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r ( ISSUE 03 /// 2016

LEADERSHIP TEAM THANH-BÌNH TRYSTEEN TRẦN, M.A.T Co-Editor in Chief TÂ M Q . Đ I N H , P H . D. Co-Editor in Chief B Ả O N G U YỄ N Editor C H I H OÀ N G Design Director HUY CAO Designer HANNAH PHẠM Designer P H O N G T. ĐẶ N G Social Media Manager V I O LE T P H A N Photographer J U L I E T ĐẶ N G , P H .D Staff Writer TỊNH VŨ Managing Contributor

FRA N C I S TRẦN Development Director

L A M CHÂU Webmaster



Cover Photos: Khiem Do Photography / Juliet Dang / Ha Long Bay, Vietnam / Nov 2015

CONTENTS 04 26 06 30 08 32 10 38 12 40 15 42 16 44 18 47 20 48 49 22 50 24 TAM Q. DINH From the Editors: Intro

MICHAEL LEE MOORE Dear Birthmother

DIEM LY My Mom, Language Barriers, and “Recipese”

MIKI NGUYEN The “Ah Ha” Moment

QUYNH PHAM Tình Cảm in a Changing Vietnam

JULIET DANG Notable Professional Profiles: Eddie Lee, Huy Tat, Long Tran, Phuong Minh Nguyen

BAO NGUYEN North and South

TITO HUYNH A Vietnamese English Teacher in Korea

THU TRAN East and West

FATHER MARION NGUYEN Is Faith Still Relevant?

LAM NGUYEN Cảnh Tình Quê Hương

TAM Q. DINH Mẹ to Mom: The Transformation of Vietnamese-American Motherhood

MARTIN TRAN Vietnamese Filmography

AMY VAN Bridges Build Communities: Lessons from Two Young Vietnamese-American Activists




THANH-BINH TRYSTEEN TRAN From the Editors: Outro

REMY DANG Sour Soup for the Vietnamese Soul

With Gratitude


XC Leadership Team



mpff. Con Tâm mà ở Việt Nam, chắc nó chết" (“If Tam lived in Vietnam she’d probably die”), my mom chimes wearily. I am speaking to my friend. We are catching up in the kitchen, watching in wonder as my mom deftly turns a few simple raw ingredients into a full 4-star restaurant meal. My friend asks how I found the time to do all the things that I do. And I, flippantly but truthfully, reply, “It’s because I don’t cook and I barely clean.” This conversation has played out often with different guests/friends in different places over the course of my life. However, the gist of the conversation remains the same: my lack of domestic prowess or desire made me less of a Vietnamese woman. At least a Vietnamese woman who would surely not survive, or as the chiding “hmpff” implied,


not looked upon favorably in Vietnam. That “hmpff” has often led me to wonder what life would be like for me if my parents had listened to my grandmother and left me back in Vietnam with her. “Tam would probably have five kids,” one sister suggests. “She would probably be selling fish at the market,” the other sister laughs. “You guys would probably have to send money home to her,” my mom adds. Probably true, since my inability to barter would not fare well at the market. And all along, I am thankful for my dad’s “we either all live together or die together” mentality. If I had stayed in Vietnam, would my life really be so different as my sisters imagine? Or are our talks based on old images and memories of the Vietnam we left behind? But, perhaps,

just as the Vietnamese refugees and immigrants are desperately rebuilding their lives, those who stayed behind are also frantically rebuilding theirs. As we are adjusting to our new realities and creating new identities, those in Vietnam are doing the same. Between my life now and would-have-been life in Vietnam, the only thing I can be certain of is that I would not have coached my son’s AA Cubs baseball team. Other than that, I like to think that regardless of where I am, I would continue to work towards making my world a better place for my loved ones and my community, that I would still seek knowledge and justice and that I would still push against conventional expectations. Besides, with all the food stalls and peddlers, does one really need to learn how to cook in Vietnam?

In this issue, our contributors both struggle with and transcend cultural expectations and societal barriers in their private and professional lives. Their stories move us to (re)think and (re)define what it means to be Vietnamese. We hope that they also awake a new or deeply buried sense of self, purpose, and dream in each reader. And the idea that it is acceptable to relinquish a bit of the past in order to embrace future possibilities. A future of Vietnamese grounded in their Vietnamese heritage but also masters of their destiny, thriving in their self-chosen path, no matter where the wind blows. W E LC OME TO T H E T H IR D E D IT ION OF XIN C H AO M AGAZIN E . TA M Q . D I N H , PH .D. Co-Editor in Chief

Huy Cao / Hải Tân, Vietnam / May 2016



My Mom, Language Barriers, and “Recipese” Diem Ly

A version of this was published in the International Examiner ( and


"My whole life, Mom spoke non-stop." She could change the subject and tone in a heartbeat, criticizing in one moment then sitting me down to tell a story about a turtle in the next. The sound of her voice is still the soundtrack of my life. Somehow, as I got older, she talked less. I suppose she grew tired and I grew up. Then something happened. She began speaking in “recipese”—the language of constantly reporting on the ingredients and methods that went into her cooking—and little else. I just arrived for dinner. My dad and brothers ease into a conversation about the financial market, sports and politics. I chime in when it’s not about sports. I help feed my 3-year-old twin nephews, cutting up their meat and spooning rice. The conversation turns to the latest Boeing news. “They lay off people last spring; now, this year they hire 3,000! Can you believe it?” my dad exclaims. For over thirty-five years my dad toiled around airplanes at the Boeing plant in Everett. Today, he troubleshoots planes no one on the factory floor can repair – kind of like your office IT person; except instead of a computer, it’s a 747. “Ok, pork stew,” my mom suddenly announces. She startles our chatter into silence. She slides into a seat next to me. “Salt, sugar, pork belly, fish sauce—just a little! Too much make salty. One brand good—wait here. Mom show.” She rushes into the kitchen and returns gripping a dusty glass bottle with a brown-stained label. She points at it. “This brand–good. Other brand, no good. You listen, Lee Lee?” I nod. She calls me by my childhood name–an attempt to call me “Lily” but it always came out as “Lee-Lee” and stuck.

“Oh!” she exclaims. “Make this soup easy: tomato, bean sprout, catfish, fish sauce. And soup base. Mom show.” She rushes into the kitchen again, returning with a small, flat, green package. “Here. This! Tamarind soup base—make sour. Good. Best brand.” She squints at the label. “Kah … nor .. brand. You can’t remember? Look for green, yellow color,” she says shaking the package six inches from my face. This has been going on for years, so long that only recently did I start wondering why she spoke this way - in recipese. I think for my ma, being a mother is her primary identity. She wants to leave us some kind of legacy, a piece of herself, and share what she’s good at. During some of our roughest patches as mother and daughter, recipese was the only language we spoke, avoiding all other topics. Our relationship has since evolved where recipese is no longer a language barrier–so to speak–but a bridge to connect.

"She began speaking in 'recipese'—the language of constantly reporting on the ingredients and methods that went into her cooking–and little else."

“The sour soup’s good, Ma,” I say, trying to change the topic. Wait. Oh, no. Nowadays, I take my time when visiting. Over hot tea, I learn about my parent's villages in Vietnam being attacked by the French as children, how they met in a Guam refugee camp, and how bad I over-tweezed my eyebrows as a teenager. “You looked like a scared rabbit!” my dad said. They laughed a little too hard at that one. In my own kitchen, I try making the same sour soup as my mom’s. After a few failed attempts, it came out tasting as close to hers as it can be. One day, a friend samples a taste and says, “Mm! This is good! What’s in it?” Without losing a beat, I say, “Oh it’s easy! But you have to use this brand, the best brand. I’ll show you. Hold on…”




Manager at the Vietnamese Friendship Association. She stays connected to her ethnic identity through her community organizing and engagement. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at Seattle University.


