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Sophorn Cheang Oral History Interview, February 16, 2016

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NF: My name is Natalia Fernández and I am the Oregon Multicultural Librarian at Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, the Oregon Multicultural Archives. Today's date is February 16, 2016 and we are at the Asian Family Center. About a year and a half ago, in September of 2014, we conducted an oral history interview and this is a follow up to that interview. So we'll go ahead and get started. If you could please state your name and spell it out loud.

SC: My name is Sophorn Cheang and its spelled S-O-P-H-O-R-N, last name C-H-E-A-N-G.

NF: Okay. So let's get started with some of the changes that have occurred within the Asian Family Center in this past year and a half, specifically the administrative changes.

SC: There have been changes so welcome back [laughs]. So as you know that in 00:01:002014 when we first started the project, Mr. Lee Po Cha was the director of the IRCO Asian Family Center and last year in April of 2015, Mr. Lee Po Cha got promoted from the associate director and also the Asian Family Center director - he became our executive director of IRCO. Our former executive director Mr. Sokhom Tauch retired last year. So during the transi, it was the transition have happening quickly, but it's not in a way of this year going through some process. The board and the IRCO board and the IRCO Asian Family Center advisory board and Mr. Lee decide to, promoted me as their interim manager for IRCO Asian Family Center in the meantime, during the transition.


NF: So were you excited to become the interim manager?

SC: I am excited, but there is so much to learn. Mr. Lee left a, left a big shoe because he had done so much and his involvement for like about three decades with an organization along with the Asian Family Center, and the Asian Family Center was founded in 1994. He has been the director of the Asian Family Center for a very long time so there's still a lot to learn, but I'm excited for the new opportunity and also to learn new things from him.

NF: So with your role as the interim manager does that mean that you still kept your old role as well?

SC: Yes, of course [laughs]. I love what I do and especially with the, with the 00:03:00capacity as well, and since this is the interim position, I still acting, I'm still doing the job as the manager of the community development, community health department.

NF: So what does that mean in terms of your work that you're, you're doing both positions?

SC: Just need to know how to prioritize things a little bit more. So I, I'm just very lucky that I have a really supporting staff and a team here, not just in here in the Asian Family Center, but IRCO our admin team and our team at Africa House as well. They've been very helpful during the transition and especially I want to give the credit to, to my team for the community development team. They been able to step up and are also really helping me taking on a little bit more roles and responsibility, as my times have been very demanding, to represent the 00:04:00IRCO Asian Family Center on top of doing the programming for the community development programs.

NF: So was the interim manager position what you thought it was going to be or are things a little bit different being in that position from, from what you thought?

SC: So I thought that Mr. Lee had so much to do and never really been able to know exactly what he has done and he's been very diplomatic and he has so much knowledge about the community and as much as I knowledge about the programming and operations. I, there's a certain stuff that I didn't really, you know if it's not the way that I thought it would be, but there's certain things that I'm excited and enjoy doing that you know with the board or to be able to fully represent our community and also a part of one of the representatives of the 00:05:00organization, the immigrant and refugee community organization and especially to continue promoting that culturally relevant services for the API communities here in the state of Oregon.

NF: So can you share a little bit more about what your duties are as the interim manager, what your role is?

SC: So we stay working on our job description [laughs] as we never really got to, to as Mr. Lee has been really director for the Asian Family Center for a long time and since we are on that topic there is going to be and internal process here at the IRCO, at IRCO to conduct an interview and to kind of internal, internally promotion so there's going to be a process happening within a couple, within a month here to select who's going to be our permanent position 00:06:00for this. But my main goal is to really oversee all the operations, and administration here or here at the IRCO Asian Family Center on top of center the, the community development department housed here at Asian Family Center is easier for me because that's my department. But on top of that I have to be a closer relationship with our program managers like the children department that some of the programs here and also our youth academic services programs. And we have two managers right now for that's kind of a part of the transition because you know, not Mr. Lee actually oversee, oversaw that department directly on top of his job as the associate director and of Asian Family Center. He directly managed the youth department with many support from our program coordinators in 00:07:00the youth department so it's just that building that collaboration and also our anti-poverty department here as well at the Asian Family Center. One of the kind of main roles is to continue to allocate and also promote the API culture and services and really building strong connections with the funders and our ethnic community leaders to continue looking for funding, develop programming, and at the same time all the admin and operations here in this center.

NF: So you have worked and been connected to the AFC for many years now, but with this role where you are managing all of the different departments and 00:08:00you're getting to know the different departments a little more deeply has anything surprised you, have you learned new things about the Asian Family Center that the interim position has enabled you to learn?

