Just before May 1, 1975, the day after Saigon fell, my family and I left Vietnam for the United States.
So the immigrant rights rallies on May 1 had special meaning for me.
We were able to escape because an uncle, who was a Navy captain, negotiated a place for us on a fishing boat in exchange for his navigation skills. Originally, he was told he could bring only his immediate family on board. But he turned down that offer, risking his own chance to escape in order to get seven siblings and their families onto the boat -- 31 of us in all.
After several days at sea, a Taiwanese ship pulled alongside with orders to rescue any Chinese refugees. Of the hundreds of us on the boat, only two were offered spots -- a father and daughter. But they refused guaranteed safe passage unless we could all go with them. The Taiwanese relented, allowing all the women and children onto their ship, with the men following in the fishing boat. They led us to the Philippines. Two days later, we left for the United States.
I always hear how impressed people are with Vietnamese refugees, who came here with nothing and excelled beyond anyone's expectations. But what they leave out is that early Vietnamese families came during a time that U.S. refugee policy supported them.
We had case managers, food stamps and English tutors. My family was allowed to come here, and we were then able to support each other. That meant my grandmother could baby-sit, allowing both my parents to work even without being able to afford childcare.
Though we tried to make it on our own as quickly as possible, knowing that we had a safety net gave us the courage to excel.
U.S. immigration policies back then were humane and accepting, rather than exclusionary and punitive.
Back then, a Lutheran church gave us housing.
Now, the House passed a bill criminalizing social service agencies that aid undocumented immigrants -- even if it's just to teach them English.
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month began on May 1, and immigrant rights are crucial for our communities.
One million Asians living in the United States are undocumented. About 18 percent of Korean Americans are undocumented. There are undocumented immigrants in the Chinese community, in the South Asian community, in all of our communities.
Although many Asian Americans may not talk about living in the shadows, about looking to the future and seeing only uncertainty, about yearning for years to be with family, about hearing our cousins grow up or our parents grow old over long distance calls, we, too, share these stories.
That's why tens of thousands of us marched for our rights along with our immigrant friends and neighbors.
We all were marching for respect.
For first-class citizenship.
For racial justice.
Courage is not just persevering against odds for your own survival or interests. It's linking your fate with others -- risking your own safety in their time of need.
Courage is a brother saying, "Take my whole family to safety, or don't take me at all." It's a family saying, "We won't leave 200 Vietnamese refugees behind."
Courage is a society saying, "We will create policies that allow entire families to enjoy an entire American life."
Without that courage, I would not be here today. So on May 1, I marched.
Tuyet Le is executive director at the Asian American Institute. She can be reached at email@example.com.