Washington DC – The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) kicked off Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at the U.S. Department of the Interior yesterday, celebrating the community’s contributions to the country. During the ceremony members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) were ceremonially sworn in, including Long Beach resident and community leader, Lian Cheun.
As part of the Commission, Lian is charged with working to improve the quality of life for AAPIs through increased participation in and access to federal programs. Commission members will advise the President on innovative ways to engage AAPIs across the country and to improve their health, education, environment, and well-being.
“I am honored and humbled to have been chosen to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission,” said Cheun, “I’m excited to join my fellow commissioners to work to improve the quality of life and opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
Cheun is currently the executive director of Khmer Girls In Action (KGA), a community-based organization in Long Beach that develops the leadership of Southeast Asian youth to organize for social change.
With Cheun’s exceptional leadership, KGA has built a team of strong, effective Cambodian leaders whose Long Beach-based collaborations have significantly shifted outcomes for California’s Cambodian youth. Nationally, 37% of Cambodians have less than a 9th grade education; 38% have never obtained a high school diploma; and 14% have a bachelor’s degree. In the last three years, 99% of Long Beach’s Cambodian youth graduating from KGA’s programs received their high school diploma and matriculated to college, including 75% enrolling in four-year universities.
Cheun’s highly-effective leadership has supported KGA in achieving campaign victories impacting policy environments county- and state-wide, as well as nationally. Most recently KGA passed a school district resolution to promote restorative justice programs as alternatives to school discipline policies pushing low-income youth of color out of high school – and secured a language access policy to improve immigrants’ access to city services.
Cheun’s work is absolutely critical for California’s future: Following the genocidal horrors of the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge, nearly 60% of Cambodian refugees resettled in California; Long Beach became home to the largest population of Cambodians (20,000) outside of Cambodia. A 2005 report found that 62% of this population suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cheun’s leadership innovatively centers the need for intergenerational healing within this population, prioritizing community-accountable institutional building ensuring its voice and place in multiracial coalitions improving the quality of life for California’s low-income communities of color, while securing partnership with a range of California decision makers.
Now is the perfect time to acknowledge Cheun’s contribution. Policy environments have demonstrated receptiveness to replication through the passage of Long Beach Unified School District’s resolution for restorative justice programs, alongside the Affordable Care Act, which provides funds for school-based health centers, another initiative Cheun and KGA are advancing.
Cheun is a 1.5 generation refugee from Oakland, CA. She has spent over a decade working in low-income communities of color. Lian started out as a youth organizer on the Kids First! Campaign and has since worked for funding for youth programs, fought for educational and health justice, volunteered and trained for numerous GOTV efforts with the Alameda County Labor Council, and most recently fought for workers’ rights regionally and internationally. In 2007, Lian helped Migrant Forum in Asia organize the very first regional, migrant domestic workers’ assembly in Asia. She was also the former director of the Movement Activist Apprenticeship Program (MAAP) at the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO).
A video of the WHIAAPI Opening Ceremony can be found at http://www.doi.gov/news/video/live.cfm, where community members can watch Cheun sworn into her new position as commissioner.
Khmer Girls In Action will honor Cheun at the organization’s 10th annual Yellow Lounge arts and culture showcase on Saturday, May 17 from 4:00-6:30 p.m. at the Long Beach Schools for Adults, 3701 East Willow St. Long Beach, CA 90815. More information about the Yellow Lounge event can be found at http://kgalb.org/event/kga-10th-annual-yellow-lounge/