The APIAVote-Michigan Blog
On December 4th, APIAVote-Michigan attended the first annual convention for the Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Immigration Reform (AIR), held at the Compas Center for Music and the Performing Arts in Southwest Detroit. The purpose of the convention was to strategize a campaign to perform the Alliance's titular task of protecting immigrants' rights and creating comprehensive immigration reform, while faced with a majority anti-immigrant legislative environment following the results of this Fall's mid-term elections.
The convention featured speeches and presentations from several public officials and members of organizations who are pro-immigrant, such as Congressman John Conyers, Ryan Bates (AIR), Ali Noorani (National Immigration Forum), and Art Reyes (Michigan Commission on Latino and Hispanic Affairs). Although we do not feel it is appropriate to specifically reveal the strategies the convention decided upon, we can say that the current political climate for pro-immigrant legislation is daunting; at least for the next two years, regarding immigration reform, we are in crisis mode.
You may be wondering why Asian Americans are should be concerned over the immigration debate. Perhaps you see immigration as a strictly Hispanic and Latino issue. Please, sit back as we drop some knowledge on the relevance of immigration to the Asian American community.
Historically, Asian immigration was the original reason for the creation of the United States' first immigration policies. The Page Act, passed in 1875, prevented the immigration of Chinese women due the suspicion of prostitution. It was an early attempt to protect the sanctity of the United States from the "Asiatic taint." However, the first real heavy legislation was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which specifically barred the Chinese from coming to the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed as a response to strong nativist sentiments and pressure by unionized laborers, who claimed that unskilled Chinese laborers were taking their jobs and accepting wages that were too low to support an American family.
Still, the demand for cheap labor remained. One by one, the Japanese, South Asians, and Filipinos were brought into the United States to supplement the unskilled workforce, and then systematically excluded. Here's a quick list:
1907: Gentleman's Agreement - essentially excluded the Japanese
1917: Asiatic Barred Zone - created a zone over much of Asia, and excluded immigration from any country within that zone, including all of South Asia
1924: National Origins Act - excluded immigration from all aliens ineligible for citizenship -- non-whites, really.)
1934: Tydings-McDuffie Act - up to this point, Filipinos were "privileged" with virtually unrestricted immigration to the US, as the Philippines became a US territory in 1898. This Act guaranteed Philippine independence after a 12-year period, and in return, immediately restricted Filipino immigration to 50 persons a year. After the Philippines gained independence, Filipinos would be excluded.
Things changed in 1965. The US wanted to be the bastion of freedom in a world caught up in the Cold War. In order to do so, they needed to re-open their borders. The Immigration Act of 1965 is more or less the basis for our current immigration policy. It privileges immigration visas for family reunification and for highly skilled and educated workers. The family reunification allowances have resulted in rapid growth for the Asian American community, allowing families to come to the US through chain migration -- family members sponsoring other family members to join them overseas. The employment preferences have also drastically affected our community, resulting in the public image of Asian Americans typically being extremely proficient in math and the sciences, as well as being well-educated and affluent.
However, immigration remains an important issue for many Asian Americans. There is a sizable portion of Asian undocumented immigrants, known as "overstays," who remain in the United States after their visas have expired. Their stories mirror that of the Hispanic and Latino immigrants. Take, for example, Hui Ling Ng. Ng came to the United States on a tourist visa, then applied for asylum after his visa expired. In the meantime, Ng went to school, found work, and got married. His request for asylum was denied. His spouse, a US citizen, sponsored him for a green card, but the process takes five years. In 2007, with his immigration status technically being undocumented, Ng was picked up and detained by ICE when he appeared for his green card interview, and was processed for deportation. Over the next year, his family sought his release. In 2008, Ng health deteriorated and he complained of back problems. ICE insisted he was faking illness. When a judge finally ordered him to receive medical attention, he was found to have terminal cancer and a fractured spine. Ng died five days later.
