June 2012

LIMCA is one of the Torchlight Prize winners. The Torchlight Prize was established by the Family Independence Initiative (FII) to recognize and reward groups of families, friends, or community members that have self-organized to strengthen their communities or neighborhoods.

For more information:

Press Release, 2007.

LIMCA’s 25th Anniversary Celebration Flyer

The Bay Area Lao Iu Mien Culture Association (LIMCA) planted some serious roots for their community Monday when the 17-year-old nonprofit group held a groundbreaking ceremony to kick off construction on the first Iu Mien Cultural Center in the United States.

Community members, volunteers and Oakland city officials gathered to celebrate the realization of the five-year plan at the site in East Oakland. The breaking of this ground represents an important milestone for this community, LIMCA Chairman of the Board Kouichoy Saechao said. We hope that this place will be a center of gravity for the Iu Mien people. With some 8,000 Iu Mien people spread throughout the Bay Area, LIMCA has been working to preserve the group’s cultural heritage while helping to facilitate their integration into life in the United States.

LIMCA acquired the East Oakland site of the cultural center in November 1996. The one-acre lot had a run-down house that LIMCA members worked to restore. “We painted and re-did the floor and created a small temple, Saechao said. But the house was not big enough for the community needs.

At this time LIMCA began working strategically to make the center a reality. We laid out a ten-year plan in 1996, development consultant Kathy Lim Ko said. We got funding and support from Iu Mien communities all over California and the West Coast. The long standing pledges and degree of support has been incredible.

LIMCA’s vision for the center was that it would provide both a place to hold cultural events and be a resource with which to tackle community problems.

We want to have youth programs and senior programs, Saechao said. We want to bridge the gap and have these two groups help each other. Saechao said that the center will help to strengthen the core values of the community by sharing responsibility. It is hard for individuals to pass on culture to their children in an isolated way. But here we can do it through classes and activities, Saechao said.

LIMCA already has programs directed at youth like the Iu Mien Scholarship Fund, which aims to address the educational needs of the community and provide financial support for Iu Mien students in pursuit of higher education.

The cultural association held a series of focus groups in the past year with different sections of the Iu Mien community. They found that all age groups felt the center would be the answer to creating a healthy and happy community.

Some of the youth don’t even want to be identified as Iu Mien because people don’t know what that is,Saechao said. [The center] will ground the culture for them and make it important.

Asian Neighborhood Design, a community re-development organization, worked closely with LIMCA to design the plans and help guide the group through the zoning process. At first the neighborhood was against it because they didn’t want a big structure in the middle of this residential neighborhood,Ko said. But we really worked with neighborhood associations and explained how we wanted it to be a real resource to the East Oakland community and they became so supportive.

Ko said that the cultural center will strive to be a hybrid of a cultural center and a neighborhood center. They really want it to be a resource, both for educating others about the Iu Mien culture and also for strengthening the greater community, Ko said.

There are three phases to the building of the center. First will be the laying of the foundation for the two-story cultural center building and the construction of the main lobby. When finally done, this building will house a large auditorium, classrooms, office space and rooms for monks and nuns. Plans also include the construction of a temple.

Recently, LIMCA received grants from the California Endowment and the Kellogg Foundation. They now have about $ 200,000 of the $ 400,000 needed to complete the first phase.

You can see how important this center is for the health of the community,said Sherry Hirota, director of Asian Health Services and a board member of the California Endowment. That is why more and more foundations are starting to become interested in this project.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and City Council member Larry Reid were on hand at the groundbreaking to lend their support.

As the world makes more progress, the places where our lives are really lived no longer exist, Brown said. To build a place with heritage and memory is special. This place adds to the rich tapestry that is Oakland. Reid said that his connection with the Iu Mien people is especially strong because of his experience as a Vietnam veteran.

I remember the tradition of the families I met in Laos and it makes it that much more special to be a part of this today,Reid said. You have my commitment to work with you and see this project though to the end.

Asian Neighborhood Design Executive Director Maurice Lim Miller spoke about how inspiring working to create the center has been. What we learned about was the spirit of this community, Miller said. We can learn a lot from the Iu Mien from their caring for one another and their dedication to community.