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Decades On, Southeast Asians Struggle in US

The two-day conference, organized by the National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese.
The two-day conference, organized by the National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese.
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Men KimsengVOA Khmer

Researchers and educators from Southeast Asian communities in the US met over the weekend to discuss the ongoing challenges immigrants from the region face in America.

Cambodian-Americans face social, cultural and economic difficulties, along with similar communities from Laos and Vietnam.

The two-day conference, organized by the National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese, brought together 35 years of research and was sponsored for the first time by the National Education Association.

“We have lived here for 35 years and have been making our demands every ten years, five years, or yearly, but our voices have not been heard,” NAFEA President Chhany Sak-Humpry told VOA Khmer.

That's because there is a perception in the US that Asian-American students don't need help, said Bouy Te, director of the NEA's quality schools program. “Actually, Asian-American students don't do well. They have high rates of drop out and low access to higher education.”

The annual NAFEA meeting, which reviewed Southeast Asian education from kindergarten through grade 12, is a good chance to remind policymakers the needs of such students in schools, budgeting and curriculum, Bouy Te said.

Although the conference included a number of Cambodian-Americans with advanced degrees, the majority lag behind.

Cultural and language barriers, added to family problems and poverty, can lead to low self-esteem, said Nou Leakhena, a professor of sociology at California State University in Long Beach.

“Some parents don't understand their children, especially those who were born here,” she said. “They cannot communicate with their children.”

Trauma from the Khmer Rouge is another problem, along with gambling, violence and neglect, she said.

“Therefore, children who grow up here feel abandoned,” she said. “They don't have money to go on to university or [other] higher educations.”

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