SC: I have learned so much, you're not going to believe it [laughs] that its always, you know, when you and I continue to represent the programs all the programs at a higher level, but it's actually has been a great opportunity for me to be in, to be able to work directly with not just the program manager, but also our program coordinators on the programming level. So I get to see that what is the program look like; I get to see their events, their programming's, their workshop, so it's some of their work. Some of them it doesn't really surprise me it's more of like, you know, that they have done, our staff have 00:09:00worked, has been working so hard and it's actually showed that they have put a lot of effort and it's in a way this really impressed me. And I already know that they, they already been working hard, but it's good to really be able to connect it in a different level. In terms of learning, still learning, that's never going to be ending so that's some part that I enjoy doing that as well as working with them to, to be able to advocate for additional funding or continue the program.

NF: Has your role as interim manager influenced your other role in terms of the community development program, have you learned new things and then applied it to that position?

SC: Yes and, and at the same time it, it this could be the other way, its, its leading to a little bit of the confusing from some of our community partners so 00:10:00it's like, "are you the interim manager for Asian Family Center, are you managing this program?"- but it's just the nature of the community based organizations. Many of us have to wear multiple hats within the organization, so many of our funders have been able to, to adapt and understand that very well. I have learned so much from Mr. Lee and also from other senior managers to be able to apply that and continue to develop, but at the same time of course that is where, when the challenges and the barriers coming in with my time to fully support the team, but like I mentioned earlier, our staff is really stepping up and fully take role as I am, as a program coordinators and being able to, to have taken on some of the, the responsibility and task for the programs.


NF: And you've already talked a little bit about this, but can you share a little bit more about the community reaction and especially with the retirement of the executive director and then Mr. Lee Po Cha taking that role and then you taking on this role? Sometimes those types of transitions can be difficult for the community or sometimes they can recognize the, the positive. Can you talk a little bit about that?

SC: Yeah sure, so one of the good things. IRCO has been well known to the community for many years and this year we are celebrating our forty years anniversary. Mr. Lee has been around for the community for many, many years, for the three decades so with how long he's been working here, so with his new role it's not a surprise because he has done so much and his connection, his 00:12:00credibility, and his hard work. We are very excited to have, to be under his leadership and take on the position. Mr. Sokhom left us a good like, at the organization at a really good level and a very high, but this year we, we continue to grow that. The organization was, when Mr. Sokhom around 14, around 14 million, quickly this year we are about to become a 15 million dollars operation for the organization. So I would say that it was not a surprise for the community because the funders, the local govern, the local government agencies and other community partners, community leaders they were very aware that, and they, many of them are I can say that most of them are very excited as 00:13:00far as I know for the transition that Mr. Lee leading the organization. In terms of my position, I have been building a good relationship with our advisory board and many of our work governing IRCO, governing board members as well. I have been working very closely with many of the ethnic community leaders and as my role managing the department, the community development department. I also been working closely with the funders, local government agency, and other community partners so they, I'm not new to the community as far as we know there's no reaction. Everything has been going smoothly, we have received great support, not just only from the community members, but especially staff here internally 00:14:00because we are here for a reason and we are here to help the community to benefit the community so we know our role and what we're supposed to be doing.

NF: So you mentioned that the interim position will, is that an interim position and within the next few weeks or month that there will be an internal search for the permanent position. Does that involve the community input or because it's an internal search it'll be internal to the AFC, and does the advisory board have a role and they represent the community and that would be the community voice?

SC: Yes. So our, our organization not just IRCO alone, but IRCO Asian Family Center as well, we have been community driven so our programs and services have been something that we have heard and hear from the community. Of course with this type of position it, we also rely on our advisory board members who right 00:15:00now we have ten advisory board members. I have been informed them during transition of Mr. Lee also doing a great job of informing them about this transition. I also, I also know that there's going to be an input and a collaboration from our advisory board members especially our co-chairs and as well as the involvement from the governing board, IRCO governing board as well. And you are right, in terms of the community input that they are they community leaders, they are here for you know to, to represent. They are here, a part of the agency to represent and bring the voice of the community. So it is very important to have them involved in the process. The same thing as about last year, ten, eleven months ago this transition also has been approved and 00:16:00supported by both, not just the board, but especially the advisory board co-chairs and our board presidents as well before Mr. Lee was able to promoted me as just an interim position. So of course they will be a part of the process until the end.