Immigration and Asian Americans are inextricably linked. For that reason, APIAVote-Michigan stands as an ally for immigration reform. We work to give our community a strong political voice, especially to those in our community who are silenced.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I was born in Korea, actually. Came here when I was 19 months old. Was adopted and grew up in Taylor, Michigan – that's where I came to from Korea. Went to the local schools and graduated from Truman High School. I was able to go to the University of Michigan, studied political science, among other things there, and got my undergraduate degree in '96. I ended up working on a campaign right after college, and that was a big campaign year, and so that was a great experience for me. The guy who ran, who I was helping ran for state representative and ended up winning one of the closest races in the state, so it was just all around a really good experience. I ended up working in Lansing as a state legislative aide for a number of years, and then in 2002 I ended up running for state representative. I ran for the guy...for the seat for the guy I was working for. His name was Ray Basham, and so I ran to succeed him. He's from my area, obviously. I was successful in doing that and then I served in the Michigan House, and ended that in December of 2008 and now I'm running for the state senate. So that's kind of in a nutshell, a little bit about me.
Did your identity as an Asian American have any impact on your decision to get involved or start a political career?
You know, my dad really rubbed off on me. He was involved on the City Council in Taylor, he's involved with the Teacher's Union here in Michigan, so I kind of got those things rubbed off on my growing up. You know, it's something that I thought about, but it didn't have a major decision on whether or not I was going to run. It was just a matter of how would this impact my potential candidacy, so that was kind of the thought process that went on. It was just one of those things where the decision is, “Are you going to run?” and then you figure out how to do that.
Why did you choose to align yourself with the Democratic Party?
Big influence from my dad. He was a Democrat. He was very involved with the Democratic Party and I grew up with that. I worked on campaigns and campaigned for other people before I really knew what it was all about, and going to the University of Michigan and going over and becoming my own person really helped solidify some of my thoughts and concerns about how this world works and why I'm a Democrat. So, it was something that's evolved over time, however, started at a pretty young age, I think.
What are some of your top issues that you would address if elected?
The economy is really a major issue. We're downriver. You know, we're blue collar manufacturing, auto...so really addressing some of those economic issues. People are looking for jobs. People need work, and in some cases, people need hope to know that there's something else out there. So those are definitely some of the things I want to work on – the whole economic issue and trying to get our economy moving again, support manufacturing, support autos as much as I can. But also, sort of look for other industries, look for ways to diversify what we do in Michigan so that there is other opportunities for people. Education is a major part of that, so working on the education system, supporting and at the same time challenging it to do things differently or to do things better is a major part of the work I want to do.
How do you think these issues affect the Asian American community?
There's issues that I think are a little more specific to the Asian American community, but there's these general big issues that everyone cares about, so I think the economy is certainly something that everyone cares about. Part of the Asian American community's existence in Michigan is based on the auto sector and manufacturing, however that's not the whole story, so the extent that I can support autos and manufacturing affects the community. I'm also looking at ways the community has grown, changed, and all the different opportunities that are possible there. That's where some of the diversification comes into play. Everyone cares about education, and I think for Asian Americans that's certainly true, and we're looking into improve the system and make sure there are opportunities that are broad based that are available to everyone.
As a community that in some ways has an immigrant basis, or a large number of immigrants and have English as a second language, I think there are some issues to access different services – maybe within education, but also health care, the basic things like voting rights – something your organization if particularly focused on. I just think that if people know what their rights are and they're equipped to access whatever services they are entitled to – I think that's one of the issues that people have issues with. Maybe it's a language thing, or maybe it's a lack of familiarity, or maybe it's the social network that Asians engage in. Whatever the causes let's figure out the barriers and try to knock them down.
Why do you think it's important for Asian Americans to get out there and vote?
I think it matters on a number of different fronts, but I think so just our voices are heard. And I think that if there are issues that are out there that affect our community and we're not voting and not participating to the extent that we could, then maybe that will mean that our voices aren't heard as much as they should be, and just to make sure we're participating in the process, that we engage our elected officials and they know that we're here and that we have concerns is very important.
Do you have any advice for Asian American youth who would like start a political career?
