By Se Hwan Youn Posted: 03/04/2011
Executive Director of the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center (AALAC) Helen Kim Ho (‘99L) shared her experience as a community advocate in Georgia and encouraged student leaders to voice their opinions on bills that she believed were discriminatory against Asian Americans.
The AALAC is the first nonprofit law center devoted to protecting and promoting the rights of Asian Americans in Georgia through public policy analysis, legal education, community organizing and leadership development.
“We have been doing the best we can to represent the voice and concerns of the Asian American community,” Kim Ho said. “I was deeply impressed by the undergraduate students at Emory, and I really wanted to connect again with the student community.”
Highlighting the need for Asian Americans to understand their own immigration history and recognize their own voter apathy, Kim Ho addressed three issues concerning the voting procedure that have affected Asian Americans in Georgia.
The first myth, she explained, was that registering to vote would lead to jury duty. Also, she added, some people do not feel comfortable going to the polls, and others do not know what issues impact them.
It was after having a candid conversation with leaders from Asian American communities that Kim Ho reassessed major concerns of this population and worked to encourage political participation. Kim Ho said she and members of the AALAC embarked on an absentee ballot campaign by translating an informative pamphlet into Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish and distributing 600 of them last fall before the mid-term elections.
Kim Ho also brought attention to several bills, some specific to the Georgia State Legislature, and some relevant at the national level. For example, one Georgia bill aimed to prohibit legal permanent residents from taking the written portion of the permanent driver license test in a language other than English; the bill was tabled by the Georgia House of Representatives.
“I myself was not aware of bills that could have a significant impact on our lives, and I felt that Asian communities on our campus are not widely aware of this,” College senior and Korean Undergraduate Student Association (KUSA) President Eunice Yun said. “A lot of our parents are not immediately familiar with English when they come from Korea, and imagine what you would do if they couldn’t drive you to school.”
Kim Ho encouraged students to have one-on-one conversations with friends and to create an advocacy phone tree in which participants jointly call legislators to voice their opinions on certain bills. She recalled an incident when a Korean grandmother created a phone tree that ended up generating hundreds of letters of support to vote no on a bill two years ago.
“One person that’s engaged can do the work of a hundred,” Kim Ho said.
Kim Ho expressed her concern regarding voter apathy among Asian American communities, arguing that many do not realize the power of their voice.
“I think people often don’t realize how powerful their voice is, and it is really easy to forget that when people feel like they are uninvited,” she said. “But that’s not the way our government was set up.”
During the event, College sophomore Bo Hong expressed her strong support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act. The act would have granted conditional permanent residency to certain illegal alien students who had arrived in the country illegally as minors but have resided in the United States for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment and graduated from U.S. high schools.
While proponents of the bill praised its bipartisanship, the opponents criticized the DREAM Act as “another amnesty” bill. The DREAM Act passed 216 to 198 in the House last December but died on the Senate floor after a Republican-led filibuster.
“A personal friend of mine has been unable to attend college for the last two years,” Hong said. She charged that the passage of the Dream Act will “give chances to some of the most talented and bright students.”
“It’s so sad to watch so many qualified students denied from college,” she said. “They have all lived in Georgia for many years, and have paid taxes as well. My heart really goes out to this problem.”
The event was co-hosted by KUSA, the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS) and the AALAC.
— Contact Se Hwan Youn.