"Perhaps also because we’re older now, but coming face to face with those in the family that I’ve only heard about is uniquely emotional."


hen my sister and I decided to take a short trip to Vietnam, we agreed that we would go forward without any expectations. All we hoped for were opportunities to explore, see family, and eat lots of delicious food. While those wishes certainly came true, we also left with much more than that, things that were not so easily captured by a cell phone camera. Throughout our time, we experienced and felt an overwhelming sense of belonging and connection, more eloquently expressed in Vietnamese as “tình cảm.” Seven years had passed since our last trip to Vietnam but it seemed like decades had gone by. The place seemed very familiar, although many things had changed and everyone had grown up considerably: cousins were married and had their own kids, and aunts and uncles showed obvious signs of old age. Yet they all embraced and cherished us like always. The sights and sounds of the city and countryside were not far from how we remembered them to be, but underlying all that was a noticeable cultural shift that had taken place. Maybe it was because we had no parents to usher us around this time that we experienced Vietnam from a completely different perspective. After the first day of cruising around on motorbikes, we noticed the vibrancy of the youth culture. Saigon was teeming with college students and young professionals who brought in new and hip restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops. After the work day is done, crowds of friends and colleagues would pack into raucous bars and clubs or unwind at night markets and coffee shops hosting acoustic concerts. Despite this seemingly major change, it was evident that the familial ties and connections were still firmly entrenched within the Vietnamese culture. Even without our parents, we nevertheless spent time with a lot of family members. Our cousins served as our guides, and with them, we had some of our fondest memories of Vietnam. We visited as many houses as we could, greeting grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, third cousins, and so on. It was hard to keep track of who was who! But everyone made an impression on us. Perhaps also because we’re older, but coming face to face with those in the family that I’ve only heard about is uniquely emotional. While eating our favorite dish, bánh căn, we heard stories about life in Vietnam, who

we’ve lost and the many newly added family members as well as just plain family drama. Without many relatives in the U.S., these stories and the time spent with our family in Vietnam was especially precious. Our aunt lectured us one night, saying that “Americans don’t have tình cảm... it’s something Vietnamese people have.” Tình cảm means affection or sentiment; to my aunt, this came in the specific way of engaging in conversations, storytelling, sharing meals, and giving gifts. After this lecture, our oldest cousin took us aside to clarify my aunt’s intentions. He told us that having tình cảm helps us to understand the lifestyle and values of Vietnamese culture. It’s not only about feelings, but also the characteristics that help to preserve our family’s values and traditions. My sister and I knew the definition of tình cảm, but not until this moment did we understand and feel its importance. As the plane took off, severing our earthly connection with the Vietnamese soil, we felt a bit of our hearts had stayed with each one of those we had met. It wasn’t just the food or the amazing places we visited. It was the feeling of being around family and people who shared the same culture. Despite the fast-changing cultural shift in Vietnam, the ever-stable family culture of tình cảm helped me to truly know what it means to be Vietnamese. Once in a while back here in Seattle, I’m suddenly reminded of what it was like speeding through a city like a wave in an ocean of motorbikes and people, eating at street cafes and sharing Vietnamese coffee at every hour of the day with the people I love. And it makes me happy.




s I stood knee-deep in the water on the deserted sandy beach of Đông Hà, Quảng Trị, a city about two hours north of Hue, the frothy waves wrapped around my legs and gently tugged at them, as if Lạc Long Quân – the mythical father of the Vietnamese people – was calling. Meanwhile, a strong breeze from the nearby mountains effortlessly coiled around my body like a long-awaited embrace from Âu Cơ – our folk tale mother. For the first time in my life, I felt a visceral connection to Vietnam, a feeling that, until then, I thought impossible having lived in the U.S. for over two decades and growing up with VietnameseAmerican sentiments, ones that encourage an understanding of our ancient history and culture yet does everything to instill in us a sense of suspicion and disconnect with the very place from which we originated. The Vietnam War was fought between the North and South but the end result was that of a Western Vietnam, the diaspora

"The Vietnam War was fought between the North and South but the end result was that of a Western Vietnam and an Eastern Vietnam."

where I now call home, and an Eastern Vietnam, the land where I was born. Growing up in Western Vietnam, one can’t help but admire the determination and resourcefulness of its people, who constantly strive for a brighter future. At the same time, an undercurrent of fear and anger, no doubt a collective reaction to the painful memories of years past, runs through the community, slowly widening the shores between East and West. I was simultaneously encouraged to be proud of my heritage while often hearing divisive exhortations echoing in a community where fear-mongering was accepted as the norm. Understandable as the circumstances were, it was also clear that the rumbling of War never completely ceased and the wounds of Conflict never fully healed. Attempts to break these pernicious chains, perhaps toward reconciliation, were often met with a range of disapproval, from mild irritation to intense outrage, and occasionally, violence. Since immigrating to Seattle, I had returned to Vietnam a few times to visit family; friends were long gone. With each trip, though, the enthusiasm faded and, unable to keep up with the country’s rapid development, I started to feel like a tourist rather than a familiar visitor. In time, the thought of going to Vietnam became as appealing as a trip to the dentist, and after my last trip in 2007, I had no desire for another. Convinced then of being estranged from my counterparts overseas and that there would be nothing common from the way we talk and dress to our attitudes on life, I bought into the narrative of being at odds with Eastern Vietnam and her people. I began to regard them with distanced familiarity, like one would toward friends of friends, going so far as to avoid interacting with the increasing Eastern Vietnamese population that started coming to the States in the early 2000s. It was under these circumstances that I met Nhơn, Hoa Mai, and Hà, three Eastern Vietnamese who had come to Seattle to attend leadership programs conducted by an organization where I was working. The programs lasted weeks and I would see them daily. In the days leading to their arrival, my mind was a coin toss that was stuck in midair. Whatever excitement there was about having “my people” here was equally subdued by a cloud of trepidation.

east and west

Bao Nguyen

Bao comes to Xin Chao with a belief that stories, through their connective nature, have the power to bridge the ideological islands where we often find ourselves stranded. From a young age, he has immersed himself in stories, absorbing everything from the historical to the fantastical.


My mind churned with questions like: Would I be able to connect with them? What would they think of me? Is...politics going to be an issue? Partly because I had a job to do but more so driven by what I later realized as a dormant yearning to reconnect, I decided not to squander this rare opportunity; I would make an effort at openness and friendship. Through conversations led by curiosity and unhindered by history or politics, we connected as one person to another, sharing our hopes and dreams, our past, present, and future. Inactive neurons in my brain fired up one by one, rekindling memories and emotions I thought had been lost forever. By the end of the programs, I had three new Eastern Vietnamese friends, a bet I would not have taken just a few weeks earlier. I learned from them that while Western Vietnam still regards its Eastern sibling through the lens of the 70s and 80s, the next generation of Eastern Vietnam had quickly grown up and started to join the global stage, becoming business entrepreneurs and social leaders and shaping their communities. They are pursuing education and careers abroad, looking to connect with people all over the world, including those of us in Western Vietnam. But it has not been easy. Another Eastern Vietnamese friend in Seattle told me there are nearly 200 families like hers residing here with more coming every year, but they largely socialize among themselves, eschewing the local community for fear of rejection, if not outright hostility. They opt to hold gatherings and celebrate holidays amongst themselves instead of joining existing ones. It’s regrettable indeed that a 5000-year-old tradition like Tết could not overcome 50 years of Conflict. Standing on the beach that day as I mulled over this wistful thought, I suddenly remembered that just a few feet behind was my new Eastern Vietnamese friend Hà, who I had visited after also meeting up with Nhơn in Saigon. When they had completed their work in Seattle and returned home, I felt a great calling from across the Pacific and booked my flight. This time, I did not feel like a tourist. I was visiting friends in an old neighborhood

"This time, I did not feel like a tourist. I was visiting friends in an old neighborhood and Vietnam had never been more beautiful and calm in my mind." and Vietnam had never been more beautiful and calm in my mind. Through the fear was friendship, and through the human connections that I made, was peace. It is a joy that I hope others could find. In a later conversation, I asked Hà how it was to work with a Western Vietnamese like me. She tells me that when she was preparing to apply for the program, she felt happy and somewhat “at ease” to know there would be a Vietnamese person around. “At ease about what?” I pried. “Isn’t that a very natural feeling?” she said as a matter of fact. “Like ah...there’s a Vietnamese person! I believe other participants would feel the same. Isn’t that a natural connection among Vietnamese?” I nodded and smiled.



Thu Tran

is from Hanoi, Vietnam but currently lives in Seattle, WA. She is an environmental consultant at Cascadia Consulting Group. During her free time, she enjoys being in nature, reading books, playing soccer, and testing different cooking recipes.

north and south


n 2013, at a work function, a Chinese gentleman approached and asked me if I was Vietnamese.

“Yes, why?” I responded shyly, wondering what would follow. “Well, I am working with some Vietnamese people in Little Saigon on economic development. They really need more help. You could, well, help them out if you have time,” the man suggested eagerly. I did not answer him right away even though the project seemed interesting. Despite wanting to agree, I was full of doubt, the biggest one being whether I would be welcomed in the group. The man did not know that I was a little different from most of the Vietnamese American population here. It had been almost six years when I first arrived in the U.S. I had never been to any foreign lands before and America was a fascinating place, being the most powerful nation in the world. Despite my strong interest in the country, I did not forget that America was deeply involved in the Vietnam War. My uncle fought in that war and my parents would have done the same thing had they not been underage. As a result, America made me excited and hesitant at the same time. Unlike most Vietnamese Americans living in the States, I am from the northern region of Vietnam. The War was fought primarily between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, and the latter made up the majority of Vietnamese in America. “There are many Southerners in the States. Do not talk politics with them,” my mom warned me repeatedly before my trip. A good American friend also emailed before my arrival with advice: “Don’t take things personally if you happen to have awkward interactions with some Viet Kieu here.” I had never met any Viet Kieu before. At first, I was one of the only few Vietnamese people in the small eastern Washington town where my school was located. However, things changed significantly when I moved to Seattle after graduation. Suddenly, I was among tens of thousands Vietnamese Americans. I ran into at least one every day around the city. All the advice from my family and friends came rushing


back, bringing with it a sense of discomfort. I unconsciously started hiding my Northern accent whenever I shopped at Vietnamese markets or ate at Vietnamese restaurants, worried about being discriminated against because of my accent and family background. Naturally, my social circle composed of only fellow Northerners. As I stood in front of the man, weighing the intimidating proposition of working with a group of local Vietnamese Americans, another thought also occurred. "What could go wrong"? I asked myself. It sounds like I can help. Plus, it would be fun to learn more about this part of the city where I frequented all the time for yummy food and groceries. So I agreed to be connected to the group. Two weeks later, I was talking with Quynh Pham, who works for the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation District Authority (SCIDPDA) and Friends of Little Saigon. Quynh immigrated to the States with her family when she was very young. Through our conversation, I learned that she cared deeply about the economic development of Vietnamese mom-andpop shops in Little Saigon. She wanted to promote Vietnamese businesses to the rest of Seattle through an annual festival called Celebrate Little Saigon (CLS). With very few organizers working on the annual festival, she was trying hard to recruit more volunteers for the project. Quynh’s ingenuity, honesty, and enthusiasm won me over and I joined the planning committee.

