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Facebook group a safe haven for young Asian Americans in Southern California

When Katie Tran and John “Jona” Nguyen talked about a Facebook group for Asian American singles, it started out as a joke.

In June 2019, the buddies who met at Cal State Long Beach started the group they called SoCal Asian Connection to help connect each other’s single friends. But soon, something beautiful began to happen.

“It became a way for young people in the community to connect with one another,” said Tran, a Long Beach resident. “I don’t think we were prepared for what happened next.”

As Nguyen, the group’s founder, puts it: “It started out as something nonsensical, but turned into something magical.”

Resources and support

Today, the closed Facebook group has more than 7,500 members — a vast majority of them Asian Americans in their 20s. As the coronavirus pandemic spread and statewide lockdowns went into effect, it became a place where people turned for emotional support. Tran, a talent director, saw many members had lost their jobs because of the pandemic and others had lost their homes or had to move because they couldn’t afford rent.

“Soon, I found myself helping people with their resumes, preparing for interviews,” Tran said. “We’ve helped people find housing. Many have even found roommates on this group. The group has been a place where people held fundraisers for small-business owners who struggled because of COVID-19.”

Katie Tran holds up the FaceBook page that she is a moderator for. The goal is to connect with Asian Americans from all over. (Photo by Karen Tapia, Contributing Photographer

This past summer, when racial justice protests exploded around the country and in Southern California after the killing of George Floyd, and this winter as the Asian American community began to reel under the stress of hate crimes and hate incidents largely triggered by the pandemic, the Facebook group became a safe haven for speaking out and organizing.

As anti-Asian hate crimes surged, many of the group’s members posted about events, protests and virtual vigils they were attending, said Cindy Nguyen, an Ontario resident who is also one of the group’s moderators.

“It became a safe space to listen to one another and validate those feelings,” she said. “I personally was enraged, just completely shocked and horrified, especially after the Atlanta shootings. I was outraged that law enforcement wouldn’t come out and say this was an anti-Asian crime.”

Nguyen, who teaches English at Orange Coast College and Fullerton College, said she opened up a thread in the group asking what the community can do to change the situation, to support one another during this time.

“A lot of people responded,” she said. “Many said they feel like outsiders. I surprised myself with my involvement in this group because as someone in her 20s, I never imagined being active on Facebook. But, in a time when we can’t meet in person, but need that personal support, it’s a blessing to have this online space to meet with others who have similar struggles as you. The connections that we’ve made are so valuable.”

Building connections

John “Jona” Nguyen said he started the group because he was drawn to making connections.

“Community is really hard to build and find,” said the Anaheim resident who has his own street apparel company and works in guest services in Disneyland. “Community starts with people. It starts with talking to one another and helping each other. This group is an opportunity for people to do exactly that — make connections that are meaningful. The best way to fight hate is to build a strong community.”

John “Jona” Nguyen founded the SoCal Asian Connection Facebook page, which now has more than 7,500 members. (Photo courtesy of Jason Nguyen)

As more young people began to feel isolated during the pandemic, the group’s moderators created threads where people could talk and seek support. Tran created a group based on the Nintendo Switch game, “Animal Crossing.” They organized game nights, open mic nights and poetry readings.

Tran said she felt a tremendous sense of relief after talking to members of the group when her cousin took his own life. One of the group’s members gave her the number to a phone helpline. Tran took the opportunity to call the helpline and says she is glad she did.

“I had this feeling of guilt that I couldn’t do more to help my cousin,” she said. “So I called this number and bared my soul to total stranger. Turns out I really needed to do that. This group helped me get past my guilt.”

‘A family of strangers’

Nancy Nguyen of Garden Grove said she first posted in the group when an Asian family in her neighborhood was being harassed by a White family on her street. Several group members responded by rallying in support of the victims and Nguyen said the harassment stopped shortly afterward.

“It was not something I would’ve been comfortable posting on my regular Facebook because I was afraid of backlash and being judged,” she said. “But, with this group, I knew people would understand and I knew they would respond positively.”

In December 2020, Nguyen, a salon owner, lost her home and all her belongings in a fire. She reached out to the group for help.

“People sent a lot of love and support, but they also sent me money, clothes and appliances,” Nguyen said. “It shows me that we have a sense of community no matter where we’re from. We will always have each other’s back.”

She doesn’t see the group as something that exists just to fight for social justice or racial equality.

“We’re like one big family of strangers helping each other,” she said.

Source: Orange County Register

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