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Officially founded on July 1, 2021, the mission of Woori Juntos is to ensure Asians, im/migrants, and all Texans have language access to health and social services and civically engage to achieve equity and justice for all. Woori Juntos, meaning “We Rise Together” in Korean and Spanish, reflects a commitment to and rooting of our community in solidarity, inclusion, and collaboration. We envision a Texas where our communities will not only survive, but finally thrive. Woori Juntos’ programs and campaigns focus on our most marginalized Asian American community members, particularly those who are low-income, recent immigrants, English language learners, undocumented, women, young people, and senior citizens. We believe in bottom-up organizing: that those who are directly impacted by systems of inequity are the experts on the problems and what solutions are needed. As we combat white supremacy that often leaves our community invisiblized and/or villainized, we see it as critical that we build the leadership of these impacted community members within our community and the broader movements for social, racial and economic justice. Woori Juntos takes a holistic approach towards empowering our Asian community. We provide social services and educational programs to address immediate needs and engage in community organizing, public policy, advocacy, and civic engagement to address the root causes creating those needs. Cultivating a strong corp of Asian American multi-generational leaders is one of our superpowers, and our leaders work in unity with other marginalized communities towards systemic change for all people.
About the Organization:
$500,000 - $1 MILLION
Approximately 164 languages are spoken in the increasingly diverse state of Texas, and six of the top 10 languages are Asian languages (2020 U.S. Census). According to APIA Vote and AAPI Data, 79% of Asian Americans in Texas speak a language other than English at home, and of those, more than 40% speak English “less than well.” In 2022, Woori Juntos conducted a community survey of over 1,500 Texan Asian Americans. Language access was identified as a top-needed service and one of the major barriers to civic participation. Communication is power, and the exclusion from communicating in a person’s primary language creates real obstacles to people participating fully in social, economic, and political institutions. The current lack of language access in Texas negatively impacts our community members' daily lives, literally silencing their voices. While they immigrated to the United States so their children could have better lives, Asian American immigrant parents cannot communicate with their children’s teachers, assist with homework, or help with issues at school. They often have to rely on their children for assistance for translation, which is burdensome for the children and disempowering for the parents. Our Asian American seniors have some of the highest poverty rates in our community. They are often not aware of or able to access public benefits like food stamps and energy assistance because information about these programs are not offered in their languages. Even when our seniors are aware they might qualify for benefits, the complex registration process coupled with inaccessible language makes the process extraordinarily difficult to navigate. This means that critically needed services, like medicaid and medicare, are often unreachable for our community members. We have met hundreds of community members who have been U.S. citizens for over 10 years and dream of voting but are discouraged from participating in our democracy as English language learners. Understanding these issues, Woori Juntos recognizes language access as a foundational piece to maintaining and growing democracy.
Language justice is rooted in the idea of respecting every person’s fundamental language rights, which is the ability to communicate – to understand and be understood in the language in which they feel most articulate and powerful. Our English language learner parents need language justice to better support and advocate for their children and feel empowered as parents. Our low-income community members need language justice to access the critical government services they need to survive. Our Asian American community needs language justice at the voting polls for our voices to be heard and to build community power for the long-term. Woori Juntos laid a strong foundation towards a language justice win in the Texas state legislature this year. We traveled over 3 hours to Austin every week to educate lawmakers about the need for greater language accessibility to health and human services. By March 2023, we and our legislative champions successfully filed novel language justice bills: Senate Bill 2080 and House Bill 5166 . In April, the Texas House Committee on Human Services held a public hearing on HB 5166, which included testimony from Woori Juntos staff and community members in Korean and Arabic. While these bills ultimately did not pass, we successfully secured bi-partisan co-sponsorship and support and legislative language we will use in the next round. Moving forward, Woori Juntos will develop tools to further advocate for a Language Access Plan (LAP) for health and human services in English, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Arabic. We will work on message development, writing, copyediting, and research additional translation services based on the results of our evaluation. Woori Juntos will continue to cultivate stories from our community and recruit and develop leaders. We will use all of this to continue our stakeholder education and unite our community members, faith leaders, organizational partners and city, county, and state legislators around this issue. This will ready us to: Local level: introduce policy proposals for city of Houston and Harris County budget line items to adequately fund language access across departments and agencies State level: reintroduce language access bills in the 89th Texas Legislature (2025)