When Vanndearlyn Vong was thinking of creative ways to raise money for the Long Beach South East Asian Anti-Deportation Collective (LBSEA), one image was strong in her mind: a donut.
Donut shops have long been known as an industry in which Cambodian immigrants thrived after fleeing the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. According to a 1995 New York Times report, 80% of donut shops in California at the time were owned by Cambodians.
Last year, Vong started fundraising by selling donut-shaped magnets before learning to throw clay and moving on to glazed donuts in different colors.
“It helped me stay grounded,” Vong said. “I really enjoyed my time every time I worked with clay. And at the time I was working part-time and going to school pretty much full-time. So I was so excited to literally touch clay after spending a lot of screen time over the past two years.
Vong launched the Instagram page @vanndearlynscreations in July 2021, a year after joining LBSEA. 40% of the proceeds from its ceramic products benefit LBSEA in their fight against the deportation of Southeast Asians.
Vong, who is Cambodian, shared that Cambodian communities and other Southeast Asian communities are often left out of conversations about immigration and deportation.
“We are not represented at all, like as Cambodians and Southeast Asians in general, our stories are not even known and we are still facing the model minority myth“, said Vong.
Vong explained that many young people from Southeast Asian refugee communities faced violence when they arrived in the United States and joined gangs for protectioncommitting crimes that would get them arrested and possibly deported after serving their sentence.
LBSEA has openly spoken out against the controversial immigration practice in which the United States deports immigrants after they have served jail or jail time. Immigrant rights groups, including LBSEA, have denounced the practice, saying it punishes immigrants more than citizens for the same crimes.
“A lot of people have completely taken responsibility for their actions, done their time and really put in the effort to change their lives through various programs and even working in the community,” Vong said.
Vong cited as an example Rot Mythong, a Cambodian resident of Long Beach who was imprisoned for 29 years after fatally shooting a man as a teenager. He was granted parole in February 2020, but was immediately transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to a petition from Vong, while incarcerated, Mythong participated in Alcoholics Anonymous, anger management classes, drug abuse prevention classes, Buddhist meditation groups, an alternative violence program, Criminal and Gang Anonymous, Prisoners Against Child Abuse and New Life Canine Dog Program.
After a campaign by LBSEA, Mythong was released on bail from ICE custody in September 2020.
LBSEA supports the Voiding Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors (VISION) Act, Assembly Bill 937, would give immigrants the right to the same rules of discharge and parole as citizens, barring them from being transferred to ICE after being granted parole or release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“It’s a tough fight,” Vong said.
Besides donuts, Vong also creates mangosteen-shaped planters and ashtrays, plates, ornaments and more.
Vong plans to take a trip to Lowell, Massachusetts in July to learn from Yari Livan, one of three surviving Cambodian ceramic masters.
“I’m just really excited to learn more about clay and my own cultural roots and hope to share that with the community,” Vong said.
To purchase a donut pipe or other ceramic item from Vong, send a direct message on Instagram @vanndearlynscreations.