NF: And speaking of the advisory board, you recently had a board retreat. Could you share a little bit about how that went, the purpose of board retreats and what came out of that meeting? What the goals are and the outcomes and the vision for the year?

SC: So we have done the advisory board and the staff retreat like every year. We didn't really get a chance to do that the last year because of the timing with our community leadership programs happening around the same time. So we pushed it to early this year. The really main goal is really giving others - there's a 00:17:00couple of main goals, first of all its to make sure that our board continues to be informed, our advisory board members continue to be informed to what's going on within the agency. The works that we do and at the same time, the really, the second goal is really building a strong co-relationship with our staff, especially our program managers and program coordinators who's really leading some of the programs and this type of retreat is really, give us the time to strategize and focus on what's really important to the community as receiving the inputs from them - as I mentioned earlier that the ten people who are in our AFC advisory board they are representing various communities from the pacific islander communities so they are bringing all those ethnic, you know, community 00:18:00perspectives and the voice from the community. In particular, was the feedback of what should we be looking at, what are we missing, why has been the challenges and the barriers to us, but at the same time they are also acting as the, as the representative and help promoting the agency as well to, to the funders, to the other community members. So the, the retreat this year it went very well because it was our sort of transition that happening late last year that both Lyn and Ellen, I believe you already met with Lyn and interviewed Lyn as well as in her previous role. Now she's the co-manager for the youth department with Ellen Parker. So with those types of transitions it's you know, 00:19:00there's changes, but at the same time this type of restructuring it helps us to be stronger as we continue to grow like the whole agency and especially here at the Asian Family Center. So we will be able to, we were able to collaborate and be a stronger relationship not just only among the staff, but especially within the board members as well so they get to know each other and find a way of how can they support each other on the higher level that we're still respecting their time because as advisory board members they volunteer their time so we want to make sure that we are being respectful.

NF: Great. And so you talk about strengthening a relationship within the Asian Family Center. What about the relationships between the other, the other bigger 00:20:00programs like Africa House and the other programs within IRCO; in your role as interim manager have those relationships strengthened? Have you got a sense of the bigger picture that is IRCO because of your interim role?

SC: So it gives before more of like what I, I had been doing before as the manager of the department really looking into, still looking into the big picture, but at the same time really focused on my department. Now it's been it's a great opportunity to, to partner with the Africa House and also the Senior Services; especially I would say Africa House. So Jimmy Dogo [?] who's the manager of the Africa House and I, we've been able to collaborate like doing a presentation together to the schools, to the other funders, to the community 00:21:00partners, and also the local government agency, really work as a team. At the same time because of not the community development or some part of our programs housed at the Africa House, the same thing as our youth academic services program also housed at Africa House. So we've been able to regularly do a check in and see that, what to fine, can I fine tune and strategize what would be the best way to continue a stronger collaboration either through the programing, but at the same time it's really continue to promote both of the agencies as culturally specific agencies. So those have been changing a little bit that as I am taking more responsibility and becoming interim manager. It allowed me to, to 00:22:00kind of see a bigger picture and I always wanted to, to do more so this is actually a great time and it helped me to kind of implementing some of the visions that I have envisioned that what I would like to see within the, the agency.

NF: Could you share a little bit about what that has been - what your vision has been? A year and a half ago when we had our interview you had talked about your recommendations and what you were hoping for with the Asian Family Center and in your new role have you been able to put into practice some of the things you had been thinking about previously?

SC: Yes and no, and I'm going to be honest because I mean we have so many, we have so many programs that are in IRCO. Right now we operate like within 128 programs at IRCO, let alone there's so many programs here, you know probably I could say like one third or so is like here at the Asian Family Center and 00:23:00outside at the school-base level. So in terms of some changes there's a certain limitation. I want to be respectful of like what's coming in as a changing because we are not changing and only here at the Asian Family Center, but the whole entire organization also changed too because our leadership has changed. So, so there's certain stuff that I was able to implement, like working closely with the program managers, set up the time to really do a check in and then improving our all staff meeting to a better structure, we are still trying to fine tune that, just like more interacting, more engaging and at the same time it's really being productive and effective and it doesn't mean that before it 00:24:00didn't, but because of things moving so quickly sometimes it becomes a routine so we just want to bring in that new energy but at the same time doing a little bit more of that interaction within and among the staff and really break down the silo. So that's kind of one of, kind of the main goal as IRCO's strategic plans, but really part of my vision as well to, to make sure the collaboration is really happening and really focus on you know being or consider on that staff development. That there is an opportunity for them to grow within the organization, giving and kind of cultivate some of the leadership as we are providing the leadership development to the community base we don't want to 00:25:00forget about our internal staff. So we want to make sure that we are kind of capturing that and we want to really cultivate our staff to develop like professionally so wherever they want to see they grow within the organization.

