Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Five new Asian languages make their debut at the polls

Voter materials at a polling place in Pasadena, Calif. Nov. 6, 2012
Voter materials at a polling place in Pasadena, Calif. Nov. 6, 2012 Lauren Osen/KPCC

Voting is easier Tuesday in Los Angeles County for many Asian Americans who aren't fluent in English.  

Earlier this year, L.A. County officials announced they would be adding five new Asian languages to their voter materials and bilingual poll assistance on election day. Hindi, the official (but far from only) language of India, is now on the sample ballot, along with Thai and Khmer, the language of Cambodia. There will also be bilingual poll workers fluent in Gujarati and Bengali, two other Indian languages, ready to assist voters Tuesday in selected precincts.

This is significant, politically and demographically. Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Thai and Khmer have joined several other Asian languages - Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog - which are already provided for voters in Los Angeles County. It's a recognition of the growing political viability of Asian Americans, whose voter turnout has traditionally been low, but whose growing numbers in the United States can't be ignored.

In the 2010 census, the growth rate of the Asian American population surpassed that of Latinos. And the fastest-growing group of Asians is Indian Americans, making it not surprising that three of the five new voter languages debuting today are Indian languages, chosen because they are especially prominent in Southern California. 

For activists who have spent years trying to encourage more civic participation from Asian Americans, this is a big deal. Providing these additional languages at the polls extends the welcome mat, especially for older immigrant voters who are less comfortable with English.

"Providing language access is important for two reasons," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at UC Riverside who studies Asian American civic participation. "It gives assistance to those who need it. And it will make a difference."

What do some of the new L.A. County voter languages sound like? Listen to the audio at left for more, including the Gujarati phrase for "I'm going to vote." 

See you at the polls.

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