My first job in California was with the Pacific Asian Alcohol Program, which is a social service agency that provides counseling and referral to Asian Pacific Americans (APA) who were convicted of drunk driving and other misdemeanors. Many of our clients were recent immigrants who do not speak nor understand English. The county could not provide translators most of the time, so our clients would bring their elementary or high-school age children to do the translation. I witnessed how these children had to grow up fast. They had become the bridges of their families to the mainstream culture. It is unfortunate that children as young as ten years old had to translate for their parents as they discussed with the counselor their issues with poverty, substance abuse, lack of jobs, and even incarceration. I thought that the children also needed support, so with a $25,000 grant from the County, I started an after school program for Cambodian and African American children in a Los Angeles housing project.
When we both finished graduate school, my husband and I moved to the East Coast. Asian American LEAD was one of the few social service agencies serving the APA community, and wanting to continue my work in Los Angeles, I asked to meet with the director. There were no positions open at the time but I was fortunate to find a position with the Domestic Violence Resource Project. With my degree in Asian American studies, I soon joined the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program where, as a program specialist, I developed and managed various educational projects and exhibitions. The Smithsonian is a big bureaucratic, quasi-government institution. There was unfamiliarity and some resistance within the Institution as we tried to incorporate the APA perspective and work for the inclusion and participation of local APA groups. Thankfully, my experience as a community organizer helped me find commonalities and relate with the issues of the other groups within the Institution. My experience in community work was also helpful when I tried to work with local service providers and groups in bringing in lower income APA youth to participate in activities at the museums. Being a liaison between the Smithsonian and APA communities involves a lot of outreach work but it is also fulfilling. Starting as early as the year 2000, I worked with AALEAD educators to bring the youth to the Smithsonian for field trips and activities focused on ongoing Asian Pacific American exhibitions at the museum.
I am a person who loves adventures – both big and small. My family loves cycling – mountain biking, cyclocross, and road. Our dog, Nico, is a trail dog and she loves tagging along on our bike rides. I also love to travel – I especially enjoy seeing new places and meeting new folks. I love wide open spaces and discovering landmarks and historic places. After 16 years, I left the Smithsonian feeling that I was ready for a new adventure. My new adventure however has led me full circle, as I finally became a staff of Asian American LEAD.