Diep Tang spent most of last spring in San Jose, California organizing events and registering young Vietnamese voters as part of Working Partnerships USA’s Lead the Vote project.
It was hard but ultimately rewarding work, with Lead the Vote – funded by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters – surpassing its registration goal of 3,500 new voters on high school and college campuses across the county.
But Diep, 22, didn’t come by her political activism naturally even though she grew up surrounded by older family members who discussed politics at every opportunity. Like her younger generation Vietnamese friends, she was more affected by the social distractions of the country she immigrated to as a 12-year-old than the older generation of Vietnamese, whose lives were shaped by war and the social upheaval of the country they left behind.
“The older people were more willing to be involved,” she said. “Young people are involved with social media – we want people to know about our lives, but we don’t want to get involved in the lives of others.”
What changed for Diep was getting involved as a high school student with Californians for Justice, a nonprofit that promoted higher education opportunities for people of color. That led to precinct walking for a Chinese-American candidate for San Jose City Council and then to registering Asian voters as part of Lead the Vote.
“I was astonished by the low number of young registered voters in the county, especially in the Asian community, because they make up a large percentage of the youth in Santa Clara County, she said. “We have the power to change policies and influence the quality of our lives, but such power only exists when we begin to register and vote.”