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Connective Action and Chinese American Immigrant Politics

Sat, September 1, 10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Regis


The traditional model of collective action has focused on group political behavior as influenced by factors such as civic organizations and elected leaders. This model has historically had limitations for a large, foreign-born population such as Asian Americans. Some argue that connective action, the process of social media and civic engagement through mobile devices such as the smartphone, has provided new political affordances and opportunities to historically marginalized groups such as the youth, racial minorities, and immigrants by allowing a lower entryway to participate in the civic arena. In doing so, we see emerging voices taking shape that have often been muted in the traditional model of collective action because of factors such as low naturalization rates or limited English proficiency. Perhaps the most visible example can be seen with the recent mobilizations among Chinese immigrants who utilized social media platforms such as Twitter to share information and to voice their concerns against affirmative action and police accountability bring into light the emergence of a conservative identity among this influential population. Smartphone apps such as WeChat and its forums replaced and became part of the organization infrastructure themselves that are necessary for political mobilization. This preliminary study examines the emergence of these political strands of conservatism among Chinese immigrants by focusing on the following two case studies that involved connective actions: the 2012 California Senate Constitutional Amendment (SCA) 5, which attempted to bring affirmative action back into its U.C. college admissions; and the 2015-16 criminal trial of former New York Police Department officer Peter Liang, who was being tried for manslaughter in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed African American. Twitter analysis was done on tweets that included key hashtags of both case studies to demonstrate the scope and influence of social media for Chinese immigrants and other Asian Americans. In addition, contextual analysis is offered as to why Chinese immigrants voiced their concerns and protested often for the first time in their lives, how they mobilized in non-tradition ways against both issues through social media platforms on smartphones, and what it means for conceptualizing Asian American politics in the digital age. While the key political players in both case studies were largely conservative Chinese immigrants, the impact and reach of connective action extends to Asian Americans of all ideologies.