In Solidarity from the BRAVE Study

To our communities, 

Over the past year the BRAVE Study has had the privilege of hearing the stories and experiences of young undocumented people and learning about their struggles, loss, growth, and activism. But in the aftermath of the latest election, we have also been witness to a renewed resurgence of fear and hostility across the country. As programs, such as DACA, hang in the balance of the current political climate, we recognize the deep precariousness, fear, and anxiety that many of our friends, family, and community members continue to live through each day. Yet we have also seen mobilization, organization, and active resistance against the systems and rhetoric of oppression. As one wise Standing Rock water protector stated, “Let us not operate out of fear. Let us operate out of hope, because with hope everything is possible.”

The BRAVE Study will always be here to re-affirm the fact that no one is illegal and that human rights are inherent to each of us, regardless of immigration status.

As a group of proud immigrants and children of immigrants, we call upon others to stand with us to fight for and preserve basic human rights for all threatened communities. Facing these uncertain times together, we ask organizations, institutions, and foundations to lend your influence and resources to protect basic human rights for immigrants and their families, regardless of the legal status assigned to them.

  • For schools, we ask that you provide sanctuaries for your students and work with other sectors to ensure that students and their families are protected both on campus as well as in the community.

  • For community health centers and hospitals, we ask that you provide sanctuaries to your patients and continue to provide health care to them in a safe environment, despite threats of Affordable Care Act repeal.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking of all.” 

  • For foundations with an equity agenda, we ask that you provide resources to organizations that are truly committed to defending human rights for immigrants and their families.  We ask that your funding opportunities seek to break down silos among organizations and to promote and support immigrant leaders who can rise up and defend their own rights.

The political and social climate may be changing in January, but the BRAVE Study remains committed to youth and their families, and sharing immigrant voices and stories. Now, more than ever, we stand with undocumented youth and their families.

In solidarity,

The BRAVE Study Team



Study Updates: Webinar and Brief Report

On October 25th, 2016, the BRAVE Study, in collaboration with The California Endowment, hosted a webinar to disseminate study findings and to facilitate a panel discussion on the social, economic, and health needs of undocumented API youths.

Featured panelists included:

  • Josue Chavarin, Program Associate at the California Endowment, #Health4All Campaign
  • May Sudhinaraset, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF, The BRAVE Study Results
  • Hye Young Choi, Student at UCSD, The undocumented student experience
  • Wei Lee, ASPIRE Coordinator, API Youth Movements and Organizing
  • Angela Chen, E4FC and PreHealth Dreamers, API and Education Strategies
  • Emily Park, Community Health Specialist at Asian Health Services, API and Health Services

Materials from the webinar, including a brief report of BRAVE Study findings and webinar slides, can be found here. 


Personal Spotlights

A Conversation with Israt and Jenny

We are Israt and Jenny, two core members of RAISE (Revolutionizing Asian Immigrant Stories on the East Coast). Both of us wanted to share the work of writing a blogpost for the BRAVE Study, so decided to transcribe a conversation we had together as if interviewing one another.

What is RAISE?

J:  RAISE started in 2012 after the announcement of DACA by President Obama. At first, we started off as a safe space for undocumented, pan-Asian migrants because we didn’t know where to find other people like us, or that there was a group that we could attend.

Since then we’ve kind of evolved into more of a grassroots organization that takes on projects to advocate for ourselves and others. We also do workshops to educate our communities, but overall we just want to push for humane policies and abolish detention and prisons in the US.

I: So the membership of RAISE is composed of, like you said, pan-Asian folks.

J: We say pan-Asian to recognize all communities from the Asian diaspora. We really wanted to move away from saying “Asian American” because it’s not like we really have anything in common just because we’re Asian.

I: Right. Asia’s too large for that.

J: It’s a diverse continent. We don’t all share cultures, religion, language, etc. [By saying we’re a pan-Asian organization we’re saying that] we’re actually bonding over our common values, and not just because we’re all Asian American.

I: Our membership also consists of queer folks, and we are mostly women-led [so we are trying to focus on all of the intersectionalities that exist within our identities].

I: One of my main concerns was not only being able to do advocacy work, but also finding a community with shared backgrounds, you know? And RAISE has, obviously, definitely been that for me, but I’m also glad that we’re doing the work that we’re doing, aside from base building.

