“Words just resonate,” says writer, activist and Vietnamese immigrant Chay Douangphouxay. “With the right words, you can either build or break a person.” And so Douangphouxay, who came to the United States as a child refugee and has a full-time job in healthcare development at Target, dedicates all of her free time to uplifting Asian American women and girls through literature and activism. Her children’s book, Tawan: The Sun Girl, is aimed at addressing the scarcity of Asian-American literature in the public school system. And her poetry chapbook, Remission: Finding Light In the Midst of Social Darkness, was published with the support of the Minnesota Humanities Center and has been used nationwide as an educational tool on issues of class, gender, and race.
It’s our entire background and our heritage. That’s what makes America so unique and so wonderful.
In addition to her writing, Douangphouxay uses her voice to uplift other immigrants. She is the co-founder of the Twin Cities Chapter of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), a national organization that advances social justice for Asian Pacific Islander women and girls. She was inspired to do this work because her mother was a teenage bride who married an abusive man twice her age. Only after coming to the United States was her mother able to get a divorce. And when she did, she turned their home in the north Minneapolis projects into a makeshift drop-in shelter for other abused women. “My mom raised me with a foundation of service for other people,” says Douangphouxay. And that service extends to immigration reform, including lobbying on Capitol Hill with the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), where she sits on the board.
Today, Douangphouxay sees significant economic contributions from immigrants all around St. Paul. “If you just walk down Wake Street in Minneapolis or you walk down University, all the local shops are pretty much immigrant-owned,” she says. “When you look at the factories and at other businesses, even with myself at Target, there’s lots of immigrants. They’re all part of our booming economy in Minnesota. That’s part of why Minnesota has such a more stable economy, compared to the rest of the country. There’s so much diversity in the type of contributions and in the different professions.”
In America, Douangphouxay believes, everybody is an immigrant, and everybody has the beautiful opportunity to stand on Capitol Hill and have their voice heard. “It’s our entire background and our heritage. That’s what makes America so unique and so wonderful,” she says. “We must be humble in our roots and build a country that encourages immigration and can be a refuge for people who seek it. Had I not come here, I probably wouldn’t be able to write the books that I did or be the voice for a lot of people that don’t have a voice.”