I think it's an incredible arena to get into. The practical advice is just to get involved, to participate, whether it's through campaigns or through organizations, and in voting. Make sure you know who you're voting for and why, and what they stand for – things like that and how they impact your life. One is just a basic level of being involved, and that's what I would say to anyone in the Asian American community, but particularly youth and you think about someone doing something for the first time and they're learning a lot as a younger person. I think it's a great opportunity to see something you may not have known was out there. So that's what I tell people: if you cut off certain opportunities for yourself then you don't even know what is possible, so being involved and even at some point running for office is a way to think about yourself in a different way and to get outside of whatever confines that you or other people have placed for you.
There's more, but the other piece is to be yourself and own yourself, and be comfortable with that. If you try to be someone else to run for office, I don't think that works to that extent. It doesn't let you sell the best attributes about yourself. So I think that's very important. There's this genuineness that I think people are looking for and want to see in their elected officials and candidates, so that's one thing that people can do. Think about the issues and think about where they stand and what's important to them, but then as a person, to be true to yourself and to run as a candidate that way, or to be involved with whatever you're involved with, based on who you are.
Any parting shots or last things to add?
I certainly hope everyone gets out and votes on November 2nd. It's a very important election, but beyond that, I think every election if very important. Elections are not just one day events, and I think it's very important for us as a community to be involved and aware of the issues that impact us, our communities, our state, and our country. As much as I can suggest or support people wanting to be involved in their communities, I think it's a wonderful thing.
Interview conducted by Nancy Yan, Fall 2010 Intern
How do you think being Asian American has had an impact on your life and or your decision to run for office?
Well, being Asian American has affected my life in the sense that I bring to my life different depths of life experiences. I lived in other countries then I immigrated to the United States. I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and lived my early childhood years there. Then I lived in the Netherlands as a political refugee because Indonesia was a Dutch colony at one time so I lived there for another 5 some years and then I arrived in the United States January of 1960 at the age of 11. So most of my life has been lived in the United States but the simple fact is that as an Asian American, you are considered an Asian American simply because of your principal features so your experience is somewhat different than others who are from the majority culture. Whether it had an influence on me in making the decision to run for the state office, I think so, I think what it had me do is recognize that as Asian Americans, we must become more actively involved in the community whether it’s political, or non-profit, or charity type of thing. We must be more visible and more contributing to the richness of the community that we live in. So I have been doing that in all my years living in Grand Rapids. I have been actively involved in the business community, I’ve been actively involved in civic affairs, in charity work, and it was a natural progression for me to take a look at the political arena as the next step of being able to contribute and participate in the life of the community.
If you were elected, what are some of the top issues you would like to address?
The issues I would like to address is not so much an Asian American issue, it’s a people issue. I think what I would like to address as a small business owner are economic development issues especially as they pertain to the core urban centers of our cities. My district I am running for includes the Grand Rapids urban core center of the city, so I have always been concerned about the economic development, especially in those areas. I think economic development that can be beneficial for all of us and create more businesses in those particular communities will help us a great deal because more people can get jobs and more jobs can create more revenues and give people hope and give people an opportunity to purchase products which creates again revenues so economic development will be my main focus for my participation in Lansing.
What is the top issue you think is facing the Asian American community?
For the Asian American community, I think that we have the opportunity to contribute a great deal. We have many talents, we have many skills, and we just need to step up and say here we are and here I am and am willing to participate in the process with the communities that we live in. The other part of it is that I think the Asian American community will have to be participating in the discussion about immigration and how the conversation on immigration can positively or negatively impact our presence in our communities.
What does the Republican Party stand for in your eyes?
I am part of the Republican Party because of President Gerald R. Ford who I believe is not a politician, he’s a statesman. He was willing to have conversations with anyone and everyone irrespective of their party affiliation. He was willing to do what was needed to be done and what was right to be done for everyone, not just Republicans or Democrats. I think that for me, that’s the value that I hold as a Republican candidate. I am more concerned with what is going to be the impact of my decisions on everyone and not just the party affiliations. I look at the wellbeing of the whole district that I represent and the whole state I live in.
How did you come to become involved in the party?
