Archive for March, 2008

My last post talked about reaching out to minority communities through their preferred media sources. I talked about how authentic and credible these mono and multi lingual media organizations are in their respective communities. While we may think that only the older generation of minority immigrants watch these TV channels, read the newspapers and magazines and listen to their radio stations, we’re wrong. Many young people and families choose to consume these types of media because of one important reason.

It’s the one place where minorities can see people, personalities, celebrities and families who look just like them. Where they can see Asian, Latino, African American, Indian, Middle Eastern newscasters, talk show hosts, celebrities discussing issues of importance to them. They can hear about movies, foods, events, and types of social, cultural, political and economic news that they care about. Where else can they find a plentiful choice of minority spokespersons and hosts talking about issues they really care about? Where else can they read about cultural events important to them in their local communities? Mainstream media companies miss this really important point. They need to pay attention to how they will market to the changing demographics and challenges of supporting these fast growing communities that cannot be reached in the traditional manner.

I’m pleased to announce that our documentary, Engage Her, just got written up by Nichi Bei Times, a leading Japanese American news organization that publishes news and information in both Japanese and English. Here’s the link to the article:
Working to engage minority women to vote

It’s fitting that the first announcement of our project is of great interest to the Asian American community and that it’s tied to coverage of the 2008 elections and politics in general. Nichi Bei Times realizes that Asian American women are concerned about politics, being involved and making a difference with our votes. We care and want to know about the issues that are most important to us and our families. Issues like the Iraq War, U.S. Economy, Education, Healthcare, Civil Rights, Employment, Immigration affects all of us and we need to inform and educate ourselves about these concerns.

The politicians need to address our issues with realistic solutions so that we can determine the best candidate to support and earn our votes. They need to remember that there were over 26 million minority women who were eligible to vote in the 2004 elections. In 2008 there are far more minority women who can now vote for our next President. Every month, one million Latinos & Latinas turn 18 and become eligible to vote. Minorities make up 30% of the overall U.S. population. In 2004, there were more women than men voters. We are the dominant majority of voters. We deserve the attention and support of politicians and the media.

We’re pleased to see that news organizations like Nichi Bei Times are thriving and growing in our ever changing world. They cover all the important issues and events on both a local and national level for their community. They serve a very important function of representing information and news in a trusted format to their readership. Unlike many of the other traditional news media, they have expanded to host their news online through their website to seek a broader and increasingly diverse audience. Kudos to Nichi Bei Times for their vision and coverage.



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During the interviews with many of the minority women and community leaders we talk to, I ask them the question: What is the best way to reach out to the members of your community? I receive a number of different answers, but one in particular resonates strongly with me. Women like Beatriz Leyva-Cutler of www.Bahiainc.org and Miriam Wong who is the Executive Director of www.The Latinacenter.org have said that the politicians and consultants have to appeal to the minority voters through their own language media outlets if they want to influence minority voters.

Since many minority women and their families in the U.S. have emigrated from other countries, they can feel more comfortable speaking and reading in their native language. They want to know what is going on in their communities and also their native homeland. Many of these women and families return home regularly to visit their families and communities. It’s an important connection for them and for their families that remain in their homelands. They stay in touch by reading their newspapers and magazines that are written in their native language. They avidly watch TV news stations and programs that are spoken in their tongue. Stations like the award winning Univision broadcast TV programs that have huge Spanish speaking families tuning in. Newspapers like Nichi Bei Times a leading Japanese American newspaper and media written in both English and Japanese. There are multiple major Chinese TV mandarin cable program that are watched by millions of Chinese across the nation that brings them all the latest and greatest news, information and programming about China and Asia.

I grew up watching my own parents who emigrated from China reading their Chinese daily newspaper. They tuned into a local Chinese TV station and we went to San Francisco’s Chinatown on a weekly basis to watch Chinese movies made in Hong Kong and spoken in Cantonese. There were no subtitles…this was the real deal. We attended Peking Operas that were unbelievably elaborate and dramatic. I remembered being awed by the beautiful costumes, the characters and the operatic singing. However, being born and raised in Berkeley, California, I spoke limited Chinese. I was clueless many times about what was actually going on the stage. I remember constantly asking my mother: “Mom, what are they saying…what’s going on?”

The minority women leaders have said emphatically: “If the politicians want to reach out to our communities, then they must use credible community leaders, advertise and get on all the native language media companies that support our communities. Many of our people only read and watch TV, radio, read newspapers and mono-lingual magazines that are only written in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. More importantly, we trust these people and organizations to inform us of important social, political and cultural issues. They have credibility and have earned our trust over time. We listen to what they have to say and we feel they are the authentic sources of information for us.”

