“Who does the U.S Senator represent?”
At the United Cambodian Community, a civic organization in Long Beach California, Cambodian immigrants are learning the finer points of American democracy.
This is in parts so they can become citizens and vote in the upcoming presidential election. But Sera Pol-Lim, the head of the UCC, says it means more than that:
“Not just passing the citizenship test, but learning the process how to engage in civic engagement, understanding voting process, giving them an ability to understand what a civic engagement is all about.”
This year those who were qualified to vote will find it a little easy.
This Cambodian community in this west coast city has grown large enough to warrant having all voting materials provided in their Khmer language. Even though she may not be voting this year, Lorn Vouch is studying hard and following the issues.
“I’m feeling nervous and excited at the same time for the election. But I’m still not able to vote yet because I’m not a citizen. I have to wait about another half a year. That’s why I’m trying to learn to apply for the citizenship.”
For Vouch the weak U.S economy is the top issue since some of her family members have lost their U.S jobs.
“My daughter was working at a bank for several years. But she got laid off last year. My son in law also got laid off 4 or 5 years ago and has not been able to find a job since then. So both of them decided to go back to Cambodia. Maybe they are coming back this year to find jobs. But we’re not sure if they will be able to find jobs.”
But these students are sometimes light-hearted. They take the class seriously. Volunteer teacher Mitchel Skidmore says they are wrestling with complicated issues.
“Like “How does the American government show democracy in two ways?” They said “There’re not a lot of people”. If you ask just Americans on the street, they would not answer that probably.”
“The best part is definitely the people and they love to come and learn. You know, when they mess up, it’s OK. They laugh at themselves and love having a great time here. That’s definitely the best part.”
In the middle of the tense election season, something to smile about.