By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Spring rolls and flash-fried shrimp crackers weren’t the only goodies sizzling at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) office on April 7. Talk of how Washington’s Vietnamese community could come together was heated, yet productive and optimistic, at the first Vietnamese Community Forum. Leading the forum were Youth Action Team members of the Community Action Research Empowerment (CARE) group — a pod of nine young students, who are looking for ways to dig into their Vietnamese roots and help others do the same by connecting elders with younger generations.
Tables filled a large meeting room at the ACRS office. There were a mix of community members ready to talk about their heritage, lifestyles, and what they envision for Washington’s Vietnamese community in the next decade. Topics that were discussed included building a Vietnamese community center, teaching younger generations the Vietnamese language, and getting community members registered to vote.
“There’s a Filipino community center,” said Tien Duong-Le. “There’s an enormous Vietnamese presence here in Seattle. Why don’t we have a place where we can play our music, teach our language, and hold ESL and computer classes for older folks?”
Duong-Le added that without allowing younger generations to carry on Vietnamese language and culture, history of the country will be all but lost. This was a concern shared by many, if not most, at the forum.
“Those who emigrated from Vietnam should also have the opportunity to share advice with the younger generation, born in the United States,” said Mai Hoang. Right now, language barriers are preventing elders from sharing their experiences with their children and grandchildren.
Scattered throughout the community forum was talk about the lack of unity in the Vietnamese community.
Thao Pham, one of the younger attendees, pointed out that the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) and Helping Link, two grassroots organizations, share the Vietnamese culture with others but don’t necessarily work together. “The leadership knows each other,” Pham said. “But neither side is willing to cooperate. I don’t understand why they can’t come together and combine their efforts to make something great happen.”
Often overlooked are memories of the Vietnam War and how they resonate with older immigrants, said Nga Pham. Dealing with grief and trauma — post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — is hardly a priority for families when they arrive in the United States.
“Those memories stay and eat away at your soul,” Pham said. “It becomes painful to share those memories.
If we’re going to come together as a community, this is something we need to address. We need to bring some PTSD support for immigrants so they will be able to share their stories.”
These memories are also working against the organizations’ attempts to bring the Vietnamese community together, said Vu Le, VFA executive director.
“The forum was mentioned in the local Vietnamese paper,” Le said. “Some people asked, ‘Who are you to organize an event and be our voice?’ ‘Who are you to represent the Vietnamese community?’ There’s a lot of anti-communist sentiment around.”
Members of the Vietnamese community will have the opportunity to voice their opinions in the coming months. CARE’s Youth Action Team will be interviewing and surveying Vietnamese around Western Washington to see where concerns lie. ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at email@example.com.
April 28: This story has been edited to amend facts and quotes.
– This was not the first Vietnamese community forum
– VFA ED Vu Le was quoted comparing Vietnamese people to food, which he did not.
– The tone of the forum was not contentious overall.
– VFA did not receive angry phone calls in response to the event
– Le did not refer to the Vietnamese government as “less-than-perfect.”
– Mau Vu’s name was incorrectly listed as Mau Nguyen.
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Vu Le says
I’d like to clarify a few points within this article. VFA never claimed that this is the first Vietnamese community forum. We understand that other Vietnamese groups have put on community forums, and we acknowledge and appreciate these important efforts. This is the first forum for the CARE project.
Regarding my quotes, I did say that some community members were upset or concerned and were questioning our motives, which is normal, but I never claimed the VFA office received any “pretty angry phone calls” nor did I say anything about a “less-than-perfect government, all the way from Vietnam.”
The quote at the end, “Vietnamese culture goes way, way beyond good and sometimes greasy food,” must have been misattributed to me, as I do not recall mentioning anything about greasy food.
Thao Pham’s quote should also be addressed. I have to disagree with Pham’s comment that “neither side is willing to cooperate.” Whether two agencies cooperate depends on a variety of factors, including timing, resources available, appropriateness of specific projects, and yes, organizational history. VFA’s willingness, however, is not a factor, as we are always open to collaborations.