While many women can speak both English and their native language, many are far more comfortable speaking and reading in their native tongue. The nuances of our English language, the slang and the perspective of mainstream American media oftentimes doesn’t appeal to them. More importantly, the mainstream media companies don’t even attempt to understand the concerns and issues of minority women. These women and communities know that and turn to their trusted and revered media sources, not the mainstream media to get their information. That’s why most of the time, the national polls are meaningless when it comes to providing snapshots of information. Many minorities don’t respond to telephone surveys conducted by non-Spanish or Chinese speaking people on the other line. Minority communities are rapidly adopting mobile phones and text messaging as their major communications platforms minimizing the relevancy and accuracy of traditional poll outreach technologies.

I hope all you politicians and consultants are paying attention and listening to your constituents. In California alone, all minorities added up together have now become the majority. This is our future population across the country and everybody needs to have a wake up call and realize….the game has changed! Mable

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If you’ve been following the 2008 Presidential race and you’re anything like me, you are by now drowning in all the rhetoric surrounding the candidates. Wouldn’t it be nice to see just the plain facts without the political spin? See how each candidate stands on the important issues, how they voted, know their backgrounds, see the statements they actually made and see who’s funding their campaigns? Well then, the Project Vote Smart website (www.votesmart.org) is a must view for you! The information is all there.

Check it out. Just click on the website link above, and then click on “Candidates” in the header on the home page, then click on “President”.  Scroll down below the map of the U.S. and click “All Presidential Candidates”. Then choose the candidates you’re interested in learning more about and voilà your questions are answered. If a particular issue is important to you, there are 44 issue categories to choose from and most likely your issue will be there. Let’s say the environment is your hot issue, click on it and the voting record on environmental issues for the candidate you’re researching is right in front of you. You can even find out who is endorsing each candidate and how special interest groups rank the candidate in support of its objectives.

The beauty of Project Vote Smart is that it’s a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of mostly non-paid volunteers who research the facts and double check them.

The Project is not funded by the government and does not accept funds from corporations or organizations that support or oppose a candidate or issue. So the information you find on the website is pure democracy in action.  You don’t have to be a member to access the information and it’s absolutely FREE!

Project Vote Smart also offers information on elected officials and candidates from the current President and his cabinet members, to members of the U.S. house and senate and on down to each individual state’s house and senate. You can even find the voting registration requirements for your state and the results of your last local election and more. It’s simply a terrific resource available to all voters.

I’ll be posting future blogs for Engage Her! about other voter resources, interviews with people of interest and websites of interest. –Annie Masullo

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As we’re listening to candidates talk about their qualifications for elected offices ranging from a district level to the White House, let’s make sure we’ve passed the first test.  We need to confirm that we’re registered to vote. I found a very cool site called:  Votepoke which quickly helps you find out if you’re registered to vote. You can even remind your friends to check if they or loved ones are registered to vote.  I tried it out and here’s it works: 

1.  Go to Votepoke It will ask you to put in your name, address, information and then you submit it.  Once I clicked it, I got an answer back almost immediately.  

2.  Next it asks you if you want to make sure your friends are registered to vote.  You can type in your family members’ email addresses, like your mom’s and friends into their form. Then you can add a personalized message any way you’d like and submit it. Presto, it will send off email messages to your friends. 

3.  I tested the system by putting in another one of my email addresses to see how the system responded.  Within a few minutes, I received an email telling me my options. It said that they had created a “personal dashboard” for me listing the friends whose emails I sent off.  I could now: 

-Invite friends to check if they’re registered to vote 

-“Poke” my friends who haven’t verified their registration yet to go do it 

-“Poke friends” who aren’t registered to vote to take action and register themselves.

I found the process to be quick, simple, and effective. At the end there was a final message from the Votepoke staff: 

“The single most effective way to get people to vote is for someone they know personally to ask them. Make a point of inviting your friends, family and co-workers to check their registration and keep “poking” them until they do.”

 It’s a great website and service. Tell all your friends. You’ll find the link here: www.votepoke.org or on our blogroll to our right. If family members have difficulty with the language or don’t like to read emails, help them out and encourage them to get registered. Thanks for reading. Enjoy “poking” your friends.  Mable  

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When I first picked up the phone and spoke with Elmy Bermejo, I never imagined it would turn into an hour long conversation. I also didn’t realize that I was meeting a very important, committed and incredible woman.

Elmy was on my list of women to contact from Irma Herrera, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Advocate. Irma said “Elmy is a real powerhouse. Someone who is connected, engaged and very supportive of women and Latina issues”. Irma wasn’t kidding. As I discussed the Engage Her project with Elmy on the phone, we discovered we had a lot in common talking about all the issues that makes our project so personal and important.