The CLS planning committee included people from very diverse backgrounds who all want to empower the Vietnamese community one way or another, including the summer festival. Despite my initial hesitation, I slowly opened up as I realized that my contribution could be valuable in this committee. During the first year, I had to recruit volunteers. I called friends, emailed coworkers, and even tapped into my circle of friends from North Vietnam. Many of them felt tentative about engaging with Vietnamese Americans, but some signed up anyway. I was so happy when one of my friends brought her two sons to volunteer with me. Everyone had fun at the festival no matter where they were from in Vietnam and what Vietnamese accent they had.

"Everyone was having fun at the festival no matter where they were from in Vietnam and what Vietnamese accent they had."



My fellow planning committee members were also very friendly and inclusive. Not only did people not discriminate against my different accent, they even asked me to be the MC! It was an unforgettable night when the planning committee went to Snoqualmie Casino for a night out after the festival. I made new friends and learned so much through the experience. The feeling of being able to contribute was very empowering. I finally felt like I was part of the local Vietnamese community. The War ended over forty years ago but its brutalities deeply scarred the Vietnamese people’s memory. While millions of South Vietnamese died or had to flee the country, many North Vietnamese also withered throughout the War. I consider myself extremely lucky not to have lived through that time and to suffer very few of its negative legacy, so I am in no position to tell my fellow Vietnamese how to feel. Nevertheless, an increasing

number of North and South Vietnamese (from current-day Vietnam) are coming to study and work in the greater Seattle area. Many of us shop at markets owned by South Vietnamese, conduct business with South Vietnamese entrepreneurs, visit pagodas built by South Vietnamese, and form meaningful connections with our South Vietnamese counterparts on a daily basis. I sincerely hope the two communities will continue to open up to one another and develop one connected Vietnamese community in Seattle. When I was a little girl, my mom taught me this folk saying that I believe will always stay true: “Nhiễu điều phủ lấy giá gương. Người trong một nước thì thương nhau cùng.”

“Nhiễu điều phủ lấy giá gương. Người trong một nước thì thương nhau cùng.” “The red cloth covers the mirror stand. People from one country should love each other.” Explanation: Nhiễu điều is a red silk cloth that was used in olden days to cover and protect valuable things from dust and dirt. Like so, people should cover and protect one another from bad things in life.


CẢNH TÌNH QUÊ HƯƠNG Nằm nghe tí tách mưa rơi Thời gian nhỏ giọt điểm đời tha phương. Nhớ thương cố quốc canh trường Mỗi hình ảnh cũ tỏ tường từng ly. Ngày Xuân cây cỏ xanh rì Én đưa thoi dệt, hoa thì ngát hương. Giai nhân tài tử trên đường Bút đàn quảy gánh hành hương đến Chùa. Dâng hương, hái lộc, xăm đưa Đoán thời vận mới hơn thua thế nào. Phong lưu thanh nhã làm sao Quê hương đẹp thế bút nào tả đây! Ve kêu rỉ rả niềm tây Gió nam đã thổi thì hay Hè về. Sen đầm ngào ngạt bốn bề Chén trà thơm ngát thỏa thuê ngắm hồ. Thung thăng thuyền nhỏ rượu bồ Cất cao giọng hát điểm tô cảnh trời. Bồng Lai non nước chơi vơi Cánh buồm Lưu Nguyễn biển khơi chập chùng. Thu về non nước mông lung Lá vàng từng chiếc không trung chao mình. Trời mây xanh ngắt lung linh Động lòng thi sĩ, khơi tình văn nhân. Rượu nồng hồn mộng bâng khuâng Đêm Đông gảy khúc Chiêu quân cống Hồ. Xa xa gió cuốn vi lô Nghe lòng man mác tựa hồ trong mơ! Flickr / M M


vietnamese Martin Tran is a Co-Director of the Seattle Asian American Film Festival.











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As a kid I watched the original 21 Jump Street on TV. Sure, Johnny Depp was the obvious star, but he was not the one who stood out for me. It was all about Detective Harry Loki played by Dustin Nguyen. Since those early days, Dustin has gone on to carve his place in Hollywood and Vietnam as both an actor and a director. His latest directorial effort, Jackpot (Trúng Số), was Vietnam’s official entry this year for the Academy Awards Foreign Language Film category. Jackpot follows the true life story of Lanh, a struggling lottery vendor in Vietnam who verbally agrees to set aside tickets for a delivery man who agrees to pay and pick them up later. But when one of those tickets ends up being a winner, Lanh is faced with a difficult decision. The film is a little broad for my own personal tastes, but it resonated greatly in Vietnam and solidified Dustin Nguyen as a force in Vietnamese cinema.

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This past year, San Francisco-based filmmaker, Jennifer Phang, of mixed Vietnamese, Malay and Chinese descent, released her second feature film titled Advantageous. Set in a near future world where a youthful appearance is everything, this critical thinking sci-fi film has won awards at film festivals nationwide and has put Jennifer on the map as an American filmmaker on the rise. Advantageous is now available on Netflix.

Vietnamese American director and writer Charlie Nguyen, along with his actor and fight choreographer brother Johnny Tri Nguyen, burst onto the scene in 2007 with The Rebel. A milestone in Vietnamese martial arts films, the quality of the action sequences and production put the rest of the Vietnamese film scene on notice. Since then, the brothers continue to collaborate, most notably in Bụi Đời Chợ Lớn, and have also worked with other internationally known stars as well. Charlie served as a 2nd Unit Director for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, and Johnny fought Tony Jaa in the international hit The Protector. The Rebel is available for rent on YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon video.

filmography As a lover of film, I’m always on the lookout for great stories told by talented storytellers. And as a Vietnamese American, nothing makes me happier than when I find that those storytellers have names like Nguyen and Tran. As such, check out this list of films created by such directors and actors who tell the stories of Vietnamese worldwide.













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Do you remember Ham Tran’s 2007 film Journey from the Fall? I do, but not clearly; it’s difficult to remember images seen through tearful eyes. The film is the Vietnamese American’s collective story, from reeducation camps to escaping Vietnam by boat to trying to figure out an American life. Expertly shot, truthfully acted, this is personally one of the most impactful films I have ever seen. Watch it with tissue on and, and however you can, tell your family you love them. Journey from the Fall is available for purchase on





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Horror/comedy film Crush the Skull, directed by Viet Nguyen, has been a crowd favorite of the film festival circuit this past year. Started as a series of shorts on YouTube, Viet expanded the concept into a feature length film that shows off his ability to illicit chills and laughs alike, making it a fun and very different entry in the world of Vietnamese American cinema.

And last but not least, no list of influential Vietnamese films and filmmakers would be complete without including Vietnamese–French Tran Anh Hung and his first feature film, The Scent of Green Papaya. Released in 1993, this film won the Caméra d’Or prize at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the 1993 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Set in Vietnam but shot entirely in France, this lyrically told story follows the life and love of a servant girl named Mui. This movie was the first internationally recognized Vietnamese film and paved the way for all the ones to follow. Most recently, Tran Anh Hung was chosen by Haruki Murakami to direct his hit novel Norwegian Wood. The Scent of Green Papaya is available on Amazon Video.



#LoveWins Peter Dinh McGinnis is a devoted

son and loving partner. When he is not busy traveling the world and doing philanthropy work in Viet Nam and Mexico, he is transforming people, one fabulous hairstyle at a time.


"I struggled with these questions constantly and didn’t know how long I could go on with the secret. Yet, how could I prepare myself and be ready to answer all their questions when I was still trying to find the answers myself?"


n February 2016 Robert and I celebrated 15 years together and our second anniversary as a married couple.

