Southeast Asian Groups to Talk about Education and Immigration Reform

Youth and youth advocates outside a Long Beach Unified School Board meeting.
A screening of "Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town" will be followed by a panel discussion on education and the President's immigration plans.

Several San Francisco Bay Area organizations will hold an event on Wednesday, January 28th to screen an episode of America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa and tie it in with current issues around education, and immigration in Southeast Asian communities.

The event will be held at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. On the importance of a documentary about Cambodian youth, Vietnamese Youth Development Center Case Manager Thear Chum writes, “The Cambodian community in the United States is one that exist far outside the borders set by the model minority myth. When it comes to Asian folk in the United States, people usually assume that they are doing well, both economically and socially. As with most stereotypes, this ignores a lot of the circumstances and lived experiences of people from this community.”

Chum, who is Cambodian, is one of several panelists who will speak after the screening. He wrote an essay about his experiences growing up Cambodian American:

I grew up in Stockton, California, a city with one of the highest Cambodian populations in the United States. It isn’t as big as Long Beach, but definitely in the top five. I have a lot of love for where I come from, but as an adult I have come to understand the barriers that prevent my myself, my friends, my peers, and my community from truly moving forward. 

The Cambodian community in Stockton, like many other cities, is very broken. With a majority of the older generation coming from a history of trauma and resettlement, the generations that followed had a hard time fitting into systems that were definitely not ready to handle them. That, coupled with poverty and racial tension, pushed a lot of youth to engage in street activity. This has been going on since the 80s and has created a culture of crime and violence that persist today.

As a kid, especially a Cambodian kid, in Stockton you don’t have a lot of role models. A lot of people look to their parents as their role models, but in a refugee household that isn’t always enough. For myself, it was hard to look up to parents who relied on you to figure things out. From when I was old enough to talk until I was 18, I spent a lot of time missing school to help translate for my parents at the INS, at doctor’s appointments, and a bunch of other things. When we were done, it was always on me to figure out how to catch up in school. My parents never really went to school in Cambodia and grew up during a time of war, so understanding a foreign system of education was something beyond what they could do; they had enough to worry about between trying to work multiple jobs and paying the bills. Lack of support in school was a theme in a lot of my friend’s households. Ever since we were young, our parents told us to do well in school so we can live better lives than they did, but had no idea what doing good in school actually looks like.

Not being able to really look up to our parents as much, it made sense to find people to look up to in our community. Generally this is cool, but in the Cambodian community that meant you looked up to people in gangs, ball players, whatever you see around you. There were barely any folks from the community going to college so that never became a priority; the priority was to survive. One thing I heard that made a lot of sense me was that when you grow up, you tend to do things that you grew up around. If you grow up around a lot of doctors you might want to be a doctor, but if you grow around a lot of people in gangs, then you eventually join a gang. The gang culture within the Cambodian community in Stockton was heavy. Even if you weren’t in a gang, the chances were you knew someone who was. TRG, ABZ, LTC and a bunch of other gang letters were things that you just became familiar with. What is really sad is that there was a lot of conflict between different sets within the Cambodian community. A police officer once said to my friend’s family after a shooting that Cambodian people love killing each other. That resonated with me a lot because as much as I had anger in me for him saying that, I knew that there was some truth in his words. Though he may never know the complexity and the challenges that lead to violence in the Cambodian community, it reminded that it was there.

Stockton is just one city, and Cambodians are just one group that have been marginalized by policies and reasons that I am still coming to fully understand. There are many Southeast Asian communities across the nation that share similar experiences as I did in Stockton That is why I believe “Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town” is such a crucial step towards change. In 30 minutes, they were able to capture a fragment of what’s going on in our community, a very important step at inserting our stories into the narrative of this country, but there is still a need for more. The need for change is caused by multiple intersecting issues, from deportation tearing families apart to PTSD, and without a comprehensive look into communities like Long Beach and Stockton, solutions will come up short. –Thear Chum

Panel Discussion and Community Screening of Documentary PASS OR FAIL IN CAMBODIA TOWN
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Khmer Girls in Action, the Vietnamese Youth Development Center, and Banteay Srei invite you to join us for a screening of “Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town,” an episode of the PBS series, America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa, which highlights the experiences of Cambodian American youth in Long Beach, California.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion of the experiences and challenges facing Cambodian, Lao, Vietnamese, Mien, Khmu, and Hmong Americans in the Bay Area and throughout California. In particular, we will focus on the President’s new plan for Administrative Immigration Relief and its impact on Southeast Asian American communities.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 (NOTE: New location to accommodate a larger crowd)
6:00 to 8:00 pm
Chinese Progressive Association
1042 Grant Avenue, 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94133

Refreshments will be provided

CPA is located between Jackson and Pacific, next to the Chase Bank. Please note that CPA is in the same building as Chase Bank at 1042. Go into the bank entrance, make an immediate left, and take the elevator to the 5th Floor.

Anoop Prasad, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Pysay Phinith, Asian Community Mental Health Services
Thear Chum, Vietnamese Youth Development Center
Moderated by Angela Chan, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

To RSVP, please click here. Check the Facebook page for any updates.

Host Committee Members
Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), API Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership (AYPAL), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD), Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), and Serve the People.

Main image: Youth and youth advocates outside a Long Beach Unified School Board meeting, from “Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town,” and episode in American By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa.

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