Elmy Bermejo is the Deputy Secretary for External Affairs for the State of California and the Consumer Services Agency. This Agency oversees sixteen departments within California state government including the Franchise Tax Board, Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of General Services, Victim Compensation and Government Claims. Elmy is a native of San Francisco and grew up in the Richmond district. She didn’t grow up in the “Mission” which is where the majority of Latino families traditionally lived. Instead, her father owned Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, a well known and popular restaurant in a racially diverse neighborhood. She was the oldest of five kids and always the responsible one. Her parents came from Yucatan, Mexico and settled in San Francisco. When she was growing up, her mother always reminded her not to call attention to herself. She also had a wise grandmother who constantly pushed her to “stay under the radar” in order to get things done.

Her father expected her to eventually take over the family restaurant. However, her destiny was to become active in public service and politics. Yet her entrance into politics as an elected official was an accident. She attended a number of local colleges & university including San Francisco State College and University of San Francisco. She graduated during the period when Affirmative Action was an important progressive program. She is a proud recipient of Affirmative Action policies and firmly believes it helped open a lot of doors of opportunity for her. She also feels that a lot of people have a false representation of what Affirmative Action really meant and accomplished in 1970-80’s i.e. open doors and provide women and minorities with opportunities to achieve.

Elmy has had a long and illustrious career working for a number of State legislators and assemblypersons. Along the way she has distinguished herself and been appointed to a number of prestigious commissions and task forces. She has been an early leader in the Latina and women’s community and has been appointed to a number of prominent organizations including: Chairperson of the California State Commission on the Status of Women, board member of the League of Women Voters, Chairman of HOPE, Hispanic Organization for Political Equity, Board Chair of the Women’s Foundation of California, member of the NWPC, National Women’s Political Caucus among many other appointments. In addition, she has earned numerous awards including The League of Women’s Voters’ “Women Who Could be President” honoree and the “Woman, 2000 of the Year Award”.

When Elmy first started out in politics and worked as an aide for Senator Alan Cranston, she recalls feeling a little uncomfortable in that environment. She remembers interacting with a lot of people who really hadn’t dealt nor worked directly with Latinas before. She felt deep inside, many of them didn’t truly want to deal with a Latina. However, she had some very strong mentors in Senator John Burton, Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey & Senator Alan Cranston who helped her develop effective skills in navigating the world of politics. She recounted a time while working as an aide for Alan Cranston and having to pick up and bring a farmer from Nebraska to a meeting. She knew that he wasn’t accustomed to seeing nor interacting with a Latina woman in the context of national politics. However, Elmy knew that she was a pioneer and a role model shaping how people would view Latinas in non-traditional roles and in powerful settings. It would be part of her legacy to create positive images of Latinas for the future generations of minorities that would seek offices and roles in public and political settings.

We asked her about the contributions of Latinas to the political process. She said that there are a number of organizations and individuals who have contributed significantly to the political environment. Elmy stated that when Latinas are empowered and get engaged, they bring their whole families and community into the process. She stressed that the Latinas were taught that “voting gets you to the table”. If Latinas don’t engage, then the community overall will be overlooked. She said that she would regularly tell Latinas “Stop being invisible in this society”. She has made it a point to make sure women make a difference by reaching out to all women: young, old, minority, non-minority. Elmy learned over time to make sure when meetings were convened, that she looked around the table and would ask “Who’s not at the table?” to ensure that all the appropriate representatives and perspectives would participate in the meetings.

We asked her about the future and opportunities for women and minorities to become a strong voice and participant in the political process. She said that there are new generations of women who need to be reached out to and new leaders that are becoming strong voices. Women like Norah Vargas, Executive Director of the Latino Issues Forum who advocates on behalf of all Latinos on critical policy issues. She said that we need to recruit more women like her to get involved and provide concrete solutions. To educate and advocate for important policies that affect everyone. The single most important thing we can all do is “Get out and engage everywhere…do new things…bring communities together.”

When we shared with Elmy that we plan to widely distribute and encourage house parties to view our Engage Her documentary, she thought it would be a great tool to engage Latinas. To have them view the documentary, hear the stories of other women like themselves talking about the issues would appeal directly to them.

It is really a pleasure to be able to interview and work with women like Elmy who have spent their whole lives dedicated to advocating, communicating and improving our lives. Thank you Elmy for all that you have done and continue to do on our behalf. Mable

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Walking into the Castro Theater on a midweek in San Francisco, I was surrounded by hundreds, maybe a thousand other excited women.  As I looked around,  I saw women of every color, nationality, sexual preference, young, old, grandmothers, daughters sitting in anticipation.  We were waiting to see the 10th Anniversary of the Vagina Monologues produced for a special one day show on International Women’s Day. Sitting onstage were a number of women who were White, Asian, Latina, African American all dressed in  outfits of vivid red and black. They were the actresses of the  monologues that would be given that evening.

