Expressions of Global Asia: Southeast Asian Americans in Illinois

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) received $450,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation for "Expressions of Global Asia: Southeast Asian Americans in Illinois,” a multi-faceted, five-year project ending in 2028.

A number of activities will amplify the voices and experiences of Southeast Asian Americans via collection and exhibition of their life stories accompanied by artistic expression inspired by them. The project includes innovative links to Southeast Asia, to universities, museums, arts organizations and family and public health researchers.


  • Performing Southeast Asian Art Goes to School helps to develop curriculum that uses performing arts to teach K-12 students important and historical context from Asian American Communities. This project connects NIU students and local in-serve teachers with Asian American community members to raise awareness of Asian American cultures and history.
  • Cambodian American Oral History Project continues documenting intergenerational histories for use at a permanent exhibit at the National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial. A new project intertwines storytelling with musical performances to collaborate with performers in Cambodia and in other areas of the U.S.
  • Resettlement experiences of Karen refugees project will continue to document, preserve and share the recent history of this group in the Midwest and will develop a traveling version of "The Art of Surviving: The Journey of Karen Refugees in Illinois” for local schools and libraries.
  • Thai American Oral History Project, piloted in the summer of 2022, will collect life histories to develop research and teaching curricula about Thai Americans.
  • Indonesian American Family Health Project will conduct research into family experiences – including strengths, resilience and health vulnerabilities to address health disparities.
  • Community-engaged scholar outreach to Chicagoland Southeast Asian American communities will be used to create relevant resources for educators and community member to fulfill the Illinois Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act to develop K-12 curricular materials across Cambodian, Thai, Karen and Indonesian American communities.

For more information about Expressions of Global Asia or any of our projects, contact the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at or the project team leaders.

Project Team Leaders

Future Initiatives

This project amplifies the voices and experiences of Southeast Asian (SEAsian) Americans via collection and exhibition of their life stories and experiences accompanied by artistic expression inspired by them. The resulting data/stories/research/performances from this transdisciplinary work will be used to create relevant resources for educator and community uses and for fulfilling the Illinois Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act to develop K-12 curricular materials across Cambodian, Thai, Karen, and Indonesian American communities.

The project includes innovative links to SEAsia, to universities, museums, arts organizations, and family and public health researchers. Through these activities, SEAsian Studies and Asian American studies are more closely coordinated at NIU, reinvigorating the SEAsia program with new theoretical and methodological approaches while directly supporting NIU's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

From accelerating and deepening NIU's collaboration with Chicago-area SEAsian American organizations and communities to supporting digital recording and storage for preservation of Asian American voices (i.e., community contributors, artists, performers); to supporting faculty and student research, and developing curricular materials and workshops for teachers that fulfill Illinois TEAACH Act requirements. Reflecting the disciplinary diversity of our faculty and students, the project serves as an umbrella for a range of communities and approaches using life histories as well as survey data and interviews as foundational material.

Hire a Faculty Member in SEA/SEAsian American Literature and Media


Promote Chicago-area Community Engagement and Education Through SEA Arts


Collect, Record and Disseminate intergenerational SEA Dialogues and SEAsian American Experience


Engage SEA Arts and Cultural Organizations via Collaborations in the Region



The engagement of Chicagoland musicians and storytellers will foster the inclusion of Southeast Asian cultural traditions as part of state curricula and SEAsian American heritage in Illinois. Storytelling creates connections between people, as we understand what we have in common. Providing open access through online platforms and traveling exhibits makes materials accessible not only for diasporic communities, and K-12 teachers that serve them in Illinois, but origin communities in Southeast Asia that may not otherwise be able to acquire them.

With reference to the Indonesian American family health project, one of the project outcomes includes survey tools to collect data from Asian Americans regarding determinants of health-related states or events, as well as positive factors including family and faith. Surveys developed in this project will be first utilized to collect data from this group, but the methodology can be replicated for further understanding of other Asian American subgroups in the future. This project will contribute to improving minority health and health equity in the U.S. by filling knowledge gaps in health disparities as well as risk and protective factors associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), mental health and health among Indonesian Americans.

Through innovation and collaboration, we aim to increase the rigor of CSEAS scholarly infrastructure in important areas of SEAsian culture and language. The TEAACH Act mandates that K-12 curricula include Asian American History and contributions to the economic, cultural, social, and political development of the U.S. The proposed project will develop new materials to meet these new curricular requirements. Some state and NGO efforts are underway in Illinois to develop these materials; however, more resources produced in collaboration with local communities are needed, particularly with respect to SEAsia. Given the increasing importance of U.S. and SEAsian nations' relations, SEAsian diasporas in the U.S. play an essential role in bridging the connection between the U.S. and SEA. We will work with colleagues in the College of Education and their partners in the Illinois public schools to develop teacher-training modules on SEAsian American communities. Our earlier Cambodian and Karen exhibit projects demonstrate successful engagement with local communities to tell their stories to two audiences simultaneously -- their own children and grandchildren, who may never have heard some details of their own history – and the wider community audience who may know little about their Asian American neighbors.