I can clearly remember when I first introduced Robert to my family, apprehensive and uncertain of what they would think of him. He was the first boyfriend I had ever taken to a family gathering but, of course, I had always introduced him as my friend. Over time, he came to every family function, and eventually, when family members started asking his whereabouts if I came alone, I knew that was positive affirmation that he had been accepted into the Dinh family! When I saw how he cared, loved, and supported my family and me during the time when my mom broke her ankle, I felt it in my heart that he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But it hasn’t always been that simple and easy to be an openly gay Vietnamese American. From an early age, I’ve known that I was different from other boys. I loved doing “girlie stuff,” and when it came to actual girls, I was confused about my sexuality as well. I felt afraid of what would happen if my family knew the truth about who I was, which at that point, I was not even sure of myself. I understood that I was attracted to the same sex but for many years I stayed under the radar and tried to be “normal” like everyone else. Paradoxically, my close-knit, traditional, Vietnamese Catholic family was simultaneously supporters of my life passions and unwitting obstructers of my full self-expression. In time, I became more curious about this side of myself. I started going to gay clubs and meeting other gay people but, all the while, I could not shake the fact that I was living a double-life and was perpetually tormented by questions, such as How am I going to

tell my family? What will happen if they know? Will they still love me? Will they accept who I am? Will they feel embarrassed to have a son or brother who is gay? Will they disown me? I struggled with these questions constantly and didn’t know how long I could go on with the secret. Yet, how could I prepare myself and be ready to answer all their questions when I was still trying to find the answers myself? Eventually, I started dating and slowly opened up to my family about being gay. Well...really just to my mother because somehow I knew she would love me no matter what. Even so, in the beginning, she looked for treatments to help change my sexuality. But eventually she began to realize that this was something I was born with and that it was not a rebellious or thoughtless choice. Throughout all this, I always felt my parents' unconditional love and support even if they did not openly talk about my lifestyle. Some things don’t need to be spoken in order to be true. I am so lucky to live in a state where gay marriage is legal. Most importantly, we have the right to make decisions for the ones we love, especially in times of illness. Before gay marriage was legalized, it did not matter how many years a couple had been together; they had no rights to visit each other in the hospital or make any legal, financial, or medical decisions on behalf of their partner. Like all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, I, as a gay man, just want to love and be loved, to support and be supported by my loved ones. Being gay is not a choice or a lifestyle. I was born like this.



embrace Olyvia Chac was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and is a first-generation Vietnamese-

American college student. She aspires to inspire her peers, colleagues and the greater Vietnamese community through her creative and passionate exploration of internal boundaries and international borders.


tanding at 5’3” tall and weighing over 230 pounds, wearing a skin-hugging áo dài made with fabric that barely seems to be affected by gravity was something far beyond how I wanted to display my “curves.” Childhood photos from when I was a little girl through my teen years give a visual timeline of how I transformed from a slender child to one of the heaviest girls in my entire fifth grade class. And while other kids rebelled in later years, turning to alcohol and other substances to ease their pain or to appeal to their peers, I, too, renounced my world; food was my drug of choice. Ever since I was tall enough to reach over the kitchen counter to scoop my own bowl of rice, the self-medication began. That led to my pediatrician’s note in one after-visit summary that warned, “be sure to monitor your eating habits and make sure you feel hungry before you want to eat. Let’s keep monitoring your weight until our next visit.” Mom could not leave the office without asking if there were magic diet pills young children could take to prevent them from being overweight. Every. Single. Time. Oh yeah, sure, a pill that could fix my thunder thighs and expanded waistline at the age of 12. I don’t blame her though; she had seen way too many “magic diet pill” commercials.


Self-medication with food has been one of the longest relationships I have had in my life, even longer than my friendships from prekindergarten. It’s one of those love-hate relationships. Like when you can’t seem to call it off with one of your ex's from Vietnamese Sunday School. You try with all your might to remove him from your life, but when Sunday mornings roll around, you kind of start to fall for the irresistible way he recites the Vietnamese alphabet. Oh…sweetness. You know how it goes when you find “true love” in kindergarten. That’s how I found mine, bite after bite. Teenage angst surely paid a visit but mine was not the typical rebellion against authority. Instead, nothing provoked me more than the topic of my physical appearance. Not only did I not appeal to society’s beauty standards but, more so, I did not “look like” a Vietnamese woman. I was lacking more than just the jet black hair that linger around a narrow waistline. My voice developed an octave too low, my feet grew more than a few sizes larger than the average and my inclination towards a short hairstyle placed me way outside the “strut with confidence” category. I abstained from make-up, my hair remained a natural virgin black and my wardrobe consisted solely of loose-fitting clothes that did not cling to my body.

Photo: Jeannie Voung

Reflecting on my teen years, I denied myself the right to feel beautiful and comfortable. I was convinced that beauty evolved with privilege and was naturally selected for size 4 waists. It was reserved for people like my exceptionally gorgeous childhood friends who had closets cluttered with all manners of clothes, and most importantly, elegant, flowy áo dài that captured their petite figures. This perceived lack of privilege tied my tongue when I wanted to ask my high school math buddy to prom and it glued my lips when I needed to reveal that the buxom-blonde high school valedictorian cheated on a calculus exam. The lump in my throat suffocated me from tearing into each of my petite female friends when they tried on size 6 dresses and proceeded to call themselves “fat.” So I wallowed and kept silent in my head and ignored the behavior of “skinny” people to focus on my studies.

being an American-born, educated female. I slowly acknowledged and embraced the privileges that were mine. Labels I received as a female of color were welcomed, the one I coveted most being “plus-sized.” It was a part of my identity; I could neither hide nor pretend it was not real. Facing the mirror each morning no longer involved regret or self-loathing. The personal challenge I have accepted is to embrace my definition of a Vietnamese woman:

Self-acceptance came after a long and bumpy journey. Through the recognition of how blessed and privileged I was, the path to finally embracing all of me emerged. I was raised, as the oldest daughter, to be the first to encounter and navigate the Vietnamese-American identity, the first to receive the privilege of

be resilient through the most arduous times of 3/ To distress and to begin to heal through pain is to act with

"Reflecting on my teen years, I denied myself the right to feel beautiful and comfortable. I was convinced that beauty evolved with privilege and was naturally selected for size 4 waists."

not determined by her physical appearance but by 1/ Itherissincere demeanor to act with principle, dignity and carry the traditions of her people is not found on the surface but from within and 2/ Beauty the journey of realizing true beauty, not vanity, is by seeing how her charm illuminates and attracts others

warm actions and simply embrace what’s present Now, when I see a Vietnamese woman in a flawlessly crafted áo dài, I choose to see her inner elegance, grace, and finesse.



Youtube / Van's Kitchen | Vietnamese Home Cooking

Sour Soup for the Vietnamese Soul Remy Dang

is a sophomore at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. She is pursuing a degree in Business Administration and is passionate about growth and development with and for others. She loves getting to know people and will always make time to start a new conversation.


Going through a soup withdrawal, I am also reminded of a few life lessons from home that, as a younger person, I wasn’t able to see.


ne thing I’ve noticed during my college experience so far is the distinct lack of soup. It’s strange that I always come back to this particular craving for I was never a soup person growing up and I am still not a fan of it to this day. Yet this craving has been a persistent one. On most evenings when my mom would cook dinner for the family, it would consist of three Vietnamese dinner staples: cơm (rice), cá or thịt (fish or meat), and canh (soup). Every weekend my mom would make a huge pot of some kind of noodle soup like phở (the ubiquitous beef noodle soup), bún riêu (crab noodle soup), mì (Vietnamese ramen). When I lived at home, I didn’t appreciate the soups my mom would make each night, probably because it was my least favorite thing on the table. But now it’s something I wish to enjoy all the time. Going from having something available every day to having it become an occasional indulgence was one of the biggest changes I’ve had to come to terms with since starting college. Going through a soup withdrawal, I am also reminded of a few life lessons from home that, as a younger person, I wasn’t able to see.

Only when I left my home to begin the next chapter of my life did I begin to grasp just some of the things my family did to prepare me to become the independent person I am today. My siblings helped me practice patience, something I have to work on every day while interacting with so many people. My mother taught me the importance of confidence and the ability to learn from challenges. I do not let failures define me or hold me back; instead, I learn from them and move on to something greater, something that is truly meant to teach me a valuable lesson. My father showed me the importance of being a good person and the value of service. I am a service-oriented person and I value the relationships I develop with others. I am aware of those around me and take actions to better the community in which I am involved. My family showed me how to love extravagantly, relentlessly, and fearlessly. I am not hesitant to share this love I have experienced with each and every person I encounter. Nothing can replace my home. It would be impossible. But my school and the new community I have established on my own are a close second. My family members taught me how to adapt to different situations, and this transition to college has been the biggest test of all. In trying to find my role in my new community, I am comforted by the love and faith that my family has in me. We have a bond that even distance can’t break. Who would have ever thought that soup can trigger so much self-reflection and learning?

Learning new ideas and obtaining knowledge is expected of a college student. However, I did not realize I would also gain new perspectives that would help me reexamine my family life and experiences from a totally new angle. My mom used to say to me that she could do, by herself, everything she asked of me and that I didn’t have to do anything. By doing the chores, she added, I would be learning how to do them for my own sake in the future. Of course, I didn’t believe her at the time. Surely it was just an excuse so she wouldn’t have to do the chores herself, right? Well now that I am here in college, this distance away from home has made it possible for me to apply the lessons and skills my parents taught me. At home, I would never wake up and make my bed even though I was constantly told to. Guess who is finally making her bed each morning? I’m also washing my dishes, doing my laundry, and keeping myself tidy without someone telling me to do so!