All of sudden in unison, the women began speaking and the performance began.  A young slender Asian woman strode up to the middle of the stage and began her monologue. She was forceful, angry, bewildered, compliant, demanding and exuded confidence. It was a powerful performance and drew a spirited applause when she sat down.  The woman performing was none other than Anne Ho, the first woman we interviewed for our documentary Engage Her.

I was extremely proud and amazed at the talent, passion and performance that Anne delivered throughout the evening.  It felt great to see a young woman whom I knew up on the stage telling it like it is and not holding back.  At the end of the performance I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed the monologues for a variety of reasons.  One thing really stuck out in my mind.  I loved hearing women speak loudly, passionately and boldly about their pain, emotions, distress and anger.  It was something we rarely see in our society.  Angry women who are not afraid to share, display and shout it out with pride. We are such suppressed women and always aware of how we need to keep our emotions in check.  To see women display a wide range of emotions including happiness, sadness, anger and fear in one evening was liberating.

Anne’s story is an interesting one.  Her parents came from Viet Nam where they met in their 20’s and emigrated to Southern California. Anne was brought up in a Vietnamese community in Orange County nicknamed “Little Saigon”.  It is a large thriving community of Southeast Asian families who went to school, shopped, raised their children and married one another.  Anne’s parents always wanted her to do well at school and eventually marry a nice Asian boy, have children and succeed. When asked if her parents voted…Anne said no.  She said that her father didn’t want to hassle with voting and her mother was concerned that if she registered to vote, she would be called for jury duty. Her real discomfort with jury duty wasn’t her lack of civic duty.  Instead it was because she isn’t comfortable nor fluent with English and didn’t want to expose her insecurity.

We asked Anne if she discussed politics with her girlfriends and again, she said no. They weren’t interested nor  encouraged by their parents to vote.  Same story with Anne.  Since her parents didn’t vote, they didn’t encourage her to vote either.  Anne went away to school and attended Stanford University in Northern California where she became interested in politics and government. The students were  politically concious and active. Anne joined a political group and became  involved with national politics. When she graduated and moved to San Francisco for her first job, she joined the Rock the Vote campaign,  engaging youth into the voting process.

She said that it was interesting being a young woman, Republican and living in San Francisco.  She rarely ran into very many young Republicans.  However, she discovered that the young people who attended the Rock the Vote concerts were very engaged, enthusiastic and interested in the political process.  We asked her if she used the New Media i.e. blogs, videos, podcasts, social network sites to gain her information about politics.  She said yes and that it was a natural way that people accessed their news.  All her friends communicate online and blogs are a part of her everyday life. Her friends loved to visit and discuss all the politically “edgy” websites like the Daily Show and loved to consume their celebrity gossip online. They regularly watched videos online and forwarded them to one another.

We asked her about politicians and their use of websites.  She said that they all visited the websites regularly. It made them feel equal with the politicians.  It “humanized” them and  took them off their pedestals.  In fact, it was their media of choice.   Visiting websites, blogs, viewing videos to gain their information was their preferred way of gathering information. 

She shared with us an interesting incident where she physically attended a fundraiser. It was an event where people typically donated a large amount to attend. She was invited by someone and was curious about meeting people. However, when she was there, she felt very alienated and uncomfortable. Instead of being welcomed and asked about her interests, she didn’t feel comfortable with the other attendees. The other attendees made her feel as if she didn’t belong there nor treated her like she was a part of the group.  No one  welcomed her nor  invited her into their discussions.

When she does return home to visit her family, we asked her if she talks politics to her girlfriends who remained in their community. She said they had no interest in discussing those things and were more concerned with their personal lives.  We asked her if she thought her parents and community cared about the Iraq War and terrorism threats to our country.  She frankly replied that the Iraq War is such a distant topic that doesn’t affect their everyday lives.  Minorities are narcissistic and only care about issues that directly impacts them. They want to know “how will this affect me directly and what’s in it for me?”  She attributed that to their cultural background.  Both  of  her parents came from a communist country where people had to focus on taking care of their own immediate needs. There was no democracy and people weren’t allowed to vote. They had to accept whatever  rules and conditions the government dictated to them.

We also asked if it made a difference to her parents if there was an Asian candidate running for office. Would it encourage them to vote? She gave us an example where there was a Vietnamese candidate on the city council who had proposed local legislation allowing a strip mall to develop and bring in more businesses. Anne said the combination of a local business issue and a Vietnamese legislator helped to motivate the Vietnamese community to engage and support the issues.  If there were more Asian and minority candidates that represented the minority community issues, she felt that would motivate and significantly increase the turnout of  minority voters.

Anne is now a first year law student at the University of San Francisco and is actively engaged with the community and politics.  She represents the future of our country of young people who are dedicated, passionate and committed to building a better and brighter future for all of us.  Thank you Anne for your commitment.

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