The Southeast Asian Student Association (SASA), established this year, seeks to connect and provide a space for Southeast Asian students.
The newly founded Southeast Asian Student Association (SASA) at UC Irvine hosted its First Annual SEA (Southeast Asian) Success Youth Conference on Jan. 19.
70 first-generation high school students from the nearby Garden Grove Unified School District took part in campus tours, a “College 101” workshop to help for college preparations and a food culture presentation. SASA members presented a timeline of significant events and individuals in Southeast Asian American history from the 1960s-90s, and keynote speaker Asian American Studies professor Vo Dang also introduced the Vietnamese Oral History Project and the Southeast Asian Archive located in Langson Library.
For SASA external chair Andy Le, a third-year criminology law and society major who also has a minor in Asian American studies, the conference was a success because it was a step forward towards a collective vision for the association this year.
The theme for SASA in its first year is “Into the SEA,” a focus on the community and acknowledgement of its history.
When looking at the SEA community at UCI, Le said the theme and mission statement for SASA is to provide a space for the community to connect, not only in solidarity to ethnicity, but also in experience.
“As a freshman, I knew that there were only a few Southeast Asian organizations here,” he said. “Coming here, I thought there was a space where I could specifically learn about the refugee experience, but it there was nothing in-depth.
“There wasn’t really a space where I could connect to my identity, learn from the refugee experience and connect it to my family history.”
As he involved himself with the Asian Pacific Student Association, the Student Regents, the Cross Cultural Center, Student Outreach and Retention center (SOAR) and other organizations, Le said he made it a goal along with others to provide an “umbrella” for Southeast Asian organizations and students.
“As an umbrella for other SEA organizations, we want to create strong relationships with them, be able to address issues in the community and inspire other clubs to stand up and create social spaces for students,” he said.
Creating this space for open, social discourse of culture and experience is important because there is, Le said, a very real issue of retention among the SEA student community at UCI.
“Recently, we had three students who withdrew from UCI because of the problem of ‘home away from home,’” he said. “A lot of these students come from NorCal or out of state, and they were homesick didn’t have the space to connect to their identity.”
Le said that the lumping of data makes it hard to see the needs of the Southeast Asian community, especially when smaller communities such as the Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian are classified under “Other.” SASA would provide opportunities for these communities to be more visible and focus on more hidden issues.
Le also explained the cultural gap between first and second generation parents and children, as well as the language barrier that makes communication and understanding difficult.
“Parents don’t understand everything with higher education, the rights as a person to talk to people for help and providing a place for children to study at home,” he said.
As with the SEA Success Conference, Southeast Asian students at UCI should also be aware of their own identity and culture, as well as maintain an informative, constant dialogue.
“The archives have diverse information about the different refugee experiences, and that’s not something a lot of students know,” Le said.
“We want to highlight this, where students can learn about their roots, history and heritage.”