Q&A with NCAPA Chair Quyen Dinh

We are excited to welcome Quyen Dinh, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Center, as the first Southeast Asian American chair of NCAPA. Learn more about her in our Q&A.

20140904_301_web_0.jpgDescribe your involvement with NCAPA up to this point.  NCAPA and I have grown together in the past 4 years, with my first experience in 2011 coming into SEARAC as our Education Policy Advocate and co-chairing the NCAPA education committee with Monica Thammarath at APALA/NEA.  Through both SEARAC and NCAPA, I am proud of launching the NCAPA education committee's first-ever campaign in 2012 focused on getting over 700 comments from students, parents, and organizations around the country to the U.S. Department of Education on the need to disaggregate data, and seeing the growth of this campaign in 2014 when we successfully saw the introduction of the first-ever legislation that would disaggregate data for AAPI students at the K-12 level with our "All Students Count" Campaign.  Today, I am honored to have transitioned that work to Rita Pin Ahrens, SEARAC's Director of Education Policy, who has expanded this momentum to see our data disaggregation legislation be introduced in both the House and Senate in last year's re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  I am honored to serve as NCAPA's chair for this term to continue building our community's collective legacy. 

What is your top goal as the new chair of NCAPA?  My top goal as the new chair of NCAPA is to see a policy win, defined by a collective action that results in greater outcomes for our communities than could have been possible had we gone into our advocacy work alone.  As NCAPA members we come into this work with both our specific communities and constituencies in mind, and also a vision to uplift and contribute to a larger AAPI community and narrative that is inclusive of but beyond our own communities too.  This collective action to me is the realization of that larger vision.

What's been your proudest accomplishment at SEARAC?  In my first year as Executive Director in 2014, we decided to host our first-ever community rally with the support of our participants from our annual Leadership and Advocacy Training (LAT).  In addition to our 50 LAT leaders, we were joined by 50 youth and parents from the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (CAGP) to rally around the introduction of the All Students Count Act.  After the rally, I accompanied some of the youth to one of the Senate office buildings to use the restroom.   As the students watched Hill staffers hustle down the hallway in their suits and ties, one young woman asked, "What do people do in here?"  I shared with her that "This is where we make laws."  Her jaw dropped wide open.  Seeing her surprised face, I then asked her, "Did you know that you were part of trying to make a law today?"  Her eyes grew wide and she nodded enthusiastically with a smile that ran from ear-to-ear.  On my hardest days, I think of that young student and how we created space in D.C. for this young student to be part of exercising her self-determination in creating her home and legacy in America.

It's been 40 years of the Southeast Asian American experience. What's your personal story and how has it shaped you as a leader today?  I am proud to be SEARAC's first second-generation Executive Director - born in New Orleans, LA and raised throughout our country - from Orange County, CA to Houston, TX, Kahalu'u, HI, and San Jose, CA where most of my family now resides.  My leadership journey began as a high school senior on a trip to Washington, DC where my only goal was to the see Vietnam War Memorial.  When I got to the memorial, I was shocked to be met with feelings of frustration, betrayal, and isolation, when I realized that there were only American names on the wall, and not the ones of the Vietnamese men, women, and children who lost their lives due to this war.  This moment of marginalization sparked my journey to find my cultural, political, and historical identity as Vietnamese American.  This passion led me through my student organizing days at UC Berkeley where I worked with REACH! our AAPI student resource and retention center, to my work post-graduation at the International Children Assistance Network (ICAN) In San Jose, CA where I organized Vietnamese parents and grandparents, to my masters degree in public policy out of frustration at my community's constant exclusion from the policy making process, to today being SEARAC's Executive Director and leading our work with the hopes of growing us to to be an advocacy power house driven by strong communities.  

Is there a fun or interesting fact people may not know about you? I am getting married in October 2016 to the love of my life!  

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