J: That totally makes sense, and it goes together; we couldn’t do that work that we’re doing if we didn’t have a space for all of us to feel comfortable.

What’s our herstory as undocumented women?

I: Ok, talk a little bit about how long you’ve been in the US and then your experience.

J: I’ve been in the US since 1996, so 20 years.

I: Wow. Two decades. I’m assuming that you didn’t know you were undocumented until much later, right?

J: Yeah, much later. Actually, when I found out it was during freshman year of high school. It was January and ICE came knocking at our door basically to detain my dad. I had no idea what was going on. I went out to try to comfort my mom, and it was little by little, trying to understand what was going on.

It was really hard at the time because even though I told my friends, they didn’t really understand — sure, I can tell them “I’m trying to deal with being undocumented.” But they didn’t really know what that entailed, or what it meant…

I: After that, you have to… did you also deal with legal repercussions?

J: We got a lot of support from the Korean community because my dad was writing letters from the detention center all the time. He encouraged us to reach out to different newspapers because he thought [the situation] was so unjust — even though this happens so often — because we had a lawyer who was a fraud.

I wrote to the Washington Post, and other newspapers, but the only one that picked up was a local Korean newspaper. The day after it went out, a group came up to pray with my mom, we got checks, donations, people brought us food, and we got pro-bono help from a lawyer who offered.

I: Being undocumented is both a blessing and a curse. For example, you were able to find your community that you know will back you up when you go through stuff like that.

For me, it was kind of similar, but different, too. We came here in April of 2001, because of political reasons back home. It wasn’t until much later that we found out we had, what the lawyer called, “a perfect story” that would have helped us get out papers. But like you, we had a few fraud lawyers that never filed our papers.

J: Yeah, it wasn’t just one. It was a few.

I: I think what hurt in that was that they were all Bengali-American lawyers.

J: From our own community. Us, too.

I: Being undocumented for me meant dealing with a lot of the legal aspects of it because my parents could speak English but they didn’t feel comfortable. They would listen, but not speak.

So from the age of ten I was the one communicating, filling out legal paperwork, etc. I think that still frustrates me because I don’t think a ten year old should have to deal with those things.

J: It’s not age appropriate.

I: Yeah, it’s not. It’s burdens like that that we have to take up as undocumented kids. We have to learn how to deal with it quickly, and I think it makes us grow up faster than we should, or have to. So that was my undocumented experience growing up.

I don’t remember a lot of good things from my childhood in America—it was a lot of legalities and fear. Living in constant fear… I think that really messes with a child’s psychology; and I think, still to this day, I deal with a lot of those consequences.

J: Yeah, it’s trauma.

I: We met someone over the weekend who was previously undocumented. What was interesting to me was that he still felt very much a part of this community because the impact of being undocumented was so large and lasting. I think that the trauma that we go through now, is going to have, or already has, a very lasting impression.

What projects are we working on within RAISE?

I: So do you want to talk a little bit about the work that RAISE is doing?

J: I’ll start with what I’m most excited about right now, which is the zine project. We received funding from the Asian Women’s Giving Circle (AWGC) last summer to start the zine where we collect submissions from undocumented Asian women and publish their art — whether that’s poetry, prose, drawing, photography, etc. We’ve been working really hard on that. It’s really great to be able to give a platform for those people.

I: I think that’s so important. One of the things that I’ve always liked doing is promoting storytelling.

Storytelling is so important, it’s such a vital part of every movement; you can’t really have a movement without telling the stories that create a need for that movement. We see a lot of that through youth groups, but our parents, our grandparents, and our other family members don’t really get the chance to share their stories. That might be because of age gaps or language barriers, or what have you; but having this zine, where they can share their art and have it accessible to other people, while also being compensated for it, is really nice. It’s really important, what we’re doing.

On that note, if folks who are reading this blog are interested in submitting their work as undocumented Asian women, we will have the information at the end of this post so you can submit your work.

The AMPLIFYHER Zine team

The AMPLIFYHER Zine team

What is RAISE doing around mental health?

I: As we’ve seen through this conversation, there’s a lot of emotional and physical baggage that comes with being an undocumented person, but there are things that you can do to deal with these issues.