MÁ YÊU Cháo Má nấu thơm ngon diệu kỳ Dù chỉ là cháo trắng mà thôi Sáng sớm là ngâm thơ tình Thức cả nhà dậy để cùng yêu nhau Yêu Má đã từ bao lâu? Từ khi con biết nhảy dây, đánh vần Khi Má lặn lội núi rừng Trồng cây trồng vọt để nuôi lớn con Mỗi ngày mong mỏi đàn con “Tuần này có về thăm Ba Má không?” “Có thì con muốn ăn gì?” “Lái xe nhớ chạy chậm chậm nghe chưa?” Má ơi Má của chúng con Má tuyệt vời nhất trong lòng Bé Nhi Mỗi lần Má cười Má vui Tim con ấm áp, lòng nhẹ như mây

Photos: Nhi Tran Flickr / Mauro




dear r e h t o birthm Michael Lee Moore

years "Birthmother was 21 ur birth. old at the time of yo weighed She was 5 feet and sewing 92 lbs. She enjoyed vies." and going to the mo years "Birthfather was 25 h broad old. He was 5’6’’ wit scular shoulders and a mu hair, build. He had black olive brown eyes, and an t to complexion. He wen ietnam aviation school in V me an and wanted to beco electrician."


Dear Birthmother,

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These att uma that is triggered se American crowd tra me tna Vie to c ed sti ne sia enthu ntal human pelled by a fundame blending in were pro gins. ori my to the knowledge of seek for and hold on ater order to feel a gre ch experiences in su to lf in se r my ye ct pla I subje just a bit to feel more than g, gin lon rd be wa of for e p sens th each ste ltural narrative. Wi s, someone else's cu sporic communitie tnam and its dia Vie t ou n ab thi ng wi rni ep in lea ness de ineffable conscious me so ait be aw to rly n, ge I ea ndental connectio iritual and transce ry me to spark a sp mething. Yet, so ve o the fabric of…so int sly n les tha am se nt n me wove re disappoint or fraught with mo av de en the an in is it re , we often ich, if they ltural experiences wh hope. All of these cu ground, would have ck ba y never l Vietnamese ica typ a of they to the fact that I ma rk wo frame se person. Instead, on, I try to get used s me he tna etc Nhất Vie str a e ích Th as tim as As ce my life and, cultural solidified my existen that I am merely a . I try to appreciate ain ers kes ag ind u ma yo rem rth et ea as me re ffering as the rstand frequently serve mo make use of my su to have others unde t to , e, jus es tiv s ch ec gle tea ug rsp pe str nh o s Hạ wh wers. From thi tourist, an outsider ẹn gặp lại." d to grow lotus flo "H mu g the cin of the un ult of no e res pro us t at is a direc my clumsy attempts assion for others me. I see that my comp of y you gave birth to s da tie the ari d that occurre d Catholic Ch ion ke as rat I een pa , se tw l ay be na thd nd mi bir bo ter d th tion, to that the sacre Around my thirtie t facilitated my adop ss harrowing ways y: dle tha tor n en his tio t the iza e ou an se gh I org ou severed thr uld try Central Florida, the has been violently For a fee, they wo ild u. m ch yo d . fro i.e an , wn r do nts the ed are mo ss imacy pa inquire search for my birthp ive stigma of illegit and, once found, ers through the oppress rrent whereabouts cu ur where family memb for yo y ry da ve ate e sla loc on to to American . It took only ty, me to cie , th so wi ely rat ian ed pa tor nit se Vic reu le. 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Maybe she felt from their homes me na ren e my ild y liz ch an rea ny I ing ma vid m. care syste know as restricted from pro overburdened foster believed I should d an e of an o ns n int se tio d is ce ua sit Th pla . be mine alone compassion for my not and never will and is ss ing ne urn pti mo em the nights of much as possible. carries me through n sio as mp co tion son for being. most of the adop gives the pain its rea t you had set up tha ur me yo d et, tol me e to Sh came time tnamese ur own, but when it a g books about Vie arrangements on yo Although there was nt. I will not stop readin se id, pre sa re t we tnamese tha in Vie th us g Wi co din d t stop atten her – did parents, sister, an culture. I will no her – my grandfat d fat aming an ur y dre yo p tor r, sto his t rrie ba no fit in. I will paperwork strong language ts where I don't quite ake interview. The en and int ev m n the ca tna g eri rin Vie Am du to l g due to the soon, I will trave s y most of the talkin wa da t e en On hm u. uis yo g inq of finally findin son for my rel re born. , my revealed that the rea am to where you we re pregnant with me we u yo ed liz rea wonder how close I u yo en e. wh els t, e on tha t me fac married to so d to being already ily birthfather admitte uld fall upon the fam e” found “disgrac wo Your son, pro a t tha id sa s wa It . me t ou ab t oore if anyone found ou ael L. M

such "I subject myself to to feel a experiences in order nging, greater sense of belo t a bit to feel more than jus lse's player in someone e cultural narrative."




Khiem Do Photography /




"For many of us, it started with an escape story."


ave you ever had a moment where, all of a sudden, everything in life just seems to make sense? Some call it an “awakening” or the start of a spiritual journey. Others call it the “ah ha” moment. It’s when things start to untangle, like a hard math problem finally solved for the first time, or like in my mom’s case, discovering the power of the Internet and re-connecting with long lost friends. Perhaps it’s when you realize the meaning of life and why you were put here on this earth. For me, the eventual collision of my migratory experience, upbringing, culture and media helped connect the many dots that I did not notice before. For many of us, it started with an escape story. For me, it started in April 1975 when my dad stole a government-issued CH-47 Chinook helicopter to save his family during the tumultuous final days of the Fall of Saigon. Unlike other fleeing South Vietnamese Air Force helicopter pilots who found help landing safely on many US Navy carrier flight decks to unload their families, my dad had to hover roughly 15 feet in the air for all of us to jump into the arms of the USS Kirk crewmen below (since the USS Kirk ship was too small for him to land on). After everyone jumped off,


it was just him and a huge Chinook with no landing space. What he did next was simply amazing and was documented in the Oscar-nominated film “Last Days in Vietnam.” Unlike millions of people who escaped Vietnam, our family’s story was documented in film. And unlike other Vietnam-era documentaries that focus on the politics and/or tactics of war, this film zooms in on the human stories of the last few days during the chaotic events leading up to the Fall of Saigon, stories of human courage, compassion, teamwork, and resilience. Our collective Vietnamese refugee and immigration story is colorful and riveting in so many ways. Through my travels to many cities across the U.S. to promote this film, I have heard so many more amazing stories from fellow refugees of their dangerous and heroic acts to find freedom and a better life. What resonated across all of our Vietnamese stories are words of courage, bravery, heroism, compassion, teamwork, and overcoming great obstacles. These themes, messages, and stories are very relevant these days with the refugee crisis in Syria and may help us to better reflect on how we should respond.

My “ah ha” moment exposed some simple truths and meaning to me. In short, we (collectively) are all in the same boat here on this earth. We all need each other in so many ways just as much as we need our environment and all living things on this planet to grow and sustain future generations. Remember how good it felt to help someone in need? If we are all aware of this and contribute where we can, the world would be a much nicer and friendlier place to live. I also learned that there is always a chance to discover or re-discover your true purpose and calling in life no matter where you are in your life. And when you do find your purpose, make the time to give back to your community and help others along in their journey as well. Most of you might be asking, “Well, how do I find my purpose or calling in life?” To that question, I always say, “The answer is already inside you.” It’s just buried deep behind FEAR. Take the risk and courage to pursue your purpose and passion in life, no matter where you are today. As you move forward, invite a few others to join you as well!


“ah moment ha� Miki Nguyen is a motivational

speaker and author who is available for speaking engagements on a number of topics. For more information, visit

Photos: Miki Nguyen

"We (collectively) are all in the same boat here on this earth. We all need each other in so many ways just as much as we need our environment and all living things on this planet to grow and sustain future generations."


Notable Professional Profiles Photos: Eddie Lee


Juliet Dang, Ph. D Staff Writer

Eddie Lee T

hirty five years ago, in a heater-less 10'x10' metal shed on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Seattle, Eddie Lee created his first piece, a carving made from mammoth ivory. Looking at the figure now, he thinks that it symbolized prayer and meditation, an ongoing theme in his work that has come full circle. It was quite serendipitous how his art career began. Lee’s father died in a car accident when he was seven years old, leaving him and nine other siblings to be brought up by his mother. In 1978, he was accepted into the University of Science in Vietnam but immigrated to the US instead. Having no carving experience whatsoever, Lee was fortunately offered a job with Northwest Arts and Craft where he avidly learned the techniques. Early on, after carving an eagle head while still very much a novice, Lee realized that this skill was always inside him waiting to come alive. There was much initial discouragement from his mother. Lee mentioned the first ten years as being very difficult. In the 80s, there was no social media to kick-start a career, thus requiring much travel to different art shows to display his pieces. In 1984, he was able to put a down payment on a house for his mother and, ever since, she has been supportive of his career and is still amazed at his success. Lee’s inspiration stems from life experiences itself. From travels to Alaska to falling in love, he explains that whatever is occurring internally is bound to come out in his art. As demonstrated by his mermaid piece where flowers were carved on natural smoky blue tones coming out of the ivory, this organic outcome is how such pieces obtain their uniqueness and are impossible to replicate. Many of Lee’s pieces are not for sale due to the

“Bring it out, give it life. When you force something into the material, it’s not natural.”

