August 2008

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By Zuag Kimberly Chang

Hmong Today

Denver, CO- According to the Democratic National Convention Committee, the makeup of this year’s delegates at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) held in Denver, CO made it mark as the most diverse in history. Asian Pacific Islander Americans made up 4.6 percent of delegates, up from 3.9 percent in 2004. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the DNC, the presence of Asian Pacific Islander Americans was present from the moment caucus attendees entered the Colorado Convention Center bright and early Monday morning. Feet from the security checkpoint inside the convention center doors, a suit-clad young man stood holding a sign that read, “Asian Americans Pacific Islanders for Obama.”

Inside the doors of the APIA caucus, the same sign marked every row of tables. Onlookers who represented a myriad of Asian Pacific Islander ethnicities listened attentively as Illinois Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth took the stage and explained, “People talk about Asian and Pacific Islanders as though we are one homogeneous group. We are not. But that’s our strength. It doesn’t matter. It’s about us coming together and making a difference by getting Barack Obama elected.”

Sam Yoon, City Councilor At-Large of Boston City Council, expressed that at times, it is hard to find similarities between the culturally and ethnically diverse Asian Pacific Islander Americans, “but there is something about coming from that part of the world that unites us.” Delegate Yee Chang of Minnesota explained, “The issues that makes us one people… people don’t tend to hear it, and it’s issues about education. It’s issues about health care. It’s issues about access to opportunity.” Bel Leong-Hong, chair of the APIA caucus, noted the power of unity, “We learn that we are most powerful when our community leaders work together across cultures.” The points mentioned during the APIA caucus reflected the message that filled every convention room and hall of the entire DNC; we are more similar than the differences that we see. The unity requested would serve as a tool to accomplish three goals of the APIA caucus: vote Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama into the Oval Office, vote more Asian Pacific Islander Americans into political office, and help increase Asian Pacific Islander American voter turnout rates.

Chang explained that Obama, whose brother-in-law is Chinese American, knows the issues of Asian Pacific Islander Americans first hand. Yoon expressed an Asian Pacific Islander American connection to Obama that stemmed beyond race: values and leadership. Obama’s life told a bottom-up story about his path to power that resulted after years of struggle, hard work, undying faith, and determination. “He came into politics in a non-traditional way,” Yoon stated. Yoon paused for a moment and continued to explain that Obama had a history of leadership that illustrated “heart and willingness to serve.”

Voter knowledge about Obama was not enough for the APIA caucus however, Asian Pacific Islander Americans had to take action and vote. According to the U.S. Census, the voter turnout rate amongst Asians Americans during the 2004 presidential elections was 44 percent. When asked about speculations as to why this was, Yoon hypothesized “no one wants to feel incompetent,” however, at times due to lack of experience, knowledge of the power and influence of their vote, or language barriers, some potential voters may opt not to vote. “Education would help this,” Yoon suggested. Hung Nguyen, President of the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans Virginia Asian Advisory Board, added that awareness about the presence of interpreters at polls may also alleviate some potential voters’ worries. Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s half sister who spoke via a slide show and in person encouraged, “Make sure we have translators. Make sure we talk to the elders. We need to rally the youth and elders.”

The power of the Asian Pacific Islander American vote is not important just because of the 2008 presidential race, APIA caucus attendee and actress Tamlyn Tomita clarified. It is the personal power to influence and decide, regardless of party or candidate of choice, leaders who will speak and decide for the community. “You have a voice,” Tomita explained, “go out and vote. Be able to say that I am an American and I have an ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’… to whatever the ticket is. It’s your curiosity. It’s a duty to make this country work. And each of our voices collectively can power groups, can power communities.”

Many APIA caucus speakers emphasized that an increase in voter turnout could mean more Asian Pacific Islander American representatives in office. Duckworth and others emphasized that the minute number of Asian Pacific Islander American elected officials in the U.S. served no justice to represent the respective community population. U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison said it best, “It’s not about getting Asian Americans in to the ballot box, it’s about getting Asian Americans on the ticket.” The two-day APIA caucus ended on Wednesday, August 27th.

