Finding My Voice

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Luke Kertcher, COL ’19

When I first became interested in Asian American advocacy and activism, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) stood out to me as an organization that strives to represent my community on a national scale. It was both surprising and deeply heartening to see an organization actively supporting and advocating for those who identify with the Southeast Asian political identity, a minority community within the broader Asian American label. As a community facing unique issues owing to our origins in the United States as refugees and descendants of refugees from the conflicts in Southeast Asia during the 20th century, the Southeast Asian American community is made invisible for not conforming to the stereotype of Asian Americans as high achieving and wealthy. While our community struggles with unjust detentions and deportations, achievement and wealth gaps, health disparities, and an educational system that fails to account for our needs, SEARAC tirelessly advocates for equitable policy solutions.

Being able to intern with SEARAC with the support of Career Services was an amazing opportunity that allowed me to bridge my personal, academic, and professional interests. By living and working in Washington, DC, I was able to get a feel for the inner workings of the nonprofit and policy advocacy fields through the specific lens of Asian American communities. As their first field and outreach intern, I had the opportunity to help build an infrastructure for communicating with community partners around the country, shaping the internship program, and conducting national campaigns. For example, I worked with SEARAC’s director of field and outreach to develop a national campaign in opposition to the Department of Commerce’s proposal to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Together, we drafted a community action alert and reached out to community partners, collecting more than 850 individual and 50 organizational comments against the citizenship question and in support of disaggregated racial and ethnic data to make our communities more visible.

My most meaningful experience with SEARAC was finding my voice and empowerment as a Vietnamese and Southeast Asian American. As a participant in their annual Leadership and Advocacy Training, I learned how to advocate for my community on Capitol Hill by melding my personal experiences with policy and practice and visiting multiple Congressional offices on behalf of our Southeast Asian American community. I even found my voice in writing, publishing a personal article on SEARAC’s blog about my motivations for working in the community and an op-ed through PIVOT – The Progressive Vietnamese American Organization in defense of affirmative action policies in college admission processes.

Interning with SEARAC was truly a privilege and I’m so grateful to have been able to be in community with people like me, become a part of a caring and supportive team of staff members, and contribute my skills to their valuable work.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.