One of the things that RAISE is working on is a series of mental health workshops where we can come together as an undocumented community and talk about the issues that we are facing and deal with them in positive ways—whether it be by providing resources to go get professional help, base building, or finding other people and being able to talk about it. Do you want to talk a little bit about last summer’s mental health series?

J: Last summer, we had three workshops/open mics where we invited people from our community to share their experiences, how they feel, and also give them the open mic space where they can express their creative side. It was really great. I saw a lot of faces that I hadn’t seen before.

I: People expressed how they didn’t really expect the good that came out of it, because they didn’t realize they needed it. This summer we’re looking to continue that series, but a bigger goal of this series is to not only to talk about the emotional baggage that comes with being undocumented, but also to tie it into the political background of the issues that we are facing.

J: In psychiatry and talk about mental health, there’s a tendency to say, “This person is suffering from mental illness,” or “Their brain has problems.” But you know, it’s not just from our heads. We’re living within these structures that are making our lives really hard and it makes sense for us to react like that.

I: Our reactions are a direct response to the systems of oppression that we’re living in, which contributes to our mental health. It’s not just that we were born this way, it’s not just the chemicals, and it’s not just that we need to be treated. It’s more than that. So we look forward to doing that.

J: Thanks so much to everyone for reading this. We’re really excited to see where the BRAVE study goes and we really hope that you’ll be able to support our work, so please follow us on social media!

Thank you May Sudhinaraset for offering us this space, and everyone else on the BRAVE Study for doing this work!

Guidelines to submit to the Zine can be found here:

Follow RAISE on fb/instagram/tumblr: @raisenyc

Personal Spotlights

My Immigrant Story: Solidarity in #Health4All

by Josue Chavarin

Having the opportunity to work on the BRAVE study with Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants has made me think about my upbringing and about my immigrant story. I was raised in a Mexican and Filipino neighborhood in Salinas, California. Even though Salinas is located only a few miles away from some of the wealthiest cities and towns in the U.S., like Carmel and Pebble Beach, Salinas is a fairly poor and under-resourced farming community. The people living in my neighborhood are almost all first generation immigrants, a majority are undocumented, and they mostly work as farmworkers in Salinas Valley’s rich fields.

My parents who came to the U.S. from Mexico spent 15 years laboring in the artichoke fields alongside my next door neighbors who came from the Philippines and worked in a nearby mushroom farm. I often remember coming back from school and watching my parents and our neighbors come back exhausted from work. In the evening, the air would be impregnated with the smell of fertilizer, mud, and pesticides. Perhaps, our families never acknowledged this aloud but we were united in our struggle. In the monotony and struggles of daily life, both of our families would support each other. We attended the same churches, greeted each other as we headed off to work and school, and shared the fruits of our labor, whether it was artichokes or mushrooms. We were united in our desire to survive, thrive, contribute to our communities and be treated with dignity. It is this same spirit of solidarity that has motivated me to participate in the BRAVE study.

Josue's father at work in the fields.

Josue's father at work in the fields.

I am proud to say that I am from the Salinas valley and like the artichokes and mushrooms that my parents and neighbors cultivated, I too am a product of their labor. And here I am years later working to cultivate the #Health4All campaign, a movement that advocates for access to basic health care services for all Californians, including the undocumented. Ultimately, the #Health4All campaign recognizes that California as a whole suffers when undocumented Californians; Latino, AAPI, African, or otherwise, are locked out of care. This campaign recognizes the economic contributions that the undocumented community makes to California, it uplifts the value of extending preventive services to everyone, and it stresses that access to health care services should be a basic human right.


The campaign humanizes the impact of locking out undocumented Californians from care. With the help of our partners, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Pre Health Dreamers and Aspire, we have been able to uplift stories from the AAPI community. Stories of AAPI undocumented individuals who unfortunately passed away because they did not have access to basic treatment services to help stabilize their diabetes. Or stories of individuals who are currently suffering from late stage cancer that could have been detected and treated if they had access to basic preventive health services.