By Zuag Kimberly Chang

DENVER- There are moments in life when we have no idea where our path is leading us.  Sometimes we take those steps forward based on the intuition that the steps ahead will lead to opportunity, and hopefully, will lay more ground to our foundation that we constantly build to secure and uphold our hopes, values, and dreams.  As I sat there at the airport gates waiting for my flight out to Denver, I had no idea how or what to expect from the days ahead when I would find myself amongst strangers, professionals, and dignitaries at the Democratic National Convention (DNC).

I was asked to be a part of the delegation sponsored by New America Media months ago.  When I was asked to be a part of the delegation, the only way I knew, and still know, how to feel was honored.  The United States, all of these incredible journalists from countless publications, and they thought of me.  No questions asked, I accepted.  I was one to always believe and preach that in life, opportunities come, and you fight to take them on and win them over.  I always knew that the good things in life don’t wait for you because they really are that good.  You need to fight to obtain them.

I knew nothing about what I would be asked to do, or what I would have the chance to experience as a member of this delegation.  But all I knew was that it was a golden chance for me.  Whatever it was, someone saw something in me and picked me out to see that same something in myself and go on this adventure to the DNC.

Two lines stayed with me as I landed in Denver, “I know you already will, but go there and do your best” and “Zuag, whatever it is that you do, make it count.”  Simple things and simple words can have a way move a person in ways unimaginable. The first night in Denver, Sunday, August 24th, was where I found home in the midst of the hectic DNC.  I knew that I would meet and interview many DNC attendees, but even before the convention started, they were the conversations with my New America Media delegation colleagues that moved me.  That night, I saw the illustration of our delegation’s purpose in Denver.  We were there to connect, to share our stories, to learn about one another, and to represent our communities and conclude that although we have differences, we were all indeed people who shared similar struggles, similar concerns, and similar hopes for the future.  That night, I returned to my hotel room feeling as though I had known some of my colleagues for years.  In honest truth, I’ve never experienced such powerful connection with a group of people in such a short time frame.  And to believe, the actual convention was still to come.  Every opportunity opens the door to new opportunities.  Whether the convention would blow me away or not, I already shook hands, sat down, and had beautiful conversations with my team of new opportunity.

Zuag Kimberly Chang is a first generation Hmong American born and raised in the U.S. Her writing and community activism reflect her passion for innovative thinking and equal access to opportunity.  A 2006 graduate of the University of Minnesota, Chang intends to utilize her public speaking and writing as tools to promote and support progressive community endeavors.

Chang is one of fourteen journalists sponsored by New America Media to attend the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver, CO.  The journalists are from different publications across the nation, each of which is rooted in a specific cultural background.  These journalists come together to make up a delegation which truly represents the richness and diversity of culture in the U.S.  The journalists will attend the convention and outside events, and produce pieces that will appear in their publications, as well as on the New America Media website www.newamericamedia.org.  The journalists are as follows:

1. Eduardo de Oliveira, New England Ethnic News (Boston, Mass.)
2. Randy Stelly, The Real Views (Baton Rouge, La.)
3. Erline Andrews, Caribbean Life (New York City, N.Y.)
4. Judith Martinez, Atlanta Latino (Atlanta, Ga.)
5. Cindy Yurth, The Navajo Times (Navajo, Ariz.)
6. Gregg Morris, The Word (Hunter College, N.Y.)
7. Jacqueline Fernandez, The Word (Hunter College, N.Y.)
8. Kisha Allison, The Word (Hunter College, N.Y.)
9. Jonathan Mena, The Word (Hunter College, N.Y.)
10. Kaiping Liu, The World Journal (San Francisco, Calif.)
11. Zuag Kimberly Chang, Hmong Today (Minneapolis, Minn.)
12. Ashahed Muhammad, The Final Call (Chicago, Ill.)
13. Roberto Lovato, New America Media (New York City, N. Y.)
14. Anthony Advincula, New America Media (New York City, N.Y.)

Look for Kimberly’s articles as she blogs her experience about the DNC from Denver this week. You can also catch a video stream from the DNC by New America Media Here.

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In the best tradition of the 48-Hour Film Project, we gave the youth 3 hours to finish this movie, complete with the given one line of dialog that must be included, a genre, a prop, and a character.

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As our summer program comes to an end today for 2008, the youth will be taking a 2-week break. The staff will be consolidating the materials and post them here if they haven’t been posted yet. So the posting will be sporadic. The youth will be back once school starts up again, but the postings probably won’t be as frequent as they are during the summer.

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