Aloha! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed break from blogging for a bit. But it's all good, because I've enlisted the help of some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Deanna Kitamura of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center dropping some knowledge about California's redistricting process.Most of the news on redistricting has focused on how the new lines will affect the political future of politicians. However, redistricting is not done for the sake of politicians. It is done so residents' voices are not diluted in the election process. For the past year, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders around the state of California have been working to ensure that the electoral lines are drawn in a way that gives communities a strong voice to collectively advocate for their needs. One of the most significant accomplishments to come out of this year's process in California is the creation of the state's first majority Asian American legislative district.
Top Ten Redistricting Facts to share at dinner or any Angry Asian Man event.
The redistricting process is fairly complicated and not a lot of people know about it. Yet it is important to all communities. Here are a few tidbits to know:
Fact 1 - Redistricting happens every ten years. It's done after the decennial census to balance out population in state and local electoral districts.
Fact 2 - Politicians no longer draw the state lines in California. Earlier this month, a new 14-person citizens redistricting commission adopted maps for the Assembly, State Senate, Board of Equalization, and the Congressional districts in California. Previously, these maps were drawn by the California legislature and were drawn to protect incumbent seats. The new commission was required to respect neighborhoods and communities of interests to the same degree that it respected cities and counties. It also had to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, a federal law that requires racial groups to make up a majority of a district in certain situations.
Fact 3 - Sometimes the process disempowers communities. In the past, communities of color, including AAPI communities have been fragmented in the redistricting process. For example, in the 2001 redistricting, the San Jose neighborhood of Berryessa was split among 4 Assembly districts, even though over half of Berryessa's population is AAPI and share common interests and needs. When communities are divided, their ability to appeal to their elected representatives to address their needs is diminished.
Fact 4 - AAPIs played an active role in California's state redistricting process. The AAPI community testified at hearings, submitted socioeconomic data that unite their communities, and provided mapping proposals. The Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting, anchored by my organization, actively worked in 10 regions in California. CAPAFR held multiple public meetings in each of the regions to educate the AAPI community about redistricting and get input on how the lines could be better drawn. We also talked to other communities, including environmentalists and LGBT groups. We then produced several mapping proposals that we submitted to the commission. We worked in unity with Latino and African American groups to submit a statewide proposal for the Assembly and a southern California proposal for the State Senate. Comments by some of the commissioners indicate that the unity proposals influenced the maps adopted by the commission.
Fact 5 - AAPIs were represented on the state commission. Four of the 14 state redistricting commissioners are Asian American, and one is Pacific Islander. Information about specific commissioners can be found here. Information on the selection process can be found here.
Fact 6 - You can review the new California state districts online. The redistricting maps can be found on the commission's website here.
Fact 7 - The commission drew the first majority AAPI assembly district in California. In the west San Gabriel Valley, where one of the largest concentrations of AAPIs resides, the commission drew the state's first legislative district where Asian Americans make up more than 50% of the citizen voting age population. This was done in order to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. The make up of the district means a unified AAPI community could elect an assemblymember of its choice.
Fact 8 - Many of the AAPI communities previously divided are kept whole. In the new maps (below), Berryessa, the San Jose neighborhood mentioned above that is currently split in 4 districts, is kept whole at all levels of government. Los Angeles' Koreatown, which is also split into 4 districts, is also essentially kept whole in one district at all levels of government in the new maps. In these areas, AAPIs have an opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the community with some hope that their representatives will be responsive to their needs.
Fact 9 - Some AAPI communities were divided. Some cities with large AAPI populations, like Irvine and Fremont, were split. Also some communities which straddle multiple cities were split. For example, the Little Saigon area of Orange County is the largest Vietnamese community in the U.S. The commission divided Little Saigon into 2 districts at the Congressional level. The southern Congressional district, which includes the heart of Little Saigon, is submerged in a coastal district that extends from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel. It seems unlikely that the needs of the low-income immigrant residents of a fragmented Little Saigon will be heard in a Congressional district made up of wealthy beach communities.
Fact 10 - You might be able to get involved in your local redistricting process. Many local governments are still working on their redistricting plans. And because city and county districts are often smaller than the state legislative and congressional districts, keeping AAPI communities together at smaller levels of government can be particularly impactful in ensuring that AAPIs have a voice in their local government. An internet search using a city's/county's name and "redistricting" will likely bring up information about the local redistricting efforts in that area.
Deanna Kitamura is the Statewide Redistricting Manager at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. She is one of the Angry Asian Man readers who reads the political posts. Deanna is one member of a 5-person redistricting team. In addition to Deanna, APALC's team consists of Eugene Lee, Daniel Ichinose, Joanna Lee, and Sean Habibi.