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Interest in Politics Among US Immigrant Youth Growing

The percentage of young people age 18-to-24 who vote in the United States tends to be low, although many young people are politically active and there are other signs that may be changing. But, what about immigrants and minorities? VOA's Crystal Park and Barry Unger talked to members of the U.S. immigrant community about their involvement in politics.

The youth group at the Korean Baptist Church in Silver Spring, outside Washington, is having a weekly meeting. Cyrus Chung is one of the members. His parents emigrated from South Korea. Like many young immigrants, he is not actively involved in politics.

He says his family was more concerned about assimilating into U.S. culture than U.S. politics.

"I feel like, if you grew up in a household where politics wasn't discussed, there's no reason you're going to just start discussing it," he said.

But Cambodian immigrant Davy Kong believes in getting involved. Ms. Kong is a press officer at Millennium Challenge Corporation, a government organization. She says she was taught in school that American culture includes politics.

"Teachers not only taught me math, science and reading, but really taught me the importance of being a citizen of the United States, and what that meant," she said.

Stan Dai is a Chinese immigrant, who has been active in politics since high school. He agrees that citizenship is more than just where you were born.

"If you ask me where I was born, I say, China. If you ask me what I am, I am an American," he said.

Mr. Dai is the president of the Conservative Student Union at George Washington University in Washington. He believes more immigrants need a stronger American identity.

"The idea that, 'it's not my country' that has nothing to do with your skin color. That has to do with your upbringing and mentality," he added.

Young immigrants and minorities are getting more involved. The proof is increased voter turnout among members of all racial groups between the ages of 18 and 24 in the 2004 election.

However, there is still a huge divide in the voting patterns. Census bureau statistics show that almost half of all registered African-Americans in that age group, many of whose families have been here for generations, voted in the 2004 election. Among registered young Asian-Americans and Latinos, whose families are more likely to have immigrated recently, the number voting was only around one-third.

Some young immigrants, such as Mr. Dai, believe these numbers will change over time.

"I hope that, with time, after spending some generations, they will break out of those bonds. They will stop seeing themselves as foreigners, because they are not," he noted.

Others believe more role models are needed to increase political interest in these communities.

Will Campos emigrated from El Salvador as a young child. He is currently an elected official in the state of Maryland.

"When I was growing up I didn't have anyone who looked like me come to my school and say, 'this is what I'm doing.' There were minorities, but nobody I could relate to culturally, and that makes a big difference," said Mr. Campos.

He says a representative democracy needs to be just that.

"If you have a government body and A, B, C, and D constituencies, you should have A, B, C and D representatives in that body," explained. Mr. Campos. "It makes it a stronger and more natural representative government to your community."

However, some immigrants, such as Mr. Chung, who expressed little interest in politics, think ethnic bloc politics are only superficial.

"I feel that it would get immigrants involved to the extent that they would vote for him [a candidate] blindly, and that, I don't really think, is necessarily a good thing," said Mr. Chung.

More immigrant and minority candidates may have an effect on the numbers of people who vote. A more certain effect is age. Statistics indicate that, as they get older, people become more politically active, or at least vote.