50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: A Renewed Hope for the American Dream

"Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment." -- Rev. Martin Luther King, March on Washington, Aug., 28, 1963.

More than two scores later, we find our nation at a familiar precipice, forced to make a critical decision that will inevitably set the tone for future generations. Together, we can choose to push through and fight for the American Dream for all individuals, or we can give in to political pressure and fear mongering from our opponents. The decision is clear. We must march on.

Today's event demonstrates our renewed fight for freedom, equality and justice, in the face of obstruction. As we march in lockstep with our brothers and sisters, we honor the progress that has been made, but recognize the struggles -- new and old -- that we face in our attempt to live up the aspirations of the late Reverend.

Asian Americans, like many immigrants, came to the U.S. in search for new opportunities, with the notion that the American dream was within reach. However, in 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, along with many other discriminatory laws that prevented Asian Americans from becoming active members of our society. Asian Americans would have to wait over 60 years to see those laws repealed. Yet, the repeal was met with a new rash of racism, in which thousands of Japanese Americans were round up and sent off to internment camps during World War II. It took nearly 50 years for the Japanese American community to receive a formal apology and reparations.

These critical events in our nation's history are important to remember, as Asian Americans marched in 1963, in solidarity with the African-American community and other racial minorities. Only 10 years earlier in 1952, the passage of the Walter-McCarran Act lifted the naturalization ban for those of Asian descent and finally gave Asian Americans the opportunity to become U.S. citizens and gain the right to vote. Sadly, we are still in the midst of a major debate to protect voting rights for all Americans.

The 2010 Census showed that Asian Americans were the fastest growing racial minority in the country, and in the 2012 election, nearly 4 million Asian Americans voted for state, local and federal candidates who would focus on solutions for immigration reform, economic growth and jobs, and equal protection under the law. Our electorate continues to grow exponentially each election, but tactics to limit voter participation hurt many in our community, as many of us are elderly, limited-English proficient ("LEP"), and live in low-income neighborhoods.

Since approximately 60 percent of the Asian-American population is born outside of the U.S., about three out of four Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home, and roughly one in two Asian-American adults have trouble speaking English. In a recent poll, Advancing Justice monitored eight states that are covered by the language access provisions of the Voting Rights Act ("VRA"). The poll revealed that despite certain requirements for LEP voters, many in our community experienced problems at the polls, such as lack of available bilingual poll workers, resistance to language assistance, and poll workers with limited knowledge about voting laws and language access.

And most recently, the Supreme Court's decision in case of Shelby County v. Holder undoubtedly hurts the integrity of our democratic system. The high court effectively gutted the heart of the VRA, which requires certain states and counties, with a history of racial discrimination in voting, to receive federal approval before enacting new voting rules or practices. The VRA has protected Asian Americans from discriminatory voting changes for decades and the decision ignores the discrimination and disenfranchisement that Asian Americans have encountered in voting over the years. For this reason, Asian Americans will march.

Dr. King spoke of his dream for what an America can and should be. Today's march isn't just about us; it's about what the future of our nation can be. However, we will not live up to our potential as a society without providing a real solution for our immigration system. Many Asian Americans come from mixed-status families, while others have been waiting years, even decades, to be reunited with their loved ones. Our current immigration system is broken, unjustly keeping families apart, stunting our economic growth, and weakening our communities. The American Dream has always transcended race, in that any individual, regardless of where they come from, can achieve greatness.

For too long, our political process has been stagnant, as new and old political leaders have come to Washington with one goal in mind, obstruction. So today, as a nation united, we will march on because not to would be fatal.