South Asian NGO galvanized community to vote in US elections

November 7th, 2008 - 1:25 pm ICT by ANI  

Barack Obama

By Smita Prakash

Virginia, Nov 7 (ANI): South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), an NGO which advocates for civil rights and immigrant rights issues facing the community in the United States, played a big role in educating the immigrant community in America about their political rights, that led to galvanizing it to vote in the recently concluded US presidential poll.

Approximately 2.7 million South Asians live in the United States, which comprises individuals with ancestry from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives

The SAALT educated the immigrants about their rights and their participation in the civic and political process in the United States. Both Democrats and Republicans were pulling out all the stops, especially in a few crucial swing states to woo Asian immigrants, which could decide the results.

A survey conducted just before the polls showed that 41 percent Asian-American voters supported Barack Obama, 24 percent McCain, where as 34 percent remained un decided.

South Asian political involvement in the US has been on the rise over the past decade, and the run-up to the November 4 presidential elections showed that South Asians - the third largest Asian American ethnic group - have been actively engaged in the presidential campaigns, voter mobilization efforts, and bids for state and national office.

Talking exclusively to ANI, SAALTs executive director and lawyer Deepa Iyer said Asian-American voters concentrate mainly on economic policies, public health, immigration and education.

Pointing out the reasons for more participation of the South Asian communities in the November 4 US presidential elections, Iyer told ANI: There are many reasons for the engagement of the South Asian community in the elections this year.

First of all in terms of our communitys history it is natural that as people get more engaged, more connected and more settled in the US they feel invested in wanting to play a role in the political process. So … of this is immigration power against immigrants history.

Secondly, we have seen a shift of generations in terms of how the political process is being engaged. For many first generation Indian Americans who may have come here after 1965 a lot of the issues were very important like foreign policy. Now we are also seeing issues that affect us domestically here for example issues like the economy, education, healthcare, civil rights, immigration, Iyer said.

And, thirdly, we have also heard about that theres something about this election specifically whether its the candidates that are running, whether its the climate of this country, thats really motivating people to come out to the polls and cast their votes and have their voices heard. So those are some of the factors and observations that we found in our world at South Asian scene, she added.

One of the most important thing that we think for our organisation is to make sure that those who are interested in voting be able to understand what the political process is like and what their rights are when they go to the ballot boxes, said Priya Murthy, Policy Director of SAALT.

We think thats really important for all immigrants and the south Asians in the United States so that they can participate in the civic and political process. So one of the things that we do is we develop a range of community education materials for individuals in the south Asian community so that they know how does US political system works.

What is it like when you actually go try and cast your ballot on the Election Day. And what do you do if you have any problems when you go to the ballot box, incase your voting rights are violated, what do you do where can you turn to for help, she added.

SAALT is a group of first and second-generation Asian immigrants interested in creating a national organisation that is focused on leadership development. The organisation was run voluntarily and eventually called South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow.

The community also includes members of the South Asian diaspora - past generations of South Asians who originally settled in many areas around the world, including the Caribbean (Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago), Africa (Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda), Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands (Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore).

The community is comprised of individuals who practice distinct religions and speak different languages yet share similar immigration histories.

For example, South Asians practice Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. The most common languages other than English spoken by South Asians in the United States include Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu. (ANI)

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