On August 26, 1920, United States’ Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in the United States. This culmination of half a century of activism and advocacy by women like Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul. In 1973, the anniversary of this momentous event was set as Women’s Equality Day. It’s a day to reflect how far we’ve come in achieving parity with men, especially white men as they remain the social standard (and generally always had the right to vote).
Yet, as Asian women we weren’t even granted the right to citizenship itself until 1952. Many of our own mothers and grandmothers lived in this country without a say in its government for 32 years after white women were headed to the polls. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to multiple Supreme Court cases, people of Asian and Pacific Islander nations were denied their full rights as citizens. From China to Japan to India, our heritage kept us from our future in the US.
Ironically, Asian women have had their voting rights granted in post-colonial states like India immediately upon independence. Women’s suffrage shows a clear result of putting women in leadership, too. Indira Ghandi became Prime Minister of India in 1966; Corazon Aquino was President of the Phillipines in 1986 and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became leader in 2001; Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister in Pakistan in 1988; Khaleda Zia became Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1991 while Sheikh Hasina was Prime Minister in 1996; Chandrika Kumaratunga was voted as President of Sri Lanka in 1994; Megawati Sukarnoputri was President of Indonesia in 2001; and many others in recent yeas across Asian nations.
There are current efforts at restricting voting rights that maintain this racist tradition. Policies like voter identification requirements, limiting voting hours and complicated ballot language are all veiled attempts to reduce voters of color like us. Your vote is so valuable that it costs at least $36 million in taxpayer dollars alone to prevent.
In 2016 it didn’t take that many votes to determine that Donald Trump would become president. Fewer than 80,000 votes separated the candidates. Only 8% of US sports stadiums hold a bigger crowd than 80,000. As a result of this election, members of our AAPI community were literally banned from entering the country, functionally regardless of our citizenship status, visa status, whether we were a student or family member.
Our votes matter.
There are also millions of dollars spent to empower us to vote. A group that works to mobilize AAPI voters told the Washington Post that a core piece of their strategy is empowering Asian American mothers and grandmothers to get their loved ones to vote because they are held with great esteem in their families. Download our Action Kit to tap into your own voice to lead on this issue.
Alice Paul and Lucy Burns didn’t stop working after they’d won suffrage for their community. These Warrior Queens immediately began to work on the Equal Rights Amendment, introduced for the first time in 1923. It still has not been ratified. Virginia became the latest state to approve ratification in 2020, but the Amendment still has a long way to go to become law.
There is still so much work to be done: AAPI women are severely underrepresented in American political power, with only 10 currently serving in Congress. While AAPI communities make up around 6% of the U.S. population, less than 1% hold elected positions. By electing AAPI women, we ensure that our leaders understand the complex issues that AAPI communities face – and by turning out to vote, we strengthen our voice.
While there is still a long road ahead, we are on the right track! AAPI voter registration increased 51% between 2008-2016, compared to just 8% nationally. To keep up this progress, we are dedicated to emboldening the fierce Warrior Queen inside every AAPI woman and girl and welcome allies in our movement.
Learn more about why your vote matters and how to vote: Asian Pacific Islander Vote
Download our Action Kit to strengthen your own inner Warrior Queen: Action Kit