My passion for the work of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is shaped by my own experiences. I came to this country as a refugee, and I know firsthand the struggles of overcoming discrimination and poverty. I am the first person in my family to attend college. Access to a quality education was one of the most important tools to help my brothers and I live up to our full potential. However, educational barriers continue to be a huge challenge, particularly for Southeast Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and English Language Learners. Education advocates are not only fighting for equal resources for students, but are also up against the Model Minority Myth, which claims that Asian American students achieve above and beyond the general population. At the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, our education work centers around disaggregating data to ensure that the full story of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is told so that all children receive a quality education. I believe that this is also, essentially, the work of the Commission – telling the complete story of the AAPI community and exploring ways to improve the lives of those in the community.
While our communities are extremely resilient, we still have numerous barriers to overcome. The Commission’s mission – to improve the quality of life and opportunities for the most vulnerable Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders among us – is important to me because it acknowledges that while many in our community have come a long way, there is still much work left to do. In America, my parents became entrepreneurs and started many small businesses over the years out of a desire to provide for our family. However, like many Asian American immigrant small business owners, I’ve watched them struggle to get access to affordable health care and not know where to turn. The Commission can be a vehicle to lift up the voices of those who don’t traditionally have access – access to healthcare, access to education, and access to opportunities to building a better life for individuals and families.
In Laos, my father was recruited by the U.S. CIA to fight on behalf of America, and my parents and I were among the thousands of Hmong families who sought refuge in this country. Looking back, we would not have made it without the support of the community we lived in, good public policies that valued us, and services to guide us. My hope is that the Commission can be a part of doing that for all Asian American and Pacific Islander communities so that they too can reach their full potential.
Doua Thor is the Executive Director of Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), a national nonprofit organization advancing the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans through leadership development, capacity building, and community empowerment.