Today marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, popularly referred to in the US as the “Chinese New Year.”
The arrival of the Year of the Horse is being celebrated by well over a billion people, all across the world. Festivities will last for 15 days. For many, this is the longest lasting, and most important holiday period on the calendar.
Each of the 15 days is significant for symbolic and contemporary, relevant reasons. The first day is often designated as one in which we acknowledge and honor our elders. For obvious reasons, this day is particularly important to the members of SEIU ULTCW who provide homecare and nursing home care for seniors.
Whether these folks are family members, or simply community elders with whom bonds have been forged, the component of the Lunar New Year devoted to acknowledging and honoring elders is one we all celebrate.
It is worth noting that with 11,000 Cantonese and Mandarin speaking Members, spread out from Alameda to Monterrey Park, and thousands more with roots in Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands, our multi-year Drive to Dignity campaign would not be possible without the diverse voices and tireless efforts of API providers, consumers, and social justice champions.
In Sacramento, API caregivers and community members are leading the way in fighting Governor Jerry Brown’s current efforts to cap IHSS hours, disrupting continuity of care, and robbing homecare workers of the overtime protections guaranteed to them by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
And in Congressional district after Congressional district, API caregivers and community members are leading the charge to bring about immigration reform legislation in Washington DC that will provide a pathway to citizenship for aspiring Americans, and actually keeps families together instead of tearing them apart.
When the media talks about the need for immigration reform, the focus is usually on Latinos, but with over one million of the nation’s undocumented population belong to API communities, (over 416,000 in California alone) it is imperative that we remember how important immigration reform is to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders comprise 3% of all voters. 73% of API voters supported President Barack Obama in 2012, and a vast majority (68%) cited desire to see action on immigration reform as a major reason for their vote. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders join a majority of all Americans in wanting to see reform with a path to citizenship, and an end to detention and deportation policies that lead to family separation, and place children’s mental, physical, and academic well-being at risk.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders understand all too well that the challenges of the immigration system go well beyond the undocumented population. More than 60% of API community members in the US are migrants themselves. Asians and Pacific Islanders are not only the fastest growing immigrant population, they have also been the most numerous for the last several years. As a point of comparison, during the time of the 2010 Census, 31% of all immigrants, documented and undocumented, came from Latin America, while 36% came from Asia. Of all of the immigrants in the US accounted for the US Census Bureau in 2010, half (18.2 million) were born in Asia.
55% of API immigrants were able to come to the US via the family visa system. This system enforces different processing and wait times depending on country of origin. It does not take into account factors, such as family separation, educational ambition, or professional success. A PhD from the Philippines can expect to wait 23 years to be reunited with a loved one, for instance. While a high school dropout from Belgium can reunite with a loved one in 3 years. When API caregivers and community members come together with ULTCW Members and supporters from all backgrounds to demand immigration reform, what is on the table is more than simply the fate of the undocumented, but of all of us who have been disadvantaged and harmed by the system in place.
The Year of the Horse serves as a reminder that we must look ahead and work toward urgently needed reforms. Beyond immigration, we know that we must continue to enroll Americans in the accessible, affordable healthcare plans now available under the Affordable Care Act. With over 330,000 outreached through our local alone, ULTCW Members have been a large part of the success of the Covered California healthcare insurance exchange, and the enrollment of previously uninsured and under-insured Californians through the expansion of MediCal. But API caregivers and community members know – we all know – that we can’t rest until all those who need affordable healthcare are able to access it.
And as President Obama articulated in his fifth State of the Union address, we continue to live in a country where minimum wage work and low wage work mean lives of poverty, even with 40 hour work weeks, and multiple places of employment. The fight to win a living wage, and to eradicate inequality in all its forms is one that API caregivers and community members have taken up, and will continue carry forth alongside ULTCW Members from every back ground and walk of life.
The Year of the Horse will one that rewards hard work, and facilitates great victories. We welcome it, embrace it, and carry its spirit forward, confident that we have the speed, agility, and strength to meet each challenge before us.
Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy New Year!