Preserving Stories of the Local SE Asian Community

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For many in the Southeast Asian community, there is a culture of silence regarding the trauma suffered during the period of war and genocide.  For that reason and many others, it is important that the experiences of the first wave of Southeast Asian refugees to Lowell be recorded and shared with the younger generations.  The Southeast Asian Digital Archive (SEADA) project at UMass Lowell is an exciting new resource to make sure these stories are preserved.

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Sue Kim and Phitsamay Uy interviewed by LTC

On Tuesday, December 4th, UMass Lowell officially launched SEADA with a reception in the mezzanine of O’Leary Library.

The Southeast Asian Digital Archive is a community-based archive documenting the diverse histories of Southeast Asian Americans in the Lowell, Mass., region. This project is a partnership between the UMass Lowell Center for Asian American Studies, the UMass Lowell Libraries, and Southeast Asian American communities.

Founded in 2017, the SEADA seeks to be build a lasting, user-friendly online resource for community members, researchers, students, teachers, and others. The materials in the collections deal with a wide range of issues, including refugee resettlement, political participation, cultural preservation, and community development.

The project came about thanks to a $239,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities in 2017 written by Professors Sue Kim and Phitsamay Uy, co-directors of UMass Lowell’s Center for Asian American Studies.  An additional $28,000 Creative Economy Fund grant from the UMass president’s office will help make the archive publicly accessible, especially to students, through lessons, teacher trainings, community workshops and an updated exhibit at the Lowell National Historical Park.

A professional archivist, Mee Xiong was hired to lead the effort in digitizing and organizing thousands of documents, videos, audio files, newspapers, posters and photos so that they are searchable online and free to the public. The community-based project also incorporated support from students, library staff, a community advisory board and Southeast Asian and refugee organizations.

Several speakers from the university, city, and the local community also participated in the program to celebrate the launch of the new web-based site, including  Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, Provost Michael Vayda, Mayor William Samaras, Vice Mayor Vesna Nuon, and Angkor Dance Troupe co-founder Tim Thou.

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Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney

Chancellor Moloney served as director of the Indochinese Refugees Foundation for a year in the 1980s, where she helped newcomers to Lowell find housing, food, clothing, school placements, health care and translators.

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Mayor William Samaras

Mayor Samaras also spoke of his experience working at Lowell High School under then-headmaster Peter S. Stamas while the first wave of Southeast Asian refugees arrived in the city.

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City Councilor Vesna Nuon

Lowell City Council vice mayor, Vesna Nuon spoke about his own experience as a refugee in stressing the importance of this project.

One of the major collections within SEADA is the archives of the Angkor Dance Troupe, featuring photos and documents from their thirty plus years in Lowell.

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Angkor Dance Troupe co-founder Tim Thou

Tim Thou, who founded the troupe spoke about a conversation he had with City Historian Emeritus Mehmed Ali a few years back about digitizing the three decades’ worth of files which had been stored at his home.  Now those files are all preserved as part of the SEADA.  Several dancers and staff from the troupe were in attendance for the launch event.

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Emaly Horn and Tim Thou

The archive itself is a living and ongoing project that will continue to be updated as more materials are digitized.

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Chrisna Khuon and Professor Bob Forrant

Members of the project’s advisory board include Linda Chan Flynn, Lowell Community Health Center, Sheila Kirschbaum, Director, Tsongas Industrial History Center, Pon Nokham, Attorney at Law, Sovanna Pouv, Executive Director, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Laurel Racine, Chief of Cultural Resources at Lowell National Historical Park, Sopheap Theam, producer of “Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey”, and Blong Xiong, former Vice President of the Lao Mutual Assistance Association.

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Advisory Board and Project Leaders

For more on the launch event please visit these articles by UMass Lowell, the Lowell Sun,  and view this video courtesy of LTC Lowell. More photos from the event can be found below:

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