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Sac State, and here's why: Yee Thao

When Yee Thao thinks of the first classes she took in the fall of 2020, she recalls feeling inspired to learn more about how her culture and ethnic identity connect to academia.

Thao is a first-generation Hmong American, and the class was a seminar through the Full Circle Project (FCP), an academic program that supports first-year Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) students transitioning to Sac State.

Yee Thao, reading in a library
Yee Thao, a first-generation Hmong American, said Sac State's Full Circle Project inspired her to learn more about how her culture and ethnic identity connect to academia. (Photo courtesy Yee Thao)

FCP was founded in 2012, serving the University that was declared an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution in 2010 after its APIDA student population surpassed 10% of total enrollment.

 "FCP starts the semester with an identity series and how you can incorporate different mindsets into your everyday life, like recognizing that I'm Hmong American and how do I navigate this world and school with these identities," Thao said.

"It really intrigued me, and I didn't know that a discipline like this existed."

Thao is double majoring in Anthropology with a concentration in Culture, Language, and Society; and Ethnic Studies with an Asian American Studies concentration. She plans to graduate in spring 2023 and then pursue her master's degree.

The personal connections she finds in coursework and conversations are intertwined with family history that began long before she was born.

"My parents were born in Laos and were Hmong refugees in the Vietnam War," Thao said. "They fled from Laos and lived in a Thai refugee camp for seven years before immigrating to the U.S. in 1987."

Her parents moved to Fresno before settling in Elk Grove with their growing family. She is the youngest of nine children – seven boys and two girls – and is candid about the challenges she has faced balancing her parents' culture with her own.

"My parents had a lot of growth throughout the years witnessing their children go through their own journeys," Thao said. "As a first-generation daughter, there are a lot of cultural expectations. I didn't get to participate initially in a lot of student organizations simply because my parents didn't see the need for it."

Now, she has paved her own path.

"I'm showing my parents tangible results, and that it's very good for me to participate because it's something that I'm passionate about and want to continue doing where I give back," said Thao, who is president of the Hmong University Student Association and vice president of the Ethnic Studies Student Association.

"I don't think it's an overstatement to say that I am where I am because of FCP.  It's what led me to everything," said Thao, whose first semester at Sac State came amidst the pandemic and remote learning.

"Looking back, FCP really gave me that community I needed over Zoom. I think that, without it, I would have been lost and so disconnected from school," she said "But FCP brings you a community you can go to for advice, talk to friends, connect to peers, and the faculty and staff are super friendly and approachable."

Thao also credits FCP for connecting her as a volunteer with Hmong Innovating Politics, a grassroots organization focused on strengthening the political power of Hmong and disenfranchised communities.

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About Anita Fitzhugh

Anita Fitzhugh, at Sac State since 2015, is public information officer and writer. She has more than 20 years of experience as a broadcast journalist/producer and PR consultant. Anita often can be found enjoying the American River Parkway or on a new adventure with her family.

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