ACRS and APIC co-hosted a meeting to encourage more AAPI votes. • Courtesy Photo.
ACRS and APIC co-hosted a meeting to encourage more AAPI votes. • Courtesy Photo.

Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), in partnership with the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC), has launched a statewide grassroots campaign to boost civic engagement among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

Former Governor Gary Locke and former Gates Foundation Chief Administrative Officer Martha Choe co-chair fundraising efforts for the campaign, spurred by the fact that even though AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group in Washington state, they have historically low rates of voting and other forms of civic participation compared to Hispanics, African Americans and others.

On Monday evening, Locke and Choe convened AAPI leaders at ACRS. “Tonight we come together to support full participation in our democracy,” said Choe. “ACRS and partners across the state in the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition are building a culture of grassroots civic participation, in culturally competent ways and in the languages our communities speak.”

“As governor, I saw thousands of AAPI immigrants and refugees come to Olympia to talk to legislators and give voice to what is important to them. It was a powerful sight to see. And the Legislature listened,” said Locke.

Language is a barrier to civic engagement that he knows all too well. Growing up with immigrant parents, Locke himself did not speak English until he was five years old. He grew up in Seattle’s Yesler Terrace public housing before going on to become the only Chinese American ever to serve as governor of any state.

Democracy Initiative
Martha Choe and Gary Locke help lead the meeting to inform AAPI leaders about the AAPI Democracy Initiative. • Courtesy Photo.

For many AAPIs in Washington and across the country, the barriers remain high, as evidenced by AAPI voter turnout statistics. In 2014, only half of eligible AAPIs registered to vote, and only half of those registered actually voted. Many have limited English or come from countries where their experiences created fear or mistrust in government. Some have been able to overcome these barriers with assistance from places like ACRS and its partner agencies.

In addition to voter registration and outreach in twenty different languages, the AAPI Democracy Initiative will also develop local leaders who serve as resources in their own communities. The campaign will undertake phone banking and door knocking, and organize ballot trainings and candidate forums.

AAPIs registering to vote. • Courtesy Photo.
AAPIs registering to vote. • Courtesy Photo.

“We need to help our communities build a culture of civic engagement. We can only achieve our vision of healthy and thriving communities by helping giving voice to the issues we care most about. That’s what our democracy is about,” said ACRS Board President Vinod Nazareth.

The AAPI Democracy Initiative is a multi-year campaign to ensure AAPI immigrants vote and are civically engaged on issues they care most about.

ACRS offers hope and opportunity in over 40 languages and dialects. We provide one door through which AAPIs of many generations — immigrant, refugee, or American born — can find the resources they need. We help transform the lives of families and individuals by helping people feed their loved ones, find jobs, access resources, gain English language and work skills, become American citizens, recover from addiction, and achieve mind and body wellness. We serve seniors and people with disabilities, and connect youth with job training and leadership development opportunities while ensuring that they and their families receive the support they need to succeed in a new land.

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