Putting it in Perspective: A Call to Advocacy

Posted by Thuy-Anh Vo on Mon, Jun 04, 2012 at 16:22 pm

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." –MLK


If you had asked me what I thought I would be doing right now five years ago, I would never say that I would be studying in Washington DC, meeting important elected officials such as Supreme Court Justice Alito or Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith, interning at an immigration advocacy organization, doing my own Amerasian advocacy work, and attending a private Jesuit University. I knew that these privileges were not usually given to individuals in my social location, which is why I often find myself thinking, “Is this really happening to me?” My life here in Washington just seems so unreal. As a first generation college student from the West Coast, I never thought that I would be experiencing life in the heart, soul, and lifeblood of politics in America.

During my first couple of years in college, I had no idea where my niche was. I could not find purpose to what I was doing even though I knew that my heart was in social justice. But where? I was struggling with an existential crisis! It wasn’t until my trip to DC in November 2011, lobbying with the Ignation Delegates of Gonzaga, that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in advocacy. I finally discovered a passion that gets me out of bed every morning. My experiences in DC the past few months have confirmed my desire to pursue a career in this field. The people that I have met through HIAS have proved to me that this work is rewarding.

On February 15th, I had the honor and privilege of meeting Congressman John Robert Lewis. Here was a man that’s been arrested 48 times for nonviolent civil disobedience, has a speech impediment from having his jaw broken in two places, believed in the power of getting into good trouble, and still continues to fight for justice! I was in the presence of a man that was a major contributor to American history, who had been beaten down by the system over and over again but still continues to endure the struggle. It was a good reminder that hard work does bear fruit. Advocacy work can seem tedious, never-ending, and producing no short-term results, yet it is important to remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. No experience during my time in DC has been more incredible than meeting the Congressman. It inspired me to continue to fight for what I believe in.

While working at HIAS, I have learned what it takes to be successful in legislative advocacy. If it were not for organizations and individuals working together on a local and national level, things like the extension of the Lautenberg Amendment would not have been possible. The right allies were needed for this bill to become law. On the grassroots level, activating leaders on the local level made a big difference. Outside of HIAS, I have done work to push Amerasian issues to grant citizenship to the children of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese women. Even though I have successfully pushed for the reintroduction of the Amerasian Paternity Recognition Act, I still need allies to ensure this piece of legislation moves through Congress.

I hope to get the full DC experience this semester, and I am even thinking about staying here for another. The value of my time here is definitely up to me and what I make of it. With a positive attitude and an urge to learn and squeeze out everything I can from this city, I am convinced that my time here will be worthwhile. Through these experiences, I can already see myself growing mentally, spiritually, and physically; it is astounding how much being in a new place can change and challenge you.

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