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September 1, 2014

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As population surges, first Filipino-American organization launched in Nevada

Group seeks to improve political awareness, voter participation

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Tovin Lapan

The board of directors and staff of the newly formed Filipino-American Political Organization With Equal Representation unveil the organization’s logo at a luncheon Friday. The members (clockwise from left) are Cesare Almase, legal counsel, Amie Belmonte, president, Cesar Elpidio, board member, Leo Belmonte, board member, Bernie Benito, board member, Cynthia Deriquito, board member, secretary and treasurer, and Luke Perry, director of communications and government affairs. The non-partisan organization is dedicated to advancing political awareness and participation among the Filipino-American community.

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The Filipino population in Nevada more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest growing population of Filipinos in the country.

On Friday, with a nod to new data showing the growth of Clark County and the state’s Filipino population, community leaders launched the first non-partisan grassroots political organization dedicated to Nevada’s Filipino-Americans.

Amie Belmonte, president of the new group Filipino-American Political Organization With Equal Representation (POWER), introduced the organization to about 50 community members, political representatives and public officials at a luncheon at the Filipino restaurant Salo-Salo.

“The Filipino population has changed a lot in 10 years,” said Belmonte, who has lived in Nevada since 1997. “There has been tremendous growth. Before, Filipinos were concentrated in hospitality and hospital, health care industries, but now they are represented in every industry in Nevada.

Belmonte said the organization will strive to advocate on behalf of Filipino-Americans, educate Filipinos on political candidates and issues, and offer assistance to Filipinos of any party who wish to seek public office.

Belmonte said the group in July will launch its website and start voter registration drives at Seafood City. The organization also is in talks with other Asian-American groups about the possibility of hosting a presidential debate in October.

“Nevada is a key state,” Belmonte said. “POWER wants to make sure voters know the positions of the all the candidates so they can vote intelligently.” She said the organization will also advocate for legislation that benefits Filipino-Americans and set up a job bank for Filipinos who would like to be on the staff of elected officials.

“We have very few Filipinos who work for state elected officials,” she said.

Belmonte also expressed support for the Save Our Industries Act, which would allow clothing made in the Philippines using U.S. materials to enter the United States duty free.

The birth of the organization is timely, as Filipinos constitute the largest Asian group in the state and have shown prolific growth over the past two decades. In October, the Clark County registrar was notified that Filipinos constitute a great enough portion of the county population to require all ballot materials to be translated into the archipelago’s main language, Tagalog.

Filipinos now make up more than 4 percent of the state population at 98,000, of whom 86,000 live in Clark County. When it comes to elections, that may seem like a paltry number, but in 2004, George W. Bush won Nevada by a mere 2.6 percentage points. From 2000 to 2010, the state’s Filipino population soared 142 percent.

All Clark County election materials were in English until 2002, when the 2000 census revealed the Hispanic population had met the threshold required to add Spanish to ballots. Starting in November, Clark County ballots and election materials will be available in three languages.

“I can’t tell you how many times that we have an election and not only tens of thousands, but in some cases hundreds of thousands of people who could participate don’t, and these elections are decided by just a handful of votes. It happens all the time,” said Larry Lomax, Clark County registrar of voters who attended the launch to share the election information. “Politicians cater to people who are going to vote.”

Belmonte and the rest of the board of directors, with all the males wearing matching U.S. flag ties, unveiled the organization’s circular logo, which blends the Filipino and American flags with the acronym POWER written across the center.

“It’s time to make the case that Filipino-Americans will make a difference in this year’s election,” Belmonte said to laud applause.