was required to ensure the votes of this community were consolidated. In this particular case, keeping communities of interests in tact meant favoring an ethnic community over the City of Fountain Valley.
Texas House of Representatives District 149
Grassroots advocacy can be a very effective, but this next example demonstrates how larger coalitions may speak for the Vietnamese community. The Texas Asian American Redistricting Initiative (TAARI), a project of Asian American Justice Center, expressed grave concern for the maps proposed by the Texas Legislature in diluting Asian American influence. In particular, there was concern over the division of the current minority-heavy District 149 into four other districts. This would have resulted in State Representative Hubert Vo being drawn into a largely anglo american district currently represented by State Representative Scott Hochberg. Fortunately, under the Voters Right Act, new maps from states with a history of discrimination (including Texas) have to be affirmed by either the U.S. Department of Justice or a D.C. court. A final conclusion to the new maps is outstanding and the state is following an interim map drawn up by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas for the 2012 elections. Representative Vo is safe under the interim district as it largely covers and area he had previously represented.
Beyond advocating for solely Vietnamese districts or representatives, minority groups have made great strides in leveraging their combined influence. In New York City, such groups came together to produce “Unity Maps” to create districts that reflect the growth of Asian and Latino population while preserving districts serving Black Americans. That effort brought together the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the National Institute for Latino Policy to propose a map that reflected the interests of these minority groups.
Key to civic engagement is ensuring our voice is heard. By taking advantage of this decennial event, our community can influence the creation of political districts and strengthen the voice of our community through collective voting. While most of the maps have been finalized for the next decade, we hope the advocacy during this last period provided fewer opportunities to disenfranchise the Vietnamese and our ally communities to accommodate other interests.
Present this topic to your organization with this PowerPoint presentation.
This is the first in a series of blogs and materials that will be delivered by the Civic Engagement Committee of the National Agenda and will eventually be fully integrated into VSAcademy. UNAVSA hopes this information and accompanying materials will better assist your organization in presenting relevant civic engagement topics to your local organizations. This series aims to provide pertinent information on how North American Vietnamese communities are affected by democratic structures and other organizing in their surrounding environment. The information should prompt not only a better understanding of these systems, but also to be actively engaged in them.
* According to the Greenlining Institute
California redistricting: Ensuring Representation of Our Communities
Vietnamese concerns prompt redistricting review
Vietnamese maintain influence in redistricting
GOP’s Texas Redistricting Targets Latino Voting Potential
Asian American Group has Concerns About Texas Redistricting
Asian American Groups Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Minority Voting Rights in Texas Redistricting Case
Redistricting offers Asian-Americans opportunity, group says
AADELF Unity Maps
Politics Aside, Redistricting Advocates Release ‘Unity Map’ to Support Minority Voters
AAJC Redistricting Fact Sheet
Greenlining Institute: What is Redistricting
Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting
AALDEF Secures Victories in New Jersey Redistricting
California Redistricting: Ensuring Representation of Our Communities
Why Redistricting Matters?
How to Influence the Redistricting Process?