I am the Community Outreach Coordinator for CBCAC, and for the last 7 months we have been conducting DACA/DAPA outreach and education. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) are discretionary programs that offer undocumented immigrants temporary relief from deportation and authorization to legally work.
I remember my first encounter with immigration issues back when I was in college. My parents are Chinese restaurant owners. While they have had their fair share of undocumented cases, immigration is never really an issue my family liked to discuss. One day one of our waitresses told my parents that her two cousins were coming over from China and looking for employment. I remember walking into the restaurant one day and seeing a girl hunched over at the table behind the register. I looked over to my mother and asked who she was. The girl was one of the cousins and to my surprise she was only 16 years old. I never got a chance to meet her older sister, and was only told she had been detained after being caught crossing the border from Mexico. Their family had spent their entire life savings to send their kids to America through not so legal ways. They wanted their children to take advantage of the prosperous land America was known for even if it meant they had to be separated for an indefinite amount of time. However, they didn’t come voluntarily. They exemplified filial piety towards their parents in taking this risk and left behind everything they had. Americans are generally cultured with the individualistic mindset that allows us to pursue independency and reject our parents’ wishes at times. They didn’t speak English, had no documentation, and their only hint of home here was a family member no closer than a stranger. It was a moment of realization of how privileged I was and a realization of how crazy that these stories were still on repeat today.
My parents came as immigrants from Taiwan. They sacrificed their only understanding of home to offer my siblings and me better opportunities in a foreign land. This is the American dream and similar stories echo throughout households across the country. However, the Asian American experience in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform is often overshadowed. It’s easy to think that this is a black and white issue without any overlapping contrast. We often see images in the media of Hispanic community members undergoing deportation, but families throughout racial categories are torn apart daily. However, Asian American applicants for DACA are significantly lower in comparison to Hispanics. In the Asian American community, there seems to be a stigma associated with one’s immigration status. When I talked to my parents about the girl I met, I was shocked at how they disapproved and looked down upon their family. For many Asian American community members, revealing one’s status is a public mark of disgrace. As a conservative culture, Asian Americans tend to honor harmony within the family; a program that can expose ineligible family members is a risk that many are not as willing to take.
We can’t forget that America is a country of immigrants and our roots all stem from different soils around the world. I’m privileged to be a documented American, but a piece of paper cannot possibly make a person any more or less American. For many undocumented immigrants, America is their only concept of home. People utilize different outlets to come here, but it’s evident that they perpetually contribute to our country. Immigrants are starting businesses, attending our schools, paying taxes, and diversifying the ingredients in our melting pot society. As a second generation Asian American, I believe it’s important to stand in solidarity and advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
- Jenny Chiang