Sunday, October 14, 2012


A get-out-and-vote campaign by Filipinos in Virginia’s Tidewater region is winning kudos from both Democrats and Republicans, as many see a greater role for Asian Americans deciding an increasingly tight race this November.

The FilAm Vote Coalition of Hampton Roads (FAVCOHR) was formed as a non-partisan voter mobilization project, tapping into the estimated 40,000-strong Fil-Am community in Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.

But what’s drawn the attention to FAVCOHR is its creative approach to potential voters that has attracted even non-Asians, according to Manila Mail editor Bing Branigin, who is also FAVCOHR overall coordinator.

FAVCOHR is run by TravelOutlet’s Naomi Estaris, a founding president of the Southeast Virginia Fil-Am Chamber of Commerce.

The group has been animated by young Fil-Am volunteers who’ve held flash-mob events in stores and plazas (you can watch them on youtube). They have put up registration tables in private offices with a lot of Fil-Am employees.

Whacky internet personality Christine Gambito aka Happy Slip, has volunteered to perform in a Virginia Beach venue. More popular on the internet – her 2007 video Mixed Nuts won a YouTube competition for best comedy – Branigin said that many people do not know Gambito is a native of Virginia Beach.

“A lot of her audience doesn’t realize that she’s local,” Branigin explained, “She’s very excited but also concerned after learning about our low voter participation in past elections.”

“She wants to help,” Branigin stressed. “Having just had her third child, she says a live comedy show is much easier than trying to edit a video.”

To see her performance for free, audiences have to show their voter’s registration card (of course if they don’t have one, they can always register at the door).

They are organizing viewing parties (for the presidential and vice-presidential debates) and poetry reading for voting rights and responsibilities. They have enlisted DJ and hip-hop bands to join the voter’s list-up campaign.

FAVCOHR volunteers are also launching an online photo campaign, taking pictures of people with their voter’s card or blank voter registration forms. They would ask their subjects to answer this question “Why do you vote?”

Watch out for the gallery of participants in coming issues of your favorite paper, the Manila Mail.

But they still do “traditional methods” of heighten awareness about the coming elections – Branigin said they were working on a list of 1,000 names for phone-banking and door to door operations.

The FAVCOHR was apparently inspired by a similar campaign by Fil-Ams in Nevada. Filipinos in the Hampton Roads area grew by 33 percent in 10 years, according to the 2010 Census.

“There are clear choices this year and we’re all looking forward for a clear direction. But we have to be engaged and understand the importance of registering people to vote,” said Virginia House Delegate Ron Villanueva at the FAVCOHR launching last month.

The initiative has received the support of Fil-Am groups in the region, according to Nita Cacanindin of the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater – the oldest and largest community organization in the area.

Branigin said they have already registered more than 600 new voters but expect the number to rise further as FAVCOHR moves to carry the momentum to bring out the Filipino and Asian American vote in November.

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