I am writing in response to a Letter to the Editor from William Turnbull, in your Oct. 5 issue, regarding donations being raised for APA hurricane victims.
I recently returned from two weeks volunteering to assist with the 15,000 Vietnamese evacuees who fled to Houston. APA-specific donations are needed because most government and mainstream agencies are not serving non-mainstream, limited-English communities such as the Vietnamese. What I witnessed:
– Nearly all relief services taking place downtown, 40 minutes away from the Vietnamese business district where most families had taken shelter in Buddhist temples and churches. No mainstream agency set up a satellite office to serve this community that was disproportionately affected. It was up to Vietnamese non-profits within the community to step in and assist.
– Families forced to find their way downtown for certain services the ethnic organizations could not provide, such as medical clinics. Many did not have their own vehicles to travel the distance. Efficient and accessible public transit was not available. Those who did have cars, often could not find their way to the Astrodome or Convention Center, let alone navigate the facilities.
– Hundreds of families with limited-English fluency needing help with FEMA applications. Even those who knew English often could not follow the online application, or understand the questions.
– Countless families in need of the Red Cross emergency cash card, who sought bilingual volunteers to help them register by telephone. But a dearth of Red Cross operators rendered the bilingual calling fruitless. When the agency was asked to send a staff person to the Vietnamese business district to help alleviate the bottleneck, they refused.
– The Vietnamese community being given last priority for the City of Houston’s relocation assistance. Again, it was community ethnic organizations that stepped in to advocate and ultimately carry out the City’s legwork in order to expedite the housing process.
The issue here is cultural competency, and mainstream agencies’ inability to provide it. If they did, ethnic organizations would not have to fill that gap. In normal times, language and cultural obstacles are challenging enough. In a disaster, all hell breaks loose. Were it not for the herculean efforts of ethnic non-profits, families in our community would be adrift in an unnavigable sea of bureaucracy: unaware, misinformed, and last in line—at best.
Mr. Turnbull writes, “What would happen if an organization began soliciting donations for white victims?”
For all practical purposes, many of them already are, if not overtly, then by default, because they have institutional practices that are culturally biased, practices that prevent agencies from reaching out and serving all communities equally.
How dare Mr. Turnbull chastise the groups who are doing the work that government and mainstream agencies are not effectively doing themselves.
The Organization of Chinese Americans issued a press release asking for donations for Asian Pacific Americans evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. Is there something wrong with Asian Pacific Americans helping Asian Pacific Americans or any other race helping their own? Is it wrong for an individual or group to ask for money to help APAs or any racial, ethnic, or religious? Is it wrong for the Organization of Chinese Americans to request donations for Asian Pacific Americans evacuees of Hurricane Katrina? I think not. But apparently Mr. Turnbull believes that such actions are not only wrong but racist or bigoted.