Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) can determine who becomes the next President of the United States. That was the empowering message echoing through every speaker who addressed the biggest gathering of AAPI professionals in the nation.
Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) co-hosted the first Presidential Town Hall of its kind. Candidates and representatives of four presidential campaigns addressed thousands of AAPI professionals inside the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
Former President Bill Clinton spoke passionately on behalf of his absent wife- Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and attempted to appeal to the AAPI audience by sharing an emotional story about his foundation that helps children with AIDS in Cambodia. His mission was to bring AAPI voters together despite party lines. “The metaphor of this election may be walls or bridges. Are we stronger together or stronger apart?” he asked. Many in attendance wondered why Hillary Clinton herself address them in person.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was also not present. Instead, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes came to represent him. Much of his time was spent addressing his direct ties to the AAPI community- having a Spanish-Filipino immigrant father and a Japanese/Hawaiian mother. My friend Hannah Bae expressed a common sentiment crossing numerous minds. “I want to hear if @seanreyesag has something substantive to say on Trump’s policies. Not to do some AAPI rah-rahs,” she tweeted.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson spoke with journalist Richard Lui onstage, ensuring the attendees that it’s not a ‘wasted vote’ to support him. “A wasted vote is voting for someone you don’t believe in,” he said. “If you want to waste your vote on Clinton or Trump, have at it.”
Lui also talked with Jill Stein, presidential candidate for the Green Party. “I do not have experience going behind closed doors and making secret arrangements,” she said, taking a stab at her opponents. She added that her parents taught her to have a spine and stand up for what is right. “We have to stand up for each other, stand together, and for what is right and for human rights and justice.”
Despite the disappointment of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump not showing up, it was a touching sight to see the roughly 4000 AAPI leaders from business, faith, health care, law, journalism and real estate, journalism, health care come together at one place. In addition, AAJA noted that more than 50 AAPI community Watch Parties were held across the country, joining the historic event digitally in real-time.