On Sunday October 2, I volunteered with VietLead, a Vietnamese community organization in Philly. If you remember from my previous post on Grassroots AAPI Voter Registration, I was trained on how to help people register to vote. My friend I knew from working on an ECAASU Philly bid two years ago reached out to me to get involved. This was my first time doing voter registration, and I think I can say that it is a very rewarding experience I hope to continue.
It was a little difficult to wake up at 8am on a Sunday the day after the ASA culture show and senior cocktails, but I did it. I was very thankful for my friend Melody (the ECAASU friend) who picked me up from my dorm Denbigh to drive me to Philly. We met up with VietLead at 9am at a Vietnamese community temple to collect voter registration cards, posters, clipboards, and other materials. Then, we got our location assignments and dispersed. Those who spoke Vietnamese were stationed in South Philadelphia. I don’t speak Vietnamese, so I was stationed in Northern Philadelphia at a Vietnamese supermarket with a partner. (My partner is actually a sophomore at UPenn and told me he knew a friend at Bryn Mawr. He even said he wants to take a class in the Tri-Co before he graduates.)
I had never been to the area of Philadelphia we were stationed at. It was pretty far up north away from center city, and I don’t think I would have been able to find it on my own without being driven there. As customers passed by, we would ask “Hi, can I help you register to vote?” To my surprise, many turned us down with the reason that they were not citizens. The people there were almost all Vietnamese immigrants. After three hours of trying to reach out to people, we got 1, yes 1, successful registration. I wish I spoke their language so that I could be of more help. While my Asian appearance still makes me look more approachable, there is still that communication gap. I do speak a little Mandarin, but most Chinese in Philadelphia speak Cantonese.
The VietLead volunteers then gathered at a Vietnamese church to turn in our successful registrations and regroup. Groups stationed at other locations had varying levels of success with new registrations. Compared to my group’s 1 registration, Melody had gotten 7 at her location, another group got 3, and the group stationed at the church got many. I think it is definitely easier to do voter registration outreach at a community meeting place like a church because everyone knows each other. At the shopping mall, people are in a rush to buy groceries and may not trust someone just standing outside the entrance. It is still important to have these resources available in public places, though. You never know who might come along, and you never know if they need language assistance to register to vote.
After our shift, I took the opportunity to buy some Vietnamese food for lunch from one of the shops. I was very excited because I love all Asian food and love trying new foods as well. I could tell these dishes were fresh and authentic. I scarfed these down on the train ride back to Bryn Mawr and shared the desserts with my roommates.
Election day is November 8th! Are you registered to vote? Bryn Mawr Civic Engagement and NextGenClimate have ongoing voter registration on campus for students. You can check www.votespa.com/en-us to see if you are registered.
If you’re interested in getting involved with voter registration outreach and VietLead, feel free to contact me!