Over 125 members of ethnic media and immigrants rights groups across the country convened in the basement of the Japanese American Cultural Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Sept. 21.

None of us seemed to care that we were crammed in the JACC conference room, stuffy from the warmth of a typical LA end-of-summer day. As nonprofit organizations and cost-conscious ethnic media reporters, we were accustomed to working in such conditions. We were simply pleased to take part in this historic gathering.

At this New American Media (NAM) national summit, we all came prepared to tackle an issue that is at the top of our communities’ priority list: the immigration rights debate. We discussed the state of the immigration rights movement in our region and strategized ways to strengthen communications within the movement.

Keynote speaker Sergio Bendixen opened the summit with a summary of a groundbreaking NAM multilingual poll on the opinions of legal immigrants on the hot immigration debate. The poll showed that the immigrant community in the United States is “alarmed regarding the tone and substance of the current political debate on immigration policy.” A majority of legal immigrants – about 14 million Americans – report that the growing “anti-immigrant sentiment” has affected their families.

The summit continued beyond theories and numbers to real stories from not just those working directly with immigrants, but from ethnic media reporters themselves. Adrian Ramirez, Silicon Valley DeBug, gave a heartfelt presentation about growing up as the son of an undocumented immigrant. Even as a reporter, working hard to make up for his mother’s sacrifices, Ramirez shared that after all these years, he still feels like he “doesn’t fit in” and is “invisible.”

Thuy Vu of Radio Saigon in Houston, Texas described how the immigration debate has reminded her that she was once an illegal immigrant, escaping from Vietnam on a boat that landed in Taiwan. She remembered the feeling when no nation was there to protect her and her family from the fishermen and other perils of the journey. As a former reporter for a mainstream newspaper, Vu moved to ethnic media in order to be able to tell the stories that reflected her and her community’s experiences and perspectives.

Vu reminded us that the job of ethnic media is to help “connect the dots” in this debate and to tell the stories of our respective communities.

In the Asian community in particular, opinions on this issue are wide and varied. It is important for us to understand and acknowledge people’s fears. It is also important that in order to make an impact on upcoming national legislation, we must first begin to work on unity within our own communities, as Hamid Khan of South Asian Network in Los Angeles said during his panel on the future of the immigration rights movement.

Ultimately, the summit reaffirmed the need for immigrants rights groups, human rights activists and ethnic media to work together. Only when we do this can we hope to improve the quality of life for immigrants and refugees.

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