How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Korean American voter drive aims to engage young and old

Election Day Voting Polling

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Voters wait in line to fill out ballots at the Twentysixth Church of Christ Science in Koreatown on November 6th, 2012. An organizing campaign is recruiting Korean American teens to persuade their parents and grandparents to vote in the upcoming Los Angeles municipal election.

In the November presidential election, Asian American voters turned out in record numbers. But local elections don’t generate the same level of enthusiasm – especially among people who have to schedule voting around their work hours.

In Los Angeles' Koreatown, a new campaign by local organizations aims to encourage more voter turnout in the upcoming municipal election. The strategy:  deploy second-generation teens to reach out to their parents and other working-age elders.

“We are emphasizing the increased voter turnout of adults, parent age, ages 30 to 55, because in general they are very interested in the issues...education, jobs, the economy," said Yongho Kim of the Korean Resource Center, one group organizing the voter drive. "But because they work long hours and they are sometimes afraid of English, they have a lower turnout than Korean American seniors.”

The idea is to boost participation among what Kim calls “parent age” voters in the May municipal election. Organizers have recruited high school-age volunteers for phone calls, precinct walks and voter guide distribution to their parents and grandparents.

Dayne Lee, an organizer with the Korean Resource Center, explained the second generation’s role in civic life.

“They...have to take the lead in bringing their parents and grandparents into civic life," Lee said. "The first generation is all about surviving and making a place for themselves. The second generation is the one that is going to take leadership.”

Korean Americans are concerned about preserving affordable housing, especially for seniors in the gentrifying Koreatown area, Kim said.

One goal is to register 1,500 people to vote by mail, Lee says, because that's easier for busy working immigrants.

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