By Libby Hobbs
On Tuesday, November 8, Georgia will make history with a record number of Asian Americans Pacific Islander running for candidacy. Since the March 2021 Atlanta Spa Shootings, the Georgia AAPI community has long awaited this moment of change.
Three Democrats—Long Tran, Nabilah Islam, and Ruwa Romman—and three Republicans—Marites Redding, Soo Hong, and John Chan—are among few who arose for the political challenge to bring the change they wanted to see.
With both parties rallying the AAPI community to vote like their lives were on the line, what’s really at stake on the ballot? Georgia Asian Times spoke with these six Asian American Pacific Islander candidates. Here’s what they said:
A changed America—feared or embraced
Each candidate is familiar with the “immigrant experience” as a fundamental shaper of their overall Asian American lifestyle. Redding, Hong, and Romman all immigrated themselves while Chan, Tran, and Islam were born of immigrant parents.
To Redding, a Filipino Republican running for House District 37, the “do or die” life she escaped from in the Philippines feels like it’s becoming America’s next reality.
“[about life in the Philippines] This is it, we will die today free or we will die tomorrow anyway … it’s a do or die and the same thing [in America],” Redding said.
However, Nabilah Islam, a Bangladeshi Democrat candidate running for State Senate, hopes America’s next reality is better than the one she was born into.
“My parents came to this country seeking the American dream … I grew up to be someone that was very outspoken about the issues that affect our immigrant communities,” Islam said. “I want to be a progressive voice for these issues and be a champion for my community, especially when it comes to [those] that affect the AAPI community.”
Hong, a South Korean Republican candidate running for House District 103, claims her Asian American experience to be mostly good. Roman, a Palestenian Democrat running for House District 97, however says her experience was faced with troubling stereotypes. Both want to be a representative of their community, showing the public that there is a space for their voices.
“I have had that experience, [I] have lived the immigrant life. I want to make sure that our next generation, my generation and younger, are successful and have opportunities,” Hong said.
Chan, a Chinese Republican candidate running for House District 97, told the story of his grandfather who died by suicide in the jail he was tortured in for not complying with “the Communists.” Tran, a Vietnamese Democrat running for House District 80, shared memories of the resentment towards refugees which made him know he was different from the rest of the country.
To both parties, it’s evident that America today is different from the one they immigrated into. Some see glimpses of the life they fled from in their lives today, fearing the future, while others remember the struggles they faced growing up Asian American, embracing that new future.
The majority of candidates stated education as one of their top three issues to advocate for.
“Our school systems, they always used to be the best in the world way back when. But, it's been dropping and dropping and dropping, because the school system is not functioning the way we really need to function,” Chan said.
Romman saw where students’ and teachers’ were struggling to get the resources they needed, especially with the return to in-person instead of online learning.
“You’re seeing this terrible cycle where teachers are overwhelmed. They can't perform their duties because their classrooms are getting bigger because their colleagues are leaving so then more of them leave etcetera,” Romman said.
Tran saw where districting was confusing families as to where their child should go to school and also how funding formulas for the school systems were outdated. “What used to be cornfields are thriving suburban areas,” Tran said.
Whether it be by ensuring parents and children have a voice in what they learn at school, like what Hong advocates for, or through fully funding the public school system across all zip codes, like what Islam advocates for, success of the next generation is a top priority.
Top three issues
In addition to education, other issues like healthcare, safety, business, and immigration made the list of top three issues. Health care or public health access was discussed by Islam, Romman, and Tran.
“There's hundreds of millions of dollars that people like Brian Kemp are literally just sitting on out of political spite, that is not an exaggeration. Go look it up in our budget items, go read his own words … that makes Georgia uniquely bad on health care,” Romman said.
Islam also recognizes the limited access to health care and wants to expand Medicaid. “Healthcare is a human right,” Islam said. Additionally, she stated that reproductive and abortion rights are under attack.
Tran told the story of when his father needed an ambulance but when the vitals appeared okay for the moment, was told to choose between waiting two hours for an ambulance or taking him to the ER, where Tran said they’d likely be low priority.
“In the last four years, we've had six hospitals close … It’s led to Georgia having an inability to deal with drug abuse [and] mental health … Police officers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, [and] paramedics are working 60-70 hours a week. It’s unsustainable,” Tran said.
Chan and Islam both had different approaches to public safety. While Chan said he’d make sure that the police is fully funded, Islam wants gun safety through implementing background checks, waiting periods, and red flag laws.
Hong wants to continue encouraging and supporting small and minority business owners and Tran hopes to meet people’s labor needs as well.
Redding says illegal immigrants should not be accepted and people should be more welcoming to legal immigrants.
“I love immigrants, I am an immigrant but I want them to do it legally like what I did … We should be more welcoming [to] the legal immigrants because it takes forever for them to process the legal immigrants and they just allowed the illegals here,” Redding said.
Representing you in office
Since the March 2021 Atlanta Spa Shootings, the Georgia AAPI community has long awaited this moment. While some may fear the changed America, others embrace it. With the most Asians running for candidacy in Georgia history, the AAPI community demands that their voices be listened to.
Redding, Hong, Chan, Tran, Islam, and Romman all shared how they will be a voice to the Georgia Asian community in office.
“I will make sure that I will be in every Asian event. I would know [their] concerns, if they have problems, [if] they are happy, reach out to them. Let's all talk this out together,” Redding said.
“I think that there is a comfort in knowing that I’m somebody that knows their experience of being immigrants and that I may look like them … I hope that they can reach out to me,” Hong said.
“I’ll represent them because I have such a reality with the Asians in many ways, not just in my own upbringing, but you know, through high school. I did taekwondo class for three years … when you’ve lived it and you’ve been there with other people, you understand it a lot better,” Chan said.
“We're going to have an Asian American elected to [the] Georgia State Legislature … As an AAPI caucus with both Democrats and Republicans in there, we can affect policy … I'm going to make sure that issues that affect our community the most, we’re able to address,” Tran said.
“When I am in the state senate, I will be someone that is outspoken when it comes to all over issues, especially in our immigrant communities … making sure that immigrant rights are being protected at the state capitol is going to be a very big priority for me,” Islam said.
“One of the things that I promise to do, which is something that I really care about and value is to make sure to consistently host town halls in diverse settings and locations, and always have an open form of dialogue between myself and my community … I want to be the kind of representative who's actually available to their people, not just special interests,” Romman said.