NF: That's wonderful. Do you think that it was your role as a staff member that helped informed then that you wanted to help your fellow staff members now that you have the power within the interim manager position?

SC: I wouldn't say that the, the power, but it's more like the--

NF: The opportunity?

SC: The opportunity, thank you. I, you know, I appreciate that opportunity to be able to help them, to be aboard, to coach them in a way of like, in a different hat and there's certain things that of course they might feel confused and I've 00:26:00been able to work with some of the staff and say that you know I'm open to any type of conversation be able to wear multiple hats, either as just a program manager on a certain program or as the department manager or the interim manager for Asian Family Center. So I want them to look into the way of light that you know, that conversation or the collaboration working together internally is really allowed me to bring in some of the different perspectives as a role, as my role here at the Asian Family Center and really connecting, you know we not here, we are Asian Family Center is, we don't really operate independently, it's under the operation of IRCO, the Immigrant Refugee Community Organization. We 00:27:00are just a division, a program of IRCO. So it's very important for our staff that to, to, to kind of think in a big picture of say not working solo and connecting with our main office and other programs at Africa House. So I would like to see me as more of like at least being that bridge to those centers and then also the admin as well and as my role representing the agency has allowed me to connect and get a closer relationship with our ethnics community based organization and I'm sure you said through some of your conversation, we called them the MAA, the Mutual Assistance Association. So those ethnic based community organizations we've been able to kind of work with the other community leaders through various programs as community partners and really helping them to, to 00:28:00build their capacity within their own programs. We cannot really help, I mean their own agency, their own organization. It's not much, but we are really focused and really looking into that culturally relevant services. Make sure that they, that we are connecting and be able to work to be sensitive and respond to their culture and their language as well.

NF: Have you experienced, this might be a little bit of a difficult question, but any, any barriers or any frustrations or anything that you wish that you could do, but what are the limitations in terms of, is it time or resources or, what is it that you wish that you could do if you had the, the perfect opportunities what would that look like to be able to be able to do all your 00:29:00wonderful ideas that you have?

SC: That's probably too much. What I wanted to do is probably too much to ask. The time for today that, there's always about like and I'm going to speak that as someone who's really, as my role to representing the agency that really hoping to, to have like the funders and the local government focus more that our communities of color especially our immigrant refugees community our growing here in the city of Portland. So in terms of whatever is allocating, funding, any available funding need to be really sensitive to the community as we grow. The kids like at the school, kids right now, a majority of them are from people of color, students of color. So they really play a big role and really how can 00:30:00we provide that cultural development to them and know that what type of program. So to, to sum that up its more like funding and time so that way if it's, if it's really perfect important that we have to worry about being able to, to have enough capacity. We feel that, I'm just going to say that like for example, like health enrollment. We know there's an issue, we know that there's too many people who want, who still need to be enrolled into the system and probably most of them, not probably, but most of them, the community of color, because of the barrier, the language barrier, the system, access to the system, navigate through the system. So those are the barriers and even those that have the, that have insurance still don't know how to link to care, they still don't know how to navigate through the system. So we know there's a problem, but do we have 00:31:00enough, you know available funding or the considerations that how can we solve this problem, how can we make this better? So in a perfect world we, I wanted to see like all the, the immigrants and refugees they come here, they have a place to stay, don't have to worry about like housing, don't have to worry that after they are here for eight months they don't really receive any more funding, they want you know they are afraid that they are going to get kicked out and they never have to worry about it, they didn't have to worry about it before, where they came from because they came straight from the camp, but now they just, they here, they don't really know. Housing has become really a big issue. And that's kind of, and if that's really happen then that will solve my second you know, kind of the problems what I want is the time because of right now many of us are 00:32:00to where to do many roles and it's like we limit the capacity because of the limited resource help.

NF: Well in this past year and a half many things have occurred on the national level in terms of the politics of immigration and some politicians and some communities not being accepting, not wanting to be accepting of immigrant populations. Have, have you seen that affect your work here in Portland, has that, have you seen the negative effects of that, of those types of attitudes or have, has the Portland community continued to be welcoming?

