Amidst the arrival of Super Tuesday and President Trump’s return from India, Democratic presidential candidates have been zeroing in on Asian Americans — the fastest growing minority group in Texas.
Chanda Parbhoo was at the front of the crowd at Mike Bloomberg’s January kick-off rally in Dallas. Before that, she met with Elizabeth Warren’s campaign and a top Pete Buttigieg aide.
“We now have a voice and we have the opportunity to stand up for ourselves," she said.
In Texas, the Asian population has increased by more than 40% in the last decade. There are more than half a million South Asians in the state — which is second only to California.
“We see candidates really investing and saying how important Texas is and every campaign now has an Asian outreach person,” Parbhoo said. “I think that’s reassuring that we do make a difference.”
Parbhoo, who is of Indian descent, immigrated with her family to the affluent Highland Park area in 1979. She said her family was one of just a few Asian families in the neighborhood and among a handful of Democrats. Over the years, more Indian families moved into Dallas, but she rarely felt comfortable talking about her politics.
The 2016 election changed that. She and other women in her North Dallas neighborhood started organizing for Beto O Rourke’s senate campaign two years later. She said O’Rourke’s strong following opened a lot of doors.
“So, even in my very Republican neighborhood, where we usually had five Democrat signs up, I was able to put up a hundred Beto signs,” Parbhoo said. “And so that tells you people were willing to come out of the woodwork. I think it’s the same with the South Asian community. Nobody’s ever tapped that community.”
Now politicians aren’t just tapping, they’re knocking loudly.
Sen. Ted Cruz defeated O’Rourke two years ago. On a trip to India in December, he posted selfie videos talking about building the Indian-American relationship in front of the Humayan’s Tomb in New Delhi, India. And Bernie Sanders is sending out Facebook messages in Hindi like Arabpati Per Tax, which translates to “tax for billionaires.”
Amazing to see Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi during my Indo-Pacific friends & allies tour. India and America are natural allies who share common values. I’ll continue to work together in expanding the India-US friendship. pic.twitter.com/xv9OEbCoRt
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) October 11, 2019
Southern Methodist University anthropology professor Caroline Brettell studies the South Asian population in Texas.
“I think there’s a growing recognition of the political clout of the South Asian community in the United States,” she said.
In the last decade, Bretell's watched Asians embrace politicians on both sides of the aisle in an effort to foster relationships and gain influence.
“I would watch at various kinds of public events in the Indian community, and they’d always invite a political figure. It really didn’t matter what party it was, it was somebody of prominence," she said. "So I think the Pete Sessions of the world figured out, you know, that this was a moneyed educated prominent community.”
In 2018, a number of state legislative seats turned blue in North Texas. Democratic strategist Matt Angle said grassroots organizing helped make that happen, but all minority groups in Texas would have to be energized to turn Texas blue.
“Well for a Democrat to win in almost any competitive circumstance and certainly for a Democrat to be able to take something away from a Republican, we have to build a coalition that includes African Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and fair-minded Anglos," Angle said. "And if you let one of those legs fall off, you're going to fall short.”
That’s why Parbhoo is focused on registering people to vote. She's visiting mosques, temples and citizenship ceremonies. In January, she watched as 2,000 people became U.S. citizens.
“It’s emotional,” she said with tears in her eyes. “All of the diversity. You realize this is what our country is.”
Parbhoo said she has finally found her voice and she’s excited that there are politicians who are willing to listen.