Why I came back to Southern California

by | Dec 13, 2022

Over the last five years as an organizer with APEN, I’ve worked tirelessly to fight for justice for California’s Asian immigrant and refugee communities. At the heart of my work have always been three principles: community, love, and liberation.

This year, I was honored to be given a new opportunity to put these principles into practice. I stepped into a new role as APEN’s first Lead Organizer in Los Angeles.

Over the years, I have had many homes. My parents escaped the Cambodian genocide in the 1980’s. And I was born on a straw mat in a refugee camp in Thailand, my first home. I spent my early life in the refugee camp, surrounded by other families and friends waiting for a new home. Our family was granted political asylum in the US and we eventually settled in the Bay Area. I spent my formative years in the East Bay before attending college at UCLA.

It was in Southern California where I learned to organize, as a youth organizer in Long Beach. During my time as an organizer in Long Beach, I organized Asian immigrant and refugee communities to create change in our community. And it is to Southern California that I am now returning, to raise my daughter, plant my roots and to lead APEN on this next step of our journey.

APEN is launching our new organizing project in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County: cities and neighborhoods like Wilmington, San Pedro, Carson and Torrance.

The South Bay is a unique region. It is home to diverse working-class communities, from the indigenous people who have lived there since before colonization to the immigrant and refugee communities who can trace our roots back to homelands across the world.

It also faces unique challenges. The South Bay has the highest concentration of oil refineries in all of California, with five refineries in Wilmington alone, in addition to the country’s largest trading port and third-largest oil field. Flaring and pollution are making people sick with asthma, heart disease and cancer, including many people with the fewest resources to access medical care.

These challenges are familiar to communities like Richmond, where APEN has organized near the Chevron refinery for three decades.

The region also has a long, deep history of community organizing. In Richmond and Oakland, we have learned that we are strongest when we can organize in coalition with other working-class communities of color – and that is exactly what we plan on doing in LA.

Despite these familiar challenges, the South Bay has a unique community, with its own history, hopes and dreams. So our first step will be listening. All year, our team have been hitting the streets of the South Bay to knock on doors, call phones, and engage the community.

A group of canvassers in green shirts stand in a circle in a parking lot in Los Angeles

Seng So with canvassers hitting the streets in Los Angeles this year.

We haven’t been trying to turn people out for a campaign. Instead, we’ve been asking basic questions: What do you and your family care about? What do you want to see change in your community?

These are the building blocks of grassroots organizing. This is where the work starts. This is how APEN grew our roots in the Bay – and it is how we are going to build power in LA.

My dream is that in the coming years we will be able to rent an office, hire more organizers, and train our first member leaders in Los Angeles.

But we can’t do it on our own. We need your help. We need to raise $70,000 by the end of the year to fund our organizing in Los Angeles in 2023. In the last few weeks, we’ve raised about $16,000 from donors like you.

Will you donate by the end of the year to help make that dream a reality?