Van Dinh-Kuno (left), executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, answers questions about the general election ballot at an event sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on Friday at Everett Community College. Participants were U.S. citizens needing help from interpreters before casting their votes. (Julie Muhlstein / The Herald)

Van Dinh-Kuno (left), executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, answers questions about the general election ballot at an event sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on Friday at Everett Community College. Participants were U.S. citizens needing help from interpreters before casting their votes. (Julie Muhlstein / The Herald)

Asian/Pacific Islander coalition helps immigrant voters

They had questions — lots of them — about local, state and national races, transit and taxes, even proposed amendments to the Snohomish County Charter. The answers came in Vietnamese, Nepali and other languages.

At Everett Community College on Friday, more than 25 people gathered in a Rainier Hall classroom to get translation help and other assistance with voting. The event, open to anyone, was sponsored by the Snohomish County chapter of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition.

The participants, who are U.S. citizens, came with 2016 general election ballots most had received at home by mail. Many were elderly.

“We let everybody know that we want our voices heard,” said Van Dinh-Kuno, who heads the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition’s local chapter. Dinh-Kuno, whose family came to the United States from Vietnam in 1975, is also executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, based at Everett Community College.

“Voting is a privilege,” said Dinh-Kuno, before opening her own ballot in a how-to demonstration.

As translators Nia Bell and Kamal Acharya worked one on one with people, Dinh-Kuno emphasized repeatedly that there would be no advice on what choices voters should make.

“Remember, you make your own choice — your own choice,” she told the group from the front of the classroom. “It’s not my place to tell people who they should vote for.”

Going page by page in a Snohomish County voters pamphlet, Dinh-Kuno deliberately explained each decision to be made. She held up her ballot, which wasn’t yet marked, and talked about statewide initiatives, legislative advisory questions, county charter proposals and candidates seeking office.

Talking about the Sound Transit 3 measure, Dinh-Kuno said that “if you are for expanding transportation, you will need to spend more money in taxes.”

At tables in the classroom, voters with pens in hand listened and were helped by Bell, who speaks Vietnamese, and Acharya, a translator of Nepalese languages. “It is your choice,” Acharya told one voter.

After many complex issues had been explained, Dinh-Kuno told those gathered that “this will be the fun part — our next president.” The excitement in the room was palpable.

Reading the names of presidential hopefuls as they appear in the voters pamphlet, Dinh-Kuno began with the familiar: “We have Hillary, we have Donald.” She then read names on the ballot of presidential nominees from the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialism &Liberation Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party.

“This is the time for you to choose,” she said. “Who will be the next president?” Brigitte Fisher, who was also helping Friday, echoed others at the event when she told voters, “Make your own choice.”

Dinh-Kuno said later that although some voters needed help from interpreters, they had seen extensive newspaper and TV coverage of the U.S. presidential race in their own languages.

Friday’s event was a follow-up to the Asian American and Pacific Islander Democracy Summit. According to 2015 Census estimates, Asians alone make up more than 10 percent of Snohomish County’s population. The Sept. 15 summit brought four bus loads of people from Snohomish County to the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall. There, they heard gubernatorial candidates Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant debate over issues of minimum wage, taxes to fully fund public schools, and climate change.

As a timekeeper at the debate, where translators conveyed answers in more than 20 languages, Dinh-Kuno rang a gong to keep the candidates’ exchange on track. She is committed to helping others become fully engaged in civic life.

“I’ve been here 41 years,” Dinh-Kuno said. “This is my country. I would never trade it for anything on earth. And I vote in every election.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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