Mike Honda seeks CA-17 voters in 17 languages

If Rep. Michael Honda cruises to re-election over his barely-known Republican challenger as is widely expected, he’ll be representing the continental United States’ first House district to have an Asian American/Pacific Islander majority.

honda.jpgBut with so diverse an Asian population (51.55 percent) and a significant Latino population (17.46 percent) as well, Honda is going to unprecedented lengths to reach out to all voters in this South Bay district. By Tuesday’s election, his campaign will have connected with voters in more than a dozen languages: English, Arabic, Cantonese, Dari, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Hindi, Pashto, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog, Telugu, Thai, Urdu and Vietnamese.

For both the primary and general election campaigns, Honda filed a ballot statement in both Alameda and Santa Clara counties in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagalog. But even before the primary, he had reached out by phone to nearly 30,000 households with the option for recipients to take the call in Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and English.

This yielded volunteers who worked on the Honda campaign’s banks using those languages and others, including Dutch, German, Cantonese and Japanese. For the primary, these phone banks reached about 3,000 voters live; in this general election, Honda has added several more languages to round out the list. The linguistic targeting is based on the voter’s place of birth, determined from his or her voter registration; the voter’s preferred ballot language; and/or the voter’s probably ethnicity based on his or her surname.

“We can’t treat the AAPI population like it’s a monolithic group,” Honda said. “There’s a great deal of linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity among AAPIs. Furthermore, our AAPI diasporas are here in the U.S. for a variety of reasons – political, economic, entrepreneurial and educational, to name a few.”

People of all nationalities and languages “deserve to be approached and heard in their home languages whenever possible, because the conversation that results is fuller and richer, and you tend to hear things that otherwise might not be said in English,” he added. “Our campaign capitalizes on the multilingualism of our volunteers. Their talents allow us to engage individual voters in a way both the volunteers and voters appreciate.”

As I wrote back in July, the nation’s rapidly expanding AAPI population already is becoming a crucial swing votes in some battleground states, and could be the sort of decisive voting bloc in many future races that Latinos already are today – but only if the parties recognize the AAPI community’s diversity and actively reaches out to them. Honda is positioning himself at the forefront of this; who else will follow?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.