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Reflections from a Southeast Asian Archive intern January 29, 2015

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A guest post from intern Claire Cella, a MLIS graduate student at UT-Austin.

KGA-Claire

Claire accompanied Thuy at the Khmer Girls in Action headquarters, assessing and packing their organization records to bring back to UC Irvine for preservation.

 

I write this post from Austin, Texas with an air of sadness, sentiment and unfortunate sweat from the sweltering heat here. Although it’s been a few weeks since I left the Special Collections and Archives at the University of California, Irvine, I still feel profound gratitude for the truly exceptional experience — and weather! — I had this summer as an intern for Thuy Vo Dang in the Southeast Asian Archive.

A few years ago, I returned to the United States after a yearlong Fulbright English Teaching Assistant-ship in Thailand. My reason for returning was to pursue a graduate degree and the professional qualifications I would need in archival studies, in order to return to Southeast Asia to apply my new skills and expertise to a career in a region of the world that I had fallen in love with. I enrolled at the University of Texas’ School of Information in the spring semester of 2013. Alongside my studies, I have diligently tried to pursue opportunities that would unite my two rather divergent interests here in the United States. In the past, I have interned with the Chinese Culture Foundation in San Francisco, as well as volunteered for the Austin History Center’s Asian American Community Archives Program. However, my internship this summer with Thuy has proven to be the apex of my professional endeavors thus far. It not only inspirited me to continue my career ambitions to work with Asian and Asian American communities, but it also deepened my understanding of the nuances involved in community archiving, public outreach, regional history documentation and special collection development.

OCAPICA-Claire

Claire attended the Asian Americans Advancing Justice & Orange County Asian Pacific American Community Alliance demographics report launch in July 2014. From left: Thuy Vo Dang, Claire Cella, Anne Frank, and Julie Vo

 

Shadowing Thuy was a tremendous revelation for me, exposing me to the daily efforts required of a specialized archivist working with and within a specific ethnic community. By attending various community functions, events and meetings in the Asian American community alongside Thuy, I was introduced to a host of individuals who proved the power of collaboration and partnership in affecting change, encouraging unity and strengthening identity formation in ethnic communities. I was graciously given the opportunity to take part in various archival processes that I had only up until that time had the opportunity to study in journal articles — physical and digital accessioning, archival organization and processing, public outreach, networking and community trust building.

I also feel privileged to have been a small part of the collaborative book project, Vietnamese in Orange County, with the Vietnamese American Oral History Project. This involved setting up, planning and executing the event, “Collecting Memories, Preserving History,” as well as assisting with the organization of the book’s content via Canto Cumulus. It was an honor to work closely with and learn from Linda Vo and Tram Le, who were able to offer insight into the significant history, issues and present conditions of the Vietnamese community and the Little Saigon area. I now have an even greater awareness for the history of this specific ethnic community and a profound admiration for their contributions to Orange County in light of the conditions in which they achieved such success.

I feel fortunate to have been introduced to and interact with the Special Collections and Archives staff as well, including Audra Yun, Sara Seltzer, Steve MacLeod, Alex Bisio, Laura Uglean Jackson and Christine Kim. Their individual insight enhanced my knowledge of the various positions involved in a larger research institution, and certainly provided me with important things to consider for my own future career path and the types of positions, institutions and environments I could see myself working within very soon.

I strongly feel that by uniting my graduate archival research and skills with my interests in local Asian American communities, my internship under Thuy’s guidance has already taken position as a central facet to my academic and professional experience. It was an honor to be a part of the University of California, Irvine this summer, even if it was so short-lived. I look forward to reading about further developments at the Special Collections and Archives as well as the publication of Vietnamese in Orange County this fall. Hopefully, after I complete my graduate degree this fall, the future will hold more opportunity for me to collaborate and connect with the profound and powerful work being done here.

~Claire Cella

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