The search for my ethnic identity became most pronounced during my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley (Cal). Ironically, though Cal did have a very racially diverse student body, race differences surfaced in the form of ethnic specific organizations. As a person of color, it was expected that you found groups that best represented your identity. Predictably, I joined the Vietnamese Student Union and became very active. But I was still reminded on occasion that phenotypically, I stuck out.
Interestingly, I found myself in the beginning of the Mixed Race Movement, that eventually led to things such as a mixed race category in the census. I co-founded Multiracial Asian International Network (MAIN), a non-profit organization consisting of and for people of multi-ethnic Asian heritage. It was a social and political, support group based in Northern California, but had members from all over the United States and overseas, including Japan and France.
During this same time period, the U.S. was allowing Vietnamese Amerasians passage to the U.S. under the Amerasian Home Coming Act. As an advocate for this new immigrant group, I served as a representative from the Santa Clara County for Amerasians’ Special Needs Report Committee in the Department of Social Services. I also consulted on the 1989 Senate Bill 55, sponsored by Senator Art Torres. This bill called for extra funding to set up programs to help Amerasians in their adjustment period in California. It was passed in 1990.
As the number of Amerasians increased, so was their need to organize to connect with one another. To this end, I co-founded Vietnamese Amerasian Family (VAF) in 1990. VAF was a non-profit organization ran by and for Vietnamese Amerasians. It provided programs and events to help Amerasians build self-confidence and acclimate to U.S. society. VAF was the first program of its kind in the U.S. and served as model for other Amerasian self-help groups nationally. As a co-founder I regularly conducted outreach and spoke publicly on Amerasian issues.
My work as a mixed raced activist eventually took a turn towards academic writing. My contribution resulted in my first publication as an undergraduate, “From Dust to Gold: The Vietnamese Amerasian Experience,” in the seminal mixed race text, Racially Mixed People in America. I followed this article up with, “Doing the Mixed Race Dance: A Multiracial Vietnamese American Class Typology,” where I discussed ways in which mixed race Vietnamese negotiate their social standing within the Vietnamese American community. I am currently writing a chapter discussing Amerasian history, and issues that face new generations of Amerasians in the U.S. for the text, Vietnamese in America.
Decades after the Mixed Race Movement, I can say with confidence that many of our goals were met. It was my personal commitment during to advance understanding of multiracial experiences through academic writings. Decades later, I am glad to report I have kept this important promise. I am still in touch with many of my comrades in the cause and am proud to announce that they too achieved their aim. Our mixed race communities are better for their efforts.