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The Defining Moments

Rich Stolz shares his story of how being Korean-American shapes his work with immigration reform.

Rich StolzRich Stolz is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.

I cut my teeth in the immigrant rights movement nearly twenty years ago when I volunteered to help register voters and organize students against California’s anti-immigrant Prop 187. The defining moment for me was a trip down to Fresno when I and other students met with farm workers and attorneys fighting for the rights of immigrant workers and responding to raids being conducted by INS that were terrorizing families and intimidating activists.

This all happened at a time in my life when I was exploring my own identity as a Korean America – half Asian/half white – and understanding more deeply the history of the movement for equal justice and identity in the United States.  I was profoundly influenced by the strategic brilliance and courage of Cesar Chavez, the debates over pan-Asian movement building in California, the example of liberation theology in the Catholic Church in which I was educated, and the powerful non-violent movement for civil rights and equal justice for African American liberation.

Today, as the Executive Director of OneAmerica, I continue to draw on this history for inspiration. OneAmerica was born in the fight to contain the backlash against religious, ethnic, immigrant, and refugee communities following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I am proud and committed to our multi-ethnic organizational identity, and our focus on organizing immigrant and refugee communities across Washington State to build power in low-income communities of color to change the policies and institutions that impact the day to day lives of families and workers.  I’m also proud of the amazing work we’ve done to make Washington State a more welcoming community, and to build the electoral strength of immigrant and refugee communities statewide.

Today, as we participate and lead in the campaign to enact just and humane immigration reform in Congress, I’m struck at how much the immigrant rights movement has grown in just the last decade.  Our work in Washington State with the labor movement, the business community, the faith community, the civil rights community, and the vibrant community of immigrant groups, LGBT allies, women’s groups, and environmental groups reflect the growth of this movement nationwide.

Organizing is at the core of what we do. And the grassroots leaders of today – those being honored through the Champions of Change ceremony, and the countless volunteers, leaders and advocates on whom the honorees’ own work depends – are my continuing inspiration every day.

Rich Stolz is the Executive Director of OneAmerica