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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

Why the AAPI Community Should Support Bernie Sanders for President

An open letter and a call to arms.

A little while ago, 150 prominent Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) came together to endorse Elizabeth Warren for President. Wealthy luminaries such as actress Constance Wu, CEO Anil Dash, and author Celeste Ng were on the list. The list’s creators took their inspiration from the group 100 Black Womxn for Elizabeth Warren, a similar collection of “leaders, activists, artists, writers, and political strategists,” who came together to endorse the senator from Massachusetts, who is running on a platform of “big structural change” to our nation’s financial and healthcare systems. 

Warren is supported by these prominent AAPIs because she is believed, by them, to be the most progressive candidate in the race while still being acceptable to a mainstream audience. According to their letter, Warren believes in “major structural changes,” but is still “pragmatic and thorough.” She has the “most effective and compelling plans” and also has “a track record of delivering on her ideas.”

Well, at least 400 members of the AAPI community have a different vision for the eventual Democratic nominee, and for the general election. 

We, the undersigned, are endorsing Bernie Sanders for President, and believe the Democratic Party should nominate Sanders to take on President Donald Trump in the general election. We don’t particularly care whether or not our supporters are prominent; ordinary Asian American voices matter as well. We don’t believe that famous actress Constance Wu’s or prominent Twitter busy-body Arthur Chu’s endorsement should be given more weight than an ordinary Asian American’s. 

In the words of Kenzo Shibata, the Chicago teacher, union member, and supporter of Bernie Sanders who spearheaded the creation of this list: “Every single person on this list is an important person, and I’m willing to fight for them, even if I don’t know them.”

Here is why we are supporting Bernie Sanders for President. 

Foreign Policy

Members of the AAPI community—which is extremely diverse—often have family members abroad, in countries frequently targeted adversely by regressive American foreign policy. We have loved ones, friends, and family, in countries like Iran, South Korea, India, and China. We therefore have a vested interest in seeing a sane foreign policy, one that’s interested in preserving the lives of all human beings worldwide.

Bernie Sanders is really the only presidential candidate who even comes close to affirming the lives and livelihoods of non-Americans in the Global South. His commitment to anti-war activism stretches back to the 1970s, when he applied to be a conscientious objector rather than serve in the Vietnam War. In 1972, he compared U.S. war crimes in Vietnam to those of Adolf Hitler’s during World War II. To those who have only been exposed to an incomplete and propagandistic view of the Vietnam War, this may seem like an extreme analogy, but the truth is that the U.S. invasion of Vietnam claimed millions of civilian lives.

Bernie Sanders has been on the right side of nearly every foreign policy fight from the 1970s until now, with the exception of his 2001 vote to authorize the war in Afghanistan—a vote that every single congressperson got wrong, except for Rep. Barbara Lee. He’s stood with Latin American leftist dissidents as U.S. foreign policy has played havoc with their nations. He voted against the first Gulf War in 1991. He voted against the Iraq War in 2002, unlike Vice President Biden. He’s been a deep critic of continued imperialism abroad, and speaks broadly about the necessity to foster “global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance.”

It’s worth noting here that Sanders made the most unequivocal statement of any candidate in denouncing Trump’s recent assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, a dangerous and illegal action which nearly propelled the United States and Iran into a war that would have been disastrous for both countries. Every other Democratic candidate’s statements on the matter came out muddled and equivocal. It’s clear that President Bernie Sanders would stand up to the bombs-first foreign policy consensus, doing his best to avoid unwise and unjust military entanglements.


Ricky Ly, an engineer living in Orlando, Florida, was a delegate for Bernie’s campaign in 2016. “Right now they’re putting up walls and that’s ridiculous. America was built by immigrants, pretty much,” he told me over the phone a few days ago. Ly also manages an Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Bernie Twitter account, and real immigration reform is one of his biggest priorities. Immigration is a huge concern for Asian Americans as a whole, given that 59 percent of Asian Americans were born in a country other than the United States, meaning that most of us are immigrants.

When it comes to President Trump’s version of immigration reform—well, we know what it looks like already. Closed borders. Billions spent on a useless border wall. Bans on Muslims and people of color receiving visas to visit or study or stay in the United States. Migrant children in detention camps, separated from their parents, at serious risk of illness and even death

But Bernie Sanders wants to end the status quo and fundamentally change a system whose cruelty originated in the Obama administration, which deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous administration.

While competitors like Warren backed off her calls to abolish Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sanders has grown more progressive over time. Sanders has been criticized for being skeptical of an open border policy, such as the one that prevailed in the United States for most of its history, but throughout his entire career Bernie Sanders has shown considerable willingness, despite his famed stubbornness, to listen to activists (just never to billionaires).

According to Vice, Sanders now has the most progressive plan in the Democratic pack. While Warren wants ICE officials to simply do things other than constitute the exceptionally cruel deportation machine, Bernie recognizes that ICE is a fundamentally flawed agency and wants to effectively abolish it by redistributing its personnel and resources to other departments. 

We stand in solidarity with the Bhutanese-Nepali refugees who caucused for Bernie Sanders in Iowa, who may (at this point we’re not sure who won) have pushed Sanders over the top in the delegate race. We stand in solidarity with these brave members of the AAPI community who stood up for their rights and their dream for a better life. 

Economic Justice

AAPIs represent some of the wealthiest Americans. They also represent some of the poorest Americans. Economic inequality in the AAPI community, particularly between its many ethnic groups, is vast.

As AAPI supporters of Bernie Sanders, we wholeheartedly reject the “model minority” stereotype that some may try to foist upon us. The model minority myth claims that we are better than other racial minorities because we come from “traditional” two parent homes, or because we have been able, historically, to economically rise faster than other racial minority groups have, or because we are more acceptable to white supremacy than African-Americans or Latinx people. But we reject this inaccurate, divisive picture of who we really are.

In solidarity with all Americans, we want Medicare for All on day one, rather than in the third year of a Democratic presidency, when all political momentum has been lost. We want a Green New Deal, because our world, our economy, and our climate can’t wait for anything less. We want tuition-free college and the cancellation of all student debt, not just the first $50,000 of it. We want a real wealth tax, one that’s more progressive than the one that Warren is proposing, one that will make the oligarchs—some of whom are trying to defeat Sanders at the ballot box right now—shake in their boots. 

As Ricky Ly says, “This is America. This is the richest nation in the world, and the system is rigged, you know, and no matter how hard some people will work, it’s not enough. Why do people go hungry when Jeff Bezos is making billions of dollars?”

All of America has been enraptured by this progressive moment, and AAPIs are no exception. We are excited for a political revolution; we are raring to go.

If you are too, and you want to add your name to this list, feel free to fill out this form. We ask only that you be an American citizen or resident, and that you be a member of the AAPI community. 

Remember friends, it’s not me, it’s us. It’s not about what one person can do in isolation, but what a group of people can do together. If we work together, if we band together to elect Bernie Sanders we’re going to win revolutionary change for working families—those of AAPIs and those of everyone else, too. 

In solidarity, 

Jaya Sundaresh

Photo credit Adrienne Campbell

Note: Current Affairs magazine has not officially endorsed a presidential candidate and positions of writers on elections should not be taken to represent the formal editorial stance of the magazine. 

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