By Ninette Cheng
On Feb. 5, approximately 3,000 Asian Pacific Islanders (API) rallied on the steps of the capitol in Olympia.
The day marked the annual Asian Pacific American (APA) Legislative Day. APA and API groups from across the state came out to support the causes that are important to their communities.
The lead organization involved was the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) with chapters from six counties, including King, Snohomish, and Spokane.
“There were also many different ethnic groups: Laotian, Mien, Hmong, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian, Southeast Asian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and many others,” said Joanne Cheung, executive assistant at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service.
There are two portions to the legislative event, said Kelly Dang, media coordinator for the event.
“One portion is the API leadership from across the state go and meet with elected officials as well as with the governor,” she said.
However, Gov. Chris Gregoire was stuck at an airport in Chicago that day, so the leadership met with her staff instead.
“The API leadership also met with certain legislative leaders: Sen. Steve Hobbs (D), Sen. Paull Shin (D), Rep. Bob Hasegawa (D) and Rep. Sharon Tomiko–Santos (D),” she said.
The second part involved the 2,000 APIs rallied in Olympia. “We wanted to visibly show them who we are as a community and that we do have a voice,” Dang said.
“The legislators were actually very welcoming,” said Ellen Abellera, executive director of the State of Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
Dang outlined several goals and causes of the APA Legislative Day.
“We asked for support for the naturalization program,” she said. “It costs about $600–800 to become a naturalized citizen. Without some sort of support from the state, a lot of immigrants and refugees would not be able to become a citizen.
“Another thing we wanted the state legislators to protect was funding for basic health and the GAU (general assistance-unemployable) program,” she said. ”Basic health is a public insurance program that the state runs where low-income folks can buy health insurance from the state. There is no citizenship requirement so it really fits in with our immigrants.”
The APA Legislative Day Issue Papers explains that Gov. Gregoire has put forth a proposed budget where she would cut the funding for basic health by 7.4 percent or $19 million dollars.
“It will increase the uninsured in Washington State by 6 percent,” Dang said. “Our legislative agenda is to protect programs that really help low-income people in Washington state.”
Other priorities included language training and medical language interpretation.
The results of the lobbying and plans for next year are on hold until the state budget is determined.
The state is currently suffering a $6 billion dollar deficit, Dang said.
“We have to kind of be flexible in response to the needs of our community,” she added.
“They have listened and the sense there is to be able to move forward and with together,” said Abellera.
“The APIC Legislative Day is an amazing opportunity for the Asian Pacific Islander community to get together, take part in the political process, and really make our voice count,” said event organizer Diane Narasaki. “It is democracy at its best.” (end)
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.
• Seen and heard