By Kathy Ko Chin
As we celebrate Women's History Month, two women are on my mind: Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama.
Both came from immigrant families, like mine, and helped advance the movement to empower women and people of color in our society.
Born in 1915 in Rhode Island to Chinese immigrant parents, Boggs has spent her life advocating for civil and labor rights. The Organization of Chinese Americans honored her with a lifetime achievement award, and she is a member of the National Women's Hall of Fame. Just last year, at 98, she was still promoting a recent book: "The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century."
Kochiyama was born in 1921 in California to Japanese immigrant parents. After Pearl Harbor, her father was arrested and imprisoned for a month, where he was denied medical care. He died a few days after being released. Shortly thereafter, Kochiyama and the rest of her family were forced into an internment camp.
An activist for decades, Kochiyama was an associate of Malcolm X -- she was even with him in the Audubon Ballroom when he was gunned down. She cradled his bleeding body in her arms.
An advocate of Puerto Rican independence, she also campaigns for nuclear disarmament and stands up for Asian-Americans and women's rights.
Boggs and Kochiyama inspired me to dedicate myself to the cause of immigrant women.
Often at the margins, immigrant women are among the most exploited in our society. Toiling many hours in our factories, homes, fields and restaurants, many immigrant women cling to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. They are often targets of discrimination and sexual violence in the workplace.
Many undocumented immigrant women are isolated and afraid. They often fear reporting the abuses they encounter because they could lose their jobs or, even worse, get deported and separated from their children.
Plus, many do not have access to decent health care. The Affordable Care Act excludes undocumented immigrants from coverage. And it keeps in place policies that lock out hard-working immigrants from the same affordable health care programs their tax-dollars support.
These inequities are why I advocate so strongly for immigration reform -- an issue that demands action from President Obama. While the Senate has answered such demands, now is the time for the House to do its part.
Just any bill will not do, however. We need immigration reform that is fair and puts all Americans -- both aspiring and native-born alike -- on a healthy path. Equal access to health insurance must be part of that equation.
As we celebrate women of character, courage and commitment this Women's History Month, let us not forgot the many faceless, voiceless immigrant women who sacrifice for their families and our country every day.
In the footsteps of Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama, let's not let yet another year go by without making comprehensive immigration reform a reality.
Kathy Ko Chin is president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, a national social justice organization that works to improve the health of Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and other underserved populations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Copyright Kathy Ko Chin