Middle Ground Initiative encourages Asian-Americans to become more involved in voting

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Middle Ground Initiative researches stigmas about voting and involvement in politics within the Asian-American community.

Now representing over 5 percent of the entire population of the United States, the Asian-American community is becoming increasingly politically active. Even with their increasing influence in elections, there is still a widespread shame in their community about voting.

A new generation of Asian-Americans are committed to changing the negative opinions around voting in their communities. Such are the motivations of those from the Middle Ground Initiative who argue it is the single civic responsibility of a citizen of the U.S. to vote.

Middle Ground Initiative is a student-organized coalition that focuses on empowering the next generation of Asian-Americans to become more involved in the political process. Since starting the initiative in late June, they have organized various conferences, webinars, workshops and panel discussions to promote this message.

Senior Kaya Vadhan, Outreach Coordinator for Middle Ground, said the main goals of Middle Ground are all focused on the representation of Asian Americans in national and local politics.

“We want to help Asian-Americans develop their passion for political activism and empower the next generation to provide change in communities. We are dedicated to increasing their political involvement and closing the gap of their representation in the political arena,” Vadhan said.

Vadhan said that the relationship between the Asian-American community and voting can be attributed to the cultural structure of the United States regarding differences in language.

“A lot of Asian American immigrants do not speak English very well and it’s definitely not their first language, so it may be challenging for them to learn about their representatives and politicians and their respective platforms,” Vadhan said.

Vadhan said that the organization focuses on several outreach projects ranging from creating a strong presence on social media to reaching out to other schools to see if they can expand the organization.

“Now, we are reaching out to different high schools and colleges in Massachusetts to see if they can create their own Middle Ground clubs. Some of the first outreach projects we did were establishing ourselves on social media and gathering some research for statistics to use at seminars,” Vadhan said.

Vadhan said one of the major goals is to talk with Asian-American politicians at the local and national scale.

“One local Asian-American politician we want to talk to is Michelle Wu, who is the youngest ever Asian-American Boston City Council Member. Another larger goal for the club is to meet Andrew Yang because he showed in his campaign how important this community truly is,” Vadhan said.

Vadhan said the majority of the organization is made up of adolescents, and every individual has grown in their political understanding.

“What I did not expect to come out of Middle Ground is a youth-oriented community, which has turned out to be very important for our discussions and plans. It is amazing to see how people who joined the organization have increased their passions and understanding for politics,” Vadhan said.

Senior Jacqueline Gu, Co-President of the Asian Pacific American Club (APAC), said Asian-Americans still do not feel completely involved in American culture and society, and how that discourages them from voting.

“Just from personal experience, I think Asian-Americans have been seen as perpetual foreigners even to the point where they see themselves as foreigners. A lot of Asian-Americans are immigrants, so they may feel they are not ‘American’ enough to vote and be active in politics,” Gu said.

Gu said how many politicians do not dedicate themselves to the Asian-American community and how that can be compared to the Electoral College.

“Politicians do not really reach out to many Asian-Americans, so they do not give them a fair opportunity to participate in issues and debates. It is very comparable to the Electoral College in which swing states get much more attention that the others,” Gu said. “This makes them feel like politicians do not really care about their needs and aspirations.”

Middle Ground, said Gu, is working to first understand the stigmas around voting before combatting them.

“Through my experiences with Middle Ground, I have learned why there are apparent concerns about voting within the community. Our goal is to first understand them and then brainstorm ways to eliminate them and inspire others,” Gu said.

Junior Sophie O’Connell, Creative Director for Middle Ground creates infographics and posters, all of which she uploads to the Middle Ground Instagram. With COVID-19 creating many challenges for outreach, O’Connell uses other ways to connect with their audience.

“My personal goal for the organization is to create and share meaningful posts that catch the attention of Asian-Americans in my community. Once COVID-19 is eliminated, we will focus on hosting seminars and meetings with the community but for now, it is just creating great content,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell said what she has learned about the importance of voting and how that specifically relates to the election and voter representation by ethnicity.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to help my community, especially considering the challenges coming with quarantine. I have learned more about the importance of voting through this organization and hope to spread it,” O’Connell said.

Gu said she was proud of her generation’s involvement in politics, but that there is still work to be done to empower individuals regarding participating in elections.

“It is incredibly important our generation of Asian-Americans gets the message across to others about participating in elections,” Gu said. “I believe the vast majority of us are doing a great job right now, but there is still work to be done.”