This effort is now reaping what it has sown because as early as May of this year, all low-income undocumented youth, including AAPI youth, will have access to all the services offered by Medi-Cal, our state sponsored health coverage program.  Collectively, we rejoice because we all had a role in this effort. This movement has grown off of the backbreaking labor and efforts of many. Yet we know that there is still much work to be done. The BRAVE study, by interviewing and working with AAPI youth throughout California, will help us understand the health inequities that impact this community. The importance of further understanding the needs of the AAPI youth community cannot be overstated. I look forward to analyzing the findings and to working collaboratively with all of our partners to ensure that we truly achieve #Health4All.

Personal Spotlights

Beyond the Status Lies Our Stories of Survival

by Thu Quach

As the mother of two beautiful boys who are Vietnamese-Japanese, I often think about how to begin to tell them that they come from a long line of survivors from both sides. That their paternal grandfather survived the ugly Japanese internment camps while their mother and her family left Viet Nam in the middle of the night on a small fishing boat with no idea about their chances for survival. Where does one begin to tell these type of stories amidst our busy daily lives? So I start today with a letter to my sons…

To my precious sons -- Tai and Kenji,

You are so fortunate to have come from a long line of survivors. Your grandparents on your mother’s side were both from rough urban cities in Viet Nam. Your grandmother, who died a few years before you (Tai) were born, grew up in a big family raised mainly by her mother because her father was a political prisoner for decades. She could only afford to finish grade school because she was forced to work at an early age to support her family. She met your grandfather as a teenager. He was a bụi đời (hoodlum of the streets). Raised by his grandmother because he was an illegitimate son, he needed to be tough to survive. I know that you only see him in the nursing home on life support now, but in his earlier years, he was quite the street fighter, able to take down anybody, especially those who were interested in your grandmother.

Your grandparents met and married in their late teens. They had four children in Viet Nam, but their second son (your uncle) died as an infant. They later would have their fifth child (your uncle Daniel) in the U.S. Their life in Viet Nam was always rough, both growing up poor and from broken families -- both doing whatever they could to keep their family intact, amidst a war and resettling in a new country.

As a teenager, your grandfather was so poor that he decided to join the U.S. CIA training because they paid him a few dollars a week. In exchange, he was trained to spy on the Việt Cộng, a Vietnamese rebellion group fighting against the U.S.-backed Viet Nam government. That was his role during the Viet Nam war, a role that when the war ended, would mean that he would be at risk for being imprisoned for having helped the “other side.” So when the war ended in 1975, your grandfather was offered to be helicoptered out of Saigon to leave for the U.S., an offer that did not extend to his family. During the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, he went to the evacuation station, about to step on the helicopter. But the thought of leaving his wife and three small children made him pause. In that split second, he made the decision to stay back, a decision that forever changed the course of all our lives, including mine and yours.

Years later in 1979, our entire family would escape on a small fishing boat in the middle of the night. Sailing in the deadly waters for many nights, our boat was finally pulled in by Thai boats. Afterwards, we spent nearly a year living in different refugee camps in Indonesia before eventually being given “refugee status” by the U.S. and settling in San Jose, California.

Arriving in the U.S. at age five, I remember the many hardships our family faced during our resettlement.   Given the cultural and language barriers, your grandparents had few job opportunities, forcing our family to rely on public assistance in the earlier years. As my siblings (your aunts and uncles) and I became more acculturated, we had to take on new responsibilities in our family. Your grandparents spoke little English, relying heavily on their children to be their language interpreters in the health care and legal systems.   It was extremely difficult for us to be child translators, especially when we visited the emergency room due to your grandmother’s chronic illnesses.

These very memories of interpreting for your grandparents is the very reason why I have decided to work at Asian Health Services, where we care for immigrant patients with language barriers; where we believe everyone has a right to health care regardless of their status, be it language, income, or immigration. The knowledge of what your grandparents have been through is the reason why I want you both to believe that one’s status should never define them as a person. Their experiences, their hardships, and even their mistakes may give them depth and character, but their status should never determine who they are as people.

There is so much more to this story, but that may be the book that I will write for you someday. And as for the story of your paternal grandfather in Manzanar, that is his to tell, and I hope he tells you one day. Because I believe that these stories, and difficult memories, will help you understand that you come from a long line of survivors. And that our stories will empower you to become better people. 