I’ve never been deeply involved with the party. I’m really a political novice in that sense. Again my party affiliation decision again was based on a situation that occurred in our family’s lives in the 1960s where at that time Representative Gerald Ford stepped in to address a discrimination issue that my father was experiencing and he stepped in because no one else wanted to step in to address it in Grand Rapids. When friends of my father went to Gerald Ford and said this is wrong and something needs to be done, he listened to the situation and said this is wrong and he stepped in. So my party affiliation is really a sense of loyalty to what President Ford did on behalf of my family. I have never really been actively involved or politically involved. I’ve always been actively involved in serving the community in other ways, not so much in a political way, so this is really a new avenue for me to serve and contribute to the people of the 75th district.
What would you like to say to the Asian American community to encourage them to get out and vote?
We, as a group of people, I think, so thinking for myself, I have been very blessed and for given a great deal by this wonderful country so we must return and show our appreciation for the things we have received in this country by actively participating in the voting process. Then I would like to encourage those who have the time, the energy, and the commitment and the passion to go beyond the voting process and actively participate by the actual running for the political offices. I think it is very important for the Asian Americans population to become more visible and more actively involved in the public policies of our cities, of our state, of our nation because we do have something to contribute and we have a perspective that is needed to be heard to enrich everyone, not just for ourselves, but to enrich everyone and we can’t do that if we continue to stay quietly and silently on the sidelines. We have to become involved and actively involved.
Stay tuned for more Asian American candidate interviews, coming soon!
By: Wendy Yuan, APIAVote-MI Summer 2010 Intern
APIAVote- MI presented a great opportunity to explore what I was looking for. My participation on campus at the University of Michigan spurred me to take the chance to see how things played out in the APIA community outside of a college campus. I knew that the APIA community in the real world would be different from the APIA community on campus and I was intrigued to find what those differences would be.
Immediately after my acceptance of the internship, I was sent to Arizona for a week-long training. The timing and location of the training could not have been more perfect in terms of what was pertinent to the current political climate of the country. It was held in Phoenix, Arizona right as the Senate Bill 1070 got signed by Governor Brewer. During the week-long training, I learned valuable skills on how to be an effective organizer in my community while at the same time got the chance to practice these newly learned skills with a local organization that was currently fighting against the SB1070 bill from going into effect. Being able to go into the Latino community, especially when I didn’t speak the language, gave me the experience and confidence I needed to successfully help APIAVote- MI. I quickly learned that being an effective organizer really required me to listen to what others had to say and allow them to tell their stories. Essentially that was the key for people to become engaged in civic participation.
The training went by quickly and the real work begun once I got back to Michigan. My main project was setting up registration drives at various APIA community events. The goal for APIAVote- MI this election is to register 750 new voters in the APIA community. The first event I attended was at the annual Hmong Soccer Tournament. Although I was unfamiliar with other Asian American organizations and what they did, the Hmong Soccer Tournament was a good first impression on what was to come. It was a great first event as throughout the months of June, July, and August, I set up more registration drives at other APIA community events such as picnics or church services or any community gatherings. In the process, I was able to meet numerous people and establish connections with various organizations that I had never even known about. Furthermore, being responsible for coordinating volunteers for each event was an experience. Planning for the volunteer BBQ that was held at the end of July really helped me hone my organizational skills.
Another aspect of my internship involved helping the youth leadership corps that was newly started this summer. Helping the youth leadership corps plan for their field day was something familiar to me as I already had experience planning different events on campus like MAASU, GenAPA, APIA Heritage Month, and various programs hosted by my sorority, Kappa Phi Lambda. I was happy to share my experiences in this area of event planning and it was great to be a mentor to the high school students in the youth leadership corps. It was impressive to see them committed to being involved in the APIA community at an early age.
Overall, my internship experience was fulfilling. I accomplished what I set out to achieve and learned new knowledge and skills along the way. Most importantly, I realized how much of an impact the APIA community potentially has in regards to becoming a mobilized voting bloc. Getting out in the field was an eye-opening experience for me, especially since my interactions with various APIA communities was extremely new to me. Being able to learn about the immigration debate and immigration reform was thoroughly enjoyable. I think it definitely peaked my interest in that area. Even though my internship is complete, I continue to look forward to working with APIAVote- MI in the near future. In fact, I am eager to see how the voter registration project at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University will turn out.
