2012-10-20 07:05:00

Eye on Elections: Fil-Am Journalist Explains the GOP Appeal

Photo: Bryan Reynoso / "Balitang America"

Editor's Note: In the fourth in a series of interviews with ethnic media journalists, Henni Espinosa, senior reporter for The Filipino Channel's daily newscast "Balitang America," explains the political shifts that are taking place among Filipino voters in the U.S. This is part of a collaboration by New America Media and 91.7 FM KALW Public Radio. Every Tuesday until Election Day, KALW’s news program "Crosscurrents" via this NAM segment, will be speaking with ethnic media reporters on the stakes for their communities in the 2012 election.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Henni Espinosa, senior reporter for The Filipino Channel's daily newscast "Balitang America," explains why more Filipinos are expected to vote, and why they might be leaning toward Romney.

Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that Asian Americans are now the fastest-growing immigrant group in the United States. According to the study, the estimated 18 million Asian Americans recently overtook Hispanic immigrants as the largest group of new immigrants to the country, and are emerging as a social, political and economic force to be reckoned with. Filipino Americans are the second largest Asian-American group after Chinese Americans, at 3.4 million. According to latest U.S. Census Bureau data, 40 percent of Filipinos live in California, and 450,000 in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Espinosa tells KALW's "Crosscurrents" co-host Hana Baba that more Filipinos are politically engaged this year: "They feel that their votes count more...more of them are becoming U.S. citizens, so they can practice their right to vote," she explains.

The older generation of Filipino immigrants, Espinosa says, gets their information about U.S. politics through "their kids, who are more engaged politically. So the children influence their parents, the first-generation, to be more connected to political issues in America."

What's energizing Filipino voters in California, Espinosa adds, is the candidacy of three Filipinos for the state assembly: Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta for District 18; Alameda County Status of Women Commissioner Dr. Jennifer Ong for District 20; and Lathrop Vice Mayor Chris Mateo for District 12, all Democrats. "That's historic, that's never happened before. We've never had a Filipino in the California Assembly. This is making Filipinos excited to vote," she says.

Filipinos traditionally have leaned toward the Democratic Party, and a significant number supported Obama in 2008. But the recent National Asian American Survey found that a larger proportion of Filipinos now identifies with the Republican Party, more than any Asian-American group. According to the study, close to 40 percent of Filipinos are leaning toward Romney.

Espinosa says Fil-Am voters who are planning to vote for Romney “say it's because of what they've been through in the last four years. They had high hopes in 2008 that things would get better, but a lot of them lost their homes, lost their jobs...and they feel they are suffering more...Partly they blame it on President Obama."

NAM spoke to a high-ranking Fil-AM GOP grassroots leader Rudy Asercion who echoed this sentiment, saying the effects of the economic downturn on many community members is a major factor in this dramatic voting shift.

"That’s what many Filipino Americans are waiting for, that the country gets back on track. So that’s why I believe Filipinos want a change in the administration," said Asercion.

But longtime Democrat Rodel Rodis told NAM the data might be generational. He says that larger numbers of younger Filipino Americans “are supporting Obama-Biden, and that possibly, it is the older generation of Filipinos who participate in these kinds of surveys. They might be feeling threatened with changes occurring right now and they might be seeing reassurance with Romney who wants to bring back the old values.”

In her interview on KALW, Espinosa notes that Fil-Am Democratic community leaders have told her, "The community should cut Obama some slack, and give him a bit of breathing room... He's actually opened a lot of programs that have helped people in the housing area and the jobs sector... He's doing his best," she says.

Click to LISTEN to this interview.

This new NAM-KALW weekly segment collaboration is hosted by Hana Baba and co-produced by NAM News Anchor Odette Keeley. Editorial supervisors are KALW News Director Holly Kernan and NAM Executive Editor Sandy Close. The segment's engineer is KALW's Seth Samuel.

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