Personal Spotlights

Traffic Lights

by Steve Li

My mind races as I look down through a window
A window that does not open
My only view into the outside world
As I look below I see bright lights puncturing through the darkness
moving around like tiny ants traveling in a line
These lights remind me of the streets that I once used to walk on
The streets of downtown San Francisco
with the bright lights of storefronts and the electrifying air full of life and energy
But instead I'm deep inside. Here. 
Trapped between four walls
Covered with grey paint with scratches and pencil marks
That decorate the walls with bible verses of hope, faith and forgiveness

Books that I borrowed my local library are due next month
My biology midterm is in two weeks
My best friend birthday is in eight days
How long will I be here for?
I’m frozen, stuck in time
I no longer have a sense of time or space
Immobilized, paralyzed, forgotten
Like a childhood toy put away into the attic

Yesterday night
11pm I am sitting in the twenty four hour Starbucks
Flipping through pages and text of how DNA translates into RNA
Studying till my eyes can barely stay open
Doing what society has told me all along
to work hard and study hard
and you will be able to achieve your dreams
I am
Laying still in this cold hard bed
despised by society for trying to fit into the mold that they wanted me to be
trapped behind an impenetrable door
A door without a door knob
with dents and scratches of previous prisoners who tried to escape
A door that separates the desirables from the undesirables

My future no longer matters
I no longer know the realms between reality and imagination
I am tired and exhausted from the events of the last 48 hours that I can barely comprehend
I’m just hoping to wake up from this horrible nightmare
If I could only just
close my eyes
drift off to sleep
Hoping that when I wake up
I will be back in my room with small wooden desk, a laptop and a pile of homework from my 19 unit workload that I’m taking this semester
That I will wake up to the aroma that seeps into my nose every morning of the bold and familiar smell of coffee that my mother brews every morning
That I will wake up and hear the sounds of her heels taking careful but strong steps as she heads out to go to her twelve hour work shift

Yes, 20 seconds
That's how long it takes for the traffic light
to turn from green to red
20 seconds
That seem to last a lifetime stuck in this cell
20 seconds
The only thing that I hold onto to remind me of the life outside, 
While I am. Here.
Inside. Laying still.
Immobilized, paralyzed, forgotten
Never in my life have I felt so small, so weak, so helpless
what I once thought was bright and secure
is now dark and uncertain.

Personal Spotlights

Linking Immigration and Health

by Iyanrick John

As the child of immigrants from Pakistan and India, I am very aware of the challenges that immigrants face when they come to this country. When they first arrived in Maryland in the mid-60s, it was challenging for my parents to adapt to life in the U.S. At one point, my mother was working full-time and my dad was working three part-time jobs, all while they were both attending graduate school. Thankfully, my parents were eventually both able to get good jobs that included health insurance coverage before I entered the picture. I am grateful to have grown up without severe hardships, I knew many relatives and friends in our tight-knit community who experienced challenges finding jobs, obtaining decent housing, and accessing health care services.

I’ve felt incredibly privileged to be part of the Policy Team for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, an organization that works to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs). Our work is two-fold; we serve as a connector with community-based health organizations across the country and also as a representative in Washington, D.C., that can amplify the voices of AAs and NHPIs at a national level. It is challenging, yet fulfilling, to be able to do this work on behalf of communities across the country like the close-knit Indian community I grew up in.

With the expansion of health care through the Affordable Care Act, we have focused much of our efforts on addressing the language and cultural barriers that AAs and NHPIs face when trying to enroll in health coverage. As a part of Action for Health Justice (AHJ), a coalition of over 70 community health centers and community based organizations, we helped provided outreach, education, and enrollment assistance services to almost 850,000 AAs and NHPIs in 22 states to help them enroll in health insurance coverage through Medicaid and the Health Insurance Marketplaces.

In looking forward to the third open enrollment, we have been able to identify both best practices and the biggest challenges with outreach. It comes as no surprise that one of main barriers to health coverage for many is immigration status. Many AAPI families have mixed status and fear that enrolling one person in health coverage will jeopardize the immigration status of another family member. While this is not possible, this situation draws up deep emotions that prevent many families from enrolling in health coverage.

It’s the same fears and feelings of shame and guilt that pose barriers for young AAs and NHPIs who try to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While many eligible young people have applied for the program, application rates have been lower for Asian and Pacific Islander countries. For example, young people from Korea, Philippines, China, and India apply at significantly lower rates than other countries even though they have large populations of eligible people.

