Asian Americans for Trump: Interview with Minnesota’s First Asian-American GOP Chairwoman
Asian Americans have largely been left out of the political debate, but that may be changing for the 2020 presidential election. Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic and the overall highest-earning group. In our special series about Asian Americans for Trump, we talk to Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan.
Becoming Minnesota’s First Asian-American Republican Party Chairwoman
Jennifer Carnahan was adopted at five months old from South Korea and grew up in Minnesota. She worked in branding and marketing for several Fortune 500 companies before becoming the first Asian-American woman to be elected Chair of the Minnesota Republican Party in 2017. She was re-elected to her second term just this year. She’s also a small business owner and serves on President Trump’s Commission for Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
Why did you decide to go into politics?
Jennifer Carnahan: I’ve always cared about politics. I’ve been talking about politics since I was like eight or nine years old. I wasn’t involved like some of these other young kids that their parents are really involved and so they get involved, door knocking and showing up. It wasn’t to that level…. You can ask any of my friends from any stage of my life. I’m always the one that somehow turns the conversation into a political conversation.
In 2014 I decided to step away from corporate America and start my own business. So 2014 and 2015 is when I opened [my business]. You don’t know how hard it is to become an entrepreneur until you actually do it. And there were so many things I learned. And when I look back, I’m like, oh, I could’ve done that differently, or I should have done that differently. But you just don’t know until you know.
And I just realized how challenging it was and I just became frustrated with the government. And I’m like, you know what, I have to stop sitting on the sidelines because if I truly actually want to try to make change, then I need to figure out how to get involved and make change instead of just complaining and calling my friends every week … that’s what prompted me to get involved.
Running for Minnesota’s Republican Party Chair
Why did you choose to run for Minnesota Republican Party Chair?
Jennifer Carnahan: Originally I was asked to run for the Minnesota State Senate in Minneapolis–not a winnable seat for a Republican. But I took on the challenge because I wanted to understand more about politics…. I learned a lot of things in a race that no one even cared that I was running because the Democrats were never going to lose the seat. Republicans were never going to win it. So everyone just kind of let me do my own thing and figure it out, which was good because I really enjoyed it.
And after I was done with that, I just started to think about how can I stay involved in politics and where could I actually bring my skill set forward and have it be utilized…. And the reason I thought of chair is because my background is business. I have my MBA, I’ve led $500 million business units. I’m a marketer at heart, a marketing strategy, brand management, product management. These are all the tools that the chair is responsible to do at the Party.
Hate Mail from Democrats
Are you getting hate mail?
Jennifer Carnahan: Yeah, I actually get it from the Democrats. The hate mail that I get is from Democrats, not from Republicans. It was right after I first took office. I won’t repeat the words, but Democrats called me the worst slang word you can refer to an Asian person as. I was getting things like, “You’re a dragon lady,” you know, “Go back to North Korea.” Well, I’m not from North Korea, I’m from South Korea. So understand the difference. Right? So it was a lot of that. You know, “I can’t believe that your Party would elect someone like you.”
Silence from the Mainstream Media
Why aren’t we hearing about your story in the mainstream media?
Jennifer Carnahan: It’s alarming to me that they don’t because I have gone to several reporters in the Twin Cities and asked to be able to share my story because nobody should have to experience any of the words that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m, number one, against … racism or hate speech or ignorance. I don’t like it because I went through it personally … I don’t want them [nieces and nephew] to have to experience what I had to experience because for a lot of the time growing up I felt ashamed of myself and hated what I looked like. And now I don’t anymore. Nobody should ever have to go through that.
But I’ve tried to pitch this to the media here and no one will cover it because I’m Republican. If I were a Democrat, I have no doubt it would be covered widely here. And I bet I would be on every national news outlet to be able to share the story. But because I’m Republican, nobody will consider it.
Jennifer Carnahan: It’s disappointing because racism is not aligned to a political party. It’s aligned to a person that was either raised that way or was taught the wrong things…. But when the media only covers one side, actually in my opinion, it makes racism worse. It perpetuates the problem that we’ve had in this country, which obviously way predates me. And when I think of it from a political standpoint–I actually said this in a speech Saturday and people were shocked–I said, quite honestly, I think the Democrats are the Party that espouses racism because, when they try to look at all of us and say, you must be identified as Asian American or black American or Hispanic or a woman, and they try to put us in these boxes.
I don’t want to be in a box of an Asian American. I am an American. I am Jennifer Carnahan. I just want people to look at me and say, that’s my friend Jennifer. I don’t want people to say, oh, my friend Jennifer is Asian. I would just want people to know me as Jennifer, and I feel like they try to continuously put us in these boxes and it’s very, very frustrating.
Why are Asian Americans Ignored Politically?
Why do you think Asian Americans are ignored when it comes to politics?
Jennifer Carnahan: I feel like it’s that way in general, not even politics. I feel like Asians are the forgotten race in this country. It’s like there’s a pecking order of race, and Asians are at the bottom. It’s like the African-American community is first, Hispanic second, and Asians third. And I felt that way my whole life. So it’s not even just politics, right? It’s beyond that.
In Minnesota, yes, there is a huge Asian population in Minnesota, and they do vote Democrat. It’s because Republicans have not gone into those communities and started to build inroads and started to basically do the marketing and communications and awareness to them…. So we’re going to start taking small steps to start to build awareness in those communities.
A Message of Unity for All Americans
Do you have any final words?
Jennifer Carnahan: The big thing is, at the end of the day, we all love this country. Our job is to fulfill our dreams and make sure that the next generations are set up for success. And I just live by this life value of always trying to be positive. I always want to lift other people up. I always want to be optimistic, and I look for the best in every situation and every person because, if we start looking for the worst in people, where are we going to end up? Nowhere.
Press play at the top to listen to the rest of Jennifer Carnahan’s in-depth interview. You can find out about her years growing up in Minnesota and the advice she has for young people who are afraid to voice conservative views in public.