When Paul Bannai became the first Japanese American elected to the California State Assembly in 1973, the local newspaper noted that he would be "a double minority… a Republican Japanese American." Yet among the state's Japanese American elected officials, Bannai would in fact be among the majority. As a 1979 survey of Japanese Americans in elective partisan offices in California found, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by nearly 2 to 1. While conservatives of color continue to challenge our typical understandings of the relationship between racialization and political identity, scholars have all but forgotten the long history of Asian Americans and the Republican Party. This talk explores the election of Japanese American Republicans in California to understand the unexpected success of Japanese American elected officials. By analyzing their electoral strategies, profiles, and outcomes, I consider their implications for understanding the changing landscape of postwar Asian American racial formation.
Vivian Yan-Gonzalez is a historian of race and politics in the 20th century United States. Her work examines the intersections of liberal and conservative thought, politics, and style in Asian American communities. Her current book project, “A Spectrum Apart: Chinese and Japanese American Republicans and Conservatives, 1920-1990,” is the first history of the meanings, boundaries, and strategies of Asian American electoral politics.