Using the lessons learned from AHJ’s health enrollment outreach, we published a report applying best practices to increase AAPI applications for DACA. The report looks at barriers that AAPIs face when applying for the program and discusses how strategies used to increase health enrollment are applicable toward language and cultural barriers. For example, community interviews made clear that having an undocumented family member creates feelings of shame and guilt, as if they were “lawbreakers” in the community. This makes applying DACA tricky for young family members because some young people did not know they had an undocumented parent or because the family will fear negative repercussions from the application. Using best practices from health enrollment, AHJ recommends that community organizations work together to engage AAPI communities and provide one-on-one assistance to assuage fears and concerns.

Organizations and coalitions like AHJ are doing invaluable work all over the country to connect communities to the help they need, whether it be health insurance or applying for DACA. As immigration status continues to be a barrier to health care, it is essential that we work with immigrants and their families to help them access care and other services.

Personal Spotlights

Cultural Identity and Language Barriers: My Story as an Immigrant

by Tu My To

My parents and I arrived in the United States on October 1994, all our possessions neatly packed in several boxes and suitcases. Armed with plenty of wool coats for the ‘cold’ American (i.e. Los Angeles) climate and a few English words (Yes, No, and Thank you), our family was ready to start anew in a country we knew so little about. As my mom often told me in the years afterwards, my parents made the move because of the opportunities the United States had to offer, educational opportunities that would have been nonexistent had our family decided to stay in Vietnam. Thus, it was in hopes of a better life and a brighter future that my parents packed up our lives and settled in Monterey Park, California.

My parents and me on the road, riding extremely safely on our family scooter.

My parents and me on the road, riding extremely safely on our family scooter.

The city we decided to call home is known for its large Chinese population and its plethora of delicious Asian restaurants, but to me it was where I had gone to school, where I’d shopped for groceries with my parents, where I hung out with friends, with neighborhoods I played in and streets I had driven through. It was a city where stores had Chinese or Vietnamese words written in the front in addition to English letters and where people would greet you in Chinese because, more often than not, you’d understand what they’re saying. It was within this community that I grew up, surrounded by people whose backgrounds were similar to mine and who spoke the same languages I did.

Most of the classmates I had gone to school with also had parents who immigrated to the US, and many of us grew up in households where English was rarely, if ever, spoken at home. Our community molded itself to the ethnic identities of its occupants. School notices were sent home in English, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish. Many of my classes had one or two teacher’s aides who spoke a second language. Our elementary school monthly calendars were marked with important dates that included Christmas, Lunar New Year, and Cinco de Mayo. It was the norm, rather than the exception, that the playground during recess and lunch breaks was punctuated by conversations in languages other than English.

Heading home from school, fully decked in 90s attire.

Heading home from school, fully decked in 90s attire.

Yet, many things were still difficult for my non-English speaking parents. As I spoke to the key informants for our BRAVE study, I realized that a lot of my experiences are reflected in the stories that they tell me. In particular, as the first English-speaker in the family, we often act as the spokesperson for our parents. Open house at school often meant acting as the translator for my teachers and parents. Mail at home had to be reviewed and translated. Some things I took for granted were often obstacles to my parents. How can you select the option for Chinese or Vietnamese in automated telephone menus if you cannot understand the English instructions for doing so? How do you ask questions in an unfamiliar setting if you are unable to interact with those around you?

Back then, my parents had few outlets for news or resources in Vietnamese. Today, there are plenty of over-the-air TV channels, several radio stations, a good selection of newspapers, along with numerous websites catered to many languages. However, when I was growing up, many of this did not existed. In the mid 90s, the only TV program my parents had was a fuzzy thirty-minute news segment that occurred every weekday. Over the years, the amount of resources available has grown considerably. As our key informants have pointed out, the ethnic media is one outlet immigrants often look towards to be more informed about their health, their community, and the resources available to them. While more still needs to be done, it is nevertheless exciting to see efforts being made to include everyone in the conversation.

