How Other Minorities Gained Access: The War on Poverty and Asian American and Latino Community Organizing

Published date01 March 2022
Date01 March 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 75(1) 89 –102
Political Research Quarterly
© 2020 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912920983456
The power of racial minorities in the United States comes
from the coordination of ethnic groups belonging to the
same racial category. The United States is becoming a
minority–majority nation driven by the population growth
of Latinos1 and Asian Americans. Latinos have now sur-
passed African Americans as the second-largest racial
group, and Asian Americans have become the fastest
growing racial group in the United States. However,
demographics are not destiny. Asian Americans and
Latinos both encompass disparate national origin groups.
If these subgroups do not have a sense of internal unity,
their population increase does not translate into a growth
of their political power.
For this reason, understanding the conditions under
which Asian Americans and Latinos became organized as
coherent groups is important. Until a half-century ago,
the terms “Asian Americans” and “Latinos” themselves
did not exist. In the early twentieth century, Asian
Americans and Latinos organized among their respective
groups of national origin and focused on assimilation into
American society. For instance, the Japanese American
Citizens League (JACL) and the League of United Latin
American Citizens (LULAC)2 were exclusively con-
cerned about their own groups despite the fact that racial
discrimination knows no bounds. Furthermore, the two
organizations seemed to only concentrate on the middle-
class and American citizens among them (it was no coin-
cidence that the term “citizens” was included in the names
of both organizations).
Only in the late 1960s and 1970s did national origin
groups from Asia and Latin America begin to form pan-
ethnic3 organizations that emphasized solidarity. Ethnic
and class dimensions informed this change. These new
organizations strengthened their focus on marginalized
members: the poor, women, elderly, and children.
Figure 1 describes this transition systematically, draw-
ing on my original dataset on 818 Asian American and
Latino advocacy and community service organizations
(CSOs). The data divide panethnic organizations into
three categories: advocacy, community service, and
hybrid organizations. Advocacy organizations are
983456PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920983456Political Research QuarterlyKim
1University of California, Berkeley, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jae Yeon Kim, Department of Political Science, University of
California, Berkeley, 210 Barrows Hall 1950, Berkeley, CA 94720,
How Other Minorities Gained Access:
The War on Poverty and Asian American
and Latino Community Organizing
Jae Yeon Kim1
In the early twentieth century, Asian Americans and Latinos organized along national origin lines and focused on
assimilation; By the 1960s and 1970s, community organizers from both groups began to form panethnic community
service organizations (CSOs) that emphasized solidarity. I argue that focusing on the rise of panethnic CSOs reveals
an underappreciated mechanism that has mobilized Asian Americans and Latinos—the welfare state. The War on
Poverty programs incentivized non-black minority community organizers to form panethnic CSOs to gain access
to state resources and serve the economically disadvantaged in their communities. Drawing on extensive archival
research, I identify this mechanism and test it with my original dataset of 818 Asian American and Latino advocacy
organizations and CSOs. Leveraging the Reagan budget cut, I show that dismantling the War on Poverty programs
reduced the founding rate of panethnic CSOs. I further estimated that a 1 percent increase in federal funding was
associated with the increase of the two panethnic CSOs during the War on Poverty. The findings demonstrate how
access to state resources forces activists among non-primary beneficiary groups to build new political identities that
fit the dominant image of the policy beneficiaries.
War on Poverty, social policy, community organizing, Asian Americans, Latinos, panethnicity

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