Titi Mary Tran/Nguoi-Viet English
WESTMINSTER, California (NV) – For the past five years, Vietnamese Americans have been able to learn just what “home” really means, thanks to VietStories, formerly known as Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP).
Started as the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, VietStories’ mission is to collect, document and preserve the oral histories of first-generation Vietnamese Americans in Southern California who resettled as refugees and immigrants. And last week, the group’s anniversary was marked in a ceremony in Little Saigon, with supporters present.
It was an event heavy on the feeling of “home.”
“Thank you, everyone, for coming and returning here to our home,” said Nina Le, publisher of Viet Bao Daily News, which hosted the event. “Home is our roots, our pride, our preservation. We’re here to show the support for the whole group who have worked tirelessly to record and preserve our ‘generations’ stories.”
The feeling of being displaced, homeless and at war is all too familiar to Vietnamese Americans who left their homes to escape communist rule. They fled their country, multiple times, only to relocate from state to state and city to city, in search of that new home.
“This is really a collective effort. It’s a dream that we were able to build, and it’s about dreaming what home means. We have been a displaced people as Vietnamese Americans and we have to build a new home,” said Dr. Linda Trinh Vo, a professor in the department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine, who founded and directs VietStories. “When I first came to UCI, individuals from the community came to me and said, ‘You should be recording our stories because they are being lost. They are not being told in our homeland, they are not being told here. Most of the time when you hear about Vietnam or stories about the war, it’s not the Vietnamese Americans’ stories that are being told.’”
As the effort took hold, Vo crafted the mission for VietStories.
“My vision at the beginning was to not just collect these stories and put them in the library or archive but to digitize them and have them accessible to researchers, artists, journalists, school children — everyone around the world,” she said. “And I wanted full stories from birth to present days. These stories are not just of community elites but of many ordinary Vietnamese people.”
“I love the concept of home. Home is where the heart is,” said Jack Toan, vice president and manager for community affairs for the Wells Fargo Foundation, which announced a matching grant of $50,000 to support VietStories. “It’s so important to build a legacy around our home. When we are successful, we want to buy a better car and a bigger house. But all those things come and go; your legacy — the stories of your family and your home– last forever. Right now, we hear stories about immigrants and refugees, and right here in Little Saigon, you see a case study 40 years in the making of how successful a refugee community can be.”
To Tram Le, associate director of the project, VietStories is crucial for young Vietnamese Americans.
“We, the 1.5 and second generation, are growing up and ask, ‘I wonder what my history is.’ A lot of these kids growing up, they don’t feel they can claim they are Vietnamese, and definitely not American because of their skin color,” Le said. “They also feel ashamed because they don’t know the language and history. So when you ask them, ‘What are you?’ They would say, ‘I’m Asian’ or something like that. This is what we are trying to change.”
It’s an effort appreciated by Ta Quang Tu, 56, who attended the gathering.
“I’m a scouting teacher, and I want my students to know more about this program. I also have children, and they only speak English,” Tu said.
Giana Nguyen, a singer-songwriter who participated in the project as an interview subject, said her story shed light on her life.
“Even though my friends know me, they were like, ‘Wow, you went through that? Really? Your family went through that?”