September 15, 2016

Bridging the Gap Between Our Communities and Politics

by Helene Huynh and Nista Shrestha
VOTE Fellows

Hi! We're Helene Huynh and Nista Shrestha. Since this summer, we have been engaging in civic engagement work with APANO as their two bilingual VOTE Fellows. You may have seen us around town and events, with our APANO shirts on and clipboards in hand, ready to register anyone eligible to vote. Here's a snippet of our experience since we began this work, and what's to come as we inch closer to the November elections:

Why did we join APANO?
Nista: Before joining APANO, I was already involved with the organization as a volunteer. As a volunteer I was inspired by the work APANO had been doing in the community to support the Asian and Pacific Islander population. Though I have been in the US for less than 2 years, I was aware of how parts of API communities were not active in US politics. I joined as a VOTE fellow to bridge the gap between our communities and politics. Though I cannot vote, I wanted all other eligible immigrant voters to utilize their voting rights and make their voices count in the major election of 2016.

Helene: I joined APANO as a VOTE fellow because I wanted to do more organizational work, especially work that would involve field work and making big differences in our API community. I get to interact directly with API folks to make sure that their civic involvement counts.

As VOTE Fellows, our main responsibilities include voter registration, voter education and volunteer recruitment. The API community is one of the fastest biggest and growing populations, yet only a portion of the population actually votes. This may be due to either not being eligible to vote or not having enough information to vote. To combat these issues, we also work to provide voter education by distributing voter materials.


Overall, APANO is at our halfway goal of reaching 4,500 people this year. As fellows, we have registered 200 folks so far through direct outreach, tabling at events and canvassing!

What's the experience been like?
Helene: My experience as a VOTE Fellow has been awesome! Being able to go to community events and meet so many different people that are in support of the API community is really nice. It gives me a sense of belonging and inspires me to keep doing the work that I do past this position. One of the biggest things that I have seen is the difference it makes when resources and support is offered to the API community. When tabling at the Asian Health and Services Center Fair, there were materials in various API languages and translators readily available.

Nista: My experience so far in APANO has been amazingly rewarding. I have been in the US for less than 2 years, and I wasn’t confident about how US politics worked. Working as a VOTE fellow, attending workshops and going around various public places to do voter education/registration has built up my awareness and confidence in articulating the importance of voting and civic engagement of our communities. Registering voters at the Portland World Cup at Delta Park is one of the best experiences I have had so far as a Fellow. Not only did we register 21 new young voters that day, but I also gained confidence to approach a people and talk civic engagement.

What's next?
We are currently trying to register as many people as we can - with a goal of at least 300 folks, before the October 18th Voter Registration deadline. We will be going into high school and college classes, community events, libraries, and targeted days of action. After Oct. 18, we will be focusing our efforts on voter education and voter turnout - providing information on ballot measures and elected positions: what they do, how they affect us and our communities, and getting folks to turn in their ballots. We're also continuing our volunteer recruitment to help us get folks registered and turned out to vote - come join us at our Fall Volunteer Social to connect with folks and talk civic engagement!

Nista: Moving towards the fall, I will be going back to school at Portland Community College. I will be a full-time student, and I will also be working as student leader organizing with International club and Phi Theta Kappa club.

Helene: As for me personally, I will be returning back to Portland State and continuing my health sciences studies.