Two candidates in the San Gabriel Valley are fighting to represent the state Assembly’s first Asian-American majority district.
Matthew Lin, a physician, and engineer Edwin Chau will face each other in the Nov. 6 election.
While the San Gabriel Valley has long been home to immigrants from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, the latest round of redistricting created a seat where Asian-Americans represent 53 percent of the population. It’s the first of its kind in California. About half of the residents there were born outside of the United States and three-quarters speak a language other than English, according to the U.S. Census.
“The area has become a gateway for a lot of Asian-American immigrants and it has been that way for 30, 40 years now,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission created the new 49th District, in part, because Asian-American voters share similar concerns about immigration, language services, and financial fraud. Protections against hate crimes and discrimination have also been a trademark of the district, according to Feng.
“That’s partly in response to the reality that a lot of people are living with, which is we’ve got a very heterogeneous population and people are learning to live together in learned harmony,” Feng said.
Though the district has more registered Democrats than Republicans, about 40 percent to 25 percent, Republican Matthew Lin won the June primary by more than 15 points. Part of that win can be attributed to the 30 percent of voters who do not identify with a political party.
“They’re very guarded about what their political affiliation is," said Feng, "perhaps because of the countries that they’ve come from and their experience in being careful about allowing their political preferences to be known to the public."
Lin is hoping that voters relate to his own immigration story. He moved to America from Taiwan in 1973. He eventually founded the Pacific Orthopedic Medical Center and Pacific Independent Physician Association. He was also a member of the San Marino City Council.
“They feel that, like I do, everybody should have the opportunity, same opportunity that we do to succeed at the American dream,” Lin said.
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune endorsed Lin, calling him “a rare bird — a party moderate with some even liberal moments.”
Meanwhile, Chau is hoping that Democrats will have a better showing at the polls in November. His campaign, just like Lin’s, is making calls to voters in Mandarin, English and Spanish. Current 49th District Assemblyman Mike Eng and Congresswoman Judy Chu, who held this Assembly seat from 2001 to 2006, endorsed Chau.
“As far as the primary result was concerned, it was one of the lowest voter turnout races in the history of the district,” Chau said. “We believe that the November electorate is going to be much different and [turnout] is going to be pretty high.”
Chau, who also holds a law degree, is a member of the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education.