Trauma Transcends Generations for Refugees

Yvonne Kwan Yvonne Kwan poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

Assistant Professor Yvonne Kwan poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

Yvonne Kwan, a second-year assistant professor of Asian American studies in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, grew up in a working-class southern California city with a sizeable Latinx community. She said growing up, she learned little about Asian American history or culture during her K-12 education. It was not until she took an ethnic studies course in college that this first-generation Asian American began to feel connected to her cultural heritage. She changed her major from molecular biology to ethnic studies.

When she began dating a boyfriend who was Cambodian American, now her husband, she began to learn about Cambodian culture and the experience of refugees who lived through genocide to help her gain an understanding of her in-laws. But she also found a fertile area for research. Kwan’s scholarly work has provided enough insight to fill a book; she is in the process of finalizing a manuscript entitled, “Afterlives of Diaspora: Cambodian American Trauma and Memory.”

“Some children were born in refugee camps, but they are too young to remember,” Kwan said.

Her book posits that while social trauma may not be verbalized or articulated, children of survivors can still develop the capacity to both identify with and experience the pain of previous generations.

“The trauma of genocide can have an effect decades after the initial event,” she said.

Kwan’s research has found that while many of the Cambodian refugees who lived through the genocide do not talk about their experiences, the transmission of trauma happens through the silences and fragments within the family.

“For the older generation there is so much pain and a lot of these people are Buddhist so suffering is a part of life and they don’t see the point in rehashing it,” Kwan said. “The next generation is using anything they can find to fill the void. They read a ton of books or listen to other people (outside their families) tell the story.”

Since joining the SJSU campus in fall 2017, Kwan has been active on a task force that aims to provide more support for Asian Pacific Islander Desi (South Asian) American (APIDA) students. The task force, which includes faculty, staff and students, aims to determine what resources will be most helpful to students with these cultural identities as well as how to break down myths about the groups.

Both from her research and early work on the task force, Kwan said she sees a need to connect students to resources, whether it be helping them navigate academic advising or providing mental health services in a space where they feel safe.

“Students don’t always know what they need and sometimes they don’t know what to ask for,” Kwan said.

I-House Alumni Celebrate 40 Years

It was 1981. Bob Aron was a local student majoring in jazz. Yvette Young was from Panama and pursuing a degree in industrial management. For her, it made sense as a student from abroad to live at the International Center, now known as San Jose State University’s Phyllis Forward Simpkins International House. He ended up there as almost a fluke, when a friend who enrolled at SJSU the year before sent a dorm deposit to the wrong place and ended up with a spot reserved in the International Center instead of the residence halls.  Aron visited is friend and thought it looked like a nice place to live so he signed up, too.

“It is crazy to live with a bunch of people from different places,” Aron said. “I grew up in the ’80s in California (when it wasn’t as diverse). It was the first time I met someone from Bangladesh. You start to realize how little you know.”

Aron, ’85 Music, and Young, ’84 Industrial Management, started dating all those years ago after meeting in the university residence and 37 years later, they are married and retired from lucrative careers – Aron from Apple and Young from the mortgage industry. They both served on the planning committee for the 40th Anniversary Alumni Reunion hosted August 1-5 that brought more than 200 former residents and their family members back to San Jose.

“If more people in the world had an opportunity to live in the International House, the world would be a better place,” said Leann Cherkasky Makhni, director of the I-House. “When people from around the world live together under one roof, we start to know each other as individuals and make lifelong friendships.”

Located on 11th Street, the house is noticeable for both the many columns that adorn the front porch and the flags that fly from the rooftop. Those who have resided within its walls over the past 40 years endearingly call it I-House. Founded in 1978 by SJSU Alumni Alan and Phyllis Simpkins, the couple was actively involved in the development of the housing program and maintenance of the facility. They donated the building to the SJSU Research Foundation in 1997. Around 4,000 students have resided in the home in the four decades since it opened.

The reunion began with a kick-off reception and alumni music program; a trip to the redwoods and steam train, complete with a beach bonfire and s’mores in Santa Cruz; bowling on campus, a barbecue at I-House and a pub crawl; a 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner where the Simpkins’ grandson Mike Bordoni spoke about his grandparents’ legacy; and farewell brunch to say goodbye at the end of the five day event.

Whether they stayed for one semester, or lived there while completing an undergraduate or graduate degree, all the alumni gathered for a recent afternoon of bowling at the Diaz Compean Student Union recall their time fondly, and for some, like Aron and Young, their experience changed the course of their lives.

Young recalled the day and weekend trips she and her fellow students took to San Francisco and Yosemite.

“Those are still very fond memories,” she said, mentioning a hike in Yosemite when the hikers were not equipped with enough water or the right shoes. “It was very memorable and I did things I’d never done before.”

