By: Eri Kameyama, JACL PSW staff
Last month, I was given the opportunity to spend a few days in our nation’s capital for the annual JACL/OCA Leadership Summit. Myself, along with another representative of Pacific Southwest District, travelled across the U.S. to learn about the relevant issues in our Asian Pacific Islander communities, and to impact policy through our educated voices.
I applied for this program because I wanted to be better informed on policy making and what I can do as a community worker in urging for legislative changes. Coming from an academic background in Asian American Studies, I was familiar with many of the community’s issues but I never knew what action I can take to influence the policymakers. This program provided the perfect venue to learn and to practice.
On one of the days, we had a White House Briefing from the Asian American and Pacific Islander White House Initiative. Held in the highly secured building of Eisenhower, we were asked to show our IDs twice. The second time, each of us were given a tag to wear around our necks. Most people wore green tags, but mine was pink with the words “ESCORT.” I realized it was because myself, along with a few others in the group, were non-citizens. I felt somewhat marginalized by this otherization, but also realized the privilege in having paperwork, which allowed me to even be on this trip (and to take a plane to get to DC). 1.3 million Asian Americans today are undocumented, and I cannot imagine how much more obstacles they face on a daily basis by not having so called “proper” documentation.
Later that day, we took a tour of the Capitol building. It was a humbling experience being inside the Rotunda where Senator Daniel Inouye’s funeral service was held a few months prior. If you’ve ever been in the Capitol, you know that there are many sculptures of famous Americans who shaped the nation. I was touched by the figure of Rosa Parks unveiled just this February, who became the first Black woman to ever be included in this collection of statues. As a woman of color, I thought, “Who will be the first Asian American woman to make it in here? Will it be in my lifetime?”
Perhaps the highlight of this Summit was the Congressional visits at the Hill. My group visited Congresswoman Sanchez’s office and spoke to their staffer on two issues. The first issue was for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which would keep families and siblings together, as well as provide a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. The other issue was to urge for a policy that stops hate-crimes and bullying. It was empowering to know that even as a mere resident of Los Angeles, I can have a voice in influencing policymakers to make the right decisions for our Asian Pacific Islander communities.
Overall, this experience in D.C. allowed me to reflect on my own privilege, position, and perspective as a Japanese/American resident alien aspiring to make change in my own community. It was amazing being able to connect with other leaders around the nation, and I definitely urge others to apply for this Summit, if given an opportunity.