“Art comes from inner feelings and you express the true shape or form in your work.” lack of duplication, including the inherent energy that went into creating each one. He jokes about how when there is no price tag, customers seem more eager to purchase. “A lot of pieces aren’t for sale because it’s a part of my life,” he explains. “Art comes from inner feelings and you express the true shape or form in your work.” Lee’s longtime interests in geology and biology are evident in his pieces. The materials he works with include alabaster, a light salmon-colored stone; selenite, a white translucent stone; fossilized mammoth tusks; caribou and moose horns; and fossilized animal jaws. His most magnificent piece called Evolution took three years to complete and was created from a mammoth tusk approximately 40,000 years old. The fine detail is quite extraordinary as tiny unicellular organisms can be seen leading to primitive sea creatures which then evolve into reptiles and mammals and finally to homo sapiens. “There’s always life in the material,” Lee answered when asked about his process. “Bring it out, give it life. When you force something into the material, it’s not natural.”


Notable Professional Profiles (Continued)

Huy Tat Owner of Salted Sea and Hue Ky Mi Gia uy

s: H oto

t Ta



ooking was always in his blood. Tat grew up watching his father cook from a small noodle cart directly in front of his home in Saigon. However, like most immigrant parents, they pushed him to get a college degree when the family resettled in Washington in the 90s. But being a chef was all he wanted to do and a 9-5 job was not appealing. Tat pursued this true passion and is now a seasoned restaurateur catering to both Asian and mainstream tastes. Hue Ky Mi Gia


is located in the heart of Little Saigon and Salted Sea resides in trendy Columbia City. Tat also has noodle stands in Century Link Stadium. Despite his busy lifestyle as a father and husband managing multiple thriving businesses, Tat always looks for ways to give back to his community. He attributes much of his success to the support of his wife and parents, his devoted employees, and to mentors and friends like Bernard Bossom who guides him on how to balance between 12-hour work days and family life.


nspired by the classic Quentin Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction, Tran’s interest in films began in high school. It was not always easy following his passion for filmmaking rather than the stability of his father’s footsteps of being a computer engineer. However, with each step into the cinematography scene, he learned a little bit more about the world around him, his identity, and his purpose.

led Tran to realize the importance of highlighting difficult and meaningful social and identity issues. Tran’s advocacy for more diversity in the film industry can be seen in a short film called Vast Minority, in which a young Asian boy wants to become successful in Hollywood, only to realize the racial barriers within the industry. Tran is very passionate about Asian representation within the stories, behind and in front of the camera.

“I thought filmmaking was something only for the rich and fortunate and that only a select few from Hollywood get to participate,” Tran says. “There are highs where it is nothing but stars and rainbows, but some days it can be a battle with yourself and wondering if it is all really worth it.” But no matter the weather, Tran has chosen to stay true to his passion and continues to persevere.

In Trapped, a character named Brooklyn had such an impact on viewers that it


Notable Professional Profiles (Continued)


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Events by Heather & Ryan /

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Phuong Minh Nguyen A

s a young girl growing up in the hilly district of Thai Hoa, Vietnam, Nguyen dreamed of working in the fashion industry. Many years later, despite completing a business degree in Seattle, Nguyen could not deny her heart’s calling and ultimately enrolled in a Fashion Design program. This was a bold and unexpected move for Nguyen, whose family was far from what one would consider fashion-oriented or artistic. Unlike other designers born into the business, Nguyen did not have anyone able to guide or mentor her. Facing the tremendous difficulty of starting a brand new business without a network, Nguyen relied on the one sure thing she possessed: the strong work ethic she learned from her parents. Family and cultural values have been the foundation to Nguyen’s success. “Growing up in Vietnam was great,” she recalls. “It taught me to understand the balance of life and the value of money. I also learned that dreams do come true if you believe in it and pursue it.” Nguyen recently won the 2015 Designer of the Year award at the Bellevue Collection’s Independent Designer Runway Show. Her goals for the next five years include owning a large manufacturing facility in order to create her gowns and to be showcased in major bridal boutiques worldwide.

Phuong Minh Nguyen Designer for Dream Dresses by P.M.N.



A Vietnamese English Teacher in Korea Tito Huynh was born in Kansas and is currently working as a marketing

specialist at Business Data Services. He is passionate about his wife and the Korean language and culture. In his free time, he likes to study more Korean and play games.

Photos: Tito Nguyen



hoosing to major in Korean probably looked like the most spontaneous life choice to my family and friends. But the fact is, studying Korean was something I genuinely enjoy.

Throughout my life, I have often been called Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Filipino, Samoan, and many more. Very rarely did I hear Vietnamese. I grew up in Kansas, a predominantly white state, which probably has much to do with the bad guesses but I realized early on that if I were to try to figure out from which specific ancestral groups white people were from, I would probably have the same results! How am I to know the guy sitting next to me in Biology class is one-fourth British, half Italian, and one-fourth French? It is impossible to tell just by looking. Growing up in America showed me how unaware we all are of each other’s heritage. More importantly, it showed me the value of having an open mind. As soon as I started preschool, it became a choice between speaking Vietnamese or English. I was raised speaking Vietnamese with my parents but it turned out that teachers and other students did not. So my parents worked very hard to teach me English after school even though they weren’t perfect themselves. The experience taught me to respect those who are learning another language and I embraced both my Vietnamese side and American side. My friends loved asking me about my Vietnamese and how to say certain things. I even had the chance to invite some of them to my family’s Tết new year celebration. Although my parents wanted me to become a doctor at one point, that did not mean they wanted me to be a doctor just to be a doctor. What they really wanted was for me to be successful, to have job security, and to be happy. I became convinced that being a physician was for me. However, while taking classes in college, I found the opposite. Doing a 180-turn, I decided to major in Korean, and after earning my Bachelor’s degree, became an English teacher in South Korea.

Doing so seemed like the natural thing to do and I also wanted to improve my Korean proficiency. It has improved a lot but not as much as I had hoped. There is only so much Korean you can use when you are supposed to be an English teacher! Despite not getting to use Korean as much as I wanted, it does give me advantages. Everyday life is easy and more opportunities are opened in my job. The best thing about knowing another language is being able to understand the nuances of that culture. On top of that, I can watch shows and movies without subtitles! Now I am nearing the end of my first year as an English teacher abroad. The experience has been great and I am officially on my own for the first time and gaining the independence I did not have when I was a student. I am extremely grateful to my parents for supporting me throughout school and will always be thankful. They gave me what I needed to stand on my own two feet, even though I did not pursue the career they had hoped. Although my choice took me far from home, they supported my decision through every step.



Is faith still relevant? I

s religious faith relevant in modern society? Recent opinion polls have been numerous and their results scream a definitive “No!”

The latest Pew Research Survey of U.S. Catholics and Family Life from May 5th to June 7, 2015 came up with these astonishing figures: 66% think it’s not a sin to use contraception, 61% think that the Catholic Church should allow cohabitating Catholics to receive Communion, 62% think that the Catholic Church should allow those who remarried without annulment to receive Communion, and 46% think the Catholic Church should recognize marriages of gay and lesbian couples. The people have clearly spoken so why write another article to try and change their minds? To be crystal clear, I am not trying to win a debate. Like many, if I am going to make a decision on an important issue, I want access to all relevant perspectives. To this point, the numbers cited above reflect only the opinions of the Catholic laity, not the clergy. In this article, you’ll receive the opinion of a clergy. Additionally, the questions posed by the survey may convey and confirm a deep-seated prejudice that the institutional Catholic Church’s primary purpose is to lay out and enforce judgmental, bigoted, self-absorbed, dogmatic, irrelevant, outdated, and hypocritical teachings. Although I cannot speak on behalf of all my brother priests, I can assure you that controlling the faithful like Gru toward his Minions did not make my top ten reasons for requesting ordination. I became a priest to serve as Jesus served.


