Philanthropy and innovation can assist in registering English non-proficient citizens to vote in Philadelphia.
It’s been more than a year now since I had dinner with a group of Vietnamese people in a small temple in South Philadelphia.
During my visit, I learned about the many challenges they face, most notably the language barrier: 51-55% of the 15,000 Vietnamese Americans residing in Philadelphia are English non-proficient. The inability to communicate with the larger community impacts not only their earnings, but their engagement in the political arena.
56% of the Viet people in Philadelphia have never voted, which can be attributed to both their reluctance to engage in politics due to history of corruption in their native land, and the fact that voter registrations cards in the City are only available in English and Spanish.
The latter has been bought to the attention of various elected and appointed officials, however, no meaningful action has been taken to mitigate this form of voter suppression – cost cited as the main reason.
Former Deputy City Commissioner Dennis Lee, who left his job in November of 2014 to focus on his 2015 campaign for City Commissioner, tells me the City doesn’t have the money to produce civic material in various languages, but the problem could be solved through engaging philanthropists and foundations.
“We have the capabilities to translate certain documents… we would need private funding to mass produce them,” said Mr. Lee, who agreed with me that the City is suppression the vote by not having civic materials available in various languages.
Translating the voter registration cards will be a HUGE step in the right direction. An added value component to that idea – which I shared with Mr. Lee during our nearly hour-long conversation – would be to erect a hotline similar to the City’s ‘311 service’ which citizens can call into, choose a language, and learn about the civic process, candidates, bills up for vote and laws recently passed.
Philadelphia proudly touts being a world-class city, yet its international flair isn’t reflected in its civic functions. For the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection to truly be a global hub, the worldwide cache needs to extend beyond high-profile visits and events, and manifest in the political apparatuses so that everyone, no matter their language, has a chance to control their destiny and fulfill their civic duties.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™