When people hear the term Southeast Asian, they most likely think of the word Asian. An Asian as in Chinese, a yellow tint to the skin, brown and chinky eyes, and an expert at math. People can look at the word Southeast Asian all day and still not learn a thing about why there is a group who calls themselves Southeast Asians.
When they see or hear the word, they do not really see nor hear its meaning. They do not see our grandparents and parents leaving everything they once knew and loved becoming refugees all at the same time. They do not see that not all Asians fall into their stereotypes of being successful and being an “Einstein at mathematics”. They do not see that between the lines of the two paragraphs in their history textbooks about the Vietnam War that Southeast Asians were a part of the battlefield too. They do not hear the cries of our people stepping on land mines and being murdered. They do not hear the swift movements of the leaves and branches when my people fled through the jungles and mountains for refuge. They do not hear the meek whispers of underrepresented Southeast Asians searching for a voice. Who should we blame for this lack of knowledge, or should I say this lack of understanding?
The answer I would say is nobody. Sure, we could blame America for keeping secrets about Southeast Asians from their citizens or the Board of Education aggregating all Asians despite their very different cultural backgrounds and conflicts. But why spend our time trying to find someone or something to blame for our struggles when we should be creating programs that not only gives the Southeast Asian community a voice, but the motivation to make a change as well? Fortunately, many programs and conferences that assist Southeast Asians have already been established. Like any other programs, they took time and effort. Underrepresented people creating an organization for a minority group within a minority is not easy stuff.
I was blessed when I got to be a part of the Southeast Asian Student Coalition Summer Institute(SASC SI) this previous week. SASC SI is a completely free 5 days and 4 nights trip at the UC Berkeley campus. This year marked it’s 10th year of being in action and it was a once in a lifetime experience. This program brought in people from all over the country; all the way from San Jose to Maryland. People arrived to SASC with identity crises and the mindset of the program just teaching Southeast Asian history. But to their surprise, they were wrong.
SASC SI offered so much more than just Southeast Asian history, it offered solutions to the struggles everyone was able to relate to. A huge group of people became a family within such a short amount of time and it was obvious to see that the force that keeps SASC SI living is love. From arriving broken and being oblivious to their culture, people left with the fullness of love, a voice, and the pride of being a Southeast Asian. SASC SI is a staggering program that helps fight the struggles of the Southeast Asian community while showing the truth to the rest of the country about who Southeast Asians really are.
My goal is to see that one day, my people will not be classified as simply Asian. When that day comes, people will no longer stereotype us and think that we are all just Chinese. Our history will be taught in public schools. They will look at the expression Southeast Asian and finally see what we see. They will hear the word Southeast Asian and finally hear what we hear.