Status of Southeast Asians in Massachusetts

The panel goal is to discuss the history, current issues, and challenges faced by Southeast Asians in Massachusetts. We will learn what each organization and individual are doing to address these issues. Panelists will share their own narrative of their community.

Moderator

Bora Chiemruom, Kravant Boutique LLC

Bora Chiemruom is the owner of Kravant Boutique LLC.  A social enterprise, we are the first and only Khmer woman-owned rental and consignment boutique in the city of Lowell, MA.  Bora was recently the Executive Director of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Asian American Commission. A refugee from Cambodia, Bora and her family settled in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. She has over 20 years of non-profit leadership experience, including Administrative Manager of YouthBuild International (YBI), Program Director of ABCD – Mattapan Head Start, and Program Manager of the Citizenship Assistance Program (CAP) at the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA). Bora has received two (2) City of Lowell Mayor’s citations, a citation from City of Lynn, and three (3) citations from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts House of Representatives. In addition to a citation from the Massachusetts Treasurer and Receiver General’s office for “Your dedication and commitment to the Asian American Commission” from State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg.

She was the co-chair of the Annual Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Civil Rights Forum (2016 and 2017). Bora hopes to be a successful entrepreneur and ultimately create jobs for young people especially young women.  She hopes to inspire the next generation to be leaders and active members of their communities through her non-profit work and entrepreneurship. She continues to be a passionate advocate for the Khmer Community and for all Asian Americans.

Panelists

Sovanna Pouv, Executive Director, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Greater Lowell (CMAA)

Sovanna is currently the Executive Director of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Greater Lowell (CMAA). Born in the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in Thailand, Sovanna and his family came to the United States in 1981 as refugees. After settling in Chicago for 7 years, his mother discovered that her sister, the only surviving member of her family from the genocide is living in Lowell, MA. In a year’s time, they moved and resettled in Lowell to reconnect with family members.

As a youth, Sovanna was part of Big Brother Big Sister’s Adam Project that founded and coordinated the annual “Dance for Peace” event that brings together over a thousand attendees each year. He had his daughter at the young age of 20 and was looking for somechange. Through the community service employment program at the CMAA to help permanent resident secure employment outside manufacturing, Sovanna was hired at the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) in 2001. For the next 12 years, he worked at UTEC in a variety of roles helping grow the organization to what it is today. With his passion and determination, Sovanna’s goal is to give back to his community that raised him.

Sovanna currently serves on the board of directors for many organizations including the Community Teamwork Inc, Greater Lowell Health Alliance, Greater Lowell Workforce Investment Board, Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, the Lowell Development and Financial Corporation and more.

Today, Sovanna lives in the Highlands neighborhood of Lowell, MA with his wife Lianna Kushi, daughters Bryanna and Ella, and mother, Roun Sok. Fluent in both English and Khmer, he hopes to bring people together from all backgrounds to learn about the rich Cambodian culture while running an organization that helps close the achievement and educational gaps within the community and its’ people.


Anh Vu Sawyer, Executive Director, Southeast Asian Coalition

Anh Vu Sawyer was born and raised in Saigon, South Vietnam. Upon entering medical school in the early ‘70s, the Vietnam War would be the catalyst for her journey to the West. A dreamer at heart, upon arriving in the United States, Anh set her sights on achieving those dreams and goals. She graduated from Calvin College with a BA. in Mathematics & Economics. In addition to helping the start-up of several innovative companies (People Express Airlines and Scanning America), Ms. Sawyer partnered with her husband in their humanitarian work bringing educational and medical projects to Vietnam. Every year, Ms. Sawyer travels to the highlands of Vietnam for economic development and art and cultural preservation projects among Vietnamese ethnic minorities.

An author in her own right, Anh’s autobiography, Song of Saigon: One Woman’s Journey of Freedom, is a love letter to those who helped make her “dreams come true.” As Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts (SEACMA) in Worcester, MA and along with undertaking humanitarian projects in Vietnam, this connection between the east and west completes her identity in what she confidently declares herself a “daughter of the world.”

During her directorship, SEACMA received 2018 American Heart Association Innovation Challenge Award, 2018 Worcester Woman of Consequence, 2017 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Asian American Commission Community Hero Award, 2017 Worcester State University Binienda Center for Civic Engagement Award, 2016 Katherine Forbes Erskine Award, 2016 MCPHS Community Partner Award, 2016 John Auerbach Community Leader Award, 2015 Massachusetts Non-Profit Network Excellence Award, 2015 Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Outstanding Member, 2014 Eleanor T. Hawley Human Rights Commission Award, 2014 Medical Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Tuberculosis recognition, 2011 Library of Congress Asian Division recognition.

Ms. Sawyer is a member of Governor Baker's Advisory Council For Refugees And Immigrants and Attorney General Maura Heally’s Advisory Council On New Americans.

Today, she resides in Boston, MA, with her husband of over forty years, fashion designer Philip Sawyer.


Jessica Wong, Catholic Social Services

Jessica Wong graduated from Bristol Community College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BA in Political Science in 2014. Throughout her years in college, Jessica was actively involved in campus life. She became involved with the Hip Hop Cultural Organization, House Council, the International Relations Club (Model United Nations), the Cambodian Student Association, and the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success. Post graduation, Jessica took time off to travel around China and Cambodia. Throughout the past three years, Jessica returned back to her hometown to serve as an AmeriCorps member for her community. As an AmeriCorps member, Jessica founded a young women’s empowerment group called W.A.V.E (Women. Action. Voice. Empowerment). Aside from W.A.V.E, Jessica worked with the Fall River Youth Violence Prevention Task Force as the lead coordinator for the Confronting Discrimination group. Recently, Jessica was the youngest and first Asian American female to run for School Committee in the 2017 elections in Fall River. Currently, Jessica Wong serves with the Immigration Law Unit at Catholic Social Services as well as being a Therapeutic Mentor for Family Service Association in Fall River. Jessica also volunteers with Save Cambodia and the Children’s Improvement Organization in Siem Reap. Recently, Jessica was appointed as the Vice President of the grassroots organization the Fall River Cambodian Community, Inc. This organization serves around culture preservation, civic engagement, and mental health awareness among Cambodian Americans.