SEARAC is a national civil rights organization that empowers Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese American communities to create a socially just and equitable society. As representatives of the largest refugee community ever resettled in the United States, SEARAC stands together with other refugee communities, communities of color, and social justice movements in pursuit of social equity.
MAJOR AREAS OF FOCUS
- Education Equity
- Immigrant Justice
- Health Access
- Boys and Men of Color
- Aging with Dignity
- 2020 Census
- Building Powerful Community Leaders and Advocates
- Community Engagement and Mobilization
- National and State Policy Advocacy
- Internal Infrastructure Building
For SEARAC, Southeast Asian American is a political identity that comes from the shared experience of people who came to this country as refugees from the U.S. occupation of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Southeast Asian Americans now number nearly three million, and most of them arrived in the U.S. as refugees, are the children of refugees, were sponsored by refugee families, or arrived as immigrants. Southeast Asian Americans include people from dozens of diverse ethnic and language groups, including but not limited to:
- Cham, a Muslim minority group
- Khmer Loeu, or Highland Khmer
- Iu Mien or Mien
- Lao, otherwise referred to as Lao Loum or Lowland Lao
- Khmer Kampuchea Krom, or ethnic Khmer
- Montagnards, or Highlanders of several different ethnic groups
- Certain ethnic Chinese also have heritage in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
LAT 2019 • IN THEIR OWN WORDS
“I learned so many things at LAT, but my biggest takeaways were: Your representative works for you and the process to schedule an appointment and actually meet with them to discuss issues that affect your community is easier than expected. Seriously, why do they not teach this in high school or college? Data disaggregation matters and influences/shapes how policy is created. In relation to healthcare, being able to see a high rate of liver cancer in Southeast Asian ethnicities as compared to other Asians (East or South Asians) or ethnicities can help healthcare providers determine how to provide better care (e.g. better public health campaigns, earlier diagnoses, etc.) to these populations. The census is a big deal because it determines resource allocation, political representation, and visibility.”
- Lily Nhoisaykham, Health Track Participant
LAT 2019 • IN THEIR OWN WORDS
“You read about different campaigns here and there on social media, in different places and in some ways they connect with you and in some ways they feel so far removed. What was dope was that some of the immigration track members were the directly affected folks in the stories I had followed. And hearing their stories first hand was moving. And seeing that they were trying to use their freedom to free others was inspiring. And while the immigration track was made up of people from all over the country, I realized even more so that the diaspora shared more similarities than differences and that the struggle we all went through in our own spaces far from each other gave us much more in common and that it made our story uniquely American.”
- Bunthay Cheam, Immigration Track Participant
VOICES FROM BOYS AND MEN OF COLOR
SEARAC debuted a groundbreaking report that provides a glimpse into the field of organizations and leaders who are addressing the unique and pressing challenges that Asian American and Pacific Islander boys and men of color must navigate. “Revealing the Asian American Pacific Islander Boys and Men of Color Field: Living in the Intersections and Invisibility of Race and Gender” is a field analysis representing the culmination of interviews with 25 organizations serving diverse populations in 11 states across the country.
“In Asian American spaces, the work is a lot different than what it looks like in other communities. In our Asian American men’s group, they talk about some of these things. They feel like their masculinity has been attacked, and a lot of it feels like fear...”
VOICES UPLIFTING MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS
In 2019, SEARAC joined partners to co-sponsor California Assembly Bill (AB) 512 – Cultural Competence in Mental Health, which would have improved county cultural competence plans and utilized both evidence-based and community-defined practices to address the mental health conditions of California’s diversity. While CA Gov. Gavin Newsom ultimately vetoed this proposed legislation, SEARAC was able to collect community stories related to the various ways Southeast Asian Americans have accessed, or not accessed, mental health services. By identifying gaps in mental health services, we can support the development of community-defined policy solutions to share with policymakers.
“Vietnamese language interpreters could not (or were ‘uncomfortable’) translating gender/sexuality terminology. The few times my family member/s were allowed to be in the room were not helpful for these reasons. Not having access to culturally appropriate MH services has almost permanently created distance between myself and some of my family members. Considering the importance of community and community resources for first-generation immigrants, this has impacted my survivability, connections to my own SEA identity/hx/culture, and ability to navigate my mental health experience.” – Vietnamese, 18-24 years old, transgender, non-binary/gender queer, queer
“I wished that the services I received had a culturally appropriate aspect. I shared about the trauma and hardships my parents and grandparents faced and how that has an impact on me. They have their issues, and they react harshly and sometimes violently towards my siblings and I. However, the therapist ignored that aspect and almost made me feel like the trauma my parents have doesn’t affect me.” – Hmong, 25-34 years old, female, straight
“I never really knew about culturally appropriate mental health services until I was incarcerated. Growing up I was just surviving and never thought about trauma, mental health issues, struggles, services, and/or culturally relevant issue(s). I just knew I was discriminated against because I was different and my cultural norms were not socially accepted or recognized in the communities I was living in. My family often reminded me to keep it to myself and be invisible - ‘Don’t stand out.’” – Vietnamese/Chinese, 35-44 years old, male, straight
VOICES FROM HARD TO COUNT SOUTHEAST ASIAN AMERICAN COMMUNITIES
SEARAC opened its Census Ambassador network and launched a set of census factsheets to bolster education and civic participation among Southeast Asian Americans. These resources were translated in-language for the general SEAA community, in addition to communities that are historically harder to reach and harder to count, including:
- Young adults
- Children and youth
During the last census in 2010, more than 650,000 SEAAs, or 23% of the SEAA population, were found to live in areas of the country that had low census response rates. This means that these community members may have not been counted, resulting in loss of money that could have gone to their communities for important programs, like fixing roads, more health care, more affordable housing options, and more money to schools.