Interviewed by Anthony Nget, Photo by Wendy Lopez
Representative of Long Beach’s rich melding of different cultures, Raymond Chavarria is a Mexican American who works as the Associate Project Director at UCC. Raymond is also the current Chair of the Building Healthy Communities Steering Committee. VoiceWaves sat down with him recently to talk about his work with UCC.
For those of us who are unfamiliar, what is UCC? What sparked your interest in it?
UCC [stands for] United Cambodian Community, a 34 year-old non-profit that was founded in 1978. UCC currently provides direct services to 6,000 residents per year. UCC provides indirect services in the community to over 7,000 residents per year.
UCC is a multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-service agency.
I began working for UCC on February 16, 2008 and I’ve been here for four years. [I was drawn to it as] the City of Long Beach is my community. I have been a community leader for 30 years, working with [many people of] different cultures. I came to UCC to share my knowledge and to improve the Cambodian community through [organizing programs such as] neighborhood clean ups, health fairs, stimulus payment for seniors, ESL, and working with youth.
How did you become familiar with Cambodian culture?
It was in 1990. The Killing Fields was being shown at FHP Health Plan, [which was] on Alamitos where the Museum of Latin American Art is now. It was very sad and everyone was in tears. This was the first time I was educated [about] the Cambodian community’s struggles [to survive]. I’ve worked with many Cambodian leaders in the past at [places such as] UCC. As President and Founder of Centro CHA, I attended many meetings and workshops [in the community].
[During] the 1990s, we had gang rivalry between Latinos and Cambodians. I attended a funeral at least [once a] week, because our youth were killing each other. In 1993, I organized Cambodian and Latino youth to remove graffiti, cleaning the streets and alleys. It was the first of its kind. The Press Telegram published an article about it, “Brushing Aside Difference.”
Do you see similarities between your own culture and the Cambodian culture?
Yes, both cultures are identical because they struggle with the same issues in the City of Long Beach. These include immigration and deportation, housing, [poverty], gangs, high student drop out rates, unemployment, discrimination, language access, and a lack of health insurance, job training, and [educational development opportunities] for adults.
Has the Cambodian community welcomed you?
Yes, the Cambodian community has made me [an] honorary Cambodian. I am Vice President for the Cambodian Coordinating Council. I have assisted with the Annual Cambodian Town Parade and Celebration for over four years.
Why is UCC important?
UCC is located in the heart of Cambodia Town on Anaheim Street. UCC has become a second home for [many] youth. It is a resource for the Cambodian community and for non-Cambodians alike. [Community members can] come and get assistance regarding immigration, translation, mental health, domestic violence issues. [They can also file] police complaints [and participate in] many classes and workshops.
UCC has become a one-stop resource center for the community.
What specific programs have you worked on and in what capacity?
As the Associate Project Director, I oversee all the programs for UCC. I implemented the following programs:
1. Assisted over 2,000 Cambodian residents in obtaining the first stimulus payment of $250.00 from the US Treasury, totaling $500,000.00
2. Coordinated and implemented our Annual Street Health Faire in August, with over 40 agencies providing resources.
3. Created our Computer Lab where seniors are being taught computer skills.
4. [Organized] numerous health workshops as health is a priority at UCC.
5. Implemented the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program which teaches seniors how to deal with their chronic disease. It is a six-week course and over 75 residents have completed the course.
6. Over 60 residents attend our ESL classes, coming in 3 times a week.
7. We have completed and assisted residents with completing their citizenship applications. We have processed over 1,500 applications.
What do you think the climate is like for the Cambodian community, and what can be done to improve it?
We are creating a dialogue with Long Beach Police Department as many Cambodians are fearful of the police. We have to educate the community to be on the table, [to] speak with leaders regarding [the] issue [they face] in the community.
UCC is now taking the leadership role and through its effort, we received a grant from The California Endowment—Building Healthy Communities, Long Beach. The California Endowment is investing 10 million dollars for 10 years [in select communities]. UCC is working with Cambodian Association of America, Families in Good Health, Khmer Parent Association, [and] Khmer Girls in Action in advocacy work to make changes in our community. We are engaging many residents to participate in the process, [to engage in] advocacy work in [the areas of] housing, air quality, language accessibility. In April , 50 Cambodian residents will be trained in advocacy work and how to make policy changes in Long Beach. Currently UCC hosts monthly meetings with the community who [shares with us] the changes they would like to see.
We need to continue to educate the community [about] being a part of the process of making decisions in the City of Long Beach. We have started voter registration campaigns, to register voters and teach [educate] them about voting.
Do you have any future plans/events for this organization?
UCC is now recognized and respected within the City of Long Beach, [as well as] locally and nationally. We will be assisting residents who have needs in their homes, [help them] get back on their feet. UCC will be distribute $50,000 to low income residents. Last year, UCC gave away $30,000 for utilities and food. 500 families were assisted.
We continue to promote health and on February 25, 2012, we will [host] a Hepatitis B workshop and vaccination. Also, for those who have Hepatitis B, [we will provide] free testing for the liver. 20% of the Cambodian population is tested positive, and it is known as the silent killer.
For the first time, UCC will work with the Los Angeles County Recorder office to provide voting materials in Khmer.
For more information about UCC, please visit: http://ucclb.org/welcome-to-ucc/