VAYLA New Orleans Takes Action With Petition To End Data Exclusion of AAPI Community in Voter and Public Records

Photo Courtesy of VAYLA New Orleans

The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA-NO) recently announced the official launch of their petition for inclusion, demanding state officials include data for more racial groups in voter statistics and beyond. It comes at a historical influx of xenophobia, racial hate and violence in the United States.

VAYLA New Orleans exists as an embodiment and commitment to activating tomorrow’s AAPI leaders in New Orleans and beyond. The organization, anchored in an anti-racist, queer, feminist lens, addresses social inequities facing the AAPI community such as environmental justice, reproductive justice, and civic engagement initiatives.

I spoke with Malcom Phillips, Civic Engagement Coordinator for VAYLA, about the launch of the petition that is meant to make sure that people of all ethnicities are represented on voter information records and other important documentation of the public. Currently, most of this documentation relegates race choices to “White”, “Black” and “Other”. In a country that is made up of so many different races and ethnicities, these choices alone seem antiquated.

“The racial groups under the umbrella term of “other” each have their own rightful place in our communities, with their own unique values and concerns derived from the upbringing their respective cultures cultivated in them. We are stronger together- not othered,” Phillips said in literature about the issue.

VAYLA argues that the data exclusion is harmful and dehumanizing, especially at a time where members of the AAPI community are being targeted for hate crimes. 

“Other is not our identity. Data inclusion is a public health issue. Data inclusion is a community impact issue. Data inclusion is a social equity issue–we have the power to make sure we are all seen and represented,” said Jacqueline Thanh, Executive Director of VAYLA New Orleans, in literature about the issue.

Phillips said that in order to better serve the community voter records should display more specific data that represents all races. He explained that it’s not just a Secretary of State issue- minority groups are underrepresented frequently on forms in which people are asked about their race.

“The pandemic has been a wake-up call for all of us to recognize how important quantitative data is for measuring and rectifying disparities amongst socio-economic lines [especially with] Covid affecting communities of color more severely,” Phillips said.

The petition, which launched in April, asks that “each group be categorized under the same racial identity chosen in their voter registration, and the public election results should reflect a more holistic analysis of voter demographics in Louisiana.” 

Photo Courtesy of VAYLA New Orleans

It has gained some political support and the eventual goal is to gather enough signatures, so that Governor Edwards will consider backing the change.

Phillips explained, “We have already gathered support from local officials, such as Ethan Ashely of OPSB, City Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer and City Councilmember Helena Moreno, who released a statement in solidarity with our mission. We hope to gain more circulation to raise awareness around this issue in the near future, with our primary goal being to gather a significant amount of signatures and submit the petition to Governor Edwards.”

As the petition explains, Louisiana is a melting pot state made up of a variety of people who come from different cultures. These individuals deserve to be properly represented by their government and given a voice- especially now, when the country is in the middle of a period of growth. 

The information on the petition states, “Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing racial groups in America, and have made major contributions to the cultural ethos of Louisiana, yet are seldom considered a vital target demographic for legislative and political campaigns. Their contributions must be recognized with specific data, as well as the contributions of other non-White/non-Black racial groups. With data comes visibility, with visibility comes resources, with resources comes influence, and with influence comes participation, inclusion and protection.”

You can read the petition in-full and sign it here:

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