Episode 62: Discussing the Importance of Political Participation within Asian-American Households with Helena Berbano


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Jessica Nguyen sits down with Helena Berbano to delve into how and why Asian-Americans are so politically disengaged. Given Helena’s active involvement in campaigning for Asian-American women candidates, she speaks about the power of political engagement and how the lack of such action negatively impacts the larger community.

We start the podcast with Helena speaking about the difficulties of working and existing in a white male-dominated space that heavily relies on having connections. Still holding onto her authenticity, she has found a way to adapt within this space as a woman of color. Working in politics, she has also gained insights into why the Asian-American community has lower engagement with politics compared to other communities. Besides more obvious factors like voter suppression tactics and language barriers, there are also issues with lack of contact and lingering trauma from past experiences with corrupt politics. Taking these into consideration, we should reevaluate what would be the most effective ways to get more of the community (both young and older generations) to be more politically involved. Helena recommends redefining the negative connotation around the word “politics” through honest conversations about causes and issues they genuinely care about. Using that as a stepping stone, one can start by getting involved in local elections because no matter how small or big the political stage is, representation of diverse perspectives matters.

When it comes to being an activist, Helena reminds us that one does not have to be out in the frontlines protesting or go knocking door-to-door to call themselves activists. What is most important is to find the route to activism that is most authentic and accessible for them. Stay tuned to the end of the episode to learn about resources and/or spaces to explore if you are interested in being more involved in political movements.

HELENA BERBANO is a 2nd generation Filipina American who is an organizer, activist, and campaign operative. She has managed national voter engagement programs and has advised a number of Massachusetts state and local grassroots advocacy groups on their campaigns. During her tenure as Director of Special Projects at Nonprofit VOTE she focused on voter registration and outreach with disenfranchised communities and collaborated and trained a variety of advocacy and nonprofit networks, including the National Association of Community Health Centers, YWCA, United Way Worldwide, and League of Women Voters.

One of her biggest passions is getting more women and people of color elected into public office. In 2016, she organized a national coalition of Asian American Pacific Islander millennials in support of Secretary Clinton. She also has invested in leadership in her home state of Massachusetts. In 2017, she served as Campaign Manager for Nicole Castillo's bid for Newton city council, and in 2018 she served as Strategic Advisor for now State Representative Tram Nguyen. Most recently she served as Director of Operations for Dr. Mohammad Dar’s bid for the 8th Congressional District in MA.

She holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she was given the distinctions of McCormack Scholar, Keough Capstone Fellow, and Best Capstone for her research focused on women of color public office initiatives. She is the outgoing Co-Director of New Leaders Council - Boston and formally sat on the Mass NOW PAC and Young Democrats of Massachusetts boards. On her days off, she listens to musical theatre compilations and avidly sings power ballads at karaoke.

Website: www.helenaberbano.com

Summary by Joanne Nguyen

70 episodes