Stories from the Field: This AFP Action Colorado Activist Bridges Divides with her Linguistic Skills
Across the country, Americans for Prosperity Action has been busy making calls and knocking on doors to help elect policy champions who will ensure more people can live their American Dream. It’s hard work. But activists make the most of their interactions with potential voters by infusing a healthy dose of enthusiasm.
Activist Gina Gregory has been going door-to-door to speak with voters about Senator Cory Gardner and why he should be reelected.
Along the way, Gina has spoken with Coloradans who aren’t always able to participate in the political process, giving them the information they need to make an informed choice. This is how she does it.
Breaking down language barriers
Last month, while door knocking for Senator Gardner, Gina came across a property that appeared to be closed off.
“I was just going to pass it by,” Gina says, “and then I came around to another side of the property, and a lady was out there, and she was [working] in her flower bed.”
Rather than skip the house, Gina decided to engage her in conversation, but quickly discovered that the voter spoke only Spanish.
Gina handed the woman a pamphlet detailing Senator Gardner’s positions. She looked over the pamphlet, but couldn’t understand it, and replied in broken English that she would have her husband translate it for her.
“Something in me just kicked in,” Gina says. She doesn’t know the language fluently, but had learned quite a bit from her grandmother, who also only spoke Spanish.
Gina began explaining Senator Gardner’s policy positions in the Spanish she knew and made sure to ask the woman for the words she didn’t know.
“It was just a great conversation,” Gina says, adding that she was able to talk about everything in the pamphlet.
At the end of the talk, Gina asked the woman if she intended to vote for Senator Gardner.
“She was very excited, and her face lit up, and she said, ‘Si, si! Intiendo a votar a Cory Gardner,’” Gina recalls. “She was very excitedly telling me that, yes, she is now going to vote for Cory Gardner.”
That interaction is one of Gina’s favorites while door knocking.
“I thought that was really neat — that I was able to understand her enough, and she was able to understand me enough, to be able to bridge that gap,” Gina says. “It made me feel like I was in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude, and the right information to give.”
Gina had always wanted to learn American Sign Language. She began learning in junior high so she could speak with a hearing-impaired friend. Later, she joined a deaf church and learned more sign language from an interpreter.
She even joined the deaf choir, enabling her to further expand her sign vocabulary.
So, when Gina found herself on the doorstep of a hearing-impaired voter in September, she knew what to do.
“She came to the door, and she opened it up, and she just very quickly told me that she could not really communicate with me because she was deaf,” Gina says. “So, right then, it just kicked in, and I signed to her, ‘Oh, you’re deaf?’ And I said, ‘I can try to sign.’”
Just like the Spanish-speaking voter, “her eyes lit up,” Gina says.
Gina signed to her that she was there to support Senator Gardner on behalf of Americans for Prosperity Action. She asked the potential voter if she knew anything about the candidate, but she said no: It can be very difficult for hearing-impaired Americans to get the political information they need, as it’s often not in a format they can understand.
That’s when Gina went step by step through Senator Gardner’s policies, using what vocabulary she knew, and manually spelling out the words she didn’t. And as Gina informed her of Senator Gardner’s policies, the voter taught Gina a few words in sign language, too.
“It took some time, but she went through it, she understood it,” Gina says. “I asked her if she was likely to vote for Cory Gardner and she said ‘Of course.’”
Gina says it’s thrilling when she can bring into the political process voters who might otherwise be excluded. These experiences have made her more aware of the communication gaps in politics.
“It’s always been my desire to try to bridge those gaps and not be afraid of them,” she says.
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