Both groups are also using the inauguration as a platform to jump-start their demands for Obama’s second term, with policy forums and strategy sessions scheduled among the festivities. In some areas, they share common goals such as making sure their concerns are represented in economic and immigration policy, and pressing for high-level administration appointees of Hispanic and Asian origin.
In other areas, their priorities diverge significantly. Latinos are predominantly concerned about easing the plight of illegal immigrants, most of whom are from Mexico and Central America. Obama’s pledge to seek comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legalization for the undocumented, motivated many Latinos to help get out the vote — even if they were not permitted to cast one themselves.
“We have helped the president get reelected. Now it is up to him to keep his promise,” said Martinez, 34, who lives in the United States under temporary amnesty and dreams of being reunited with the wife and daughter he left in El Salvador. Although ineligible to vote, he said he campaigned many weekends for Obama and helped fellow Hispanics register. “I feel very fortunate to be in this historic event,” he said. “Now is the time. Now there’s that hope. ”
For Asian Americans, the majority of whom are middle-class immigrants in the country legally, the wish list is very different. It includes such issues as raising the number of visas for skilled workers, improving health care access for senior citizens, shortening wait times for overseas family members to immigrate, changing tax codes for small family businesses and allowing foreign-born students with advanced degrees to remain and work in the United States.
“We expect immigration reform in the second term — not only for traditional constituents but for Asian Americans too. This is not just a Hispanic issue,” said Narasimhan. “It is about attracting the best and brightest people to our shores and giving them a way to stay here and contribute. It is about understanding who the new American Democratic majority is, and how to make it sustainable.”
But Christine Chen, a Chinese American activist who helped organize the Pearl Gala at the Mandarin Oriental, said Asian Americans share some key concerns with Latinos. “We have more than 1 million undocumented community members, mostly grandparents, whose story hasn’t been told,” she said. “We have a lot of new political leaders, and after all the celebrating, we want to make sure people know what needs to be done when they go back home.”
Perhaps the most important result of the 2012 elections, activists said, was the realization among diverse and scattered immigrant communities — from Korean Americans in Virginia to Mexican Americans in California — that they have more in common than they thought, and more potential for political success when they join forces for change.
“People care about different things, but this time we reached out and connected and collaborated. It made all the difference,” said Kumar, a co-founder of South Asians for Obama and host of a jam-packed, high-energy inaugural reception Friday night in the District. “We have each other’s backs.”