WASHINGTON, DC—As tens of thousands marched and rallied here in the nation’s capital on Saturday, Aug. 24 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Filipino-Americans used the occasion to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, restore voting rights, support equality for gays and provide services to the disabled.
“As Filipinos, we benefited from the struggles of African-Americans who demanded equality and fair treatment,” says Marites Cardenas Branigin, a national director of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).
“Many Filipino professionals were able to come to the US and enjoy equal employment opportunities and affirmative action. But we still have a long way to go, especially in improving race relations, equality for gays and raising the living standards of the poor.”
The event, billed as “Realize the Dream March and Rally,” was a tribute to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which led to landmark civil rights legislation. Among the speakers was Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader, who said that more needed to be done to complete the journey that his father began.
Message still resonates
Recalling that the 1963 March on Washington was about jobs, freedom and justice, Filipino American activists also declared that the message then still resonates today, notably in the fight for immigration reform.
“We cannot allow the House to slow down a legislative process on a bill that had momentum earlier in the year,” says Joe Montano of Arlington, Virginia. “We have to step up our efforts to mobilize public opinion and press Congress to act now.”
Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian-Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and a speaker at the rally, said that “now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. We march today to remind our policy makers of the urgency of fulfilling these promises to realize our collective dream.”
The diversity of march participants, Moua added, “underscores the urgency and important work that needs to be done. But only in coalition can we achieve these goals.”
Among the 18 million Asian -mericans who believe in a greater America, she also pointed, are “three and a half million Filipino-Americans whose community began as a settlement in Louisiana 1973 and from which hundreds of thousands were only recently recognized for fighting bravely for the ideals of a Greater America in World War II.”
AAJC is among NaFFAA’s coalition partners that successfully lobbied in Congress in April. Among the amendments included in the Senate bill is a provision which would facilitate family reunification of Filipino World War II veterans’ families.
Members and supporters of NaFFAA, AAJC and dozens of other Asian Pacific Islander American organizations gathered early Saturday and held a pre-march rally in front of the Washington Monument.
Marisol Angala, a Washington DC public school teacher, took time out from work to join the marchers. “Listening and reflecting on the legacy of racial progress over the last half-century, I know that we are still in pursuit of the dream,” she said. “We reclaim the promise by working hard each day, in classrooms and in our communities. I feel great.”
Ben de Guzman, a Filipino-American LGBT activist, applauded loudly after hearing Attorney General Eric Holder say, “As we gather today, 50 years later, their march—now our march—goes on. And our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across this country who still yearn for equality, opportunity and fair treatment.”