Student Spotlight – Ngoc Nguyen

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Ngoc Nguyen!

Ngoc majors in International Development Studies, Asian American Studies, and Sociology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program (URSP). The title of her project is “Hidden in Plain Sight: On the Legal and Grassroots Organizing against Thai Labor Trafficking in the United States,” which focuses on the role of grassroots organizing in the El Monte case by exploring questions regarding labor laws and rights of immigrant communities. She hopes that her project will bring light to challenges that the Thai community experiences and promote effective change.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

Coming from a low-income immigrant family and seeing my parents being exploited by the unjust labor system as they work long hours with low wages have inspired me to pursue an education to learn about immigration and labor law and advocate for the rights of immigrant communities. Although I have always wanted to research immigration and labor law, I did not know what topic I want to pursue until I met my faculty mentor, Professor Jennifer Chun, who suggested that I learn about the El Monte Thai Garment worker case.

Interning for the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) has taught me about the case and the role that non-profit organizations such as the Thai CDC played in the case. I was extremely inspired by the ways in which grassroots organizations, activists, and community members came together in the mid-1990s to demand justice for the workers and create systemic changes. This experience led me to research this case for my senior project. Through this project, I focus on the role of grassroots organizing in the El Monte case by exploring the following questions: How did grassroots organizations, lawyers, and community members come together to advocate for the workers? How was the coalition formed and what role did each organization play? What strategies did these organizations use to advocate against state violence and to demand justice for the workers?

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

The most exciting part of my research has been getting the opportunity to research archival materials about the El Monte case and talking to community organizers who were involved in the labor movement in the 1990s!

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I never would have expected to grow this much through this process! Not only have I been able to meet and listen to stories of amazing community organizers, but I have also become more inspired to pursue a career in the legal field. Learning about immigration and labor organizing has helped me realize who I want to be, what kind of activist I want to become in the future, and how pursuing a law degree can help me achieve my aspirations.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

I would advise students to challenge themselves, go out of their comfort zone, and actively pursue opportunities. As a first-generation college student, I struggled to navigate UCLA and find opportunities to pursue research. However, talking to my professors, friends, and mentors has helped me narrow down my research and apply to opportunities.  

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope that my project will bring light to challenges that the Thai community experiences that continue to remain hidden in mainstream discourse and promote integral dialogues about how grassroots organizing can advocate for effective change.