Jennifer Xiong spent her summer helping Hmong people in California register to vote in the US presidential election. The Hmong are an ethnic group that come from the mountains of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand but don’t have a country of their own, and Xiong was a volunteer organizer at Hmong Innovating Politics, or HIP,…
y, and observers say turnout among Hmong citizens was the highest they can remember.
But Xiong says it was also incredibly disheartening.
While Hmong people have long ties to the US many were encouraged to migrate across the Pacific after being recruited to support the United States during the Vietnam War they are often left out of mainstream political discourse. One example? On the website of Fresno's county clerk, the government landing page for voter registration has an option to translate the entire page into Hmong but, Xiong says, much of the information is mistranslated.
And it starts right at the beginning. Instead of the Hmong word for hello or welcome, she says, is something else that said, like, your honor' or the queen' or the king' instead.
Seeing something so simple done incorrectly was frustrating and off-putting. Not only was it just probably churned through Google Translate, it wasn't even peer edited and reviewed to ensure that there was fluency and coherence, she says.
Xiong says this kind of carelessness is common online and it's one reason she and others in the Hmong community can feel excluded from politics.
They aren't the only ones with the sense that the digital world wasn't built for them. The web itself, invented in America, is built on an English-first architecture, and most of the big social media platforms that host public discourse in the United States put English first too.
And as technologies become proxies for civic spaces in the United States, the primac...