How the Democratic National Committee Handles Asian Pacific Islander American Outreach: An Interview with Victoria Lai, Director of the Office of Asian Pacific Islander American Outreach at the Democratic National Committee
Kim, Hyun, Asian American Policy Review
The following interview with Ms. Victoria Lai was conducted by e-mail on Thursday, 3 March 2005, two days prior to her debate with Ms. Mina Nguyen, who is in charge of similar efforts at the Republican National Committee. It was a great opportunity to speak to her about Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) outreach with memories of the recent presidential election fresh on her mind. Ms. Lai discussed at length her role at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), her strategy for APIA outreach, and her presidential campaign experience. The following is an edited transcript of the interview in its entirety.
Interview with Ms. Victoria Lai
AAPR: Victoria, you are currently the director of the Office of APIA Outreach at the Democratic National Committee. Could you share with us what your role is at DNC and some broader background as to the nature of your work and how you ended up at DNC?
LAI: It is my role to promote the voice of APIAs in politics and government. At the Democratic National Committee, I work with leaders, activists, and organizations of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans to advocate for the issues important to these groups and their inclusion in the political discourse. Given the cultural, geographic, and sociological diversity of APIAs, this is a big job, but one that both I and the Democratic Party are committed to. Historically, much of the APIA population has consisted of foreign-born immigrants who settle in the urban centers of large cities. However, in the last few decades, the APIA population has skyrocketed, with the highest growth rate of any demographic group. Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are increasingly settling in suburban areas and in Midwestern states. South and Southeast Asians are also gaining a presence that was not seen a few decades ago.
My responsibilities include messaging and field organizing--I work with APIAs to make sure that they understand the principles of the Democratic Party and that they support Democratic candidates. I work with community leaders to raise awareness of injustices occurring to APIAs. When President Bush dismantled a White House commission that President Clinton authorized to monitor health, education, housing, and other issues that affect APIAs, the DNC worked with community leaders to make known our opposition to Bush's neglect. When Republican anti-terrorism laws resulted in discriminatory practices towards Asian Americans, we teamed up with numerous national organizations to advocate for better laws. When Asian Pacific Islander Americans could play a role in electing a Democratic president who was committed to civil rights, economic and educational opportunity for all, and a fair and consistent foreign policy, I was proud to facilitate their participation.
AAPR: Could you give us a detailed breakdown of the APIA voters that you target in terms of ethnicity, age, income, and other characteristics?
LAI: When advocating for the issues of concern to APIAs, I regard all ethnic groups of APIAs equally. When designing voter outreach strategies, however, I play close attention to the size and vote share each of each group in the race at hand. For example, when working in Minnesota, we work especially with the Hmong in Minnesota. Beyond that, I work with the sophisticated targeting technology and voter file data used by the DNC to interact with all APIA voters in most effective method.
A 2004 U.S. Census report indicated that 14 million Americans identify themselves Asian, Pacific Islander, or one of these groups in combination with another race. This group includes people of many different ethnicities, including East Asians (Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese), South Asians (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan), Southeast Asians (Hmong, Laotian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese), and Pacific Islanders (Hawaiian, American Samoan, Guamanian/Chamorro) to name a few. …