How strong love can be

Hello! My name is Vanuyen Pham, and I’m the California Policy Intern for SEARAC this summer with a focus on health. I am a rising senior at Stanford University majoring in History.

People always ask me how I became interested in history, and I think I can trace it back to when my grandma would tell me stories about her life in Vietnam. It was so strange for me to reconcile images of my family, as I knew them, with their lives that they were uprooted from. My grandma’s stories were my only glimpses into this different world, as my parents were not too keen on talking about the past and were focused instead on our futures.

Growing up in this culture of silence, I wanted to figure out a way to fill out the gaps in my knowledge. In school, my history textbook painted Vietnamese people either as enemies or victims and relegating them to the sidelines in their own country, clearly a skewed perspective that masked years of colonialism. Where were the stories of people like my grandparents and parents?

That is what I love about history: trying to discover people’s stories, especially those who have traditionally been marginalized and whose voices are not heard in those high school history textbooks.

Coming to college, I’ve been lucky to have learned so much from the incredible people around me. I’ve found a home in the Asian American community on campus, meeting fierce activists who have been my friends and role models. In spite of many struggles, what has stood out to me is how strong love can be. It can be easy to get lost in frustration and anger, but by channeling this into our resolve to act and by working collectively, we will keep moving forward. I have so much hope.

I am excited to work at SEARAC on health issues, because growing up I witnessed how important access to healthcare has been for my family. As a child of nail salon workers, I’ve seen how a lot of my parents’ health concerns have been tied to their work and the little choice they had in this, given the circumstances of their immigration to this country. Through my time at SEARAC, I hope to learn more about the challenges and strategies in advocating for health policies that benefit Southeast Asian American communities, and to better understand the connection between institutional-level policymaking and grassroots-level needs and interventions.

Being political and advocating for change is not exactly what my parents wanted for me. What they don’t understand is that I want to do this because they can’t. I want to be sure their stories and the stories of my community are heard. I am honored to be here at SEARAC, where I am surrounded by people who also care deeply about advocating for their communities.

In terms of just fun facts, I’m from the Bay Area (Fremont) and off the top of my head, I love food (but am allergic to avocado), musicals, classic Hollywood movies, binge-watching Netflix, bookstores and coffeeshops. I’ve never lived in Sacramento before, but am excited to explore this summer!