By: Samira Ahmed
APIAVote-Michigan and American Citizens for Justice joined together to undertake their Census 2010 Project which was intended to garner a higher census mail return rate for the Asian American community in Southeast Michigan. Barbara Stachowski and I were contracted as co-coordinators of this project and dived right into things on January 4, 2010. Along with the Supervisory Committee, Barbara and I strategized plans for outreach as we embarked upon the major undertaking of reaching out to a vast and diverse Asian American populace in the area. We made our focus major community events, worship services, and community meetings and gatherings. This strategy proved highly effective as we reached out to over 9,500 members of the Asian American community of Southeast Michigan. We are also hoping that we helped contribute to Michigan’s impressive 77% participation rate, making it one of the top five states in regards to mail participation rate. Cities like Troy, Canton, and Rochester Hills, areas where we conducted a great deal of outreach, were among the top 50 cities with 50,000 residents with the highest mail participation rates in the country, with rates above 80%.
It is not only numbers that we have to show for our success however, we were also able to form new relationships and collaborations within the Asian American community in Southeast Michigan. In addition, this four month experience was without a doubt one of the most interesting and fascinating ones I have undertaken. I have lived in Southeast Michigan all my life, but I had never understood how diverse the Asian American community in the area truly was. Even among the South Asian community that I belong to, there were so many different cultural, language, and religious groups that I never knew existed. There was one day I went from a play that was hosted by a Marathi (state/language group of India) play, to a meeting of the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI), to the Swaminarayan Temple in Canton which hosts a primarily Gujarati (state/language group of India) congregation, to finally a meeting of Bangladeshi community leaders in Hamtramck. This was all just within the South Asian community! From Filipino mass to the Chinese Lantern Festival to the Cambodian New Year celebration, it was enthralling to learn about new communities and the nuances within each one. Barbara and I had to learn to tailor our approach to each community and ensure that we were speaking to their concerns. The census was important to different groups for often vastly different reasons and, as Barbara and I became more and more familiar with the various groups and established a sense of familiarity, we were able to effectively convey our message of the census’s importance to each community.
Barbara and my outreach experience gave us a great deal of insight into the way future civic engagement campaigns can operate. By establishing strong relationships with community leaders and becoming a well-known presence, we were able to achieve our goals (in this case allaying individuals’ fears regarding confidentiality and encouraging participation in the 2010 Census) with much greater ease. We also recognized the importance of tailoring your message to each community’s needs in order to successfully engage its members. As cliché as it may sound, one of the most important things I learned is that you have to be willing to learn from those you are working with as much as they are learning from you. By establishing relationships with members of a community and really listening to their concerns, you are better able to assess what is truly important to them on a personal level. It is my sincere hope that our work will be of great help in future APIAVote-MI advocacy and outreach campaigns and will provide us a strong starting point in organizing around issues of voter registration, immigration, civil rights, and more.
By: Barbara Stachowski
The APIAVote-Michigan Annual Meeting held on April 25, 2010 at the Korean Cultural Center provided an opportunity for myself and Samira Ahmed, the 2010 Census Project Co-coordinators, to present a summary of the joint partnership of the APIAVote-Michigan and the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) team census project that was intended to increase the mail return rate for the 2010 Census.
In reflecting back over the last four months, we were thrilled to report that we had participated in more than 80 community events and had engaged more than 9, 500 members of the diverse Asian Pacific Islander American community in Michigan.
There were many highlights during the project.
One of our greatest successes included securing two (Detroit) City Connect grants to provide outreach to the hard-to-count Hmong population in the Osborn High School area in Detroit. This outreach included addressing 21 sections of English class during one school day at Osborn High School. Visiting Mr. Cue’s Hmong homeroom sparked a great conversation during which we strategized how to encourage non-English speaking elders to participate in the Census.
In March, we facilitated a community leader roundtable and an Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) training at the People’s Community Services site in Hamtramck to focus on the issues of privacy that face immigrants. It was especially rewarding to establish new relationships with the Bangladeshi community in Hamtramck.
There were many key lessons that were learned and the successful engagement of the community was possible because of the firmly established relationships in place as a result of APIAVote-Michigan’s grassroots activities over the past several years.
