50 years after MLK speech, economic equality remains elusive, say FilAms

Photo: Brenda Bolding Art

Photo: Brenda Bolding Art

By Maricar CP Hampton

Fifty years ago, civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. intoned how race continued to separate Americans, how black men and white men remained unequal and how the “Negro is still not free.”

But he had a dream.

His hopeful dream was that one day his four little children “will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” and that every American is equal before society and the law.

Last week, tens of thousands of people gathered in the nation’s capital to reflect on his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where he ruminated about his ‘dream.’ Filipino Americans who were out at National Mall or watched the event on television said King’s message remains relevant to this day. Like many other minorities, they said FilAms are still struggling to achieve economic justice, and equal opportunities in jobs and education.

Marita Etcubanez
Director of Programs
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC

We had a sizable contingent of Filipino Americans for the 50th Anniversary March. Several of us marched representing the advocacy organizations we work for. We know that the pursuit of justice is ongoing. There is so much work that remains to be done: voting rights must be protected; we must end racial profiling; and, since immigrants’ rights are inextricably bound up with civil rights, we must reform our broken immigration system.

Our Filipino American community is one of the most impacted by our current system. We cannot leave it to others to fight for the immigration reform that we need, reform that will help immigrant families and allow the millions who are undocumented to come out of the shadows and begin working toward citizenship. Our community must answer the call and get involved.
No one group can do this alone. This was one of the messages of Dr. King’s speech 50 years ago. So I was heartened to see such diversity among the participants in the 50th Anniversary March.

Erwin de Leon,
Research Associate
Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy

Last week’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is and should be relevant to Filipino Americans because the civil rights movement, at its core, is about fulfilling the promise of equality for all Americans.

As people of color, FilAms and other Asians also experienced discrimination and abuse. Recall the anti-Chinese movement in the 1800s which saw the lynching and murder of Chinese immigrants and resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act. Learn about the anti-Filipino movement during the late 1920s. Do not forget the Japanese internment in the U.S. mainland during WW II or the Rescission Act of 1946 which broke the promise of veteran benefits to 250,000 Filipinos who had fought bravely for America.

Today, FilAms and other Asian Americans, while perceived as the “model minority,” share the same concerns of other people of color. Many of us are poor, unemployed, and on a daily basis, experience discrimination. Fifty years ago, Asians marched alongside African Americans. We should continue marching shoulder to shoulder with our African American, Latino and Native American sisters and brothers until the American promise if fulfilled.

Jon Melegrito
Communications Director
National Federation of Filipino American Associations

We need to empower ourselves politically so we can have a stronger voice in public policy especially on issues that affect the elderly, gays, the disabled and the millions of undocumented immigrants.

We must also recognize our role in advancing race relations by ridding ourselves of biases and fighting for equal treatment for all regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, nationality or religion.
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