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Like many others, the effects of the pandemic weigh heavy on my mind. The coronavirus has upended our daily routines and threatens to permanently change our lives. One thing is certain — the struggle simply does not discriminate.
I’ve been encouraged seeing folks across the state helping out their communities. Whether it’s people handcrafting masks for neighbors, offering free refreshments for health care workers, or donating blood and hard-earned money to important causes, it is empowering to see North Carolinians band together. It makes me especially proud to call myself a Southerner.
As the son of immigrants, I’m equally proud to claim my family’s history. My parents, like the generations of immigrants that came before them, left a life they knew behind to chase the American dream. My family’s heritage that began in India but now is firmly rooted in the South shaped me into the person I am today.
Growing up in Fayetteville, I always saw similarities between the values that my parents instilled in me and the values I noticed outside the home. Although the color of skin may have been different from my neighbors, when I looked closer, I saw that both cultures share a strong sense of community, warm hospitality, and a love of great food. Both cultures also share a strong respect for hard work.
In fact, it’s that availability of work that has driven Asian immigration. Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic group in the country, and the fastest growing in North Carolina. Between 2000 and 2010, our population grew by 85%, the fastest in the South and third-fastest in the nation. Since my family moved to North Carolina almost a half century ago, it’s been heartening to see more people that look like me on the street.
I’ve also been encouraged seeing Asian American leadership and participation in our communities. Members of the Chinese American Friendship Association of North Carolina donated more than 30,000 masks and thousands of face shields to hospitals, local towns and first responders. They plan to donate another 60,000 masks. Many of the physicians on the frontlines fighting against the virus are Asian American. Hotel owners, many of whom are South Asian Americans, worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Governor’s office to provide rooms to help control the spread of the virus.
As we enter the election season, Asian Americans must carry out such participation in the November election, too. Today, North Carolina ranks as one of the most important political battleground states in the country. In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 92,0000 votes. In 2014, Thom Tills beat Kay Hagan by only 46,000 votes. Today, voting-eligible Asian Americans make up almost 100,000 votes.
In other words, Asian Americans are poised to be the deciding vote in key races up and down the ballot. We have incredible untapped political power within our community. In 2018, for example, Asian Americans turned out to vote in record numbers, but it was still comparatively low, especially among young people.
Here’s my challenge to my fellow Asian Americans: Celebrate and share your family’s story. Build on the love and values your parents instilled in you. And, bring your voice to the table by getting involved in this coming election.
Sen. Jay Chaudhuri is a member of the North Carolina Senate serving District 15 in Wake County and has served as Senate Democratic Whip since 2019. He was first appointed in 2016 and was later elected as North Carolina’s first Asian American state legislator.