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San Diego County has the largest concentration of refugees in California. Since 2000, the County has consistently received more refugee arrivals than any other county in the state. The trend dates back to the 1980s, when some 50,000 Southeast Asian refugees passed through Camp Pendleton in the months following the Fall of Saigon. Many of these refugees settled in San Diego, helping make the area, especially the City Heights neighborhood, an important hub for the resettlement of refugees, and paving the path for Burmese, East African, Iraqi, Syrian and other refugees arriving in San Diego today.

Following the Critical Refugee Studies Collective, we define refugees to be “human beings forcibly displaced within or outside of their land of origin as a result of persecution, conflict, war, conquest, settler/colonialism, militarism, occupation, empire, and environmental and climate-related disasters, regardless of their legal status.”

Refugee San Diego is designed to be a digital repository for information and resources of interest to refugees, refugee-run and refugee-serving organizations; educators, researchers and students; and politicians, community leaders and activists. Our team brings together UCSD researchers and students with refugees in San Diego to document the challenges and opportunities they experience in important facets of their lives, including schools, labor markets, and the political and racial climate. We developed this digital space to share some of the major themes that emerged from our historical research and our conversations with dozens of refugees, teachers, community activists, and service providers in San Diego in 2019-2020. We invite members of the San Diego community, especially those from refugee backgrounds, to help build this depository by uploading materials—artwork, essays, reports, photos, short stories, poetry—about refugee life to the website. 



Yến Lê Espiritu, Ethnic Studies, UC San Diego

Originally from Vit Nam, Yến Lế Espiritu is Distinguished Professor and former Chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She has published widely on Asian American panethnicity, gender and migration, and U.S. colonialism and wars in Asia. Her most recent book is Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es) (2014). She is also a Founding Member of the Critical Refugee Studies Collective.

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Caren Holtzman, Education Studies, UC San Diego

Caren is a faculty member in UCSD’s Department of Education Studies.  She teaches a range of EDS classes, including Partners At Learning (PAL) service-learning courses, practicum classes for undergraduates and teaching methods classes (math and arts) for the multiple subjects/M.Ed. students. She has co-authored five teacher resource books and is the author of 2 children’s books. Caren’s role as Director of both the PAL Program and the UCSD Artsbridge Program allows her to collaborate extensively with UCSD colleagues, local community colleges, P-12 schools, and community organizations. Caren applies a community-based, social justice approach to working with marginalized and underserved communities.


Vanesa Ribas, Sociology, UC San Diego

Vanesa Ribas is Associate Professor of Sociology. She studies race/ethnicity, migration, labor, political mobilization, and social inequalities more generally. Her ethnography of social relations at a slaughterhouse in rural North Carolina, On the Line: Slaughterhouse Lives and the Making of the New South, won the ASA Labor and Labor Movements Book award and received an honorable mention from the Latino Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association. Her work has been published in the American Sociological Review, Social Science and Medicine, and Sociological Perspectives, among others.


Sara Almalla, Ethnic Studies, UC San Diego

Sara Almalla is an Ethnic Studies PhD student. She is interested in critical refugee studies and more specifically how diasporic Muslim women mobilize across social, institutional, and geographical spaces. Her goal is to produce tangible research which can be used as a now-time resource for refugee women, especially as it relates to creative community-building and agency-affirming projects like this. She received her BA in Sociology from California State University Northridge.


Iris Hwang, Education Studies, UC San Diego

Iris Hwang is an incoming Master of Education graduate student at UC San Diego. During her undergraduate years at UC San Diego, she recognized the diverse populations of students in the San Diego region. She also worked as a college outreach ambassador through UCSD’s Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) creating relationships with many refugee students at Crawford High School. She is passionate about creating an inclusive classroom and providing support for her future students. She hopes this website will be a helpful tool for viewers to learn more about the various resources in San Diego for refugees.


Berenice Ramirez-leal, Human Biology, UC San Diego

Berenice Ramirez-Leal is a Human Biologist graduate from UC San Diego. Berenice migrated from Mexico after completing high school. She has used her experience as a newcomer to connect with others in the same situation and to find ways to improve the access of resources for them. She is currently applying to medical school, and one of her goals is to decrease health disparities among minority groups. She volunteers as a Spanish-medical interpreter for underrepresented minorities at the UC San Diego Free Clinic sites and works as a pharmacy technician serving majorly immigrants from The Middle East and Northeast African regions. "Being aware of the challenges that refugees, asylees, and other newcomers experience is a social responsibility that if addressed, can greatly improve their physical and mental health."


We gratefully recognize the funding support of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science and Research at UCSD, as well as the UCSD Partners At Learning (PAL) Program. 

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