League project translates 2020 ballots
By Mary Stamp
Susan Hales' love of engaging with people of many cultures led her to spearhead an effort with the League of Women Voters (LWV) in Spokane to translate 2020 ballots into six languages.
She arranged with Spokane International Translations to translate ballots into Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Chinese and Swahili, so citizens who speak those languages can use a translated ballot to guide them in filling out the official ballot in English.
Susan learned about the league and joined it three years ago when she found she could register newly naturalized citizens to vote. She was hooked on voter outreach
"I have helped the league expand outreach with the library, Spokane's Community Court and people who are houseless," she said.
She also helped Jewels Helping Hands' voter outreach, producing LWV voter registration kits for people who are houseless.
At a community meeting last summer with Rep. Andy Billig and Lucy Barefoot of the Secretary of State office on engaging people with disabilities, a man from South Sudan asked about translating ballots.
Lucy said the Secretary of State does not translate them for people if their language is spoken by less than five percent of the county population, and they cannot use state funds, but then Vicky Dalton, county auditor, stepped up to say a community group could do translations and she would post them on the Elections Office website.
Last spring, Susan did a needs assessment contacting formal and informal leaders of groups. Six languages emerged as most needing translations, and she began working with Spokane International Translations, which does translations for schools, businesses and nonprofits.
They estimated it would cost $4,365 to do the translations. The League of Women Voters provided part of the funds and the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund gave a grant of nearly $4,000.
In mid-August, the Spokane County Elections Office provided a sample ballot.
In posting translated ballots on the website, Vicky makes it clear it's not an official ballot, but one people can use side-by-side with an official ballot to help people understand what they are voting for.
Susan collaborated with the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC), which hired a student intern, Tia Moua. Her phone survey revealed there was also a need for translated general voter information, such as how to register and vote, and descriptions of the offices on the ballot, like the Governor and President. Providence Health Services has underwritten these translations through a grant to Refugee Connections, which is partnering with the league.
"When immigrants and refugees study for the U.S. citizenship exam, the materials do not prepare them to vote because the voting rules differ in every state," she said. "Some English as a Second Language classes include citizenship information with basic information on how to connect their votes with what is important to them.
"The Secretary of State's Voters Guide is long and hard to read in English, but too much to translate," Susan said.
With two college students, Tia also did videos in different languages on how to register to vote and why it's important to vote.
"The League of Women Voters focuses on long term civic engagement, registering people to vote and engaging them as voters. They have connected with APIC, Latinos en Spokane and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to develop collaborative voter events, as well as voter registration kits for voters who are houseless," said Susan, who has been in Spokane for 30 years.
When she was 16, she began working with other cultures, going from her home town of Guilford, Conn., to New Haven to volunteer at a Head Start that had all African-American children and staff.
"The staff took me under their wings, even inviting me home," she said. "Later, for my college work term, I tutored Inuit students at an Alaska Native Boarding School in Nome, Alaska.
"I also traveled to Europe with a high school teacher who introduced U.S. students to different cultures," she said.
"My parents often talked about the importance of learning about other cultures," she said. "I realized that awareness of different cultures makes the world bigger."
After graduating from Bennington College in Vermont in cultural anthropology in 1971, she followed her first husband to Washington State University.
In Washington, she found work in archaeology on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, excavating with hoses the Makah Tribe's early Ozette village buried in mud slides 400 years ago. The goals were to affirm the Makah's rich cultural history and to create a cultural museum.
Wanting to learn about nonprofits, she earned an interdisciplinary master's degree in managing nonprofits that combined coursework at Eastern Washington University (EWU) and Gonzaga University in 1991.
After years in arts nonprofits, Susan sought work with people of other cultures. Leading a multicultural demonstration project for Head Start and then later directing a family literacy program for refugees through the Community Colleges and District 81, she began to get to know Spokane's many refugee communities.
Susan lived a year in Russia with her husband, Larry Luton—who taught public administration at EWU—when he was an international Fulbright scholar teaching at Novosibirsk State University and she taught qualitative research methods.
"I went to experience being in another country, where I did not know the language or culture," she said. "That helped me understand the experience of refugees. I experienced culture shock as I learned about the culture and country, often broke social norms and felt like a child."
She and Larry studied the Russian language three days a week, not enough to be fluent.
"I had only studied French in high school and basic Inuit in college," Susan said, commenting that knowing other languages opens understanding.
Back in the U.S. after Russia, she taught a course on refugee experience at EWU and completed her doctoral degree at Gonzaga with a dissertation on resilience among Hmong refugee women, graduating in 2004.
With there being no jobs with refugees after 9/11, she went to Dickinson State University to direct international education for two years.
Returning to Spokane from Dickinson in 2006, Susan was director of international education for three years at Eastern Washington University. For both Dickinson State and EWU, she traveled widely in China and other countries, developing agreements and recruiting students.
"I loved working with international students, but I really wanted to work with refugees and immigrants again, so I researched what they needed here in Spokane. I realized that the agencies contracting with the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees were only funded to help them resettle for the first three months.
"Adapting to the new culture does not happen that fast. Many needs arise and continue long after three months," said Susan.
So she started Refugee Connections Spokane in 2010, and it became recognized as a nonprofit in 2011.
After many years of travel, now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she misses getting off a plane and stepping into another country.
"Stepping off a plane is a first step to understanding," she said.
"As a child, I was told often in words and actions by my mother that privilege carries an obligation," Susan added.
"I have benefitted from so many unearned privileges. They have given me an education and access to resources that allow me to be useful to others, if I listen to what people tell me they and their communities need," she said. "This is what gives me purpose and gives me joy."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2020