On Saturday, October 14, 150 Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans and allies converged on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as part of the Southeast Asian American March for Equity. The march coincided with the national gathering Moving Mountains: A Southeast Asian American Equity Summit. National leaders and organizers from diverse Southeast Asian American communities came together to reflect on the community’s 40+ year journey from surviving war and displacement as refugees to honoring and carrying on the legacy of the American civil rights movement.
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) Executive Director Quyen Dinh remarked, “I was named ‘Quyen’ after the story of a bird in Viet Nam who missed its country so much that it would call out for home. To have a place to call home for this daughter of refugees has been a lifelong journey. Today, I have the privilege and honor of standing alongside 150 fierce Southeast Asian American brothers and sisters from over 20 states who are my home.”
The march began at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where participants paused to honor fallen family members whose names were not represented on the wall, but who also fought and died for freedom during the wars in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Phan Lương Quang, a Vietnamese elder who fled Vietnam as a refugee in 1975, performed a poem commemorating the fall of Saigon.
At the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, marchers released 150 origami lotus flowers into the water, representing the hopes and dreams of their families for healing and peace. The march concluded at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, where marchers laid bouquets of flowers at the foot of the monument to pay tribute to a civil rights legend that paved the way for Southeast Asian refugee communities to be active participants in the civil rights movement.
The march concluded with remarks by community leaders including Lee Lo, a 24-year-old Hmong American woman, who called the crowd at the MLK Memorial “our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” as well as anti-deportation advocates Montha Chum and Tung Nguyen. Janel George of the National Women’s Law Center evoked Asian American pioneers Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs who fought for the liberation of Black and Latino communities as well as Asian Americans, remarking “We have to recognize that what happens to some of us, happens to all of us. We have to move forward together.”
Dinh concluded, “As the Trump administration launches an unprecedented set of attacks on immigrant and refugee communities, we march for our rights to be seen and heard, to heal, and to be together. We march today to demonstrate our self- determination as survivors of war and warriors for peace and justice, not just to sustain but to expand a civil rights movement that made our resilient fight for social justice possible. We stand here to defend our right to claim our home in a beautiful, multi-racial, multi-ethnic America.”
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.