“At an early age it was already apparent to me that we’re treated differently because of the way we look or because of our accent,” said APIAVote-MI Executive Director Rebeka Islam, 27.
“When I started working with Asian-American community members, I realized that the stories they were sharing were the same experiences my family faced when they immigrated 20 years ago, and it’s still relevant.”
In 2007, APIAVote-MI started as a small activist group informing voters about the harms brought on by a 2006 Michigan amendment, Proposal 2, that banned affirmative action programs in education. Since then, the group has registered thousands of Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters, held voter education events and reminded individuals via phone and mail to prioritize voting.
In 2010, the organization engaged in more than 80 community events and partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau and American Citizens for Justice to increase Asian-American Census participation.
Islam said the organization has spent the last decade focused on registering, educating and connected Asian-American community members.
APIAVote Chairman Richard Mui, 48, said “In this community in particular, there’s barriers for some.” He said APIAVote expands their opportunities to voters who experience language barriers, previous political shame or lack of political practice, and makes democracy accessible to everyone.
“We focus on getting the youth politically involved, but not to the exclusion of other groups. Older folks may have a longer history of not being as politically involved and sometimes that can be difficult to change, but it’s a priority for us to address everyone,” said Mui.
One of APIA’s newest board members, Leinda Schleicher, 60, said she felt extremely isolated growing up as an Asian-American in Detroit.
“When I look at young children today that are living in this area, I have no doubt they’re probably experiencing some of that same alienation,” Schleicher said, “I think sometimes differences for young people get exacerbated, because they’re already going through that phase of wanting to have peers and friends and be accepted.”
In addition to providing educational workshops, APIAVote-MI organized “Youth Leadership Core,” a youth leadership program designed to connect Asian-American and Pacific Islander youth, provide leadership opportunities and give kids a better understanding of their identities.
“In a perfect world, we make all the changes we need to make, there’s still going to be individuals who feel isolated, there’s still going to be people that need help and there’s still going to be people who need education.”