English Feature #7-34216 Broadcast October 30, 2000
In the national elections November 7, many immigrants to the United States who have recently become citizens will have the opportunity to cast their first vote. Today on New American Voices an immigrant from India talks about her efforts to register voters among new American citizens of South Asian background.
During the week, twenty-seven-year-old Deepa Iyer works as an attorney in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, handling cases of immigrants who are victims of unfair employment practices. In her free time throughout this summer and fall, she and a group of other volunteers have been conducting voter registration drives in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D. C.
"The reason that we were doing this is that there has been a large influx of recent immigrants to this area from South Asia, and many of these individuals have recently become naturalized, and have become citizens, so they're now eligible to register to vote. We set up shop outside grocery stores and movie theatres and supermarkets, those types of places where South Asian immigrants usually come and enjoy the weekends, and we set up a table and had voter registration forms on hand, and would approach people who came along and say 'Excuse me, but I'm registering people to vote for the upcoming elections, and if you're eligible, would you like to register to vote?'"
Of all the ways new Americans can play a role in the political process, Miss Iyer chose to channel her energies, at least for now, in the voter registration drive.
"Probably because that seemed like the most effective way to get people to become active in the least amount of time, since we were approaching the 2000 elections and since the elections are going to be extremely important for this country's future. But many organizations in the community focus their efforts on many other things, as well. Everything from combatting hate crimes that happen to individuals of South Asian descent to making sure that immigration policy is fair to individuals of South Asian descent."
In addition to voting, Deepa Iyer says there are various avenues for immigrants to become involved in the political process and have an impact.
"There are many other ways. For example, recently South Asians have been drawing a lot of contributions to the political candidates and the political parties. They've been putting on fund raisers and they've been contributing personally and as a group to the political parties, so that's another way that people are expressing their interest in politics. And the third way is, I think, the younger generation getting very involved by doing things on college campuses, by actually making sure their voices are heard in policy issues - how people should vote, what these policies should be, and how they affect us as a community."
Deepa Iyer has noted another development in the way South Asians participate in American political life. It is the emerging role of women.
"You see a lot of young women who are starting to lead community-based organizations in the South Asian community, and shaping the agenda of the community, what issues the community should be involved in - whether it's battered women issues, whether it's the rights of taxicab drivers, whether it's the rights of the younger generation. You really see younger women taking a stance and leading these types of initiatives and efforts."
Deepa Iyer immigrated to the United States from India with her family when she was twelve. She received an excellent education in this country, and seems to be a typical modern young American woman. But her interest in political activity has its roots in her background.
"I think that it has a lot to do, actually, with my status as an immigrant in this country. Growing up in Kentucky and going to school in different areas of the country made me realize that there were many issues out there that impacted me as a woman and as an immigrant. Things like immigration policy, for example, discrimination, hitting the glass ceiling in the workplace, those types of issues, and I knew that to make an impact on them I had to get more civically engaged and start to participate in the communities around me."
Next week we'll talk with other young people of various ethnic backgrounds who are active in American political life.