As the years pass, I find that a lot of the memories of my initial years in the United States are fading. I remember that things were difficult, and sometimes they still are, and that adjusting to a new country was much easier for a young girl than for her parents. I also remember the teachers I've had, whose patience and guidance were always at hand. As an immigrant, there are a lot of habits and traditions that I grew up with that are still part of my life today, and I look upon these traits with pride because they are part of who I am. However, I also find that I am creating my own story, one that merges the echoes of the past, the experiences of both me and my parents’, with the present and future. It is important that we all listen to one another and share our stories because it is our histories and our experiences that shape our communities and mold us into who we are today. 

Personal Spotlights

Reflecting on My Immigrant Heritage

by Jason Melo

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, being a half-Asian/half-white kid isn’t the strangest thing in the world but it definitely makes you think a bit about your identity. My mother comes from a Filipino heritage and my father comes from an Azorean Portuguese one. What do these heritages have in common? Hailing from island regions, strong Catholic traditions, and an instinct to constantly feed their grandchildren. And the differences? Simply put; language, food, and appearance. When you mix these two you get a Filipino-Portuguese-American who speaks basic Portuguese, almost no Tagalog, has no fear of strange foods, and gets mistaken for Latino more than anything else. Many cultures intersect in my identity and I truly cherish the stories of my ancestors because I would know so much less about myself without them.

Having the opportunity to work on the BRAVE study with Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants has made me think especially of my maternal side, starting with my grandmother, Margarita Cereñado Salom, born February 26th, 1921. My grandmother came from a ruling, upper-class family in the Philippines who lost everything during the Japanese occupation. As a child, I remember being told that fleeing from her home was not something grandma wanted to talk about. From what relatives have told me, she saw her town burned, her brother killed, and had to bribe people with everything she had to reach safety. Eventually, my grandmother made it to the territory of Hawaii with very little to her name. In America, her life was very different. She was forced from a comfortable life in the Philippines in a time where being an ethnic migrant in America was as much of a disadvantage as ever. She lost her wealth and family when she immigrated yet one thing I remember about my grandmother was that she always had a refined, almost regal presence to her. My mom always says it’s because she was raised that way before the war. I’ve always been captivated by this idea that her demeanor was a remnant of her past life in the Philippines.

My maternal grandparents, circa 1940s

My maternal grandparents, circa 1940s

Anyway, going forward in time, my grandmother married Higino Salom, a merchant marine and my grandfather, after WWII. My grandfather’s life and mine never crossed but I’ve been told we share the same passion to travel the world. (And the same eyebrows!) My grandfather spent much of his time at sea with the merchant marines and my grandmother was left to work and raise the children. Not only did she have my mom and uncle to worry about; but she worked to bring her sisters’ children to the United States and taking care of them became part of her responsibility too. Margarita was also very involved in the local Filipino community; organizing events, working at church functions, and cooking for these events. Her community and her family were important to her and by the time I came around you could see she was a true matriarch to our family and in the Filipino community.

Me as a toddler, being fed by my maternal grandmother

Me as a toddler, being fed by my maternal grandmother

Additionally, working on the BRAVE study has often made me think of my mother’s experiences as a Filipino-American. After Hawaii, my grandparents moved to Sunnyvale, California in the South Bay where my mother, Josephine was born. The city of Sunnyvale may be a culturally diverse part of Silicon Valley today, but when my mom was growing up it was almost totally Caucasian. According to her, there were only ten Filipinos in her whole high school and they all called each other “cousin.” I’ve heard about racism towards Filipinos that my relatives experienced at the time but this wasn’t something that my mom ever let hold her back. One of my favorite stories from her high school years is managing to win the election to be head song girl on the cheer squad even though she was such a minority at the time. If you look at the picture of the team you’ll see my Filipino mom surrounded by a dozen blonde girls.

My grandmother’s passion for the Filipino community was not lost on my mother and in her adult years, she and my god-father lobbied to get veteran’s benefits for Filipinos who fought under the American flag during WWII. During the war, the Philippines was still part of the United States and Filipinos serving during the war were fighting for the United States; my grandfather included. Because the Philippines gained independence following WWII, these veterans did not receive benefits. My mom saw this as an injustice to Filipinos and became politically active to expand benefits to these veterans. She and my god-father succeeded in getting this legislation passed and it’s always been an inspirational story for me. I think it’s a great example of how working together and raising voices can bring change to one’s community. 

