South Asian American community leaders joined a diverse group of representatives from the Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) Coalition for an Illinois Asian American Legislative Caucus meeting this past week at the Sikh Resource Society (SRS) in Palatine. The legislators in attendance at the bipartisan caucus meeting included Senator Daniel Biss, Representative Elaine Nekritz, Representative Thomas Morrison, Representative Fred Crespo, Representative Michelle Mussman, and Representative Carol Sente. Leaders from the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI), Association of Retired Asians, and SRS were invited by Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago.
The meeting was another reflection of the ongoing effort to increase civic engagement and political empowerment led by Advancing Justice | Chicago and SAAPRI. Over the past two months, the organizations have partnered with various South Asian American serving institutions in an effort to increase voter education and election participation in the suburban South Asian community.
For the March 15th Illinois Primary Elections, Advancing Justice | Chicago and SAAPRI contacted over 7,600 infrequent South Asian voters in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Election Day was the culmination of a two-month effort that included community forums, direct mail, telephone, and media outreach to motivate participation.
“There are over 92,000 Asian Americans in the 8th Congressional District, and with over 43,000 who are South Asian,” said Reema Kapur, Executive Director of SAAPRI. “We will make our community’s values and needs heard by voting.”
In addition to discussing the voter engagement activities led by Asian American organizations at the caucus meeting, community leaders tackled difficult topics, most notably the current budget impasse in Springfield. Both Republicans and Democrats dialogued about the possibility of a compromise between the two parties. Illinois is the last state in the country without a budget for the current fiscal year.
“Indo-American Center has been devastated by the cuts to the Immigrant Services Line Item (ISLI) in the budget,” said Selma D’Souza, Executive Director of the Indo-American Center, a PAVE coalition member organization. “As a result of the elimination of ISLI and the lack of a State budget, the Indo-American Center has scaled back interpretation and translation services that assist our most vulnerable and limited English proficient community members in accessing public benefits. We also cannot offer the citizenship classes that help our community members become U.S. citizens and participate in our democracy. The lack of a budget is hurting our community and we need a budget solution now.”
The caucus meeting closed with an announcement that the PAVE coalition member organizations would once again be filling busloads to head to the state capitol for Asian American Action Day, an annual legislative rally with over 350 community participants.
“Meetings like this caucus meeting and advocacy opportunities like Asian American Action Day are important ways that the South Asian community can ensure that our voices are heard and taken seriously,” said Raj Mago from the Sikh Religious Society. “We hosted several of these legislators after the Oak Creek shootings when the Hate Crimes Resolution passed through the IL state legislature. We need to continue to be engaged not only on election day but year-round.”
Asian American Action Day takes place on May 17th, 2016. For more information, contact Steve Hosik Moon at firstname.lastname@example.org.