Whether faith ever was or will be relevant is a personal decision. It certainly is to me and my hope is to share my belief that faith has the power to change lives. Allow me a little geeky indulgence. Over a span of 12 years, I have owned three cameras: a Nikon D40x, a Nikon D60, and a Nikon D3300. Comparing the first and last 300 pictures over this period, one would think they were taken by two different people. Clearly, the first batch shows an amateur whose pictures are overexposed, grainy, blurry, and practically an abuse of the “auto” mode. The latest batch? Everything that the former was not. And now, I can replicate the results no matter which camera I use. The point here is that the problem does not lie in the equipment, but in the operator. Like photography, faith’s potential is rarely actualized. To condemn faith of irrelevance is akin to blaming the camera for bad photos. To reverse this process, like most things connected with human nature, begins with attitude. Despite nine years of education and training, my first year as a priest was the beginning of true learning. With several degrees to support the clerical collar, I thought this would be straightforward. In a short time, I realized that ministry demanded much more than PowerPoint presentations, didactic sermons, and precise liturgical rubrics. Take for example the dilemma of divorced and remarried Catholics without annulments, of which there were many in my first assignment. In my mind, nothing could be simpler - the Church gave clear protocols about needing an

Father Marion Qui-Thac Nguyen,

a Vietnamese Benedictine monk, lives, prays, and works at Saint Martin’s Abbey in Lacey, WA. Growing up he religiously shopped in Little Saigon and ate at Pho Bac every Sunday after Mass. Currently, Fr. Qui-Thac enjoys showcasing God’s creation and love through his camera.

annulment, then reception of the Sacrament of Marriage for the new spouse and, finally, permission to receive Holy Communion. On top of this perceived clarity was a young, eager, and educated cleric who was offering his service free of charge. What more could one possibly want? Apparently much more. I never finished the two cases I started in 2004. This was not going to work; something had to change.

“Whether faith ever was or will be relevant is a personal decision. It certainly is to me and my hope is to share my belief that faith has the power to change lives.” Fast forward to 2012 with a new but similar case: one divorced Catholic without an annulment, civilly married to another Catholic, and they wished to receive Communion. Over a glass of wine while playing Cribbage in their home one evening, I commented that they have been faithfully coming to Mass together but only asked for a blessing at Communion time. Clearly they loved the Eucharist and wanted to receive. I asked if there was anything I can do to make that happen. Two hours later, I had good grasp of their history, struggle, hopes and dreams, and the deep faith of these two souls. They never demanded that the Church change the rules nor did they ever hint at it. They wanted to work within the set boundaries but did not know how. We settled on a solution: begin the annulment process immediately with monthly progress checkups over wine and Cribbage, on solemnities and feasts, such as Christmas, Easter, and the anniversary of their civil marriage, I would come over to their home after my last Mass to hear their confessions and give Communion, and lastly, we committed to pray for one another. They are now happily married within the Church and receiving Communion not only on Sundays but also occasionally at weekday liturgies.

What is the difference between the two cases? The Church protocols certainly have not changed. The only explanation was that I had changed. Looking back at my formative years, I was more like the Pharisee who imposed burdens too heavy to carry while I did not lift a finger. In 2012, I began to be more like the shepherd who, noticing the missing sheep, searches for it and when he finds it, sets it on his shoulders with great joy, and upon his arrival home, calls his friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” Faith is relevant because Christ is still relevant. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow; it is I who have changed.

Photos: Father Marion Qui-Thac Nguyen



FROM ME TO MOM: The Transformation of Vietnamese-American Motherhood


he everyday image of the Vietnamese mother – virtuous and caring – is embedded in folklores like Hòn Vọng Phu, which tells the story of a devoted wife and mother who turned to stone waiting for her husband’s return from war. Strong and resilient as a safe harbor amidst the changing environments, she is written into lyrics like the following lines: “Lòng Mẹ bao la như biển Thái Bình rạt rào" ("A mother’s heart is vast like the Pacific Ocean"). "Tình Mẹ tha thiết như giòng suối hiền ngọt ngào" ("A mother’s love is earnest like the sweet gentle stream"). The last 40 years have brought Vietnamese families unimaginable challenges and opportunities, both negative and positive. Past ideals and narratives of Vietnamese mothers may no longer be pertinent and relatable with the realities of modern motherhood. How then, do Vietnamese mothers resolve conflicted cultural and societal expectations? Do they?

“Be submissive and obedient to your husband.” This was how Theresa (Bich-Thuy) Reyna was taught to be. Her traditional parents tried to instill all their Vietnamese values in her, but while Reyna held onto the part about loving her family and culture, she scoffed at the thought of being submissive and obedient. “I was always pushing the boundaries,” Theresa said. So it was probably no surprise to her parents that their headstrong daughter, who inherited her father’s business acumen and her mother’s nurturing personality, would define her own role in her marriage with a Dutch-Mexican husband. Like the traditional Vietnamese mother, Reyna has done it all, and each time, she did it because of family. When her parents were getting along in years, she took over the management of the family’s jewelry business. When she realized her three young sons needed her more, Reyna ventured out on her own and started a business that would better fit her lifestyle. She started


Interpret This, a language service company to address the need for culturally sound interpretation and translation for the growing refugee and immigrant communities. With a wistful smile, Reyna describes her life as CEO of her company and of her family as having no defined work hours but rather “just one big crazy busy life filled with family, friends, and community.” Wondering if you are doing it right is hardest. There is just not enough time in a day to meet all the work deadlines, coordinate carpools, kiss all the boo-boos, and catch up with family and friends. What has kept Reyna grounded and sure of what she is doing is the rule that “everything must work around her boys.” This understanding has made it easier for her to come to terms with the long list of sometimes conflicting responsibilities and deadlines. Reyna attributes her unwavering commitment to her traditional, close-knit upbringing. From her parents, she learned how to balance family and work, how to be both strict and nurturing, and how to raise her Dutchcanese boys to be kind, appreciative, and aware of their identities and communities.

Dr. Tam Q. Dinh is a Social Work professor at Saint Martin's University. She is

committed to promoting and fostering the fundamental values of social work: service to others, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, and integrity through her teaching and research. Juggling schedules and finding enough family time is something to which Lan Pham relates to. As a mother and a full-time social worker, Pham maintains a career that she loves. However, with family as her primary passion, Pham often feels the tension that most full-time mom experiences, the lack of time to be fully engage in both personal passion and familial commitment. Although Pham’s schedule management is not different than other working moms, she acknowledges the pressures that exist in the United States, which is different than those in Vietnam. According to Pham, “It truly takes a village to raise a child.” In Vietnam, Pham feels that help is available through a number of options: limited work hours and flexible work schedules, extended family, domestic help, and the connection with others in the community, such as neighbors and teachers which assist in child rearing. There is an extended social network which supports the success of families.

contribute and could achieve whatever she brings her mind to. This outlook helped her take the leap into running and becoming the first elected Vietnamese female on the Bellevue School Board. With an increasingly diverse student population, Thai’s experience as a Vietnamese, a refugee, and a mother allows her to bring critical insight and perspective on how to better serve the growing student population in a culturally competent and relevant manner.

Growing up in Vietnam, Pham’s parents often traveled for work and business, thus, she spent most of her childhood cared for by older siblings, domestic help, and grandparents. Neighbors were also close and an extension of the family. With five kids in the family, Pham remembers that her mother was able to run an efficient household with such support. Pham feels that societal pressures on women in America to be both dedicated professionals at work and attentive mothers at home, is contradictory to the messages of freedom and liberation. For women to be truly liberated, Pham feels that there needs to be more structural support for moms, such as higher wages, flexible work schedules, and support during maternity leave. Although these were not benefits afforded by the government, it was available through the community in Vietnam. It would seem that women in the United States today should have

“My husband and I just do what we feel is right for our children at the time,” Thai shares. “[We do] what is most comfortable and fitting with our values.”

“Past ideals and narratives of Vietnamese mothers may no longer be pertinent and relatable with the realities of modern motherhood.”

To be of service to the community. To love and appreciate your culture. To be strong and curious. These were the values instilled in Thai as a child by her grandparents. Although Thai passes these same values to her two teenage children, she doesn’t think that these traits are unique to being Vietnamese. Thai never questioned if she was raising her children Vietnamese enough, instead she wants them to be global citizens with shared responsibility of society, of the earth, of the world.

With this confidence, Thai did not feel constrained by cultural parenting expectations for she believes there is no right or wrong way to raise children as long as you love them and give them an environment where they can thrive. “Because of how I raised my own children, my primary reason for being on the School Board was to help create a learning environment where all kids of different backgrounds can thrive,” Thai reflected. Current narratives of Vietnamese mothers are evolving. These three mothers have gone beyond the family domain and are now sharing their talent and passion with the larger community.Their dedication and commitment to the community are inspiring and invaluable. Yet, at their core, the essence of the traditional Vietnamese mother remains. All of them share similar hopes of making the world a better place for their children and desires for raising loving, thoughtful contributors to society. They face challenges and changes head on, ever ready to make the required personal sacrifices.

the option and the means to pursue their professional dreams without sacrificing their family's daily needs. Like Pham, My-Linh Thai was an example of “It takes a village to raise a child.” While her siblings were raised by her parents, Thai was raised by her grandparents. Unlike the traditional expectations of young children to be seen and not heard, Thai fondly recalls that her grandparents treated her as a little person with worth and intelligence. As early as she could remember, her grandparents engaged her in conversations and asked for her opinions. Thus Thai has always believed that she has a lot to Photo: Chi Hoang



Bridges build communities

Amy Van

is a millennial currently residing in the City of Destiny, also known as Tacoma. She is a proud pup-mama of a wired-hair dachshund who oftentimes confuses himself for a cat. She has a strong passion for the local API community as well as tackling education-related issues; currently she works for the Washington Charter Schools Association focusing on parent and community engagement and has the tendency to overcommit herself. She is the product of hard-working immigrant parents, the Seattle & Highline School Districts and the University of Washington.


hat does it take to build community? Between My-Tam Nguyen and Sam Le, two young Vietnamese-American activists, it’s a daily commitment that requires a strong willingness to construct and deconstruct one’s surroundings. Though both are transplants to the Pacific Northwest, they are neither unfamiliar with nor hesitant to dig their hands into the dirt of the issues and politics that take place in our community in hopes of enriching it and creating better soil for future generations.

