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Lily Trieu knows the challenges Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Texas — communities that speak more than 100 languages — face when it comes to fully participating in elections.
More than half of Asian Texans believe lawmakers and the government have not done enough to help them access resources such as election and government policy information in their own language, according to a September report. ‘Asian Texans for Justice, a non-partisan organization where Trieu is acting. executive Director.
Language shortcomings may also deter AAPI Texans from engaging in elections at all, an understanding she says has struck her recently.
While Trieu was born and raised in Texas, her mother came to the United States in the 1980s as a Vietnamese refugee. Since becoming a citizen, Trieu’s mother has voted in some elections, but not all, according to Trieu. In a recent conversation, Trieu learned that the root of his mother’s inconsistency in voting is not apathy but a language barrier.
“My mum said very honestly, ‘I’m not politically motivated, not because I don’t care, but because I don’t speak English well and don’t have access to information that allow me to feel informed. I don’t vote because I don’t know who the best candidate is,” she recalls.
“If she can access information in Vietnamese and can then decipher which candidate is her preferred candidate, she would happily engage.”
Trieu’s group and other AAPI organizations are trying to bridge language gaps for the midterm elections — even as several counties in Texas have now stepped up their own efforts to support the rapidly growing population.
According to the non-profit organization AAPI Data, more than 80% of adult Asian Texans speak a language other than English at home, and nearly 35% don’t speak English very well. Nationally, more than 10% of Asian adults who speak a language other than English at home said “language was a barrier to voting in previous elections.”
As the AAPI population grows in Texas, languages other than English and Spanish are beginning to appear in some county resources and documents.
Vietnamese is the third most spoken language in the state. For the primaries earlier this year, Dallas County was mandated by federal law to translate election materials into Vietnamese because at least 5% of the county’s adult Vietnamese-speaking citizens — or more than 1,000 people — have proficiency. limited in English. Harris and Tarrant counties have offered Vietnamese language voting materials since 2002 and 2018, respectively.
Anthony Nguyen, chairman of the Austin Chapter of the Texas Asian Republican Assembly, said his party also asked him to translate various state ballot proposals into Vietnamese. “If there is a huge need, I see the government stepping in and trying to do translations,” he said.
But that still leaves potential voters who speak a wide range of languages who might need help. Woori Juntos is a progressive organization primarily serving the Korean community, which is one of the largest Asian ethnic groups in Texas. Last month, it released a survey of Houston, which has about 14,000 Korean Americans, and found nearly 20 percent wanted language assistance.
It also found that Korean-only speakers are much less likely to be registered voters than bilingual or English-only speakers within the community.
On the other hand, members of the South Asian community such as Indian and Pakistani Americans are generally well-equipped as many already know English, said Chanda Parbhoo, progressive organizer and founder of South Asian Americans for Voter Education + Engagement. + Empowerment. But she acknowledged it can still be a problem for older voters.
“We have many different languages within the South Asian community, so we try to create a network of people we can rely on to answer questions,” she said.
Like Parbhoo, other AAPI organizers have been busy bridging the language gap for the midterm elections.
Nabila Mansoor, president of the Asian American Democrats of Texas and executive director of the progressive organization Rise AAPI, said Rise AAPI is working with partners to train volunteer assistant clerks in various languages such as Hindi and Arabic. urdu. Based on the survey results, Woori Juntos will continue to provide interpretation and translation not only in Korean but also in Vietnamese, Mandarin and Spanish. And inspired by the initiatives of the League of Women Voters of Texas, Asian Texans for Justice has translated voting guides – including not only resources, but also Q&As with candidates in areas of greater Houston, central of Texas and Dallas-Fort Worth – in Vietnamese and Chinese.
General organizations like the Texas Civil Rights Project are also mobilizing. According to Hani Mirza, legal director of the TCRP’s suffrage program, it advertises its voter protection hotline on ethnic radio stations and in multiple languages.
Mirza added that his organization pays close attention to how recent legislative changes affect AAPI voters. Last year, Texas lawmakers rolled back various ballot initiatives popular with voters of color in 2020. In particular, the law initially limited the assistance that could be provided to voters with limited English skills and voters with disabilities. , including creating potential criminal penalties for offenders.
A nationwide survey conducted in July by a trio of AAPI organizations found that more than 42% of Asian Americans who speak a language other than English at home would use voting assistance in their own language if possible. . For individual groups, this figure is close to 50% for Chinese voters and above 50% for the Vietnamese and Korean communities.
“Language access is one of the most important,” Mirza said. “Then there’s the regular kind of voter suppression that we see happening across the board, and that’s particularly pernicious with minority groups, including the AAPI community.”
In July, the voter assistance restriction was overturned by a court. This wasn’t the first time Texas had lost a court case over language access to the ballot box. In 2017, a federal appeals court ruled against the state law restricting language interpreters at the polls — a decision that stemmed from a case involving Mallika Das, a Bengali-speaking citizen of Williamson County, who couldn’t get interpretation help from her son during voting in 2014.
But Mirza said some concerns remained.
“We saw real concern and real fear trying to help voters get to the polls and providing assistance at the polls with language assistance earlier this year,” he said. “I think some fear still exists.”
Ultimately, many organizers say expanding language accessibility is about politicians and candidates meeting AAPI voters where they are — beyond simply translating voting materials. They recommended that politicians and candidates hire linguistically diverse staff or partner with local organizations to organically engage with the community, for example by visiting high-density AAPI areas, participating in cultural events or establishing a presence in ethnic media.
“The most valuable thing you can spend is your time,” said Mark Sampelo, who works on various Filipino American community initiatives and events, including Lone Star Palengke Market in Plano. “It’s a lot easier for people to say, ‘Wow, they’re coming, this is important.'”
Disclosure: League of Women Voters of Texas financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.