It is critical as advocates to understand the diverse dynamics involved in engaging immigrants that are in the US by choice and those that here as forced refugees because they were victims of human rights violations in their home countries.
Strategies for addressing the uniqueness of each community were successful in gaining trust and laying the foundation for future APIA advocacy programs for voting, immigration, citizenship and community surveys.
By Sam Singh
In just a few short months, hundreds of thousands of Census questionnaires will be mailed to residents across the state to gather critical information about our communities and the state as a whole; information that will be used to determine how to distribute millions of dollars in federal funding.
The 2010 Census is an extraordinary opportunity for Michigan – and the nonprofit community – to rebuild our state.
So this time around, we’re planning ahead.
Ten years ago, Michigan was severely undercounted in the 2000 Census. It is estimated that more than 70,000 people were missed, costing the state of Michigan millions in federal funding. With a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, the 2010 Census is critical to Michigan’s future.
Thankfully, the US Census Bureau revamped the Census, making it easier and far less time consuming to participate. What was once an intimidating, extensive questionnaire filled with dozens of questions is now a simple 10-question survey. This time, the Census is quick – take 10 minutes of time for 10 years of support to your community.
The Census isn’t just about counting our residents – it’s about making sure our residents count. Census data is used to determine political representation; where to build new roads, schools, and businesses; where services for the elderly and the homeless are necessary; and where jobs and job programs are needed.
The nonprofit community is uniquely positioned to dramatically strengthen and improve this year’s census participation because you often directly serve these hard-to-count populations. The Nonprofits Count! in Michigan campaign is committed to preparing nonprofits with the training, materials and resources they need to ensure that their constituents and communities are accurately represented and counted. No sector is stronger and better positioned to meet the challenge of achieving a complete count.
How can we meet that challenge?
First, we must raise awareness of the Census far before March of 2010. Michigan’s historically undercounted residents – immigrants, people of color, low-income families, and those who are highly mobile and live in complex households – walk in and out of our doors every day. We must capitalize on our opportunities to talk about the census in everyday contact through your communications, services and activities. Talk about what the Census is and promote participation by citing the benefits of a complete count.
As trusted members in the community, we can help minimize traditional barriers to participation and put residents at ease by addressing their concerns and answering their questions. Let them know it’s quick, easy, and confidential. Most importantly, tell them what’s at stake – for themselves, their families and their community.
We must make our mission to achieve a complete count a community wide effort by reaching out to community leaders, lawmakers, neighborhood groups, and religious-based organizations. Partner with other local nonprofits and contact your local census office to coordinate educational meetings and events informing your communities about their rights, responsibilities and the importance of participating in the Census.
The Nonprofits Count! in Michigan campaign has a Census Toolkit available for nonprofit organizations across the nation, complete with language specific messaging, informational materials and strategies to engage undercounted residents. In addition to the toolkit, MNA’s census web page, www.MNAonline.org/census.asp, is filled with resources about how your nonprofit can be part of the 2010 Census.
Public education is essential for a complete count. Urge members of your community to take 10: take 10 minutes to answer 10 questions for 10 years of benefits. Arm your offices with census materials, incorporate census education into daily activities and utilize committed staff and volunteers to ensure our communities are accurately represented and counted.
Everyday we challenge ourselves to make a difference. Make the most of the opportunity to shape the future of our state – and our sector – by joining the movement to make the 2010 Census an unprecedented success for all of us.
Sam Singh is the census consultant for Michigan Nonprofit Association and serves on the advisory board for APIAVote-Michigan.
By: Prasanna Vengadam
It’s time we changed the immigration process. Asian Pacific Americans have consistently experienced exclusion and unjust immigration laws since the 1800’s. These laws do not provide APA’s equal access to pursue the American dream. Right now, it’s a long, expensive, and unfair process. Depending on the visa, it takes anywhere from 5-10 years to become a green card holder, and another 5 years to become a citizen. It also costs about $5,000 – 10,000 for a family of two or three members.
