Helen Chen
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NYC VOICED

A design intervention around immigrant non-voting action in the 2018 elections in New York City

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CONTEXT
MFA Products of Design,
School of Visual Arts

CATEGORY
Design Research,
User Interviews
Branding, Graphic Design

TEAM
Helen Chen, Felix Ho
Yufei Wang, Yang Ying Ye
John Boran Jr., Carly Simmons

How do non-voting immigrants voice their political opinions?

Given that 17% of New York City are not citizens, centering political conversations around voting as activism is inherently exclusionary. During the week of the November 2018 elections, we wanted to learn about and also empower non-citizen immigrants who voice their political opinions despite not being able to formally participate with a vote.

The week-long intervention was structured around the “I Voice” campaign, where the team went to different neighborhoods around New York City and conducted guerrilla interviews to gain insight into the political concerns and activism of those who can’t vote. “I Voiced” stickers, in six different languages, were given to participants to celebrate their participation and honor their actions.



INSIGHTS

Traveling through the Lower East Side, Union Square, Crown Heights, and Long Island City, we met with 14 people from 7 different countries: China, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Korea, USA, India, and Iran.

The week-long design intervention revealed widespread concern about anti-immigration policies and sentiments in the United States among voting and non-voting immigrants. Non-voters reported finding solace in their ability to organize around these issues within their communities; and many actively encourage friends and family who can vote to participate in the process and influence change.

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Felix Ho speaks with New Yorker and Chinese immigrant, Chen Chiu Yuan, in Columbus Park about how they participate in American politics. Chen shows artifacts in his wallet, including family photos and work identification IDs to tell the story of his life in the US. 

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Helen Chen and Yufei Wang speak with Darwin about how he voices his political opinions through non-voting actions, such as community-building.



THE STICKERS

Mirroring the NYC Votes branding, the “I Voice” campaign creates inclusion by offering wearable stickers that affirm, “I Voiced” in one of six languages: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Spanish, and English. 

The artifact is the message, indicating that despite being dis-enfranchised from the political system they are still engaged in the collective endeavor of our democracy. The object serves as a form of recognition for the citizen while also reminding citizens around them, including politicians and the politically-minded, that non-citizen immigrants participate in the U.S. political system, even without the right to vote.

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Participants in the design provocation who “Voiced” but did not vote, received a sticker as a way to honor their actions; which many said made them feel included and empowered in a system that otherwise excludes them politically.



INTERVIEW
PROCESS

Questionnaires were created in five languages to serve as a guide for the conversations.

Originally, we intended for the questionnaires to serve as the main source of recording for these guerrilla interviews; but in the field, we quickly learned that it was awkward for people to speak and fill something out at the same time. The questionnaire was a barrier to actual conversation because participants would remain quiet as they filled out the forms. In response, we used the questionnaires as guides for initial questions and engaged in more organic conversations with people and took notes.

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