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ASIAN AMERICAN GROUP WORKS FOR WIDER INFLUENCE

By: ANGIE CHUANG - The Oregonian, February 25, 2002 Monday


Summary: The multiethnic network wants to weigh in on selection of a schools superintendent and elections

A multiethnic Asian American advocacy group hopes to ensure that its community can influence two significant events this year: the selection of the new Portland Public Schools superintendent and the 2002 elections.

About a dozen members of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon set priorities for coming months during an organizing meeting at the Asian Family Center in Northeast Portland last week.

The 5-year-old group, also known as Apano, has brought together once-disparate ethnic groups within the Portland area's Asian American community. Members of the Vietnamese, Filipino, Mien, Hmong, Lao, Japanese, Chinese and Korean communities are among those represented. At the meeting, members -- invited by the Portland Public Schools to sit in on superintendent selection interviews -- began drafting questions they would ask candidates.

"This is the first time the community has been involved in the process," said Thach Nguyen, Apano president. "We should ask specific questions so our concerns will be heard."

Apano has been meeting regularly with Portland school officials to address issues such as the achievement gap between Asian American and white students, funding for English as a second language programs and barriers to parent outreach.

Members also are planning the organization's second-ever candidate forum for the May elections and primaries.

The first forum, held in the fall of 2000, was a crystallizing moment for the Asian American community -- perhaps the first time people of so many different ethnicities came together and commanded the attention of such high-profile politicians, said Taro O'Sullivan, interim chairman of Apano's politics and advocacy committee.

The forum is planned for late April.

Apano also is embarking on several grass-roots projects to help institutions better serve Asian Americans, said Nathan Thuan Nguyen, community development coordinator for the Asian Family Center.

One of the most important, he said, will be to work with the Portland Public Schools to improve its translation services for information sent home to Asian American parents. The district has had a translation coordinator for just one year and is drafting a new policy on translation services.

Thach Nguyen said he's heard many complaints about poor quality of the Asian-language notices sent home to parents.

"I've seen some of the Vietnamese translations, and they're terrible. I have to look at the English version to figure out what they mean," he said. For example, he said one notice referred to an oral presentation as "doing it by mouth" in Vietnamese.

Ann Snyder, a Portland Public Schools spokeswoman, acknowledged that the district has had problems with the translations, particularly those in Vietnamese. The district currently contracts for private translation services.

Apano's involvement in translation services "is the kind of thing we absolutely welcome," Snyder said. "They're resources and experts in the area."

Angie Chuang can be reached by phone at 503-221-8219 and at angiechuang@news.oregonian.com.