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Head of Asian American Group gets politicians’ attention

Mike Vaswani is all about unity. His business card reads: Unity Is Our Priority & Strength. You’d expect no less from the president of the Asian American Group, an umbrella group of more than 30 diverse Asian associations.

AAG now includes Koreans, Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, Chinese, Malaysians, Thai, Laotians, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesians, Singaporeans and Middle Easterners.

AAG’s political clout is such that both Rory Reid and Brian Sandoval are vying for its gubernatorial endorsement.

Asian-American voters are desirable on two levels. Many are campaign contributors, and they vote in proportionately larger numbers than other minorities.

In 2008, Vaswani said proudly, 95 percent of the candidates endorsed by AAG won their elections. Asian-Americans support both Democrats and Republicans, so parties can’t take AAG’s endorsement for granted.

“Mike is a really, really hard worker and AAG holds incredible events,” Reid said. “When he says, ‘Show up,’ a lot of people do. For anyone in the political world, that’s significant.”

Vaswani, 66, left India for Africa when he was 17 and lived all over the world before immigrating to the United States in 1970. He moved to Las Vegas in 1995, joining his wife, Rita.

AAG was formed in 1993 by Dr. Peter Lok, Vaswani’s mentor, and Vaswani took over as president in 2002. He also heads the Asian American Coalition of Las Vegas, which raises money to support charitable efforts.

Vaswani has become a conduit linking the Asian community with the law enforcement community and this spring was honored by FBI Director Robert Mueller with the Director’s Community Leadership Award, the first Las Vegan to be so honored.

“I am blessed by the FBI award,” Vaswani said. “I don’t think I deserve it.”

Holly James, the FBI’s community coordinator, disagreed. “Mike’s been very helpful to the FBI. He’s letting his community know not to be afraid of law enforcement.”

When mortgage fraud cases were being investigated, Vaswani said he gave some leads to the FBI about friends who had been ripped off. “It’s known in the community, I help everybody.”

Vaswani works for unity, not only within the Asian community, but with the Hispanic and African-American community. When the Asian community was overlooked in a 2008 Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas addressing minority issues, he complained to the Democrat hierarchy. They quickly corrected their faux pas.

Currently, his political priority is to see more Asian-Americans appointed to boards and commissions by governors, county commissioners and city council members. He estimates there are more than 150,000 Asians in Las Vegas and they are not well-represented through appointments.

Vaswani owns three small group homes for Alzheimer’s patients called Happy Adult Care and works as a zoning consultant. He said he is not interested in being appointed himself. “I try to stay low key,” he said.

During a party recently to celebrate his FBI award, one of only 51 leadership awards for 2009, speakers talked about his humility. But being humble doesn’t mean he won’t use statistics like bullets.

“In the United States, 60 to 70 percent of motels are owned by Indians, 40 percent of the top hotels are owned by Indians, 90 percent of smoke shops are owned by Indians, 70 percent of 7-Eleven’s are owned by Indians, 40 percent of gas stations are owned by Indians. There are 42,000 Indian doctors in the U.S. After all that achievement, we don’t get recognized.”

Although he is widely known in political, law enforcement and Asian circles, Vaswani isn’t a household word in Las Vegas. It took the FBI to recognize his achievements on a national level.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 702- 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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