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City Seeks to Bridge Gap, Improve Quality of Life for its Asian American Residents

Syeda Hasan for KUT News
Austin's Asian American residents gathered for meetings to talk about the services they're missing out on, which include transportation and translation.

The City of Austin is hosting a series of community meetings for Asian American residents as part of an effort to help improve their quality of life.

At a meeting this week, volunteer Michelle Le sat with a group of North Austin residents, translating the words on a big poster from English to Vietnamese. She pointed out columns labeled “economic development,” “housing,” and “civic engagement,” asking the group to give feedback.

“I’m hearing a lot [about] transportation, I’m hearing road conditions, health and human services, they would like to have translation services as well,” Le said.

About 50 people turned out for the community meeting at Summitt Elementary School. It’s part of the city’s Asian American Quality of Life initiative. Project manager Marion Sanchez says they’re trying to better understand and serve the population’s needs.

“What we are learning is that each community has a different culture, of course, have a different language and have a different way to communicate among each other.”

Sanchez said Asian American residents want the same services as everyone else, but there seems to be a lapse in communication.

“As a public servant, our job is basically not only to create the resources, but also to make them available for the community in need. What we have is a gap between the services that we provide and some of the community members that need it because of the isolation.”

Many of the attendees said language barriers or immigration status keep them from getting involved. Take Dhanh Doan, for example. She’s lived in Austin for seven years.

Doan said she became a citizen two years ago, but she’s never voted because she doesn’t know how. According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, Asian American voter turnout lags behind other ethnic groups. If you ask Michelle Le, it’s going to take more outreach to help bridge that gap.

“Pamphlets, brochures, polling places, things that as English speakers we take for granted because we know they exist, but if you’re of Asian descent or don’t speak the English language, they might not know that a translation service is available, 3-1-1 is available, polling places can have volunteers who speak your language, that sort of thing.”

The team plans to issue a report and present their recommendations to city leaders in the coming weeks. 

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.
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