Chhaya  Chhoum 's profile photo

Chhaya Chhoum

Executive Director, Southeast Asian Freedom Network

Chhaya  Chhoum 's profile photo
Location: Bronx, NY
Start Year: 2024
TRHT Pillar: Narrative Change


Chhaya Chhoum is the executive director of the Southeast Asian Freedom Network. Chhaya and her family lived in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines before being resettled to the U.S. After the U.S.’ refugee resettlement program abandoned her family and thousands of Southeast Asian refugees in the Bronx, she organized her community through the newly created Youth Leadership Project. She took on slumlords, overcrowded schools, and cutbacks in translation services at public assistance centers and local health clinics. Chhaya harnessed the energy of youth in a community that has lost much of its adult generations. Through an intergenerational framework, she organized adults as well as youth to fight for justice and developed the framework of healing and organizing in the Southeast Asian community that justice is healing. In 2002, Chhaya put out a call to Southeast Asian organizers across the country to train and strategize against welfare reform and the secret repatriation agreement between the U.S. and Cambodia, which catapulted the deportation of thousands of Southeast Asian refugees. It was in the Bronx that the Southeast Asian Freedom Network and the Southeast Asian movement for social justice started.

In 2012 she co-founded Mekong NYC in the Bronx, empowering Southeast Asians through arts, culture, community organizing, and advocacy. Its work in the Bronx honors the history of the Bronx and all its people. As one of the earliest anti-deportation activists, Chhaya’s award-winning, strategic, and innovative leadership has been critical to the movement and has laid the foundation for stopping numerous deportations. Her achievements were recognized by the Ford Foundation and the Petra Foundation. Her work was featured in the documentary Eating Welfare and in the NBC Asian America Deported series.


Chhaya is working on a national campaign that attempts to build and mobilize support for our Southeast Asian Relief and Responsibility (SEARR) Platform. The SEARR campaign continues a decades-long effort to free our people from generational cycles of displacement and heal our communities from this collective trauma. 

Our multiyear campaign aims to win concrete relief for our people by 2025, which marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the U.S. wars in Southeast Asia. This campaign seeks to hold the U.S. accountable for the harm and violence inflicted on our people through both reparations for toxic chemicals and removal of leftover bombs in Southeast Asia, as well as providing immediate relief to Southeast Asians facing deportation in the U.S. today. The campaign is part of our larger vision of reimagining our immigration system through an abolitionist framework and working toward the world that we know is possible.

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