SC: The Portland community, thank goodness, of the 39 states that accept the refugees because you know the, there's only 39 out of the 50 here in the states, 00:33:00here in the United States that are willing to accept the refugees, which means that they are willing to provide the food stamps, they are providing the, the funding, the social services to the newly arrived. Oregon has been one of the best states in term of like welcoming the refugees and also the immigrant. We have a great mayor in the city of Portland who is very welcoming, opened the doors to the refugees, to the newcomers, the same as our governors as well. So I, I think that there's, you know, the negative perspective is always going to happen, but thanks to our community members here in the, the state of Oregon especially in Portland, they really opened the door to the communities and to 00:34:00the new members. So like the governor, like early this month she just met with, with some of our community members, organized a group to meet with the governor. They represented 23 countries as refugees and immigrants and the governor met the, the second Syrians family the first time and also our mayors, the city of Portland mayor went to do a welcoming for a Syrian refugees as well. That's as far as I know so it's been publicly announced that they, they really opened the door, but at the same time with my role here I'm able to, to witness that in person and I really appreciate to be here in the state of Oregon, here in the city of Portland. Working here and seated our local government, our community 00:35:00really opened their arms, opened their doors to the newcomers. So you know and especially for us as an organization, the agency, it is our job so we continue to do our job, whoever is coming through the door we welcome them.

NF: Wonderful. And you mentioned a few issues that are, are still really significant within the community, navigating the health system, the housing issue, any other issues in the past year and a half since our last interview? Anything changed with that or, or are they mainly the same issues?

SC: Things have changed in terms, things have, one of the things that changed is the housing because of the affordable housing and speaking that kind of specifically not just in the state of Oregon, but more really in the city of Portland. So affordable housing has been a really big issue. The price increased, you know almost one and a half or double the rent so those have been 00:36:00making a significant impact to, to our community especially for the low income community members. The healthcare system, we are not able to, there are still some of the policy they are trying to, to ask that to lower the five year bar [?] which means that whoever is the legal permanent who's only been here less than five years they cannot become, they cannot go into the Oregon health plan, so unless they pass five years or are citizen. So if they are the low income, they still have to pay for some like premium or certain things like to navigate into the system. There's also the English learning language portion that also we, we continue to work on just to make sure that there's available, really a 00:37:00consideration and insight, enough resources to really help those students to be successful especially as I mentioned earlier, the students of color continue to grow in our school systems here and let's see, during right now there is the legislative session of 2016, but I know many of the organizations prepare more for 2017 in term of some of the legislative planning.

NF: So do you have any hopes for this next year and it doesn't necessarily have to be connected with the interim manager position and, but just in general for the AFC, especially reflecting back that it's the forty years of, of IRCO and just thinking towards the future, towards the next few decades?


SC: I'm, I'm, I'm ready, I'm ready to, to tell, to have like, to hear Mr. Lee saying that we're going to grow, we're going to double or whatever. We will be doing right now as an agency. I'm very positive that there's going to be a big grow as we continue to, to build that strong leadership development within the organization in a way that how Mr. Lee structures the organization is going to bring in the fresh ideas, bring new energy, but at the same time it's really strengthened and enhanced, our programming and develop, developing. So as we are celebrating our forty years and continue to think in a big forty years and continue to think in a big picture and what's really benefitting the community, continue to listen to our community members. What they need, what the needs are, 00:39:00and what types of services that really benefit to them and very optimistic and I feel that you know we will continue to grow and the one that is going to benefit will be our community members. So I'm excited to be a part of this change and part of the journey and that's, that's kind of what I want to see either my role continue to be, the, still be a manager of the community development or interim manager or whatever the role is that I will be. I'm going to be always here in the community.

NF: Wonderful. Well is there anything that we haven't discussed that you'd like to talk about or anything that we have discussed that you want to expand upon?

SC: No, I think that we have covered so much. I just wanted to, to take this time actually to thank you personally. The effort to making the time and being 00:40:00really patient with us. I hope that this is not the end yet and I kind of thought that it was the end long time ago, why it's so fast, but time flies and you know I really appreciate on behalf of the agency for your patience and your collaboration and all your hard work. This is going to be very exciting for us to present it to our AFC advisory board, but also to be able to share, we also want to share that with our IRCO board and Mr. Lee as well, as well as Mr. Lee transition and he's already aware of this project. So this will be a good way of capturing what AFC, AFC has done for the last over two decades, a part of, be a part of the agency and one of the very first Asian Pacific Islander agency who 00:41:00provide the services to the community. So thank you to the Oregon State University and especially you personally, that's already been making, always making the time to be available and truly understanding our schedule.

NF: Of course, well thank you so much.

SC: Thank you.