Asians to meet on immigration: Town hall in Chicago expected to detail difficulties many have in reuniting with loved ones
Groups hoping to call attention to efforts in reducing obstacles to U.S. citizenship
By Antonio Olivo
August 22, 2009
Students Ayoung Yoo, left, and Michelle Ruan high-five while Dave Jimenez,far right, works on presentations Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center for the upcoming Asian Immigrant Town Hall meeting in Chicago.
In an Immigration movement driven largely by Spanish-speaking Latinos, there haven’t been many, if any, chants of “Yes, we can!” echoing through Chicago in Mandarin (Wo mun ke yi!), Hindi (Hum kar saktay hae!) or Korean (Halsu ee da!)
But those rallying cries will take center stage Saturday during a planned Asian “town hall” meeting expected to draw several hundred people eager to have their stories heard.
Among several Asian-themed Immigration events occurring nationwide this week, the rally inside the Salvation Army church in North Park is partly an effort to diversify the message of a movement whose mostly Mexican flavor has drawn intense scorn from groups resentful of illegal border crossings.
The first of its kind in the city, the event is also a coming-out party of sorts for Asian immigrant organizations in Chicago that have been gaining momentum in their efforts to mobilize a community of roughly 350,000 Asian and Pacific Island immigrants in the region long unwilling to publicly air its problems.
“The community is maturing in a different way … in a way to not be afraid to talk about these things,” said Tuyet Le, executive director of the Asian American Institute, which is co-coordinating the meeting. “People are seeing this as their own issue.”
Many grievances over the nation’s Immigration system stretch across ethnicities. But, some problems — such as the bureaucracy surrounding temporary work visas for high-tech jobs — resonate more among Asians.
The procedure for family reunification — a concept central to the system where a U.S. citizen can sponsor a blood relative’s Immigration application — is filled with cases of Asian immigrant parents and children who have been separated for years due to backlogs in processing.
“I’m not justifying the actions of those who enter illegally, but people resort to that because it’s easier for them to get in,” said Tiza Burke, 60, a Filipino immigrant who said she waited 24 years for an older sister’s application to be processed.
For Chinese immigrants, such familial separation has undermined the immense cultural value placed on family unity since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — which barred new immigrants from entering the U.S. until it was nullified in 1943.
Now, many decades later, the impact is still devastating, said Zhu Lei, 55, who arrived from Beijing last year to reunite with U.S.-citizen parents she hadn’t seen in nine years.
“We are like strangers,” Zhu said through a translator.
She worries the same thing will happen between her and a daughter in Beijing whose nine-year-old Immigration application was rejected last year after she turned 25 and, therefore, aged out of the process.
Inside the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center in West Ridge, a group of high school students recently prepared posters for the rally that illustrated several chapters in Asian-American history.
One highlighted the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Another boasted about Korean-American diver Sammy Lee, who in 1948 became the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal.
Somewhere between those dark and bright chapters is the story of Mike K., 19, an undocumented Korean immigrant hoping for reforms to allow students in the country illegally to receive conditional permanent residency.
Showing his promise as a graphic designer, Mike — who spoke on condition of anonymity — won a high school contest last year sponsored by the Google Corp. that sought new ideas for the search engine company’s home page. But, his entry — a graduation-themed celebration of scholastic achievement — couldn’t be submitted because of his illegal status, he said.
“I feel like I missed a big opportunity,” he said, as his friends worked on their posters. “I can’t stand it.”
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