It is no surprise, then, that for Nguyen, the seeds of social activism were organically planted early and budded soon after. In high school, while her peers were obsessing over Abercrombie & Fitch clothing, Nguyen staged a protest against the brand by taping flyers throughout the school hallways calling out A&F on their questionable marketing strategies. Ironically, it was a Vietnamese janitor who caught her in the act and she was reprimanded by school administrators. Undeterred, she took it as a small victory because her peers began to take notice. Facing a much more serious battle against cancer in 2011, Nguyen was unwavered in her passion, vowing that if she were to survive, she would focus her energy toward making a difference on issues affecting the immigrant and refugee communities. Not only did she overcome the grueling treatment, she went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Urban Development from Harvard before returning to Seattle, ready to make a splash.

“What does it take to build community?” At the age of eight, Nguyen and her mom were uprooted from their home in Vietnam to find themselves replanted in a pocket of Bellevue, Washington. “Being poor and Asian is a paradigm,” she reflected on her upbringing. In a city known for its high-end malls and upper-middle class families, Nguyen experienced, instead, a single-mother household in a low-income neighborhood tucked behind otherwise elite Bellevue residence. She longed to be part of a community that was inclusive and shared resemblance to her experience.


Currently working as a Community and Governmental Relations Director for a high profile political campaign, building bridges is Nguyen’s bread and butter. She is able to exercise her passion of elevating the voices of those who are not conventionally civically engaged. From marginalized communities, including those impacted by the criminal justice system, the LGBTQ community, and newly arrived refugees and immigrants, Nguyen actively seeks to create space for them to have their concerns raised and heard, making social activism a common thing is her ultimate goal.

Lessons from two young vietnameseamerican activists Following a path similar to Nguyen’s, but definitely forging his own way, Sam Le works around the clock as a full-time student and activist at the University of Washington in Seattle. Le has a strong desire to help build a campus community that will ultimately help deconstruct the barriers in navigating the world of higher education. Early on in his college career, Le witnessed a chronic issue with a lack of access and equity at the institutional level for students who share a similar background as his. He was deeply bothered by the limited culturally relevant resources available to aid firstgeneration and newly arrived students in transitioning financially, academically, and socially into a college environment. As a result, he witnessed a number of his peers drop out and heard many talk of giving up their dreams of attaining a college degree.

Now a senior, Le is a proud member of several organizations on and off campus. He is involved with academic support programs and grassroots coalitions that are geared toward building a stronger pipeline, particularly for Southeast Asian students, to pursue and complete higher education. “There are no two students alike and the work requires me to be very open-minded and open-hearted,” he shares. Thinking along this line, Le and Nguyen are both adamant about working across communal boundaries even as they face the reality that, more often than not, organizations and community groups tend to work in isolation, which is problematic when the outcome is focused on wider social change. “Our Vietnamese community has to realize we don’t, and can’t, exist in a silo!” Nguyen passionately exclaims. Referencing the Syrian refugee crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement, Nguyen firmly believes that these issues impact our generation and stress the importance of needing to be accepting of other groups as one does his or her own community.


“We need to recognize the social obligation to find ways in which we can support and empower fellow ethnic communities,” she urges. “After all, what’s happening now with Syrian refugees is what took place for the Vietnamese community a few decades ago.” Le also points out that there are parallel efforts around equity and inclusion taking place in the city. As the Lead Outreach Chair for the Asian Coalition for Equality on the UW campus, Le spends much of his time bridging the communication gap between students and the external community. “There are students who are doing amazing things everyday serving their communities,” he explains. “Most of whom look just like us, yet, they have something super in them.” He has helped organize events that allow students and community members to network and always find them to be very helpful for all parties. When it comes to untapped potential, both Nguyen and Le agree that there are plenty of those whose voices need to be nurtured and elevated. Le focuses on Southeast Asian ethnic groups in particular while Nguyen highlights the need to empower more of our Vietnamese women. Collectively, it’s about empowering the masses and excluding no one, and that is key to normalizing activism and engagement.


Every day, Nguyen and Le put on their respective hardhats and work to place the blocks and build the bridges necessary to strengthen our community. They reject the notion of working in solitude and believe that every individual possesses the power to enact social change. Ultimately, those who enter the work of community building like them understand that it can oftentimes be messy and risky – it’s a construction zone after all – but the rewards undoubtedly shine in their visions.

“We need to recognize the social obligation to find ways in which we can support and empower fellow ethnic communities.”

Photo: Nhi Tran

BA YÊU Nhi Tran

Sách chưa mở mà tâm đã bồi hồi Trang ba trăm bốn mươi chín... ở đâu rồi? Chuyện tình, chuyện tù, thơ nhớ Huế Thơ Trần Đại Trình: “Khóc Mạ” “Mẹ Ơi” Một câu, hai câu, ba bốn câu Mỗi câu đem con đi về đâu? Năm câu, mười câu, Ba yêu dấu Lệ đọng mi con, từ bao lâu? Ba thương nhớ Mệ, con thương ba Thương Ba xa Mệ, nữa cuộc đời Thương Ba sinh ra, trong gian khổ Thương Ba khắc phục, bao gian nan Ba ơi đừng buồn nữa nghe Ba? Hè này con về sẽ thay Ba Thắp hương cho Mệ được yên giấc Kính lạy Ông Nội, một vạn lần


FROM THE EDITORS: OUTRO We are evolving. It has been 41 years since the Fall of Sai Gon, since our fathers and forefathers chiseled a new path for the Vietnamese in America. Steely, sturdy, strong. And unstructured. The metalwork of our ambitions meander down avenues into uncharted territories as foreign as the nasality of an Anglo language into which refugees arrived four decades prior. Everything was new, and people were transfixed on a tragic commonality. Now the once-collective narrative that our people sung of a country lost, of lives displaced are branching out via their offspring who are now identifying new variations of that same song. Nurtured by the same roots. Each generation extends its fibrous appendages, fingers outstretched like pointers of a northern star leading toward ten simultaneous dreams. Deferment: none. We have the freedom to pave our own way now. What will we accomplish next? Within the pages of this 3rd edition of Xin Chao magazine are complexities behind this (re)defining process. We are not one replica of another, and we continue to modify our lives into a mold we see most fitting. For ourselves. Individually. But what about our community? The Vietnamese traditionally places a strong emphasis on the “we” over the “I.” That individualism is below the need of the many (as was shared in an article from XC’s 2nd edition). Navigating between two worlds, two cultures is tricky, to say the least. Dichotomies are ripe with conflict: the generational gap between old and young, sensitivity and insensitivity toward the Viet Nam War, cultural expectations met with disappointment, mainlandVietnamese versus homeland-Vietnamese versus… The list is long and divisive. As such, I hope that the stories shared within act as an olive branch extended for understanding. For peace and for personal (re)vision. Let the voices from these writers greet you wherever you are in your reading space and may your thoughts ease into crevices unexplored before with each successive visit. Last but not least, a very special thanks is extended to the kind patronage of community members and service of volunteers who continue to help Xin Chao realize its publication goals. Without your unwaverng support, the preservation of the ever-evolving Vietnamese narrative would not be made possible. T H A N H -B I N H T RYST EEN T R A N , M.A.T Co-Editor in Chief

Huy Cao / Quảng Trị, VIetnam May 2016


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TÂM Q. ĐINH, PH.D. Co-Editor in Chief


“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” -Maya Angelou

"Một cây làm chẳng nên non-Ba cây chụm lại nên hòn núi cao." -Ca dao Viet Nam

"All grown ups were children once although few of them remember it." -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

CHI HOÀNG Design Director

HUY CAO Designer


“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” -Jane Jacobs

“Because you are alive, everything is possible.” -Thích Nhất Hạnh

"It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you do not stop" -Confucius

PHONG T. ĐẶNG Social Media Manager

VIOLET PHAN Photographer

JULIET ĐẶNG, PH.D Staff Writer

“Tình vô, Tiền vô”

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” -Anne Frank

“Woman must not accept; she must challenge." -Margaret Sanger

TỊNH VŨ Managing Contributor

FRANCIS TRẦN Development Director

LAM CHÂU Webmaster

"Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile" -unknown

“A ship is always safe at the shore but that is NOT what it is built for.” -Albert Einstein




Xin Chào 3rd Edition  
Xin Chào 3rd Edition