Discovering my roots in DC

My name is Emily Short and I am the immigration policy intern for SEARAC this summer! Originally from the Midwest, I am a second-generation biracial Vietnamese American. My mother and her family came to Michigan as political refugees from Vietnam in 1990 and were sent to stay at the home of a minister. She fell in love with the minister’s son and they moved to Indiana to raise a family. Growing up, my family was the only Asian American family in our small town. Any Vietnamese community we had were our relatives. I was raised to be proud of my biracial identity and to know and respect both of my cultures. I grew up eating chả lụa and rice noodles for breakfast and then learning how to bake apple pie with my white grandma after school.

I am a recent graduate of Vassar College with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with concentrations in History and French and Francophone Studies. I entered college thinking that I would dedicate my life to being a foreign service officer. I got my dream internship at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and spent the following semester studying at Université de Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle.

But throughout these six months in Paris, I became acutely aware of my racial identity. From street harassers shouting at me that they loved Chinese girls to my host family forbidding me from cooking Vietnamese food because of its smell, I decided that I couldn’t live in France again. Near the end of my time in Paris, the November 2015 attacks occurred. I spent three days locked in an apartment until it was declared safe enough to go outside. The next weekend, I relived this experience again during a poorly timed trip to Brussels. During the aftermath of these events, what upset me the most was how quickly American politicians were to (falsely) blame these attacks on refugees. I needed a way to productively channel my anger about all of the negative things that had happened while I was abroad, so my best friend suggested that I join the AAPI political community in Washington, D.C.

I had never been part of an Asian American community before, in part because I was worried that I would not be accepted because I was “only half,” but I decided to take that chance. I interned at OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates last summer, where I worked on public policy and civic engagement. For the first time, I felt accepted by an AAPI community and passionate about the work that I was doing.  I met many wonderful and inspiring people who helped me decide to continue doing AAPI advocacy work. I spent my senior year working on my thesis, which was an examination of Hmong refugee resettlement in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and the importance for the United States to not only accept refugees but to help them build their own communities so that they can thrive. I also spent my senior year connecting to my roots by learning and perfecting recipes from both sides of my family. For Christmas, I made pies and dozens of cookies like my grandma had taught me. And for Tết, I finally perfected my mother’s phở recipe (and made a few hundred chả giò to go with it). I am so honored and excited to be working for SEARAC because of their deep commitment to improving the lives of Southeast Asian Americans and their continued support of refugee rights.