By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It was a full circle moment for Thiên Thanh (Tina) Nguyen when she realized her art exhibit was selected to be featured in Little Saigon right across her mother’s small business.
Nguyen was born in Saigon in 2000. Raised in humble beginnings, she and her family immigrated to the United States when she was 5.
“My parents were trying to make it. We moved all around, wherever work took them. We were also really poor and lived in a trailer at one point in my life. Most of the time, we were living with relatives or friends in the basement or a random room,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen shared that they had lived in over 22 homes. It wasn’t until she was 12 years old that they moved into a proper house in the Central District.
When they moved to Seattle, her mom opened a nail wholesale supply store in 2006. The store is right across from where Nguyen’s art is being displayed in Little Saigon.
Seattle Office of Economic Development partnered with Seattle Good Business Network and Shunpike to match small business owners and artists with vacant commercial storefronts to host pop-up shops and art installations. Seattle Restored features projects that benefit neighborhoods, small businesses, artists, and property owners by creating vibrant and engaging streetscapes that encourage the public to visit downtown Seattle and other neighborhood commercial corridors to support local businesses and artists—particularly Black, Indigenous, and other entrepreneurs and artists of color.
Nguyen had nine of her art pieces from her high school days on display in her exhibit called “Serendipity: Moments of Creation.” The exhibit was up from April through the end of October.
“I wanted it to symbolize moments of creation, as well as nurturing my inner child. I took the best pieces from my AP portfolio. I always loved to sketch and I’ve always been a creative individual despite not pursuing it in college,” she added.
Nguyen included cultural symbols, such as the lion dragon that is prominently featured during Lunar New Year.
“The lion symbolizes me as well as how I grew up. Every Lunar New Year, I’d be at my mom’s store and I would just watch the lion dance. It’d be so exciting hearing the drums and firecrackers. They were fond childhood memories,” she said.
She described her art as spontaneous, wanderlustful and shifting, and finds inspiration in everything.
“It’s really easy for me to get inspired. I’m quite an emotional person and I used to struggle with dealing with my emotions. I never got to explore that side of me until I was older, I can feel everything really strongly which helps me find inspiration in things. I can go outside to a park and feel inspired,” she said.
Nguyen said her medium is photography. She’s been into landscape and anything that has a good angle or framing.
“My relationship with my creativity is something I’ve been nurturing, it’s a part of me that I don’t really show the world. Most of my friends didn’t know that I did art,” she explained.
“I am grateful to be part of that, it was a surreal experience, especially the placement of my art. It has so much significance to me that they randomly decided to put me across the street from my mom’s store. It really was a full circle moment and I could feel my inner child being so happy,” she said.
While Nguyen has had many accomplishments already, her path wasn’t always smooth.
She struggled with mental health issues in high school. Attending Seattle Prep came with its own pressures, not only having to navigate a very rich and very Caucasian environment, but she put pressure on herself to excel academically.
“For me to have my background and go to this school, I felt a lot of culture shock and having to navigate the world, this is what it’s going to be like at the top, coming out of that and learning how to maintain my balance,” she said.
Before high school, Nguyen attended diverse schools in the south end.
“I felt very at home in my childhood. That experience really helped me be who I am and gave me the confidence I needed,” she added.
Nguyen received two degrees in International Business and Informatics from the University of Washington. She was also a Husky 100 recipient during her senior year. She’s currently working for a fintech company as a product manager, but is very interested in the creative space as well as entrepreneurship.
Nguyen looks up to her mother and wants to follow in her footsteps to build and grow her empire.
“She’s not perfect whatsoever, but I really admire my mom. She’s the breadwinner and that’s something that’s not very common in her generation or in Asian households,” she said.
Nguyen’s mother came to a new country in her 30s without knowing the language and she’s building her empire here in Seattle. She has established a name for herself.
“My goal is to be my own boss and businesswoman at the end of the day. I want to build my empire,” she said.
“I want to make my parents proud. I’m very insatiable. I like to accomplish, accomplish, and accomplish. I want to be a known name and I want to be someone that inspires others and be someone for people to look up to,” she said.
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.