Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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Culture vs. Politics: Redistricting Orange County

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Preliminary drafts for the redistricting plans for OC’s Garden Grove and Westminster were revealed to possibly give Orange County legislators another vote in Sacramento on Nov. 8. The redistricting in the cities would divide Little Saigon — in the middle of those districts — into two. Critics of the proposal state that not only would it completely change the structure of a majority of Orange County politics, but it would also severely affect the Asian American voting bloc. The initial proposal indicated that the cities of Garden Grove and Westminster would be split into separate districts, with the potential to change the current balance between the left and right leaning districts.

After the drafts were visible to the public, local community leaders as well as prominent law experts voiced their concerns about a division in the community of Little Saigon. Even though such redistricting is required by federal law and is based on the census and population growth or decline, a potential consequence of such is unequal demographics in the new regions. Divisions in the community can lead to conflicts of interests in terms of targeted policies. Little Saigon has been home to Vietnamese Americans and immigrants that make up a large part of the socially moving, working class in Orange County. Merging their population with a demographic near another city that has different socioeconomic origins and political progress goals would decrease opportunities for Little Saigon and surrounding neighborhoods to receive solutions that focus on aiding the Asian American community.

Clearly, the release of the preliminary drafts did not elicit a positive response from everyone in the community; however, it did spark the interest of legislators from different districts since a split in Little Saigon would mean another vote for Irvine in Sacramento. The State House assembly would gain another voice, but it would also create a more volatile situation among the incumbents. This would increase the possibility of the county shifting from the current left-leaning status to a more diverse political group. Thus, the latest drafts released by officials kept Little Saigon together, but it created even more divisions between the areas that are home to majorities of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. This brought up the same concerns that arose when Little Saigon was presumed to be divided. 

The new proposals would create extreme challenges for incumbent legislators — both Republicans and Democrats — as the new districts would include populations from both sides and make it difficult for any of the sides to gain a true majority. In all options, however, the Asian American community, especially the Vietnamese community, faces the possibility of being separated from their usual voting bloc; they are at risk of ending up being represented by someone that does not understand their struggles or does not relate to their perspectives. Voters’ preferences of local representatives indicate that the extreme extent of redistribution of district lines would create possibilities of reduced representation, something that just started to become more frequent for ethnic minority populations. 

Even if the process of redistricting Orange County does not split the cultural hub of Little Saigon into two, it certainly poses a threat to decrease the size of it, and simultaneously, diminishes the strength of Asian American and Pacific Islander populations in the surrounding cities. This shift in demographics allows for cultural assimilation, but it does not parallel any growth in the political mindset of the areas. All changes would risk the voting group of ethnic minorities being ignored by representatives that may not understand their point of view. The completely finalized redistricting maps are yet to be released and enforced; however, officials should ensure that cultural majorities stick together in order to ensure that they have the real voice in the legislative process, not just the presentation of a superficial cultural hub without true political power. In the wake of the pandemic and rise of AAPI hate, it is the responsibility of legislators to ensure that communities will have local representation that knows the language they speak, the background they live in and the genuine changes they need. 

Nandini Sharma is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at nandis2@uci.edu