I was born years after the March on Washington in 1963 and came to the United States 27 years after hundreds of thousands demonstrated for jobs and civil rights. Nonetheless, I felt the need to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and so many other nameless women and men who marched and fought for the American promise of equality and opportunity. So am I compelled to be part of the ongoing march for social and economic justice.
Fifty years ago, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and LGBT communities were not even visible in the civil rights movement. However, Asian and gay Americans took part in the struggle, having experienced discrimination and marginalization themselves.
During the anti-Chinese movement of the 1800s, Chinese immigrants were lynched and murdered. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively ended immigration from China and prevented Chinese immigrants and their native-born children from becoming U.S. citizens. In 1929, anti-Filipino riots erupted in California, after Filipino men displaced white farm hands and socialized with white women. In 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which revoked the rights of Japanese Americans and sent over 100,000 women, men, and children to internment camps scattered throughout the United States. Five years later, President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946 which took away veterans benefits pledged to 250,000 Filipino service members who courageously fought for America in World War II.
Until the 1960s, most lesbians and gay men remained closeted, fearful of being identified as homosexuals and deviants. Thousands of service women and men had been dishonorably discharged during the Second World War. Homosexuals, along with Communists, had been deemed threats to national security and hunted down during the McCarthy era. Women and men who were suspected of being homosexual lost their jobs and were ostracized. Gay bars and establishments were regularly raided. Gay men were routinely entrapped by undercover police officers.
Today, the AAPI and LGBT communities are visible, marching alongside African American and Latino communities, in the continued struggle for equality and opportunity.
Although the model minority myth persists, nearly two million AAPIs live in poverty. The community suffers the highest rate of long-term unemployment of any group in the United States. A study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute reports AAPIs face significant housing discrimination. At the polls, lack of language assistance and voter ID laws hinder Asian Americans from exercising their right to vote. Since 911, South Asian and Muslim Americans have been racially profiled by law enforcement agencies.
The myth of gay affluence also belies the fact that poverty rates for LGBT adults are higher than for heterosexual adults. Nearly a quarter of bisexual and gay women are poor and LGBT people of color are more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts. Transgender people are four times as likely to survive on less than $10,000 a year and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical American. A HUD report found lesbian and gay couples experienced unfavorable treatment in the rental housing market. Even though queer people are more visible and have won major legislative and legal victories, they continue to be victims of hate crimes. Transgender women of color in particular are regularly brutalized and murdered for being true to themselves.
As a queer immigrant of color, as a member of the AAPI, LGBT, and immigrant communities, as one who abides by the American dream, I march. Our nation's future does not belong to one community, it belongs to all of us. But as President Obama exhorts us, we should not turn from or on each other but towards one another.
"The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We'll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow-feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago."
And so we march on together, with the dream that 50 years from now we will have a more perfect Union.