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Day of 10,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders planned

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

The Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, which comprises more than 100 organizations across the state, is preparing to put on a unique summit that’s expected to draw 10,000 people to the Tacoma Dome.

The summit, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 29, is intended to promote greater civic participation in the democratic process among Asian and Pacific Islanders living in Washington and to celebrate unity among their communities.

The free, one-day event will feature multilingual workshops on becoming a U.S. citizen, voting and developing political leadership skills. It also will provide information on the state’s gubernatorial candidates.

Carina del Rosario, the summit’s public relations committee chairwoman, said the idea for the summit arose out of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition’s one-day legislative events, which they’ve been hosting since 1996.

During the legislative days, participants travel to Olympia to talk to politicians about budget and policy issues important to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in Washington, including Federal Way, which has a large number of Asian residents.

While the visits are productive and positive, coalition leaders realized they should “take a step back to educate folks about why it’s important to become politically involved,” del Rosario said.

While every individual has different issues of interest, del Rosario said there are some common themes revolving around civil liberties and civil rights. For example, some people from Muslim Asian and Pacific Island countries have been targeted for hate crimes, especially since 9-11, she said.

Del Rosario said the coalition also advocates for funding for programs many immigrant populations use.

For example, the Welfare Reform Act cut immigrants and refugees off from food stamps. “That’s a really devastating blow,” she said, adding the federal government “targeted immigrants and refugees Washington’s Legislature allocated state money to cover immigrants and refugees so they could continue to have food stamps.

In addition, funding for Naturalization Services and the General Assistance-Unemployable budgets hovers year to year as the state faces its own budget limitations, but both funds are lifesavers to some immigrants.

“Elderly and disabled refugees can’t work, so they rely on the meager assistance for help to meet their needs,” del Rosario said.

The summit is intended to teach regular, everyday people how to be involved in politics, so they “know about the issues being debated and how to make their voices heard,” she said.

Some think because they’re not U.S. citizens, they don’t have the right to talk to their legislators about issues or to get involved in political action, she said. But they do have rights, and they can write letters and take action just like anyone else, she noted.

“We’re all taxpayers,” del Rosario said.

“There’s a stereotype of Asian-Pacific Americans as, you know, kind of low-key and not engaged in political action,” she said. “This type of event shows that our community members have similar hopes and dreams as other communities. We want to be part of the political process so government and policies are responsive to our needs.”

While there will be serious discussion at the summit, organizers also are planning entertainment, cultural presentations and food. The summit is open to people of all nationalities and backgrounds, and it’s a non-partisan event.

“We want it to be a fun event the whole family can enjoy,” del Rosario said. “It’s not just for political activists.”

The coalition has promoted the summit in Oregon, California and Washington. Del Rosario said information has been translated into more than 15 languages. Presentations probably will be made from a stage in English, with translators stationed in the seating areas.

“Logistically, we’ll seat people by language group,” del Rosario said. “It’ll be interesting.”

Additional information is available on-line at www.apasummit.org.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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