| [Cultural Groups & Women]
From 1990-1992, Lisa Falk and Uaporn Ang Robinson documented the life stories of Southeast Asian American women in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The project was formulated using the techniques of social history, oral history, anthropology, folklore and documentary photography. Questions of identity and society, roles and expectations, cultural traditions and values in the Cambodian, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese communities in the Washington DC metropolitan area are examined. Women were interviewed about their lives, in particular about their dual identities as Southeast Asians and Americans and their multiple roles as professionals, wives, mothers, daughters, tradition bearers and community leaders. Each woman was photographed in her professional as well as personal, and often community, roles. Community events, such as New Year’s celebrations, were also photographed.
An advisory committee of community representatives and humanities specialists helped formulate project goals and objectives and helped to identify grant sources and women to interview. Eighteen women were interviewed and photographed. Photographs of community cultural events augment the women’s stories. The interviews were transcribed and as Falk worked through the transcriptions, she created follow-up questions for clarification of points in the interviews. She also began writing brief biographies for each woman. Falk and Robinson created a PowerPoint/slideshow to share the work. This presentation introduces the women through brief descriptions, quotes and photographs.
Robinson and Falk wrote grants and secured funding to underwrite the documentation work. They are still seeking funds to do follow-up documentation and to create a traveling exhibition and book of the work.
The women presented in the project are successfully balancing their multiple roles and identities. These women are doers and through their work they reach out to others beyond their own community. They serve as positive role models for the younger generation of Southeast Asian Americans, for all children of immigrants and for other women.
One of the women interviewed, Phouratsmy Naughton, remarked, “The American community has a lot of communities making America. And even though we’re new, only fifteen years since the refugees started coming in, we are a part of the American community. America, as a whole, each community should know the other community, should know who else is around you in order to work together.” Falk and Robinson hope that this project will aid these women in their ambassadorial roles.
Statement of Importance
In Southeast Asian cultures, women are the tradition bearers. In the United States, they continue to function in this capacity, passing their cultural heritage onto their families. But here, they must also transmit those skills necessary to adjust to the American way. For the majority of Southeast Asian refugee and immigrant women, this responsibility forces them to consider whether their life should be inside a home or in a workplace. Many women find themselves taking on multiple roles.
This project explores the complex lives of immigrant women from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. It looks at their transition from counties impacted by war to living in America. It examines how they take on new roles while maintaining links to their cultures, and how they are passing on their cultural values and traditions to a new generation of hyphenated Asian-Americans. The featured women serve as role models for young Asian girls, and as successful examples to new immigrants coming to America from other war-torn countries. Their stories provide scholars, students, and interested citizens a way to understand this part of American history and how people maintain a sense of cultural identity as they change and adapt to new situations.
Funds are still needed to complete and disseminate this documentation project. Funds need to be raised to:
If you are interested in supporting this work, call 520-626-2973
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