Representing Georgia: Marvin Lim – Atlanta Civic Circle

Representing Georgia

The 2023-24 Georgia general assembly was described as the most diverse ever, with 83 blacks among the 236 members. That includes over a dozen first- and second-generation immigrants — and of those, at least 10 have just been elected, the vast majority of them Democrats. Presented by ACC x 285 South.

House District 98: Norcross, Gwinnett County

Age: 38

Occupation: lawyer

Education: BA from Emory University; JD from Yale Law School

Place of birth: Philippines

Three months after Marvin Lim became Georgia’s first Filipino-American state representative in January 2021, a 21-year-old white man went to three different spas across Atlanta and shot dead eight people, six of them Asians. Lim, who represents large Asian and Hispanic communities in Gwinnett County’s House District 98, which covers portions 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 focus something Lim says he’s known all his life about the Asian-American community: “When a hate crime happens, or even minor violations, we don’t feel comfortable reporting it [it].”

He experienced the same fear of authorities and state institutions in his own mother, who grew up in the Philippines under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. When he told her he was running for office, she was scared. “She would worry and say why are you posting on Facebook? Are you going to get in trouble?”

Lim was born in 1984, just two years before the end of the Marcos regime, and his parents moved to the United States when he was seven, hoping to offer him better opportunities. Instead of the political oppression his parents had lived under, Lim grew up with the reality of life as a low-income immigrant in America.

His family soon found that living in the United States did not guarantee a good education. (Lim initially attended Dresden Elementary School in Chamblee before his parents moved to a better school district.) His father lost his job, and the family relied at times on government assistance to make ends meet. “We have struggled ourselves, although part of that is seeing that others have worked just as hard as we have, who have also fought,” he says.

The “so-called American Dream,” Lim says, is complicated, and the data on Asian Americans as a “model minority” fails to capture the diversity of that experience. “The data as a whole says we’re ahead pedagogically.” (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 Chinese communities and look at communities like the Hmong or Cambodians, you get a clearer picture of who is struggling. (Lim joined an initiative in the 2021 legislative session to break down demographics for Georgia’s Asian Americans, but 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), coupled with the low level of trust many of his constituents have in the government or police, can make it difficult as an elected official to reach out to people.

Explore a map of HD 98.

Still, Lim persisted. He ran unopposed in the 2022 election but remained present in people’s social media streams by posting ads in English, Spanish and Vietnamese asking about accessing rental support or requesting utility support from Georgia Power . “I get engagement from people and when you start talking to them it’s clear they don’t usually work with the government,” he says.

Lim says the historic number of Asian American lawmakers attending this session and the debut of the Asian American Pacific Islander faction of the Legislature with 11 members in the House and Senate gives him hope that more Asian American Americans will sign up for will engage their government.

But representation alone, he says, is not enough. “I’ve seen in my district that when there are people who look like them or who chose them, people get frustrated and their perception doesn’t change.”

Contact information & committee assignments

Office: (404) 656-0314
Email: [email protected]

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

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