Fil-Am voters participate in Nevada caucuses for the first time

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders clinches win by wide margin

LAS VEGAS — When Filipino American Roberto Lugar arrived at Desert Oasis High School on Saturday morning, February 22 to participate in the Nevada Democratic caucuses for the first time, he was deciding between the two leading female candidates, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Campaign signs for Sen. Bernie Sanders and former VP Joe Biden were translated in Tagalog, while the Warren campaign handed out AAPI for Warren pins and signs. 
| AJPress photo by Christina M. Oriel

Lugar, a retiree and six-year resident of the city, said that he was looking for someone who could defeat President Donald Trump in the general election.

Holding a green t-shirt that said “Klobuchar can beat Donald Trump,” which he got from a campaign volunteer stationed at the school, Lugar reasoned that he would align with the Minnesota senator because she’s an “underdog” and continues to fight in the race.

“I liked Warren at first but I’ve been thinking about how she would get money to pay for her plans like Medicare [For All],” he told the Asian Journal. “So I want someone more realistic. But at the end of the day, we have to get Trump out.”

Also waiting in line was Annie Juico, a first-time caucusgoer and retiree who was motivated after experiencing the policies of the current administration, especially in terms of immigration and health care.

“I hope other Filipinos came out to save this country. It’s not just the Philippines we need to save. We have to save the United States as well since we live here now,” Juico said, though not revealing her preferred Democratic candidate.

About 105,000 Nevada voters participated in the state’s caucuses, nearly 75,000 of whom turned out for in-person early voting period. The four day voting period, which allowed caucusgoers to rank their top three and up to five preferred presidential candidates, recorded a historic turn out for the state as voting locations were placed in convenient locations, such as casinos, community centers and libraries.

From those voter numbers, about 49.8% of Asian Americans turned out for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — who declared the winner of the caucuses with a wide 46.8% of the vote — according to analysis of Asian American voters from 23 Clark County precincts by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Latino Policy and Politics Institute.

24-year-old Kelsea Suarez, an incoming law student, caucused for the first time for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Saturday, February 22. | AJPress photo by Christina M. Oriel

One of the Filipina Americans who cast her vote for the Vermont senator was 24-year-old Kelsea Suarez, an incoming law school student.

“Out of all the candidates, I think he’s the most progressive plus his track record is really strong and his values align with mine,” Suarez told the Asian Journal.

With a Democratic primary debate held in the city a few days before, she had hoped more of the candidates recognized the growing Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population in the state, given that Filipinos are the largest AAPI ethnic group at 168,200 residents.

“I wish they talked more about issues that we care about — that definitely could have been a really good strategy for them, especially because Filipino Americans tend to be more apolitical in a sense” Suarez added. “Also they could have talked about the education system here in Nevada, which has consistently ranked low nationally.”

The UCLA analysis also found that former Vice President Biden came in second with Asian American voters at 22.5%, followed by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 12% and Warren at 10.6%.

Caucusgoers check in at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas on Saturday, February 22 before they participated in the process. | AJPress photo by Christina M. Oriel

Overall, Biden came in second place with 20.2%, with Buttigieg trailing at 14.3%, Warren at 9.7%, businessman Tom Steyer at 4.7% and Klobuchar at 4.2%, based on the Nevada Democratic Party’s reporting of 100% of the precincts. Nevada has a total of 36 delegates for grabs.

Jab Buhay, a local photographer, was a caucus precinct captain for former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas on Saturday, February 22.  | AJPress photo by Christina M. Oriel

For Jab Buhay, a photographer by profession, he showed up as a precinct captain at the high school for Buttigieg because he believes the former mayor represents the older millennial generation.

“He sees the world the way I see it, where he’s thinking of 2054 and how the world would be and how he can be a part of that change,” Buhay said of Buttigieg, praising the candidate’s call for unity. “The way he tries to unite people more than denigrate other candidates, other people or even Trump supporters is a breath of fresh air.”

An 18-year-old Filipina American high school student, who asked not to be identified, also came out for Buttigieg after attending his rally the night before at Faiss Middle School.

“I didn’t know much about his campaign but after listening to him, I liked his views and where he was coming from,” she said. “What struck me the most how he talked about climate change because I feel like a lot of politicians are not paying enough attention to this issue.”

Though Warren came in fourth, she had staunch supporters in the local Fil-Am community, one of whom is Ninna Diaz, who also volunteered with the campaign outside of work.

Ahead of Saturday, Diaz told the Asian Journal she would caucus for the Massachusetts senator this time around because “she’s the best person to get the job done.”

“She genuinely listens to minorities and doesn’t use or see us as props. The AAPI community is one that’s often overlooked and ignored,” Diaz said. “[She] uses her platform to empower members of the AAPI community by letting us speak, ensuring that there’s space for us, and making plans to improve our lives.”

Fil-Am Gloria Caoile, a long-time labor leader and civic engagement activist who endorsed Warren, added, “it matters who our Democratic presidential nominee is. Selecting that nominee with our friends, neighbors, and communities is what makes the caucuses special. I want a nominee who believes immigrants make our country stronger, that access to affordable health care is a must, and no matter who we love, how we worship, or how we look, we have an equal opportunity to reach the American dream.”

Leading up to Saturday’s caucuses, the various Democratic presidential campaigns have courted AAPI voters — who make up 11% of the state’s electorate, according to APIA Vote and AAPI Data — through culturally relevant events and in-language caucus training sessions. This year’s caucus also included materials in Tagalog.

Though the dozens of Fil-Ams the Asian Journal spoke to did not overwhelmingly rally behind one candidate, participating in the process was their way of getting one step closer to the common goal of changing leadership in the White House.

“Even with the rain, it’s great to see people coming out because we know that we’re all on the same side,” Buhay said. “It’s just we’re reading different stories right now.”

Christina M. Oriel
Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is the Managing Editor of the Asian Journal Weekly Newspapers.

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