The Southeast Asian Student Association (SASA) continued its outreach to high school students on how to critically think of the Southeast history of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese culture to understand one’s self identity in a college setting during its second annual conference.
Early Saturday morning on January 18, students were organized into three college preparation workshops that ranged on the topics of “College Preparation,” “Cultural Awareness,” and “Social Justice.”
Pauline Dong, High School Outreach Coordinator and third year history and educational studies minor, emphasizes the role of SASA. Having been involved in the program for a year, Dong explains that SASA was created to provide a safe space for students to interact about their refugee and immigrant experiences, and for students to further utilize the resources provided to educate the rest of the Southeast communities.
“The objective of this organization is to reach out to the underrepresented Southeast Asian students on campus. For the most part, people usually see a lot of Asian Americans on campus and don’t think they need resources at all to graduate, to retain their academic status and to stay in school,” said Dong.
The onset of the college preparation workshop was based on the different tracks, for which students were divided into three groups among freshman and sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Among the workshop, the integration of first-generation and second-generation students was given a space to share their cultural experiences while being introduced to goal-setting skills in preparation for the college route.
Dong adds, “Each group has different activities, but it is more geared toward freshman and sophomores because at that point, maybe they’re not really thinking about college. They are just thinking about passing their classes. We want them to know their options, to know that there are great community colleges, great vocational schools, but also if you are not ready to get there yet, just know here are the resources and think about how you can positively impact your high school campus.”
Additionally, the second workshop focused on the topic of cultural awareness and how to break away from the model minority myth that Asian Americans are high achievers and have no struggles. Seated in half circles, students interacted with an “I am” activity to speak about how the media represents and influences the stereotypes in Hollywood broadcast television and popular movies. Some of the discussions brought attention to the limited, stereotypical portrayals of Asian Americans in Hollywood.
“How it applies to this workshop is that individuals must realize that they are complex individuals, that they are unique in their own way, and that they should think twice about perpetuating these stereotypes about Asian Americans, or anyone else,” said Dong.
Just two years ago in Fall 2012, SASA began with the support of alumnae from UC Irvine and funded by the Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR). With a lot of summer planning, the board that now consists of 13 volunteer individuals first collaborated with the Garden Grove High School District. In comparison to last year, a growing number of attendees included students from Buena Park High School and Savannah High School with the inclusion of Laotian and Cambodian American students.
One of the founders, Andy Nguyen Le, who is currently a Student Advisor for SASA, introduced the third workshop that focused on Asian model minority in the social justice system.
“I had the opportunity to experience the different cultures within my community, living in large immigrant communities and coming to this campus, I saw a lack of cultural awareness. I wanted to bring to the table and start an organization where it can be more unified and voice and to talk about discussions related to the trauma that our parents carried when they came to America through boat, through sponsorship, plane, escaping communism, any political events,” said Le.
At the start of the workshop, students began with an activity of, “Step over the line if you pertain to this statement.” Le brought to the attention that Southeast Asian students have low college acceptance rates partly due to the limited social factors of families that remain affected by past cultural conflict. Following the activity, Le presented a video that depicted the relevant issue of deportation immediate within the social justice system. Ultimately, Le concluded that the underrepresented problems that arise from the limited resources to the unforgiving justice system show the existing similarities within generations.
“The reason why there is a lack of Southeast Asian students accessing higher education is because of social factors. If we study the waves, after 1975, the second and third waves are mainly families with low income going into low-income populations. With those communities that are underserved, they have no resources at all. Talking about college opportunities and also opportunities to go on with mobility to do better in life. So because of those obstacles and challenges, of circumstance that changes when a student graduates from high school of either taking a job or continuing on. That affects how Southeast Asian students view higher education,” said Le.
“And understanding that UCI has very low admission rates for Southeast Asian students. The past year, we’ve had 12 Hmong students admitted into UCI compared to a larger Asian American population for which we are known for. A lot of our Southeast Asian communities are still small. Not a lot of our high school students are pursuing higher education. Those were the issues of why this organization should be here.
For the upcoming spring, SASA will implement a mentorship program that will reach out to high school students and have them critically ask questions such as, “Why are they here? Why do they want to go to college?” to foster more self-awareness and identify what it means to their future and community.
For now, Le stresses the importance of branching out to second-generation students who face the problem of forgetting their native language. Ultimately, Le encourages students to be more actively aware and engaged of their cultural history. Because, as he emphasizes, it is important to be an advocate for issues that affect Southeast Asians and to utilize the resources to further educate the community.
“It’s also a place for second generation, where we hear about the current issues of forgetting about speaking our native tongue, not speaking to our parents effectively, intergenerational conflict so it does serve a space to connect to issues that we don’t know or cultural values that we never talked to our parents about because of such trauma that came about due to war and genocide that started the displacement of our communities,“ said Le.