Make your voices heard on November 4!

In a few days, voters in California will exercise their democratic rights. This year, in addition to selecting political leaders, Californians will decide on no fewer than six statewide propositions and more than 100 local ballot measures.

As a co-founder and board member of a California business group representing Asians and Pacific Islanders, I’m urging voters in these groups to come out and make their voices heard. Why? Because the choices on the ballot this year will impact many issues affecting the way you do business, your happiness and your health.

Unfortunately, in every election, significant portions of the Asian community don’t go to the polls. According to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, we make up 14 percent of the adult population in California, but we account for only 11 percent of likely voters.

Of course, Asians and Pacific Islanders are not a distinct voting block and are certainly not homogeneous. We occupy every segment of the socioeconomic spectrum. But that doesn’t mean we can’t support one another.

While many among us have achieved economic security, a high proportion of first-generation Asian Americans are small business owners who face many challenges managing restaurants, mom-and-pop grocery shops, cafes, convenience stores and small businesses. These are exactly the types of businesses that have long served our communities as an on-ramp to the middle class. And they are affected in dozens of ways by the ordinances that will be decided this year at the polls.

What we must all recognize is that the obstacles faced by Asian-American small businesses often are not on the radar for candidates and elected officials who draft ballot measures. For example, politicians may have little awareness of the language barriers that confront first-generation Asian business owners. These people may not even know about ballot measures that will affect their livelihood. As a result, when there’s an invitation to attend public meetings, they stay in the shop. And when the time comes to convert their views into votes, they miss the chance.

It’s easy to understand why the problem of poor voter turnout persists. In addition to the language barriers, large groups of the state’s Asian population come from countries where democratic institutions are new or in a fragile state. Yet, the simple fact that well over half of all immigrants arriving in California were born in Asia underscores the importance of improving voter turnout.

There are reasons to feel optimistic. A number of organizations, including my own, are working with Asian community leaders in cities across California to translate position papers and improve awareness of ballot measures as they take shape.

What’s more, in recent years, we have been electing more Asian Americans to prominent positions. I’m thinking of leaders like Jean Quan, the mayor of Oakland, Edwin Lee, the first Asian-American mayor of San Francisco, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, the first Filipino American in the California State Legislature.  Hundreds of others are filling important positions on city councils and school boards. Your vote will help get more people into office with your interests in mind.

Elections are fantastic opportunities to make our voices heard, even if the traditions feel unfamiliar and the mechanisms seem daunting. This year is no exception. We must all try harder to take action on the issues that affect our lives.

The means are right in front of us. Let’s get out there and vote!

Bill Imada

Bill Imada is the founder, chairman and chief connectivity officer at IW Group, a minority-owned and operated advertising, marketing and communications agency focusing on the growing multicultural markets. He has been a member of the PBS board of directors since 2015. He is the vice chair of the PBS Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee and serves on the Diversity Advisory Committee and Strategic Planning Advisory Group. 

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