Introducing: Priscilla Kim Ong, Class of 2022

Center for Asia Pacific Studies 2020-2021 Undergraduate Merit Fellow

Majoring in International Studies, with concentrations in Sustainable Development & Environmental Justice and minors in Chinese and Asian Studies

Priscilla Kim Ong introduced herself via a recorded video to her Chinese Literature in Translation course with earnestness and poise, holding up the burnt orange book she was currently reading with a meaningful smile. “I’m Khmer-Krom, so I’m trying to learn more about the injustices that my people face.” The book? The Khmer Lands of Vietnam: Environment, Cosmology, and Sovereignty by Phillip Taylor. 

Priscilla marks a number of firsts for her family; she is not only a first-generation Asian American, but also a first-generation college student. Her mother’s journey from Kampuchea Krom, the current day Mekong region of Vietnam where the indigenous Khmer-Krom people reside, motivates Priscilla to utilize her studies for the sake of human rights and justice. She frames her mission statement as a student and community member in relation to her lived experience, 

As… the daughter of a refugee from Vietnam, I’ve always wanted to use my education and privileges to advocate for justice and improve the lives of my Asian community, both in America and Asia.

 She is currently learning Mandarin, Khmer, and Vietnamese, and has found many ways to make learning about her family’s heritage a part of her life while in school. 

Understanding the challenges her heritage community faces today has profoundly shaped her cultural, historical, and geopolitical understanding has shaped her personal and professional interests in Asia. From taking courses on Buddhism at USF to becoming an advocate for Khmer Krom people in an internship with the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF), Priscilla is already developing a strong voice on human rights and justice issues in Asia and the US. Working with KKF, she helped submit recommendations to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN OHCHR – EMRIP) and also writes her own personal blog on current events and human rights, including a thoughtful post about the recent shooting in Atlanta on her personal website. But we know that these are only the beginning of Priscilla’s contributions. 

Priscilla has big dreams and she isn’t afraid to chase them wherever they take her, potentially all the way to Asia. She plans to start her own social enterprise that, in her words, “improves the resilience, sustainability, and prosperity of indigenous Khmer Krom livelihoods in Kampuchea Krom,” or human rights and development work in Southeast Asia and China more generally. But as a multi-talented individual, she has a number of different dreams on the docket, including starting a chain of plant-based restaurants with authentic Asian cuisine, or becoming a Hollywood actress. 

The support of the merit fellowship from the center has also reinforced her commitment to diversifying her education and pursuing human rights and development work in Southeast Asia. Of course, no matter which direction she takes, we at the center are certain that Priscilla is growing into an advocate that will build transnational bridges of Asian and Asian-American solidarity, and we look forward to seeing her develop as a person and a scholar.