Date: July 1, 2015
PRESS RELEASE – For Immediate Distribution
Myrna Martinez Nateras - (559) 222-7678 or email@example.com
AFSC FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM LIFTS CENTRAL VALLEY IMMIGRANTS VOICES
Chelsey See Xiong is one of an estimated half a million Southeast Asian refuges that have come to the United States since 1975. Numbers and politics dominate news coverage of the immigration and displacement debate, but only in rare occasions the human side of this story is mentioned. For behind every statistic is the face of someone like Chelsey See Xiong, who is committed to bring out to light the diverse voices and experiences of young Hmong refugees as well as her identity formation journey.
Xiong is a Hmong American who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and immigrated to the U.S. with her family at the age of 5. After studying criminology at Fresno State, she went on to work in both non-profit and for-profit sectors, and is also a freelance writer that explores topics of how cultures and communities intersect. She was involved in founding the local group HERO (Hmong Empowerment Resource and Outreach), and is currently participating in the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program, which encourages immigrants to become advocates and leaders within their communities. Through their participation in the program, new immigrants demonstrate how they are building a sense of place and belonging through the wealth of art and culture they have to offer.
"I saw myself as an American kid, but I wanted to learn about the problems and triumphs my community faces in the present, rather than dwelling on the past," Xiong said. "There are many Hmong faces in our community, yet the press paints the same picture of all of us. I feel as though we can't shed the refugee stamp from our skin."
On Saturday, July 11, Xiong will be hosting a cultural event – the culmination of the 18 months she's spent studying the journey of identity formation second and 1.5 Hmong American youth go through. Beginning at 6 p.m. at the Fresno Art Museum's Bonner Auditorium, Xiong will present "Are you Hmong?" By sharing her journey as a child in a refugee camp to navigating to become American, Chelsey See will address the stereotypes and ideas that second and 1.5 generation Hmong American youth face growing up in the Central Valley, and explore what makes them "Hmong enough" or "not Hmong enough."
"There is a lack of discussion about Hmong America in terms of our identity. We talk about how Hmong youth no longer appreciate Hmong culture and are scared that our language will soon be extinct, but no one has ever asked me who I see myself as," Xiong said about the reasons she chose this topic to explore. "No matter what I do, I can never be 'Hmong enough.' I want Hmong youth to accept themselves as Hmong American, not just Hmong or just American."
Xiong's presentation is one of eight that are taking place across the Valley throughout the summer. The fellows, made up of Mexican Indigenous, Salvadorian, Hmong, Cambodian, Punjab and African American immigrants, hosted cultural exchanges within and beyond their own communities. Within their learning groups, the fellows studied their community's pressing concerns while gathering cultural and artistic assets.
Xiong's story would make for a compelling human-interest feature on the ever-growing and changing face and cultural shift in the U.S.
Topics could include:
The cultural conflicts and generation gaps Central Valley refugee families face.
The identity and selfdetermination struggles Hmong American youth face when put in a position of having to choose between two worlds
How sparking a community dialogue has helped fellows to begin working toward the ultimate goal of inspiring community action and positive change.
What does it mean to fellows to serve as a voice for those in their community who would otherwise go unheard?
Putting a voice to the nation's complex immigration and displacement problem and teaching fellows how to overcome the challenges they face is at the heart of the Tamejavi Culture and Arts Series.
"We hope to humanize the prevailing immigration debate," said Pan-Valley Institute Program Director Myrna Martinez Nateras. "The ultimate goal is for these stories to serve as the inspiration for building more welcoming communities – those that acknowledge immigrants new and old as positive contributors to the Valley's economic, social and cultural wellbeing."
For more on the Tamejavi Culture and Arts Series, please visit tamejavi.org or call (559) 222-7678.
The Pan-Valley Institute of the American Friends Service Committee (PVI-AFSC) is the coordinating organization of the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program. Established in 1998 as a project of AFSC, Pan-Valley Institute's mission is to create a place where immigrants and refugees can gather to learn from each other and rebuild their world. AFSC is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace, and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.
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