NW Vietnamese News

Our Community, by Vu Le

November 08
04:24 2011

When I was eight, my family left our village,Don Duong, and came to the US. One day, I was taking the school bus home, got off at the wrong stop, and ended up wandering around downtown Philadelphia. I was scared, lost and confused. Unable to speak any English, I wandered the streets, trying to find my way home. It must have been worse for my mother, who waited for me at the bus stop. When I didn’t show up, she climbed on to the bus and somehow convinced the driver to drive around looking for me.

For the next several years, my parents watched while I drifted further and further away from my culture. I refused to go to Vietnamese class on the weekend. I barely spoke to my parents. I did not appreciate how hard they worked, and how hard they tried to preserve the Vietnamese in me. I can recall the vivid memory of the day I left for college: my mother, standing at the door, watching her son slip away to be American.

I am much older now. I have started understanding the values that my parents tried to teach me. When I have my own kids, I want them to be able to speak our language and know our culture. I want them to be proud of who they are and where they came from.

For the past six years, I have worked at the Vietnamese Friendship Association. This organization was founded to help the many refugees who came to Seattle after the War. It has been 35 years. Our community has many strengths. We are hard workers. We value family and education. We have many successful professionals and businesses.

We also have many problems that we need to address. In 2009, VFA launched a research project, the Community Action Research and Empowerment (CARE) project. We trained Vietnamese college youth to go out and interview community members about their hopes and vision for the community. They talked to hundreds of people and collected over 300 surveys. From this project, we learned many things. For example, that there are not enough services for our elders. Youth are losing Vietnamese language and culture. We learned that education is a high priority for our community, but only about half of the Vietnamese students successfully pass Washington state math and science exams. 25% of our survey respondents do not have healthcare coverage, while 16% are unemployed.

However, we also learned that people have hope for a united Vietnamese community, where youth and elders understand and work with each other, where our kids can sing traditional Vietnamese songs, where we are strong economically, civically, and politically.

We have just launched Phase II of the CARE project, where we will use what we learned and invite community members to join together to develop an action plan to strengthen our community. In the spirit of collaboration, VFA will continue to share research findings, as well as stories from the youth, professionals, and elders working to preserve and advance our culture and community. This column will appear monthly and will focus on everyday issues that affect our community, such as education, senior services, culture and language preservation, employment, and more. We hope that you will be involved in the discussion. Together, we can strengthen our community and help our children find their way “home.”

Vu Le is the Executive Director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association. VFA is a nonprofit organization with the mission to strengthen the Vietnamese community in Seattle through academic, leadership, and family engagement programs. Learn more at vfaseattle.org

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