Boxes of special election ballots returned to King County Elections in 2014. • Photo by King County
Boxes of special election ballots returned to King County Elections in 2014. • Photo by King County

Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE) was founded in the 1960s by Asian American activists who were facing discrimination at work, school, and in their everyday lives.

“Dozens of community organizations were created by young people who said, ‘Hey we need services that aren’t there,’” said APACEvotes board member Akemi Matsumoto.

The privilege to vote was perceived more as a gift rather than a burden in the ’60s, said API activist Sharon Maeda. It was not until 1943 that Chinese Americans were first permitted to become citizens, much less vote, Maeda said.

“As a daughter of Americans put in concentration camps during WWII, it was mandatory that everyone vote ‘so we won’t get put in camps again’ was the community saying,” Maeda said.

Nonprogressive Asian Americans are victims of the lack of civic education, Maeda explained, while some have a hard time breaking the language barrier, which APACE is working on.

“In terms of understanding the material, we (APACE) can take people to the elections, and they can witness how ballots are counted,” Matsumoto said. “We certainly haven’t set that up yet, but we are working on it.”

Language is not the only problem. API immigrants who came from countries where there was little trust in government also deal with a fear of government when they come to the United States.

“The problem with Asian Americans and APIs, especially [recent immigrants], is that they have a hard time trusting government,” Matsumoto said. “Voting requires giving them all of your confidential information.”

Getting young people to vote is another problem according to APACE. Complacency prevails within the API community when we forget about our roots, the days when voting was enormously different, according to Maeda.

“I remember what a big celebration it was when my grandfather became a naturalized citizen,” Maeda said. “[We had a] big dinner that was as elaborate as New Year’s celebrations complete with cake with little American flags all around the edge.”

APACE is currently hosting a contest to get more Asian American young people to vote. Groups of college students compete by canvassing with different tactics: knocking door-to-door, sending emails, posting flyers, etc. The focus of the contest is on the Puget Sound region of Washington, particularly South Seattle and South and East King County because the API population is overwhelmingly represented in the Puget Sound region. According to APACE, nearly 80% of the entire API population lives in King (54%), Pierce (13%), and Snohomish (13%) counties. The team that registers the most voters wins $400. Second place wins $300 and third place wins $200. To register, visit Teams must be affiliated with Asian and/or Pacific Islander student organizations (social, political, cultural,religious, fraternity, sorority) on a Puget Sound campus.

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