It’s a shame that while most APA’s are skilled professionals who contribute to America’s economy, they are not able to enjoy the same quality of life. Skilled APA’s are separated from their families for unacceptable length of time. My friend, a naturalized U.S. citizen, got married to his fiancée in India in June of 2007. She had to wait 22 months to join her husband. These skilled professionals are contributing to the economy, but the path to their citizenship doesn’t seem to have an end.
Note: Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote - Michigan is a member of the Reform Immigration For America coalition.
"The necessary components of reform include: (1) improving the economic situation of all workers in the United States; (2) legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants working and living in the United States; (3) reforming visa programs to keep families together, protecting workers’ rights, and ensuring that future immigration is regulated and controlled rather than illegal and chaotic; (4) implementing smart, effective enforcement measures targeted at the worst violators of immigration and labor laws; (5) prioritizing immigrant integration into our communities and country; and (6) respecting the due process rights of all in the United States."
By Stephanie Chang
In 2008, we witnessed and took part in American democracy at its best – participation in a historic election like never seen before, from the active involvement of young people and turnout of new voters to real, ground-breaking conversations in neighborhoods about tough and sometimes taboo issues. In Michigan, 43% of Asian & Arab American voters surveyed were first time voters!1
We can continue this spirit of democracy and civic participation by ensuring that every citizen, regardless of ethnic background or language ability, is able to fully participate in the elections that shape our country and our local communities. It is in this vein that we should strive to improve language access at the polls, through partnerships between community organizations, local clerks, and state officials.
On November 4, 2008, one Bangladeshi American voter stated that he had observed a number of voters at his polling location in Detroit having difficulty with reading the ballot and needing further clarification. However, there were no interpreters or translated materials for them. AALDEF found that seventy voters that were surveyed in Southeast Michigan needed the assistance of an interpreter, but none were available in their language.
On the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, it is important to recognize that in Michigan, Asian Americans are the fastest growing population.2 On May 18, Glenn Magpantay, voting rights attorney of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), presented the results of the 2008 Michigan Asian & Arab American exit poll, at a community gathering in Canton Township.
Of Asian and Arab American voters in Michigan surveyed on November 4, 2008, 21% in Dearborn were Limited English Proficient (LEP), 43% in Detroit were LEP, 35% in Hamtramck were LEP, and 10% in Troy were LEP. In addition, Census data shows significantly high rates of Limited English Proficiency in the Asian American communities in Kent and Macomb Counties.
Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote – Michigan, in partnership with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), AALDEF, the Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (BAPAC), and others, is encouraged by the possibility of working jointly with local clerks in Michigan to address this growing need.
We can begin with steps such as translating education materials at the local level, explaining how to register to vote, how to apply for an absentee voter ballot, and voter’s rights and responsibilities at the polls. For example, many voters do not realize they can bring an individual of their choice to assist them in the voting process, so long as that individual is not their union representative or employer. Encouraging bilingual individuals to apply to serve as election inspectors (and actively recruiting via ethnic language media) at polling locations with high LEP populations could be another important step. Lastly, what about providing the Michigan voter registration form online in languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Bengali, Korean, Punjabi, and Spanish?
Why translate? Voters could more accurately cast ballots. Greater trust can be built between communities of color and government officials. And most importantly, some people would have a renewed interest in civic participation, allowing elections, and thus, policy decisions, to better reflect the will of all Americans (or Michiganders).
The ideas and possibilities are endless – it is up to us to connect the dots and make them a reality. Together, Michigan’s clerks, community organizations, and voters can be at the forefront of change.
1 Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, exit poll of 1621 voters, November 4, 2008. Conducted at twelve polling locations in Southeast Michigan in Ann Arbor, Canton, Dearborn, Detroit, Hamtramck, Novi and Troy.
2 According to U.S. Census bureau figures, the number of Asian Americans in Michigan increased by 1.9% from 2006 to 2007. Detroit Free Press, “Asian Americans top rising population,” May 1, 2008.
The opinions expressed by those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of APIAVote-Michigan. APIAVote-Michigan is not responsible for the accuracy of, or loss or damage caused by, any of the information supplied by the blogger or those providing comments. The blogger reserves the right to delete any comment if deemed inappropriate.