The pair kept in touch with a core group through the years, and reconnected with more people from I-House on social media.

“Facebook came along and it got easier,” he said. “I like watching other people here who haven’t seen each other in years and its fun watching people from the different eras.”

Stijn Van Den Broek is one of those more recent residents. He visited SJSU for one semester as a foreign exchange student in fall 2014 from the Netherlands. A week in, he and the other residents went to Santa Cruz for a bonfire. He started talking with a German girl Michaela Fuhlert who complained about how noisy the people were in the room next door. It turned out to be Van Den Broek’s room. The two started dating immediately and got engaged the day of the gala at the beach where they had their first conversation. They currently live in Germany where Fuhlert is beginning a teaching career and Van Den Broek is pursuing a master’s degree in marketing communication.

For Fuhlert living in I-House was an adjustment not only to a new culture, but to living with a roommate.

“In Germany, you don’t have roommates at university,” she said, noting that the study abroad experience helped her mature. “You get more confident in handling things and it makes you grow up.”

The alumni who attended travel from as close by as San Jose to as far away as China, some with spouses and families in tow. At least 40 countries were represented at the reunion, with alumni traveling from more than 20 countries to be back at SJSU.

Hiroki Moriomoto attended SJSU in 2013-14 as a Teaching English as a Second Language student. He served as a resident advisor in I-House where he also made many friends.

“It was exciting to meet people from all over the world,” he said. “I’ve had the chance to travel with friends in Taiwan and Italy.”

Eldita Tarani, ’18 MA, came to SJSU from Kosovo in 2014 as a Fulbright Scholar in research and experimental psychology. She selected the I-House because she thought it would be a good experience.

“I-House is like a little family,” she said. “The best part of it is the diversity. It offers a family in a foreign land for strangers who have never been here before.”

She said while many of the other residents were younger than she was, she still managed to connect with many of them.

Many of the students credit Makhni with creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

“Leann has been running the house for the last 25 years and she does such a great job of maintaining the feeling of a home,” Aron said. “Everyone feels that way.”

“If more people in the world had an opportunity to live in the International House, the world would be a better place,” Makhni said. “When people from around the world live together under one roof, we start to know each other as individuals and make lifelong friendships.”

#ImmigrantHeritageMonth: ‘For a Better Life’

Floriberta Sario

Floriberta Sario

By Floriberta Sario

Hello everyone, my name is Floriberta Sario Perez, but I prefer Flor. I am currently a third-year student at San Jose State University pursing a degree in Business, Management Information Systems with a graduation date anticipated by the Spring of 2021. I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1998 and was the third child of Leonor and Gilberto Sario, as my older siblings Elizabeth and Rafael were already in the picture. Poverty consumed us all and my father made the hard decision to immigrate to the United States. At the time my father decided to leave, I was two and a half months old, but my mother told me how they had to splurge on one corn cob (corn for us was a luxury) and split half between my brother and sister to distract them before my father took off to an unknown destiny. The plan failed and my brother quickly found himself forgetting the corn and clinging to the bottom of my father’s jeans in an attempt to keep him from leaving.

There was no other choice though “porque la hambre es canija (because going hungry is hard).” My mother joined my father only a year after he initially left. They both worked in the fields and saved the little they could so they could eventually bring my siblings and me to the land of opportunities. They had decided to wait until they could afford to give us all the luxuries we couldn’t even begin to dream of. But like any mother would, my mom found it hard to be without us so in 2001 my two older siblings and I were finally reunited with our parents and we were a family once again (regardless of the fact that we were still poor).

As I find myself writing this, I can’t help but reflect on the impacts my identity as an immigrant has had on my life. It’s one of the reasons I decided to attend San Jose State as San Jose State is a designated Hispanic Serving Institution. It is one of the reasons I am a proud member and officer of Grupo Folklorico Luna y Sol, a student organization which champions higher education among the Chicanx/Latinx community through traditional Mexican dance. It is one of the reasons why I am a committed Student Success intern at the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center, a space dedicated to the success of Chicanx/Latinx Students. I used to be silently proud of my past but through a mixture of events and self-growth, I have found the strength and the need to share my story. All immigrant stories are different, but almost all share a similar phrase: “For a better life.” A life that I am still working on creating but have faith that I will eventually live.

