UMass Lowell-Led Project Shares Immigrants’ Experience

Southeast Asian Digital Archive project
UMass Lowell and community partners will launch a digital archive chronicling the experiences of Southeast Asian-Americans in Lowell on Tuesday, Dec. 4.


Contact: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or

LOWELL, Mass. – A new digital archive of materials chronicling the history and experience of people of Southeast Asian origin living throughout Greater Lowell will be unveiled and demonstrated for the public at UMass Lowell next week.

The Southeast Asian Digital Archive at UMass Lowell, a free resource for the community, will launch at a free event on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 4 p.m. 

Lowell is home to the second-largest population of Cambodian-Americans in the country; the city also has large Vietnamese, Laotian and Thai communities. More than 1 million Southeast Asian refugees have migrated to the United States since 1975.

The archive is designed to be used by the public, students, teachers, researchers and scholars. In it, users will find documents and oral histories from the Indochinese Refugee Foundation (IRF), a Lowell-based organization active from 1977 through 1985 that helped Southeast Asian immigrants settle in the region in the wake of the Vietnam War and to escape Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime. The organization was founded by Hai and Lan Pho, former UMass Lowell faculty, and UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney served as the IRF’s executive director before joining the university.   

The archive also includes works by photographer James Higgins, who documented the Southeast Asian-American experience and life in Lowell in a series of photo books from 1983 to 1997; the books, now out of print, are available on the new digital platform. Other items in the archive include materials from Lowell’s Angkor Dance Troupe and Burmese community. 

The launch event is scheduled to include speakers such as Moloney, UMass Lowell Provost Michael Vayda and archive project leaders Sue Kim, English professor and associate dean of UMass Lowell’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Phitsamay Uy, associate professor of leadership in schooling in the university’s College of Education. Kim and Uy also serve as co-directors of the UMass Lowell Center for Asian American Studies.  

“The archive celebrates the experiences of Southeast Asian-American communities from the Lowell region. The images and artifacts collected detail the rich history and culture of the refugees and immigrants from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. We hope that researchers, scholars and community members use this collection to tell the important stories of these peoples’ lives and to highlight the humanity and resiliency of our collective community,” Uy said. 

The archive has been created through a partnership between the Center for Asian American Studies, UMass Lowell Libraries and Lowell’s Southeast Asian-American communities. Collaborators include the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, the Khmer Post USA, the Lowell National Historical Park and the Tsongas Industrial History Center. The project has received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the UMass Creative Economy Fund, the Lowell Cultural Council, the UMass Lowell Chancellor’s 2020 Challenge Grants, the Indochinese Refugee Fund, the Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor in the Arts and other sources.  

“It has been incredibly rewarding to work with the many people involved to make this project possible. The archive is the result of the investment and contributions of UMass Lowell students, faculty and staff, generous local Southeast Asian community members and the public,” said Mee Xiong, the project’s archivist. 

The event will be held at UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Library Learning Commons, South Campus, 61 Wilder St., Lowell. Free parking for the program will be available in the nearby Wilder Lot. 

The archive may be accessed at Members of the public who would like more information about the project should email

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.