Representing Georgia

The 2023 - 24 Georgia General Assembly has been called the most diverse ever, with 83 people of color among its 236 members. That includes over a dozen first and second-generation immigrants–and of those, at least 10 were just elected, the vast majority of them, Democrats. Brought to you by ACC x 285 South.

House District 98: Norcross, Gwinnett County

Age: 38

Occupation: lawyer

Education: B.A. from Emory University; J.D. from Yale Law School

Birthplace: Philippines

Three months after Marvin Lim became Georgia’s first Filipino-American state representative in January 2021, a 21-year-old white man walked into three different spas across Atlanta and shot and killed eight people, six of them Asian. Lim, who represents large Asian and Hispanic communities in Gwinnett County’s House District 98, covering parts of Lilburn, Tucker, and Norcross, was one of only five Asian-Americans in the 236-member Georgia Legislature at the time.

The shootings brought into sharp focus something Lim says he has known his whole life about the Asian-American community: “When a hate crime or even low level violations happen, we don’t tend to be comfortable reporting [it].”

He’s seen that same fear of authorities and government institutions in his own mother, who grew up in the Philippines under the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. When he told her he was going to run for office, he says, she was scared. “She would worry and be like, why are you posting on Facebook? Are you going to get in trouble?”

Lim was born in 1984, just two years before the Marcos regime ended, and his parents moved to the United States when he was seven in hopes of providing him a better opportunities. Instead of the political repression his parents had lived under, Lim grew up experiencing the realities of life for lower-income immigrants in America. 

His family soon found out that living in the United States didn’t guarantee a great education. (Lim first went to Dresden Elementary in Chamblee, before his parents moved to a better school district.) His father lost his job, and the family at times relied on public assistance to get by. “We ourselves struggled, even though part of that is seeing that there were others working equally as hard as us, who were also struggling,” he says.

The “so-called American dream” Lim says, is complicated, and the data on Asian Americans as a “model minority” doesn’t capture the diversity of that experience. “The data as a whole says, educationally, we're ahead.” (Lim himself is part of that success story - he has a law degree from Yale University and is a Fulbright Scholar). But, he says, if you take out certain pockets of Chinese communities, and look at communities like the Hmong or Cambodians, you start to get a clearer picture of who’s struggling. (Lim joined an initiative in the 2021 legislative session to disaggregate demographic data for Asian Americans in Georgia, but it ultimately didn’t move forward.)

Lim says the incredible racial and ethnic diversity in his district (a large number of his constituents are foreign born), combined with many of his constituents’ low levels of trust for government or police, can make it hard as an elected official to reach people. 

Explore a map of HD 98.

Still, Lim has been persistent. In the 2022 election, he ran unopposed, but stayed present in people’s social media streams by running ads in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese on how to access rental assistance or apply for utility assistance from Georgia Power. “I’m getting engagement from people, and when you start talking to them it's clear they don’t usually engage with the government,” he says.

Lim says the historic number of Asian-American lawmakers serving in this session, and the debut of the Legislature’s Asian American Pacific Islander caucus with 11 House and Senate members gives him hope that more Asian-Americans will engage with their government.

But representation itself, he says, isn’t enough. “I’ve seen in my district that people get frustrated when there are people that look like them, or people they voted for, and in their perception, nothing changes.”

Learn more about the Representing Georgia series from ACC x 285 South.

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