Viet voting bloc building strength across the state

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Oct. 22, 2008

Sipping tea with senior members of the Vietnamese community in a garage on Dorchester Ave, Thu Nguyen, a young investment-banking analyst, was asked to mobilize the Vietnamese community for the presidential elections. Nguyen said despite his busy schedule he wanted to start an independent organization to build a "strong voice" among the immigrant community.

That meeting took place in late March. Within a month, Nguyen joined six other volunteers to establish a non-partisan, non-profit organization - Viet-Vote. Not springing from any existing Vietnamese organization, the members often spend out of their own pocket to fund the group's activities.

The Vietnamese community is the fastest growing Asian ethnic group in Massachusetts, said Troy Huynh, a member of Viet-Vote. "But we do not have the real hardcore numbers." There is a gap between the population and the registered voters. "Our goal is to build Viet-Vote as a permanent and sustainable voice for the Vietnamese community to affect public policy."

Viet-Vote is not endorsing any candidate for the presidential race. Their mission is to spread political awareness and increase the involvement of the Vietnamese community in public affairs, he said. Their core activities include registering and educating voters, and get out the vote efforts.

The group spent the first few months trying to register voters in Massachusetts. "I would come across a lot of elderly people who would ask like - 'Okay,' I will register. But who should I vote for? Is McCain the guy who went and fought in Vietnam?'" Nguyen recalled.

Some of the elderly members of the community want to vote but language barriers make it difficult for them to figure out who they want to vote for, he said.

To share information on the candidates and their policies, Viet-Vote, is organizing a Candidate Forum to be held at Sarah Care at 1225 Dorchester Ave. at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25.

"By no means are we trying to influence anyone in one way or another," Nguyen said. The purpose is to provide as much information as possible and educate the community on various public policy issues.

"We are being objective on any matter; it is an educational forum, our main objective is to present Obama as Obama and McCain as McCain and where they stand. So people can form their own opinion on who they want to vote for," he said.

Huynh, who will moderate the discussion in Vietnamese, said that the goal is to inform, so it will be less of a debate. Along with the differences in the candidates' agenda, the discussion will focus on how each candidate's policies will affect the Vietnamese community.

"They are not official representatives of either parties, but are knowledgeable of the issues and are able to speak in English and Vietnamese," he said.

Speakers on the policies of Barack Obama and Joe Biden are James Nguyen, a public policy graduate student at the Harvard University and Natalie Nguyen, director of Core Facility Operations and Business Planning at Partners HealthCare.

Long Le, a high school math teacher at Everett High and Jessica Vu, a graduate at Harvard Law School will speak on Republican Party candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Each side can speak for five minutes on the topics - education, healthcare, immigration economy with a focus on tax policies, and foreign policy that will discuss Iraq War and U.S.-Vietnam relations. The Panel will address questions during a one-hour open mike session.

The Vietnamese community is estimated to have grown at a rate of 44 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to Thu Nguyen. There are enough people in the community to demand a voice, he said, "but we are trying to make that voice stronger so that other people within the community will be encouraged to participate in the political process and maybe run for office."

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