The first time attorney Bonnie Youn read the “I Have a Dream” speech, she wept. To this day, “Every time I hear that phrase I get very emotional,” she said.
Youn is a distinguished immigration attorney and a human rights activist. The White House honored her with a 2013 Cesar Chavez Champions of Change Award. She heads the Youn Law Group in Atlanta, which provides immigration services.
The March on Washington 50 years ago was about civil rights and equal opportunity and people of every race participated in the effort.
“America has strengths unlike any other country,” she said. According to Youn, in America race and class are not as rigid as they are in other, older, countries, and people have the freedom of expression.
“We have the freedom to vocalize [our wish for civil rights] in a public, peaceful setting. We have that setting in a stable democracy,” she said.
Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have played an important role in America’s civil rights movement past and present.
“There have been AAPIs who have been very involved in the civil rights movement,” said Youn, citing the Japanese American Citizens League as an example. “It’s so powerful.”
Youn is of Korean descent. A friend of hers with close ties to Atlanta’s civil rights efforts, is of Chinese descent.
According to Youn, her friend’s father, Jack Shaw, taught judo to young black students in the 1960s and early 1970s. When his pupils were forbidden to take part in a martial arts competition, he became an accidental civil rights activist, working with Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church to end segregation.
Though AAPIs have long worked for justice and human rights, their contributions are often ignored, according Helen Kim Ho, attorney and founder of the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, a civil rights NGO.
Ho says Asian-Americans have always been involved in civil rights. For example in the 1960s, very vocal Japanese-Americans helped end the ethnic quota system in immigration.
“But I don’t think they have gotten the recognition,” she said.
Ho, who was named one of Georgia Trend’s 2013 Power Women, is also of Korean descent.
She attended the 2013 March on Washington on Aug. 24. “It was really important for me,” she said. In her opinion the reasons for the 1963 march are still fresh and relevant.
For some Asian and Latino leaders immigration reform is a continuation of MLK’s dream.
“[Gandhi and King] were really talking about human rights, the right to live with dignity,” she said. She wants to see comprehensive immigration reform, and considers it a civil rights issue.
Publisher Ramon Cisneros feels similarly. He is moved by the young undocumented immigrants who are revealing their status, nicknamed “Dreamers” for the Dream Act that offers them a chance to defer being deported, even though their parents brought them here illegally.
“When we see our Dreamers coming out and saying ‘I am undocumented,’ it does remind me of the civil rights movement,” he said.
Cisneros is CEO & president at Millennium Marketing LLC as well as acting president of the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Originally from Venezuela, Cisneros lives in Nashville, Tenn., one of the cradles of the civil rights movement. He publishes La Campana, Nashville’s Spanish newspaper.
Cisneros wants deportations to be put on hold, he said. “If they are in the process of immigration reform, it’s only logical to put a hold on the deportations. They say the law is the law and they have to obey it. I don’t see it that way,” he said.