In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month in June, San Jose State University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion along with the University Advancement Strategic Communications and Marketing team collected and shared stories of Spartan students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives. In addition, the university is highlighting research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of our campus community and our society. See some of the photos posted on SJSU’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

#ImmigrantHeritageMonth: “Use Your Voice”

Fernanda Perdomo-Arciniegas was on a path to become a lawyer in her native Colombia when she immigrated to the United States. But when she arrived, in California, most of her university credits were non-transferable and she felt unsure about her written English skills. So she enrolled at West Valley College where she completed an associate’s degree in math while enhancing her language proficiency. She transferred to San Jose State University, where she earned a bachelor’s in mathematics/statistics  in 2001 and a master’s in Public Administration in 2008. Now the deputy diversity officer for SJSU, she started her career at SJSU in 2002, working first in Academic Affairs in the math and biology departments for five years and then in Student Affairs, as director of Campus and Community Relations for 10 years.

“One thing I focused on was access to college,” she said. “For immigrant parents or first-generation children, navigating K-12 can be confusing. I wanted to demystify the college process and help families get their students on a path to higher education. We, as parents, want our children to succeed regardless of our national origin or education background.”

As a mother of two, she said she also wanted to learn more about the United States K-12 system to help her own children.

Perdomo-Arciniegas helped to create College Day, where families of K-12 students could visit SJSU to learn more about preparing for college, and also oversaw the Advancing Latinx Achievement and Success Conference. She helped to facilitate the Spartan East Side Promise, an agreement that offers a clear roadmap for admission for students in the East Side Union School District to San Jose State University.

“As  an immigrant, I feel a responsibility to advocate, to speak up, to use my voice now that I have a place at the table,” she said. “It is very important to remember where you came from and to use your voice to set the stage for those who are coming after you.”

She found herself quite literally using that voice as a Spanish-language translator at times during community meetings between the university and neighborhood families who worried about the effect of impaction on admissions. Through the years, she also found herself advocating for underrepresented minority students, specifically undocumented students.

As the daughter of educated parents who was privileged to immigrate through legal channels, she said she has always empathized with undocumented students.

“While working on a resource guide by and for undocumented students, I learned of their dreams, hopes, difficulties and fears,” she said. “As an immigrant, I related to undocumented students at some level (learning a second language, being misunderstood often, culture shock, etc.), but I could never equate my privileged experience to theirs. They taught me so much during our work together.”

And she also appreciates the importance of cultural traditions, no matter where one lives. She and her family continue to participate in Novena de Aguinaldo (Nine Days of Christmas), in which they pray, sing and tell a special story of the birth of Jesus. Different friends host each year, and the Colombian Consulate collects toys to donate to their native country.

“For us, Christmas is always about family and it’s also a time to give back and be generous with our gifts, spiritual and/or material,” she said. Giving back is a mantra for Perdomo-Arciniegas.

In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion along with the University Advancement Strategic Communications and Marketing team collected and shared stories of Spartan students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives. In addition, the university is highlighting research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of our campus community and our society. See some of the photos posted on SJSU’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Support for Undocumented Students

Editor’s Note: The following message was emailed to all students April 5, 2018.

Dear SJSU Community,

We hope you had a restful spring break and are looking forward to these last few weeks of the semester. We want to make sure all of our students complete the term successfully, and we know that some of our undocumented students continue to face uncertainty about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation as well as reported increases in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in the Bay Area. We are aware that many in our Spartan community have been and continue to be seriously impacted. SJSU remains committed to ensuring access to a quality education for all our students.

This spring semester we hired the first program coordinator for our UndocuSpartan Resource Center (USRC), Ana Navarrete Avina. The resource center is now open and located on the second floor of the Student Union, room 2450. We have held workshops about DACA renewals, and Associated Students has offered funding for renewal fees. We have partnered with local non-profit immigration rights organizations including Asian Law Alliance and SIREN to bring legal experts to campus for undocumented students, and the Counseling and Psychological Services department has facilitated a support group for undocumented students.

We have also communicated to our employees that any inquiries from ICE or any federal, state or local official requesting information about a student’s immigration status should be directed to the University Police Department at 408-924-2222.

To answer questions about DACA and related matters, and how the campus can support our undocumented students, we will be engaging in outreach to students. If you are interested in learning more information about these efforts, please contact the USRC at 408-924-2762 or undocuspartan@sjsu.edu.

Later in April, we will be providing an UndocuAlly training program that will provide information on how to be prepared for an ICE raid. While unlikely to occur on campus, we want to ensure students have the information needed to be prepared. If you are not able to attend but have questions, please reach out to USRC at 408-924-2762 or via email at undocuspartan@sjsu.edu.

SJSU stands with the leadership of the California State University (CSU) in its unwavering commitment to our undocumented students. The CSU Office of the Chancellor recently revised its CSU Resources for Undocumented Students website that is also a useful tool for students.

Each of our students deserves an educational environment that is welcoming and safe. We are committed to every student’s success on our campus. Look for more information soon about future workshops and outreach opportunities. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Andy Feinstein, Provost

Sharon Willey, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs

Kathy Wong(Lau), Chief Diversity Officer