APA Spotlight: Doua Thor, Executive Director, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).

Doua Thor is the Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). She and her family were among the many thousands of Hmong refugees who were resettled in the United States after supporting and fighting alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam War. The Thor family was resettled in Detroit, Michigan in 1979 where Doua spent much of her youth volunteering and working with Southeast Asian American communities. Over the years, Doua has gained a wealth of experience working with national and grassroots Southeast Asian American and refugee serving organizations.

Doua was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2010. She currently serves on the board or in a leadership position in a number of organizations and coalitions, including the Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF), the Red Cross National Diversity Advisory Council, and the executive committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). Additionally, through her leadership, SEARAC is a core work group member of the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC), an initiative supported through Atlantic Philanthropies to improve the lives of vulnerable elders. Doua was selected as a New Voices Fellow in 2002, an American Marshall Memorial Fellow in 2008, and an Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI) Fellow in 2009.

She earned her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and her Bachelor of Arts from Wayne State University.

SEARAC is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society.

What is the mission statement of your life?

Because my family and I came as refugees, I feel very privileged and honored to have opportunities that many other Southeast Asian refugee children did not. For that reason, I try to live my life honestly, justly, and with a purpose to give back to the community. I do this by supporting the building of leadership for young people and women from the Southeast Asian American community. In all of this I try to remember to be humble and kind to others in life.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

I ended up in my current job because someone really believed in my abilities and in me. I never thought I would be the Executive Director of an organization, but a colleague of mine recruited me for the job and really thought I had the potential with support and guidance.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

I would say America Ferrara because I like the characters she has chosen to play. Plus she is a young woman of color and is conscious about society and giving back.

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?

You can contact us in many different ways. We are online at www.searac.org, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/searac, and on Twitter at @searac. You can also call them at (202) 667-4690.

We hold an annual training in the spring/summer for Southeast Asian Americans who want to learn about policy advocacy and leadership. To find out more go to http://www.searac.org/content/leadership-and-advocacy-training-lat.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?

Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have a bright future. We are a community that is growing quickly and has persevered and overcome many obstacles. That is not to say that we don’t also continue to face economic and social barriers. Overall, we will be active and engaged.

Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?

For young professionals, I would say do not underestimate the importance of working hard and being open to learning. Sometimes, our biggest enemy can be our own egos.

Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?

Traditional Hmong food is quite simple and are the most comforting foods to me. An example is boiled chicken with mustard greens, rice, and definitely some spicy chili pepper sauce. It’s nothing fancy, but every time I eat it, I think of being at home with my immediate and extended family.

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?

I love to watch Ice Loves Coco.

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About Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.
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