Family history project allows students to dig up roots and share stories
Roots, or Cội Nguồn, Southeast Asian Family History Project, aims to provide a means for Southeast Asian students to learn about their familial roots and diversify the Southeast Asian narrative. (Sakshi Joglekar/Daily Bruin)
Members of the Southeast Asian campus community are digging into their roots.
The Roots, or Cội Nguồn, Southeast Asian Family History Project allows students to explore their family trees. Students interview relatives about their life stories then share those stories as videos or written pieces on the project’s website.
The 2019-2020 Vietnamese Student Union President Joseph Nguyen and 2019-2020 VSU Public Relations Coordinators Hope Pham and Thuy-Anh Bui started the project to compel students to document their family members’ stories, some of which had long gone untold.
Nguyen, a recent UCLA graduate, said he wanted the project to paint a more diverse picture of the Southeast Asian American experience.
“The Southeast Asian identity is more than just ‘child of refugees” and more than just ‘child of immigrants,’” he said. “We have a whole set of experiences.”
Bui said her experiences at the Southeast Asian Student Admit Weekend gave her a new perspective on her heritage: attendees were encouraged to explore their background and cultural identity in a way they never had before, she said.
She wanted other students to discover that perspective through Roots.
“Through grade school and high school you’re just focused on getting into a good college and making your parents proud, but not really knowing why we’re motivated and what has shaped us up until then,” said Bui, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
As the eldest child in her family, Grace Yang said she always felt pressured by her mother to succeed. Roots gave Yang, a recent human biology and society graduate, a chance to bond with her mother in a new way.
Yang’s mother, Janice Lor, was born in Laos, grew up in Thailand and immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. The simple stories her mother had never told her before were a highlight of their conversations together, Yang said.
“She told me funny stories of her running around with her siblings,” Yang said. “And then times when … she was just kind of dumb, so she would fall and get hurt and things like that.”
They also discussed her mother’s faith. Her mother married a Christian man after she graduated high school. Yang said her mother had never learned about the concept of a single god — her family practiced shamanism, a polytheistic religion — but she had always believed in a central being. So when Yang’s father exposed Lor to Christianity for the first time, she converted, shortly after leaving home.
Hearing her mother’s story and talking about things like dating and religion made her feel closer to her mother, Yang said.
Nguyễn-võ Thu-hương, a professor of Asian American studies and Asian languages and cultures, said Roots can serve another purpose: as a way for younger generations to process the hardships endured by their family members.
“It allows the second generation to be able to imagine and articulate the kind of pain and trauma that had been passed on to them,” she said.
Jason Muljadi, a fourth-year neuroscience student, wrote about his mother’s experiences to draw more attention to the challenges faced by many Indonesian American immigrants.
Muljadi’s mother, Liliana Lioe, was born in Indonesia. She emigrated to the United States after the May 1998 riots in Indonesia forced her entire family to lock down at home. During the riots, mobs targeted people of Chinese descent, killing more than 1,000 people and sexually assaulting at least 87 women.
After moving to the U.S., Lioe worked two jobs to keep afloat.
“She was like the strongest person ever,” Muljadi said. “I tried to picture myself in that situation. And I don’t think I would have handled it as well as her.”
Not many people are aware of the 1998 riots, Muljadi said. By sharing his entry, Muljadi hopes he can shine a light on aspects of the Indonesian American experience that might not be well-known. He found another way to serve his community, he said.
Sharing can be therapeutic for both generations, Muljadi said.
“It makes you feel whole, embracing your sense of identity,” he said.