Growing up in an Indonesian family, part of a community with mixed immigration status, recent Pomona graduate Teo Saragi '18 knew all about the fears of deportation that come with it.

The consequences of immigration laws – especially for Southeast Asian families–became clearer once Saragi started taking classes at Pomona.

Seeking to better understand the political history, policy advocacy and community organizing around deportation, they decided to double major in Asian American Studies(AAS) and public policy analysis with a concentration in sociology (PPA).

Both majors formed the foundation for Saragi’s passions. “PPA/sociology cultivated my storytelling voice and understanding of how institutions work, while Asian American Studies kept me grounded in grassroots activism and organizing,” says Saragi, who grew up in the Inland Empire and an alumna of the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS) program. 

While the majors informed Saragi’s understanding of immigration issues, Saragi still searched for a way to highlight the stories of Southeast Asian communities impacted by deportation. Introduced to filmmaking through a class taught by former Asian American Resource Center director and current Professor of Asian American Studies Karin Mak, Saragi found social documentation as the perfect vehicle to bring these stories to light. “Because of Karin’s class, I’m a creator and a filmmaker,” adds Saragi.

Documenting Deportation Stories Through Film

As one of the recipients of the 2018 Napier Award, Saragi has been awarded $15,000 for a project that advances endeavors for peace and social justice. The other Napier fellow whose project was funded for 2018 was Claremont McKenna’s Jasmine Shirey '18.

Started in 2011, the Napier Fellows program matches Claremont Colleges students with mentors at Pilgrim Place, a senior community in Claremont that is home to individuals who spent their careers in religious and charitable nonprofit work.

At Pomona, student project proposals are selected through the Draper Center for Community Partnerships and a faculty panel, led by Professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies Gilda Ochoa. At the end of the year, select Napier fellows are awarded a prize to pursue their projects.

“For my Napier project, I hope to center the voices and needs of Southeast Asians who are at risk of deportation, have been deported, or Southeast Asian families whose family members have been impacted by deportation,” says Saragi.

According to Saragi, Southeast Asians – under the wider umbrella of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders – are not typically seen as a group affected by issues of documentation and deportation.

“Since 1998, there have been over 15,000 Southeast Asians deported back to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos,” Saragi says. “These communities are often obscured and lumped into a broad ‘Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI)’ category that contributes to the misconception that the AAPI community does not have a stake in immigration issues.”

Saragi’s project has three parts. First, they will conduct filmmaking workshops for Southeast Asian youth in Northern California. “I’m hoping to reach underrepresented youth, such as Cambodian and Vietnamese youth, who share intergenerational experiences of trauma and resilience,” says Saragi. “There are not enough films and media that highlight the voices of these specific communities, so the goal is to empower them with the creative and technical tools to share their stories.”

In Northern California, Saragi will also create short films about families whose lives have been disrupted by deportation. There, Saragi hopes to partner with non-profit and grassroots organizations who serve local Southeast Asian communities.

Finally, the budding filmmaker will travel to Cambodia in 2019 to host film screenings, community discussions and workshops. If time allows, Saragi hopes to connect with the deported family members whose families are still in the United States.

Saragi anticipates that showing the films locally and widely through social media will contribute to ongoing critical conversations around immigration and human rights.

“I hope to bring the narratives full-circle and uplift the stories of the people who are impacted both in the U.S. and in Cambodia,” says Saragi.