My earliest memory of voting is my dad asking me to go to the polling booth on a local election day in case he needed translating. He taught me how important it is our vote counts as Asian people. At this time, I wasn’t of age to vote yet and didn’t know enough about the candidates to have an opinion in selecting one over the other. I remember he wanted me to choose all the Asian sounding names on the ballot, if any. Even now, he likes to vote for Asians.
I don’t simply use race to justify my vote. But I can see how human nature inclines us to be loyal to race. Like my dad, many Asian people are aware of the Asian race as a minority race in America. Having race loyalty, race allegiance, or pride in racial identity does not mean only supporting our one race. I hope this point - while it might take time to sink in - is compelling enough to the Asian community for us become informed, active supporters of Black Lives Matter and the Black struggle for liberation at large.
My relationship with voting begins with learning about the oppression of Asian voices and lack of representation. I’m still learning that this is just one piece of the greater puzzle of a deeply unequal and racist society. I’m learning about the long history of Black people being murdered, lynched, and harassed for exercising their voting rights. A whole system and individuals actively worked against Black people to take away their freedom to choose their representatives.
I feel like a parrot saying this, but - go vote! I wish more young people felt excited to vote.
My experience shows me the polling booth is an adventure in itself. Events happened in no particular order:
My polling site is a local middle school. The school security guard thought I was a student trying to cut class and stopped me from exiting.
I had already graduated from college at this time. Looking eight to ten years younger than my actual age is a whole experience that a newsletter cannot fully capture. But I haven’t aged and I will not age. I promise.
A white guy handed out Korean bilingual ballots to my family without first asking us if we were Korean.
This is classic. This is the bread and butter of the Asian American struggle.
Shortly after, a Korean lady who also worked at the poll site came up to me and asked if I was Korean. I was thinking “why is it your business?” when she pointed to my ballot and said she wanted to make sure I got the language I needed.
Not at the polling site but…this year, NYC Board of Elections sent my absentee ballot overseas.
I am not overseas. They also asked if my name was Gabrielle when I gave my address.
I called to explain I waited three weeks for my absentee ballot after sending an online request for one. I asked them to mail my absentee ballot again. They mailed me an application for an absentee ballot. I’m confused. Now I have to go in person to vote. Who knows what characters I’ll encounter at the voting booth this time?
Tye Leung Schulze
This is a ten minute long PBS video about the first Chinese American woman to vote in the U.S. - Tye Leung Schulze. It’s a story about growing up in the poverty of Chinatown slums, interracial marriage, human trafficking, and social work.
I found it inspiring how it showcases Asian women currently working in the U.S. government and judicial systems attempting to solve the same social problems as Tye Leung Schulze faced in the early 1900s. Judge Toko Serita of the Queens County Criminal Court makes an appearance. There is a lot of press about her as a pioneer and leader in the field of human trafficking intervention. She says at the height of the crackdown of prostitution in New York City, almost half of the people who show up in court facing criminal charges are Asian women. Judge Serita talks about the need for cultural and language-specific services for this population. The model of the Queens human trafficking intervention court expanded to twelve courts across New York State based on its successes. First in the nation.
I read about Judge Serita’s socially conscious work in the sensationalized story from The New York Times about Song Yang’s death (the Times calls her Jane Doe Ponytail because Asians are super mysterious and exotic as we all know). Song Yang died in Flushing, Queens as a victim of human trafficking. Flushing is arguably the center of prostitution and human trafficking in New York City.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Congresswoman Grace Meng also make an appearance in the video. Even though I won’t be voting for Grace Meng anymore, it was a good feeling to see her campaign posters everywhere, for years, with our name printed on it in huge, bold font. To my father and to me, but to a lesser extent, she represented the ability to be seen for our race. It was literal for me as a woman named Grace. I once saw her as progress. However, after living through more experiences and encountering more perspectives, I’ve added more to my definition of progress. I think there’s a better candidate that more closely matches this definition - a world I want to live in.
Lastly, I set up an affiliate store on bookshop.org. Buy books by Black authors! I recommend Octavia E. Butler’s sci-fi classics. They’re intense! I am an affiliate of bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Going out to vote now! Bye!