In the 1960s, a woman from South Vietnam named Diane Le came to the U.S. to study nursing. Little did she know, her return to South Vietnam years later would coincide with the fall of Saigon–the central force that would disrupt her life and bring her to Southern California. This story is one of many preserved at the new UCI Libraries Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center (OC & SEAA) at UC Irvine.
On Wednesday, OC & SEAA–located on the first floor of the UCI Libraries Gateway Study Center–had an invite-only grand opening representing its official introduction to the public. The center is an expansion of the Libraries' internationally renowned Southeast Asian Archive. It will provide both physical and virtual spaces for intellectual discovery and innovative research for UCI faculty, students and the community at large.
"We wanted a space where people can learn about the history of the region as well as do history," says Charla Batey, Communications and Events Officer for UC Irvine Libraries. Upon request, photographs, publications (in both Southeast Asian languages and English), paintings, letters, and other materials from refugee camps and resettlement efforts will be available at the center for public use, as is an oral history recording room tucked away in the back of the center.
A noticeably large portion of the center consists of bookshelves lined with books on Southeast Asian refugee immigrants–some of which come in the form of blue-bound books containing theses and dissertations on the topic. "Much of this is gifted to us from the community," says Thuy Vo Dang, Archivist for the Southeast Asian Archive & Regional History. "Since the '80s when the Southeast Asian Archive [located in Langson Library across from UCI Libraries Gateway Study Center] was founded, we actively solicited help from the community in terms of doing outreach and growing the collection." Besides books on the Southeast Asian American narrative, books documenting the development of Orange County and its changing demographics are also available.
Art also plays a core role at the center. Reproductions of original refugee artworks rest on wide cabinets called "the vertical files" containing historic documents inside. "We have about 450 items of original refugee artworks that were brought back to us from different donor organizations–and they all document different time periods," Dang explains. One recent acquisition is a set of scrapbooks enclosed with photographs, news clippings, documents and correspondences put together by the wife of the former executive director of a Hong Kong detention center. Two glass tables also highlight the impact of the arts: one showcases the development of the arts in Orange County from 1960s to present-day and the other Cambodian American arts.
OC & SEAA is open on Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.