SEARAC LAT 2023 Takes Over Capitol Hill

Washington, DC — Two weeks ago, Southeast Asian advocates from across the country joined SEARAC’s 2023 Leadership and Advocacy Training (LAT) program, marking the first in-person LAT since 2019. Twenty-seven advocates hailed from 12 different states and Washington, DC, with ages ranging from 18 to 52. This is the 24th year that SEARAC has hosted a Leadership and Advocacy Training, which has graduated more than 1,300 participants from the program.
Over the course of the three-day program, advocates celebrated their Southeast Asian American legacy, gained knowledge on the impact of civic engagement on their communities, and were trained on how to tell their lived truths to their elected officials. Check out some highlights from the week:
Day 1, we kicked off LAT with a powerful group photo activity that provided participants a space for deep reflection of their journey. Moderated by Mandy Diêc, SEARAC California Deputy Director, participants brought a meaningful photo to them and shared the story behind this image. Participants were also split into issue tracks, which included education, health, and immigration, and learned more about SEARAC’s policy priorities in each policy area.

LAT 2023 participants share photos with one another and the stories behind them. (Photo courtesy of Jenna McDavid)

On Day 2, Thuy Do, SEARAC California Program Manager, and Mandy Diêc facilitated a “Big Paper Activity” to the rising leaders, who reflected on and connected with Southeast Asian history and resilience represented by each poster. Participants also learned to effectively tell their stories in a workshop called “Story of Self, Us, and Now” facilitated by Phun H, SEARAC Communications Associate, and Jazmin Garrett, SEARAC Field Associate. The workshops reminded the participants that if they don’t tell their stories, someone else will. Primed with that knowledge, participants began crafting their legislative asks for their upcoming meetings on Capitol Hill.

Post-it notes of written reflections from LAT participants during the “Big Paper Activity”. (Photo courtesy of Les Talusan)

Day 3 of LAT 2023 was all about the leaders meeting with their elected officials. The morning began with remarks from US Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28), chairperson of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who welcomed participants to Capitol Hill. Participants then split up into their small groups and began their legislative meetings for the day. During the meetings, participants shared their personal stories with elected officials and their staff members, while also connecting those stories to a policy priority, such as the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) and the Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act (SEADRA).
Our participants shared powerful testimonies and demands for equity for Southeast Asian American communities. Some key insights from these meetings include:
  • “Today, I talked about my father and his experience with the healthcare system. He takes a number of different medications for his kidney disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol. I was 11 years old when a doctor told him, ‘You are younger than me. You are too young to have these problems.’ In that moment, I realized that there are so many deep structural inequities for our communities, the struggles my family encountered as refugees. I held on to that as the day progressed, how our data need to be represented and not hidden.”
  • ”Being in a team with my mom at LAT provided me with security. I knew that the team of people I was walking into those meetings with understood me because of all the time we spent working together and sharing our stories. My team understood my character, understood what I wanted to convey, and had my back. If I was put into a situation where I didn’t know something, I knew they would push me along and carry me through the final steps. It was really affirming to have someone in your corner always, especially my mom.”
After the legislative meetings, we closed our LAT 2023 programming with a candle ceremony led by SEARAC Executive Director Quyên Đinh. Together, we shared our hopes for each other, for our community, and for ourselves.

LAT 2023 participants and SEARAC staff pose with US Rep. Judy Chu (center).

We are so grateful to all of the presenters, staff, and – most importantly – the participants who made SEARAC’s 2023 Leadership and Advocacy Training a huge success. If you are interested in being a part of this program, stay tuned for information on how you can apply to join us in 2024!
This year’s Leadership and Advocacy Training would not have been possible without the generous support of our lead sponsor, State Farm, who has funded our Leadership and Advocacy Training program for more than two decades. And we also share our appreciation to the following sponsors who made a vital contribution to support our rising leaders: