Past, Present, and Future for Justice
–Dae Joong Yoon, Executive Director of National Korean American Service and Education Consortium
As our community looks back on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom held on 1963, we can “feel” both the magnitude of the work that was accomplished by social justice organizers that preceded us, and also the formidable work that remains ahead of us. Yes, many walls have been torn down, but there are still real challenges faced by communities of color and low-income families. We need to reflect and look back as it helps us prepare better in our continuing commitment to organize our communities.
NAKASEC was founded in 1994 with local community centers to project a national progressive voice. The Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles, was founded in 1983 and the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center in Chicago, officially opened its doors in 1995, have been affiliates of NAKASEC since its founding. On the heels of the Los Angeles Civil Unrest of 1992 and in the midst of an anti-immigrant wave that was sweeping the halls of Congress, Korean Americans realized the importance of civic engagement, grassroots organizing, and coalition building.
Starting with the “Justice for Immigrants – Washington Post Ad Campaign” in 1995, followed by the “National Telegram Campaign to Restore SSI” and “Our Plates Are Empty Food Stamp Restoration Campaign,” NAKASEC and its centers were pivotal in both opposing the harshest components of the welfare reform laws, but also in restoring SSI and food stamps for certain groups of immigrants in 1997 and 1998.
The events were also the impetus for the growing politicization and civic engagement of immigrant Korean Americans, particularly older adults. NAKASEC launched its first national voter empowerment efforts in 1996 and has continued since.
NAKASEC and KRC began working with undocumented students and families in 1998, winning the passage of AB540 (in-state tuition) in the California Assembly. When the federal Dream Act was first introduced in 2001, NAKASEC and its centers expanded its efforts in multiple states, launching successful mobilization campaigns through the years.
In 2004, NAKASEC broadened its focus to mount national campaigns in support for comprehensive immigration reform, the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and the Affordable Care Act. Some of our notable campaigns include:
- Dollar-A-Person National Immigration Reform Ad Campaign (2005)
- We Are America Picture Postcard Campaign (2006)
- Dreams Across America (2007)
- Building America’s Future Together: National Asian Pacific American Mobilization for Immigration Reform (April 30 – May 1, 2007)
- America’s Future Starts with Healthy Children (2008)
- DREAM Act Postcard Campaign (2009)
- Power Vote (2010)
In 2010, when the Federal DREAM Act fell 5 votes short to pass, our youth and community members felt a bitter loss. Many had organized with hope for close to a decade; sacrificing things, big and small.
On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and NAKASEC’s centers were flooded with calls. All three organization’s staff, interns, and volunteer attorneys devoted countless hours for phone consultations, DACA clinics, DACA forums, and DACA application assistance. Over 11,000 calls have come in from the Korean American community and to date, 900 approved applications.
We are on the cusp of great policy change with regard to immigration reform. 2013 could be the year we can look back as the year that the immigration system was fixed. In doing so, we would also know that it was the work of our predecessors 50 years ago and earlier that paved the road that we walk today.
With the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act provisions, the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the continued assault on women’s rights, voting rights, labor rights, and more, NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC chose a campaign to reflect the struggle felt not only by our own community, but the broader immigrant and people of color communities. The “Dream Riders Road Trip Across America” pays homage to the Freedom Summer and Freedom Rides which have inspired countless communities. Our Dream Riders, both DACA recipients and young organizers, traveled throughout the South to share their immigrant stories with diverse and emerging AAPI and immigrant Southern communities. In New Orleans, the Dream Riders had a learning conversation on building coalitions for social justice with Curtis Muhammad, a longtime Civil Rights activist.
There is an estimated 22,000 Korean Americans that are eligible for DACA and over 7,000 have applied. 1 in 7 Korean Americans are undocumented. There are over 36,000 Korean American families that are separated due to our broken immigration system. As of now, many Korean American families face the possibility of deportations, students who graduate with no ability to work in the field of their choice or study, and families that have been waiting years to see their loved ones.
The ideals put forth through Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech in 1963 have deeply influenced the work of all of us. On Saturday, NAKASEC will march side by side with diverse communities and sectors to honor the legacy and realize the dream of social and economic justice for all.