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OC’s Vietnamese community kicks off fundraising effort for archivist

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Vietnamese-Americans in Orange County and UC Irvine today launched a fundraising effort for a professional to staff the university library’s Southeast Asian Archive. The archive houses documents and photos that tell the stories of one of the county’s major immigrant populations.

The Southeast Asian Archive is packed with books, journals, photos and even paintings from people who spent time in refugee camps as they made their way to the United States after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. They include people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

But there is no archivist to manage the collection and catalog new donations. So UC Irvine and the Vietnamese American Community Ambassadors – or VACA - are teaming up to raise 50-thousand dollars and hire an archivist.

"The Southeast Asian Archives really is a gem that we have. You know, it’s unique. There’s no other university or library that has a collection that we have," says Daniel Do-Khanh of VACA. "And I think that over the years, the collection has grown and it’s strong, but there are realities, which is the budget, staffing. How do we grow this collection? How do we maintain it first and how do we grow it? And so this is a very important juncture for us."

So far, VACA has raised about half of its $25,000 dollar commitment. UCI plans to match that.

UCI Chancellor Michael Drake, who was on hand to kick off the archivist effort by signing a memo of understanding with VACA, says UCI's portion of the funding comes from a particular part of the university's budget.

In our overall budget, we have some discretionary money that we use to support those areas on campus that are most needy. And this is a particularly important strategic enterprise for us," Drake says.

Drake points out that UCI's $25,000 for this endeavor is a "very small part" of the campus' budget.

Drake says preserving the history of the area's Southeast Asian community is extremely important, especially the dozens of paintings and drawings that are part of the collection. They were mostly drawn by refugees in refugee camps.

Art emanates from the personal and political and social circumstances of the artist. And so when you look at art that was created in times of dislocation and turmoil, you can actually read an awful lot into the painting," Drake says. "You know the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words? I think that's really evident in these paintings -- that you can really get in touch with the time that they came from."

Do-Khanh calls hiring an archivist for the collection a "first step."