In Avon, Connecticut, a Laotian-owned French bakery has set up an education scholarship for University of Connecticut students in honor of the owner’s parents. The scholarship is called Nom and Boulieng Vorasane Scholarship after her parents, as is the bakery, called BouNom Bakery. The scholarship has $6,000 in seed money and will provide two students with $1,000 each year and an internship with the University of Connecticut Asian and Asian American Studies Institute Curriculum lab. The scholarship incentivizes students who have an interest in public education to take Asian American studies, with the goal of increasing these future educators’ capacity to build Asian American studies into their teaching. The bakery is supporting the first six scholarships, but funds are being raised to expand the program.
Advocates have supported making Asian American history and studies part of public education in Connecticut and across the United States. In January 2021, the Connecticut general assembly proposed a bill to mandate public schools offer electives on Asian Pacific American studies. Illinois was the first state to mandate Asian American history be taught in public schools when Governor J.B. Pritzer signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act (TEAACH) into law in July 2021. At the federal level, Representative Grace Meng of New York has introduced legislation to include Asian American history in grant applications for academies that teach American history and civic education to teachers and students and include Asian American history in tests administered by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Khamla Vorasane, the owner of the bakery and founder of the scholarship, came to the United States from Laos with her family as refugees in the 1980s. There are 3,863 Laotians in Connecticut and about 260,500 Laotians in the United States. Her father was imprisoned for supporting Americans during the Vietnam War, so the family fled to Thailand and eventually resettled in Texas. The scholarship was inspired by Khamla Vorasane’s gratitude for her parents instilling in her the importance of education and receiving scholarships to complete her own college education, something the US Census bureau has found only 18% of Laotians have had the opportunity to do. Additionally, the increase in anti-Asian violence in 2021 reinforced to Khamla Vorasane the importance of teaching about Asian American history. The hope is that through the scholarship, more students learning about Asian American history can decrease stigma and violence towards Asian Americans.
The Asian American community at the University of Connecticut and the Asian and Asian American Institute have been leaders in confronting anti-Asian discrimination, and therefore perfect partners for the scholarship’s goals. University of Connecticut alumni founded and lead the #IAMNOTAVIRUS campaign and the Asian and Asian American Institute support many programs promoting Asian American equity.
This is not the first time the bakery has raised money for the community. In March, the bakery raised money for Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the University of Connecticut's Asian and Asian American Studies department. Local initiatives and scholarships, such as the Nom and Boulieng Vorasane Scholarship, can help move the needle on national campaigns to promote education equity and build inclusive communities.
Abbigail Hull is a Projects Coordinator at the East West Center in Washington.