(photo credit: Brett Levin)
According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers, the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Los Angeles County makes up 14.5 percent of the population.
“Los Angeles is home to one of the largest Asian populations in the United States, so for Advancing Justice, it’s really vital and important to make sure that the services are accessible to them and in their language as well,” said Nasim Khansari, Citizenship Network Manager for Advancing Justice-L.A.
For the first time, Advancing Justice-L.A. received a grant from the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) and Civics classes to the AAPI communities of L.A.
The USCIS granted money to 40 organizations across the country and Advancing Justice was the only one in L.A. that received the grant.
“This grant is crucial for us. The reality is that these services just don’t exist for the AAPI community, even in an area like Los Angeles.”
The first component of the grant will teach their clients, specifically in the Chinese and Korean communities, how to speak English and preparing them to apply for citizenship.
“Teaching English is our priority, then they will understand what they can do. Once they have that under their belt, they can be more active within their community,” said Khansari.
The second, and equally important, component is civics classes.
“What we want to do is build an infrastructure where students feel they can start speaking English on a regular basis and therefore become more civically engaged, which means they will register to vote and be more engaged in their communities, as leaders as well.”
The classes will cover a range of topics including how to register to vote one becoming a U.S. citizen; how to get in touch with elected officials; how to learn more about city councilmembers; as well as how to become involved with city councils.
“Presidential election saw high turnout for Asians and Latinos who voted but in local elections, we’re not seeing that turn-out, which is expected.”
That’s why the classes are critical.
“We’ve also had interest from the League of Women voters who want to come in and give a presentation on how to vote and how to be involved,” said Khansari.
And here’s more, Advancing Justice-LA will be incorporating AB 817.
“We’re also having our voter registration team come in and talk to our students about how they can become poll workers even before they become naturalized citizens, so giving them, a way to get their feet wet on how to become civically engaged.”
Giving the AAPI community the tools they need to become educated and involved citizens creates an accountable and transparent government.
“We really want to create a sense of urgency with the Asians and Pacific Islanders communities about naturalization and making becoming a citizen—this is our priority.”