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When Katie Kalvoda was just one year old, her family lost everything fleeing their home country of Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon. For the next 13 months of her life, they would live in a Malaysian refugee camp trying to make their way to the United States.
“I often talk about my brother,” Kalvoda says, “who was born in the camp. His birth certificate says he was born in international waters because no country claimed him. What does it mean when no one wants you?”
Kalvoda thinks about this question of being unwanted and unclaimed often.
“There can be this accusatory narrative about people who embark on dangerous journeys with their children to get into the United States…but, think of how desperate people must be. Think of how desperate that experience was for my family and the many families who see this country as their only beacon of hope.”
For Kalvoda, this hope includes political stability and inclusion. It also is the ability to safely participate in the democratic process.
But Kalvoda argues that many Asian Americans do not benefit from these privileges, because “many migrated from authoritarian countries where people are unable to enjoy freedom of speech or assembly. This means some people stay very quiet and just focus on surviving and taking care of their family.”
And while she admits this is admirable, she also believes Asian Americans must stand up and advocate for the specific needs of their community.
“It’s a larger conversation about feeling welcome in America,” she says. “We initially came in through the railroads and we think we’re making strides, but it wasn’t long before [President Donald] Trump referred to COVID as the Asian virus that we found ourselves being targeted like we were decades ago. It’s very sobering.”
When Kalvoda founded her political action committee (PAC), Asian Americans Rising, after a successful career in hedge fund investing, one of her priorities was to offer a “safe harbor” for people to understand the issues.
“I understand when folks arrive at a conversation, not everyone is ready to dive in to the deep-end of politics. If we want civil discourse where voters are more informed, we have to meet them where they are so they can engage.”
By finding ways to provide a positive experience for people, she hopes her community will feel “a fire in their bellies to engage politically.”
She says, “We’re 6% of the U.S. population, so it’s easy to forget about us. But while we may not necessarily move general elections, we are the marginal vote in localized elections in places like Nevada and Texas. So, it’s imperative we have a platform to talk about politics and to advocate for policy that is justice oriented.”
Kalvoda believes justice-oriented policy includes addressing the 27.5% of AAPI who live below the poverty level. It also addresses the many Asian Americans living in segregated enclaves due to language barriers and a lack of cultural competency.
Ultimately, Kalvoda hopes her PAC will contribute to decency and humanity in the way the United States is run.
“I think the way we no longer welcome asylum seekers and those who have nowhere else to go is not decent. There’s just no need for useless suffering on our borders. All of us want our kids to have a better life than we did, we don’t want our skin tone to dictate our opportunities, and we want a clean environment that’s safe for us to pursue our passions.
“I believe we can find our humanity again. A country where we look after one another is really the strongest foundation of any governing nation, and we can honor no greater cause than that.”
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Editor’s note: On Sept. 20, the newsmagazine “Body Politic: People Making Democracy Work” went out to subscribers. While so much media attention goes to politicians, the truth is that citizens at all levels of engagement keep democracy going. “Body Politic” highlighted players in our region’s political ecosystem, getting beyond platform points and party ideology to find out what motivates them, what they care about, and what they hope their part adds to a healthy political process.
Source: Orange County Register