Thousands of immigrants arrive in the United States every year, knowing very little about the language, culture and civic ways of their new homeland.
Asian and Pacific Islanders are a growing part of America’s immigrant community, accounting for 15% of all migrants. One nonprofit, the Asian and Pacific Islanders Vote-Michigan, serves as a bridge for newcomers, helping them get settled, learn the language and most importantly, navigate civic engagement and voting.
Rebeka Islam, executive director of the group, said unlike some other groups, Asian and Pacific migrants come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
“When you say Asian Americans, you’re talking about 30-plus countries, 30-plus ethnicities, 30-plus languages, and for the most part, government,” Islam explained. “Getting involved in civic engagement is not pretty accessible from countries that most of our folks come from.”
According to the Census Bureau, 20.6 million people identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, making up 6.2% of the nation’s population. While the majority live in large cities on the east and west coasts, the bureau estimates about 45,000 Asians live in Michigan.
Islam believes the most important thing her group does is help migrants register to vote, understand how the American voting system works and how to find out about the candidates. She emphasized it is important for her group to be represented at the ballot box.
“We get the information, we follow up and say, ‘Hey, we registered you. There’s an election coming. Here’s what’s on the ballot. This is what you can do, and this is what you can’t do,’ ” Islam outlined. “We never tell anyone who to vote for, but we always tell them, ‘This is your right; this is how you can vote.’ “
Asian and Pacific Islanders Vote-Michigan hosts seminars on language, schools, housing and other basic life skills, as well as sponsoring naturalization ceremonies. Islam added like many immigrants; they may face hostility or even violence because of their race or ethnicity. She stressed they provide a space where people can feel safe.
“We really just try to meet our community where they are, get the message across and just give them the information that they need,” Islam stated. “We serve like a community hub, basically for the community, with resources for the community.”
This story was written by Mark Richardson, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.