Opinion: The Lack of AAPIs in President Biden’s Cabinet

Tanveer Kaur
May 2, 2021
National Policy

Both during and after his campaign, President Biden made the pledge that he would build an administration “that looks like America”.  In the weeks following his victory, as he named members of his Cabinet and the number of still-unfilled positions dwindled, AAPI lawmakers and advocates urged him to choose someone from their community. Although Biden has undoubtedly built a diverse Cabinet and avoided the nepotism shown by his predecessor, he has missed an important opportunity to truly represent all of America by lacking AAPI representation. 

Both Republican and Democratic Presidents have made historical appointments of AAPI individuals to their cabinet. President Biden had a chance to build upon that legacy.  Those who have been either nominated or confirmed by the Senate are extremely experienced in their respective fields. The nominees are ethical and determined individuals. We should be able to have those traits in a circle of greater diversity, vision, and commitment to serve our nation. The fact that AAPIs were not nominated to Biden’s Cabinet speaks to the parameters of the Biden administration’s understanding, and appreciation of the AAPI community.

AAPIs as business owners, consumers, and active members of America’s economy have an important role in shaping the future of our collective communities. The decisions made by today’s leaders must reflect the growing needs and roles of AAPIs in American society, beginning with appreciating the power of our votes.

From 2000 to 2020, the number of Asian American voters has doubled, growing by about 139%. From 2000 to 2018 the most recent data available – the number of Asian immigrant eligible voters grew from 3.3 million to 6.9 million. As of 2018, naturalized citizens accounted for about two-thirds of all U.S. Asian eligible voters. So why doesn’t our new administration understand that? On the campaign trail, then-candidate Biden promised to build a cabinet that represented America. AAPI voters showed up for him: so why can’t President Biden show up for us? In the Presidential Election, about 61 percent of all AAPI voters helped Biden get elected. AAPI voter turnout was historic in the last election cycle. 

It is important to understand that children of immigrants steer towards jobs that have an instant payout or otherwise known as a typical 9 to 5 job. The struggles of our immigrant parents are embedded in us. Many first-generation children want to provide a stable life to their parents in their elderly years. Our parents have had odd jobs to provide a better future for us and to give us the lifestyle that they only could've dreamed of. When we achieve that "American Dream" our parents had nurtured for us, we'd want to give them the life that they never had. Our parents find comfort in typical 9 to 5 jobs because that's what they've known as the "dream" as immigrants. Coming from countries struck by political conflict, political involvement isn't ideal for them.

We have seen what can happen when we aren’t involved. The Japanese-Americans with the internment camp experience and the Chinese Exclusion Act were the most discriminatory events in our nation’s history. Growing up in a post 9/11 world, we’ve seen the rise of Islamophobia and the targeting of Sikh-Americans as many of them wear turbans. Historically speaking, America has an ugly past of purposely excluding Asian-Americans in government. 

AAPI representation is only great when you know the struggle and remember the shoulders of the giants we stand on. We must connect through our collective struggles, help create opportunities, and make sure we’re not closing doors for those who come after us. Working to raise awareness on AAPI issues, working to create a better future for those in your community, and most importantly, those in your country. I hope that our first South-Asian Vice President Harris will begin to raise awareness about the ongoing farmers’ protests in India and address the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. 

Why is AAPI representation needed? During a time when Asian-Americans are being affected disproportionately by the pandemic, immigration, and racism, they deserve to be heard and represented in our government. AAPI hate crimes have soared almost 150% in the past year. Without representation from the community and a new perspective, these issues cannot be solved. We need to work to allow the next generation of children to have someone to look up to and see themselves represented. Representation can inspire so many others to run for office and realize their true potential. 

In addition, performative representation is never appreciated. There are so many experienced Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Washington climate. The fact that we are the fastest-growing population and key voting demographic but are almost always pushed to the side is disappointing. We don’t want to be waiting in line, we want a seat at the table like everyone else. Politicians can’t just show up to our churches, temples, and other places of worship to ask for our votes while simultaneously excluding us from key decision-making roles. 

It’s time for AAPIs to realize the power of our votes and organize. To represent ourselves in the best way possible it's needed that we rise to the occasion and make our voices heard. No one will do it for us. More AAPIs need to run for office at the smallest levels: council members, mayors, state reps, and state senators. Organizing politically for our people is the best way we can get others to listen. If we raise awareness in our neighborhoods, together we can create a platform for our community. That platform, whatever it may be can help so many young children, who so often see themselves underrepresented and misunderstood. We can inspire the people in our community to run for Congress, and hopefully for President one day. In today’s political climate, not only are we the change we so desperately want, but we are the change we need.