Trail of Dreams and Rep. Luis Gutierrez Photo by Justin Valas

What’s Changed About the American Dream Today

On the new immigration climate and what immigrant communities can do

Program Director Cathy Cha reflects on the importance of creating more avenues for civic participation—and collaboration.

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This piece was originally published by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, here.

Why are you passionate about advocating for AAPI communities?

As the daughter of Korean immigrants, I’ve witnessed the American Dream unfold in my own family. My father left Seoul in the late 1960s to take his first airplane flight to the U.S. He grew up on a rice farm, and both of my parents lived through the Korean War as children. My father came to the U.S. for the opportunity to study and eventually became a university professor. It was a more generous time for U.S. immigration policy. My father and mother were able to sponsor my uncles and cousins to immigrate as well, and my family was able to study, start businesses and thrive. While I am passionate about AAPI communities, I know that Mexicans and Ethiopians and others from all corners of the world come here for the same reasons—the opportunity to give their families a better shot. My parents’ American Dream story is harder to achieve today for many reasons. I’m committed to helping Asian immigrants, as well as immigrants from other countries, make that American Dream possible.

What do you believe are the most critical issues facing AAPI communities today?

The most critical issue is supporting AAPI communities to exercise their voice and influence. In my home state of California, one in six residents is Asian American Pacific Islander. The diversity of Asian communities is rich and the population is growing significantly. In fact, Asians are growing faster than Latinos as a population group. But these growing numbers are not translating into greater influence for the AAPI community in policy issues, power or voice. Today, Asians are about 13% of the California population but only 7% of the electorate. And half of the state’s AAPI population isn’t even registered to vote. That means elected officials and decision-makers aren’t hearing from half of eligible AAPI voters. Our communities need to weigh in on important policy debates, ballot measures and issues that determine our future and our state’s future.

In what ways do you strive to address the unmet needs for AAPI communities?

At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, I have the privilege of working with a wide range of talented leaders and wonderful organizations that are working to expand rights and opportunities for AAPI communities and other immigrant populations. We’ve started initiatives to increase civic engagement among AAPI populations with other philanthropic and community partners, like the Asian American Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Fund. And we’ve supported efforts to make sure that AAPI voices are heard in the immigration debate and that Asian policy issues get the attention they deserve at the local, state and national levels. Perhaps most importantly, we support alliance building so that AAPIs can join forces with African Americans and Latinos on issues of common concern.

What keeps you inspired?

Based on my family’s experience, I am always inspired by the dreams and the commitment of immigrants to find a better life for themselves and their families. Over the last few years, I have been deeply moved and inspired by Asian and Latino Dreamers, the young people who came to the U.S. with immigrant parents and are now finding their voice and their place in the only country many of them have ever considered home. Watching undocumented students be courageous in their advocacy, bold in their demands, and taste their collective power for the first time is energizing. For Asian students, coming out as undocumented is especially hard to do. Dreamers are a great source of inspiration for me and have contributed powerfully to the immigrant movement overall.