OCCF’s Board and leadership team have embarked on a learning journey to deepen our understanding of the diverse cultures, histories and geographies that comprise Orange County.
We launched this effort on April 13, 2023 with a focus on Orange County’s Vietnamese community. As home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, Orange County is the global capital of the Vietnamese diaspora—the perfect starting point for our learning journey.
- Our day started with Linda Trinh Vo, professor and former chair of the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Irvine, who shared a brief history of Asian communities– specifically Chinese and Japanese– in Orange County, then discussed the formation and transformation of Vietnamese communities in Orange County to set the context for our day.
- With this grounding in the history of Asian American communities in Orange County, we visited Little Saigon’s Asian Garden Mall, the largest majority Vietnamese-owned and operated mall in the U.S. We were greeted by the Mall’s founder, esteemed business and community leader Frank Jao, and former Westminster Mayor Kathy Buchoz. The many thriving small businesses that comprise the Asian Garden Mall, along with the many other Vietnamese-owned businesses in the surrounding area, are a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit, ingenuity and drive of the Vietnamese community.
- Next, we visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Westminster, designed and sculpted by Tuan. Dr. Vo pointed out several unique aspects to the sculpture, including its commission by a Vietnamese American artist and the depiction of a South Vietnamese soldier alongside an American soldier. She noted that the American soldier is in a relaxed position, with helmet in hand and firearm lowered, reflecting that the Fall of Saigon in 1975 marked the end of the war for the U.S., but not so for the South Vietnamese soldier for whom the battle for country has never ended. Dr. Vo described the flight of Vietnamese refugees to the U.S. after the Fall, with many believing that they were departing only temporarily and would someday return home. The deep sense of loss and longing for their country profoundly affected the first generation of refugees, and persists as an echoing sorrow for succeeding generations. While there are many memorials in the U.S. honoring lives lost during the Vietnam War, the depth of the war’s impact on the Vietnamese people is uniquely reflected in the Little Saigon memorial.
- We continued our learning at Advance Beauty College hosted by Chair and Founder Tam Nguyen, a thoughtful and generous leader and host for our day, with a panel of community leaders addressing Philanthropy and Needs in the Vietnamese Community. Ted Nguyen first gave a stirring presentation on Nailing it for America, a philanthropic effort launched by the nail salon industry to provide PPE to healthcare workers and isolated seniors in the early days of the pandemic while their businesses were shuttered. The value of donations from Vietnamese American communities across the nation in the first 30 days alone totaled nearly $30 million.
We next heard from a panel of distinguished business and community leaders moderated by attorney Derrick Nguyen. Derrick and Tam were joined by panelists Dr. Quỳnh Kieu, MD, revered Vietnamese pediatrician and founder of Project Vietnam Foundation, and Linda Nguyen, a respected entrepreneur and board member for the Asian Business Association. These leaders spoke powerfully from their personal and professional experiences, highlighting key factors affecting Orange County’s Vietnamese community, such as:
- Intergenerational challenges between Gen 1 (refugees who fled Vietnam, grateful to be received in the U.S. while heartbroken by separation from family, home and country), Gen 1.5 (born in Vietnam but migrated to the U.S. at a young age, straddling two identities—as Tam puts it, living on the “hyphen” of Vietnamese-American) and Gen 2 (native-born in the U.S. but carrying the legacy of challenges from prior generations)
- The lasting impact of family trauma and cultural stigma attached to mental health needs in the Vietnamese American community
- The lack of infrastructure and financial support for nonprofits serving the Vietnamese American community
The panelists were incredibly generous, warm and courageous in sharing the most vulnerable and heartfelt aspects of their families’ stories. It was a privilege and honor to learn from them, and to forge new relationships which will form a lasting foundation for our growing partnership and collaboration.
- Our time in Little Saigon concluded with an unforgettable dinner at Gem Dining, a Michelin Guide restaurant founded by chef/owner and CEO of Kei Concepts Viet Nguyen who was there to welcome us. As exquisite as the cuisine was the opportunity to dive into deeper conversation with our speakers and hosts, with the addition of four inspiring next-generation Vietnamese American leaders, including:
- Thuy Vo Dang, UCLA Professor of Information Studies and past Curator for UCI Libraries Southeast Asian Archives
- Uyen Hoang, Executive Director, Viet Rainbow of OC
- Tracy La, Executive Director, VietRise
- Julie Vo, Policy Director, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA)
The insights from our dinner conversations, together with our learnings from the day, left us with hearts and minds overflowing, and a firm resolve to build meaningful partnerships and support for Orange County’s extraordinary Vietnamese community.
In Gratitude: I extend my deepest gratitude to OCCF Board member Joanna Kong of the Sun Family Foundation, Tam Nguyen and Dr. Linda Trinh Vo for envisioning, planning and organizing this unparalleled learning experience.
We’d Love to Hear from You!: If you have thoughts about how OCCF can be an effective and impactful supporter of Orange County’s Vietnamese community or our broader AAPI communities, or anything else you think we should know as we continue our learning journey, don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.