Divided by generation, ethnicity and class, but currently galvanized by a surge of racially motivated attacks, Asian-Americans are growing rapidly as political players.
When Mike Park first heard about the recent shootings in Atlanta, he felt angry and afraid. But almost immediately, he had another thought.
“We can’t just sit back,” he said. “We can’t sit in our little enclave anymore.”
Born in South Carolina to Korean immigrants, Mr. Park grew up wanting to escape his Asian identity. He resented having to be the one student to speak at Asian-Pacific day and felt embarrassed when his friends did not want to eat dinner at his house because of the unfamiliar pickled radishes and cabbage in his refrigerator.
Now 42, Mr. Park embraces both his Korean heritage and an Asian-American identity he shares with others of his generation. The Atlanta shootings that left eight dead, six of them women of Asian descent, made him feel an even stronger sense of solidarity, especially after a surge in bias incidents against Asians nationwide.
“I do think this horrible crime has brought people together,” said Mr. Park, who works as an insurance agent in Duluth, Ga., an Atlanta suburb that is a quarter Asian. “It really is an awakening.”
For years, Asian-Americans were among the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to vote or to join community or advocacy groups. Today they are surging into public life, running for office in record numbers, and turning out to vote unlike ever before. They are now the fastest-growing group in the American electorate.
But as a political force, Asian-Americans are still taking shape. With a relatively short history of voting, they differ from demographic groups whose families have built party loyalties and voting tendencies over generations. Most of their families arrived after 1965, when the United States opened its doors more widely to people in Asia. There are vast class divisions, too; the income gap between the rich and the poor is greatest among Asian-Americans.