By Cha Vang
The Southeast Asian American (SEAA) community has always had an abundance of resilient, strong, and powerful leaders. SEARAC’s Moving Mountains Equity Summit brought together these leaders in 2017, and it allowed me to see the enormous possibilities when generations of leaders are put in one room. My organization, Hmong Innovating Politics, led a workshop on building power with civic engagement, and it was inspiring and helpful to brainstorm and affirm some of the innovative approaches other SEAA leaders are thinking about. Overall, the love and strength of our SEAA communities that was centered and exhibited in the space was beautiful.
Nevertheless, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that DC — where SEARAC’s first Equity Summit took place — is not a location everyone can afford or have the privilege to experience. That’s why I appreciate SEARAC’s thoughtfulness to bring Moving Mountains to California this year.
When I learned that the summit would be held this year in Sacramento, in my own community, I wanted to do my part to create a space to continue the cultivation of our collective SEAA voice and power, to make the positive changes we so deserve. By accepting an advisory council position, I’m excited to help shape the summit’s emphases around connection, healing, innovation, and activation. After all, they are how we will able to continue to fight for our communities. Here are my raw thoughts around these four powerful themes:
Connect – SEAA communities are connected in so many ways through our,experiences and struggles. Our communities share a history of displacement due to US involvement in our countries and relocation into underresourced neighborhoods. We all feel the impacts of healthcare access and housing affordability. And while deportation has the most impact on the Cambodian and Vietnamese communitiesright now, and immigration work is not the core of HIP’s work, we recognize that we have to be a part of the fight. With the lead of our Cambodian leaders, we will stand and fight with them. We can build from our shared legacies and connect our issues so we are standing with and for one another.
Heal – Generational trauma is real. Our community deserves a right to heal and live a happy and healthy life. At the Equity Summit, we will acknowledge it and work toward healing. In fact, connecting with fellow leaders and activists in SEAA communities in itself is healing. I get to cry, laugh, and organize with some awesome warriors.
Innovate – I am well aware that the system was never built for communities.Therefore, we need to think outside of the box and create process and models for our communities. We cannot make the changes we want to see if we allow the system to tell us what we can or cannot do — or allow the people who know nothing about us to tell us how things work.
Activate – “I didn’t wake up and decide to become an activist. But you couldn’t help notice the inequities, the injustices. It was all around you.” – Yuri Kochiyama
While I wouldn’t call myself an activist, I know this work is important because this work means the difference between life and death for our community members. We can’t wait for other people to make decisions for us or hope someone will think of our communities and make the positive changes we need. We need to do our part and stay activated. The lessons and information I collect from to Equity Summit will inform me as I continue HIP’s work. The Equity Summit is a space to build from, and hopefully it will activate folks beyond the moment.
If you live in California or anywhere close, take this opportunity to connect, heal, innovate, and activate as one powerful, united SEAA community, determined to move mountains together.
For more information on Moving Mountains 2019, click here.
Cha Vang is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Hmong Innovating Politics and a member of SEARAC’s Advisory Council for Moving Mountains 2019.