Recently, I was reminded at my grandmother’s funeral how important it was to her that we grandchildren never forget our heritage. As a multi-ethnic student in primarily Caucasian elementary and high schools I sometimes brushed off being Filipino as something that just made me stand out and not necessarily in a good way. In more recent years I’ve really come to reflect on how important my multiple heritages are to who I am. I am a proud descendent of immigrants. I am a proud Filipino-American. I want to help my community the same way my grandmother and my mother have before me and I think working on the BRAVE Study team has given me an amazing opportunity to do this, in my own way, as a public health student. This is just a piece of my family’s immigrant story and I know there are many more voices that need to be heard. The BRAVE Study wants to hear these voices so that we can ultimately bring about action that will address the needs of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. 

Personal Spotlights

Around the World in Four Generations: Speak Up, Share Your Story

by May Sudhinaraset

Growing up in Long Beach, California, I was raised in a very Caucasian neighborhood. As a descendant of Thai/Chinese ethnicities, I felt very different from the other kids. There was the constant experience of having kids in my class make fun of my rather long, Thai last name (Sudhinaraset or “Soon-to-be-a-horse-head”); having parents that worked all the time; and not having my grandparents around because they lived in Thailand (“Bring your Grandparent to School” day was particularly hard). I was a quiet, reserved child, never really speaking up in class.

The Sudhinaraset Family and Neighborhood Kids in Thailand 1960.

The Sudhinaraset Family and Neighborhood Kids in Thailand 1960.

When I was 13 years old, my seventh-grade history teacher had us do a class project on family histories. She wanted each of us to produce one cloth piece with depictions of where we came from, with the idea that each of these pieces of square cloths would be interwoven into a class quilt. I felt nervous about doing this project, hyper-aware that my past was different from others.

This project, however, gave me a chance, at a relatively young age, to ask my mother about our family and to see how this story progressed through my mother’s eyes –it gave me a chance to understand the story of our family through my mother’s narrative and how each generation linked to the other. I learned that my Indonesian great-grandmother was living in China at the time of her death. Living as a second wife and faced with political persecution during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, she had seven children before taking her own life. My grandmother migrated from China to Thailand at a young age, where my mother was born and raised and met my father while working with his family. My parents immigrated to Queens, New York when my mother was just 26 years old. Like many others, she moved to the US for better job opportunities, working for a number of years as a seamstress before settling in California and raising my three sisters and me. When I shared all of this with the other students, I was nervous –my story was unlike any one else’s in my class.

The Sudhinaraset Family, 1980s

The Sudhinaraset Family, 1980s

My story spanned four generations of strong, immigrant women, traversing four countries and two continents –following the ups and downs of migrant stories.

It was an important activity in my childhood. My teacher really appreciated the story; my classmates were interested and excited to hear more, including wanting to taste my family’s secret Hainanese chicken-and-rice recipe, which my mom brought to class to share with everyone. From that point on, I felt more understood and accepted. My classmates stopped making fun of my last name and started asking more questions about my unique heritage. I came to embrace my history and culture.

Looking back, I don’t think my 13-year old self realized how important it was to share my family story. I realize now how important it was, not only for myself, but for others in my class, including my teacher. Sharing stories-- whether through oral or written histories, photos, documentaries, or other means – can be a transformative process. Story-telling transcends past, present, and future, connects generations, helps us learn about our history to evolve and grow from past struggles, and helps us understand one another. 

The Sudhinaraset family, 1980s.

The Sudhinaraset family, 1980s.

There are others who might have similar stories; or completely different stories. From an Asian-American perspective, I find that the stories and voices of Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) have been left out of political discourse. More than ever, given discussions surrounding immigration reform, LGBTQ issues, health reform, women and gender equality discussions –the voices of APIs are needed. The ultimate goal of the BRAVE Study (Bridging community, Raising API Voices for Health Equity) is to share stories and raise collective action to better address the health needs of undocumented APIs who qualify for DACA. Undocumented youth are oftentimes hidden in the shadows and face significant health and educational challenges.

I invite you to share your story. Participate in this blog, sign up for this research study, and engage in your community.

May Sudhinaraset is currently Assistant Professor in Global Health Sciences and the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the Principal Investigator of the BRAVE Study and focuses on issues of global migration, health equity, and social determinants of health.