We arrived in New Orleans, very late on the night of August 3. The next morning, we picked up Young Sun, one of the youth directors from the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC) in Chicago and drove to the home of Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA). On the way, I looked out the window was surprised to see a nearby pond with crocodiles and people fishing. We were in a neighborhood with hard working families. At VAYLA, we were warmly welcomed by Ms. Christi, a VAYLA organizer and several VAYLA youth ranging from elementary age and up.
At our meeting, Ms. Christi talked about New Orleans and the particular needs of the area’s low income families and students. School buses will not transport children from low income neighborhoods to the best schools in town, even if they lived closer in distance than children from wealthier areas. Although many of the parents are limited English proficient, bilingual materials and interpretation are not provided. As a result, very young children are burdened with completing documents and interpreting for their parents. Our Dream Riders, Simon, Brandon, and Allen talked about the immigration system in a personal way so that the VAYLA members could relate. We ended with lunch and pictures.
Dream Riders were then treated to a very special tour of the community, where VAYLA highlighted areas that they helped rebuild and serve such as Sarah Reed High School. Without the work of organizations like VAYLA, youth in the neighborhood would have had to take a bus for two hours to attend the next nearest high school, instead of attending their nearby high school. We stopped by Mary Queen of Vietnam Church and learned how the church is the epicenter of the community, particularly in the face many hardships
We later met with long time civil rights organizer and leader, Curtis Muhammad at his home. We sat out on his porch and talked about race, identity and coalition building. We examined our own racial identification and how to overcome invisible racial lines drawn between us and ways to create sustainable multi-racial coalitions between AAPI, Latino and Black communities. The conversation we had motivated all the Dream Riders to discuss ways to continue the dialogue when we return to our home cities. We agreed that we would share what we learned; we would hold regular community members meetings twice monthly; and we would do house calls and visits to community members to engage in one-on-one conversations. We were spurred to reach out to our beloved community!
This meeting was a rare chance for all the Dream Riders to think about “what next?” “How do we move forward after the road trip to win immigration reform?” With respect to immigrant rights, Curtis reminded us: “……all human beings must be treated justly. That is the way this Constitution is written.” He added that the laws of our nation, be it anti-slavery or civil rights laws, they are based on humanity not nationality. I was personally touched by his words, and hope to act on it in the future.
To end an eventful and memorable day, the Dream Riders ate seafood and visited the famous Bourbon Street. Today was a good day, and as I write this blog post I was able to reflect upon so much that I have learned since the beginning of this trip.
Kevin Lee is the special projects organizer at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles, California.