Embracing the Southeast Asian rite of passage: My journey with SEARAC’s Leadership and Advocacy Training

By Alexis Friedman

In life, there are certain events or experiences that serve as turning points or mark significant change. These moments, often referred to as “rites of passage” shape our lives and set us on new paths. For many Southeast Asian individuals, SEARAC’s Leadership and Advocacy Training (LAT) has become that transformative experience. This summer, as a development intern at SEARAC, I had the incredible opportunity to join the team in Washington, DC to be a part of this program.

Leading up to the training, I had the chance to interview past participants of LAT, which included SEARAC board members and donors. Each one shared their stories, emphasizing how the program had been nothing short of “life-changing” and powerful. The impact it had on their lives was clear in their words and the unwavering enthusiasm they expressed. Without a doubt, LAT had become more than just a training for them; it had become the Southeast Asian rite of passage, a shared experience that united and appreciated our communities’ experiences.

Alexis connecting with the story shared during the “Story of Self, Us, and Now” workshop. (Photo courtesy of Les Talusan)

Watching the SEARAC team buzz in prep meetings and dedicate countless hours to prepare for the LAT programming heightened my anticipation and eagerness to embrace this experience. I was not only meeting the SEARAC team for the first time, but also meeting the other interns who I had developed great relationships with. The energy was infectious– fueling my own excitement and commitment to make the most of this opportunity.

At the start of the program, I found myself in the most intense environment I had ever been in with people belonging from diverse Southeast Asian communities. We were all there to grow, learn, and empower one another. The space that SEARAC created could be described as safe and reflective. From refugee stories to Southeast Asian areas of crisis like mental health and deportation, our collective was able to share their true selves, in their entirety. The days of editing our stories, minimizing our experiences, and letting our stories take the back burner were over. LAT was made by us, for us. A program that became our space and where our stories could live.  

Engaging with like-minded individuals, each driven to make a positive impact within their communities, was invigorating. The training provided a platform for us to develop essential leadership skills, refine our advocacy techniques, and gain a deeper understanding of the complex issues affecting Southeast Asian communities. Historically, our community has been invisibilized, and here I was with my peers sitting in front of our elected officials demanding them to act. All the nerves left our group as soon as we began the meeting. We radiated the confidence of well seasoned advocates honoring our truths. The adrenaline ran through our bodies and pushed us to the next meetings. I can say without a doubt our appetite for change had grown and we were far from finished using our voices. 

Alexis and her health track group after their legislative meeting.

SEARAC’s Leadership and Advocacy Training has truly become a Southeast Asian rite of passage– a transformative journey that empowers individuals to be the change in their communities. As I reflect on my time as a LAT participant, I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this remarkable program and to have joined other community leaders in this experience. The memories, lessons, and connections during LAT have shown me why this program is a rite of passage. I hope this program will continue to inspire the next generation of advocates to contribute to the advancement of Southeast Asian communities. 

*A big thank you to the 2023 LAT participants and SEARAC staff for being vulnerable and creating a life-changing experience!*

Alexis is SEARAC’s Summer 2023 Development Intern. For July 2023 staff blog, Alexis reflects on her experience as a participant at this year’s Leadership and Advocacy Training (LAT) and how it has become a rite of passage for Southeast Asian Americans.