A Letter From the Executive Director

Jan 31 A Letter From the Executive Director

Author: 
Quyen Dinh

Dear Friends,

Happy Lunar New Year from the SEARAC family.  It is with great excitement and honor that I step into my new role as SEARAC’S Executive Director during this season of celebration to continue the legacy of SEARAC’s work as a national advocacy organization.

This year, SEARAC reaches an important milestone as we turn 35 years old.  As I begin my role, I am called to reflect on SEARAC’s history, and I am constantly reminded of how my personal narrative is intertwined with SEARAC’s.

My parents arrived in the United States in 1981 as refugees from Vietnam, just one year after the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act.  As a student at the University of California at Berkeley, I learned about SEARAC’s direct role in advocating and shaping this legislation.  Among its lasting impact, this Act established the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to administer and deliver services to assist in the resettlement of refugees across the U.S. and support their economic achievements toward self-sufficiency. As a result of this policy, my parents were able to resettle in the U.S. and my four brothers and I grew up in communities that evolved because of this policy.

This federal policy remains in effect today and continues to resettle refugees in crises from around the world.  This story is not mine alone, but also that of the more than 3 million Southeast Asian Americans who now call this country their home.

Nine years ago, my life again intersected with SEARAC through my work at the International Children Assistance Network (ICAN), a Vietnamese American non-profit organization in San José, CA. ICAN had been part of SEARAC’s Technical Assistance program designed to strengthen organizational capacity of Southeast Asian led and serving community-based-organizations.

Through ICAN, I quickly fell in love with the Vietnamese community as a front line staff member given the opportunity to learn about my community through service. I spent my first two years at ICAN both managing a public awareness campaign on early childhood education, and providing direct services through conducting home-visit-interviews with participants from our parenting workshops.  For four months out of the year, my co-worker and I spent up to twelve hours a day in my car traveling from one end of San José to another.  We visited families from every socioeconomic ladder: from the very poor in subpar public housing, to the very wealthy in the mansions of San José’s hills.  Families from every walk of life united in a shared dedication for the next generation of Vietnamese American children to grow up with a better future.  Through them I better understood my parents and the isolation they felt starting a family as refugees in a new country without the support of an extended family, friends, or the developed community that we have come to know today.  I saw the transformative power of love in my community and in this work, to organize community members for a better future for their children and themselves.

My love for community grounds me as a leader, and it is the work of local communities across the country that grounds SEARAC in all the work that we do.  As SEARAC steps into its 35th year, I am humbled to be part of a legacy that connects the power of national policy and advocacy with investment in local leadership and community infrastructure to form strategic local-and-national partnerships that create positive systemic change for Southeast Asian American communities.

In my two years at SEARAC alone, I have seen the impact of these strategies in advocating for increased access to opportunities for our communities. In our education equity work, we partnered with 27 organizations to mobilize more than 700 community members nationwide to advocate with the Department of Education for reliable, disaggregated data that reveal education disparities across Asian American and Pacific Islander groups.  In our health access strategy, we championed the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by working with 11 organizations in Fresno, Merced, and Sacramento, California to become certified enrollment entities so that they can work directly with their community members to access new health insurance options to care for themselves and their families.

These milestones remind us of the tremendous growth that we have undergone as a young community in the U.S within 35 years: in leadership, in organizational capacity, and in deepening our expertise in developing innovative approaches to community-driven programs and advocacy.  These achievements were made possible through the investment of community members, staff, volunteers, board members, interns, funders, and social justice peers who continue to believe in our mission-driven work.  I am proud to be part of this continuum of work, calling for systemic policy solutions so that prosperity, education equity, health equity, and just immigration policies define the foundation of our communities.    

Thank you for having been part of SEARAC’s journey by contributing your time, skills, resources, and support to advancing our communities.

I look forward to meeting you and to continue building our legacy.

In Partnership,
Quyen Dinh

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