My UNAVSA journey began following my freshman year of college, with UNAVSA-10 in Anaheim, California. After hearing how amazing the UNAVSA Leadership Conference was through friends and members of my VSA, I knew I had to experience the conference myself. However, like most broke college students, my biggest obstacle was finding a way to pay for the conference, hotel and round-trip plane tickets.
Luckily, UNAVSA offered scholarship opportunities, particularly the “Visionary Scholarship” presented by Huy Duong. At first, I was a little hesitant to apply, mostly because I doubted my chances. Eventually, I sucked it up and tried to put together what I thought was a decent application. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from former UNAVSA External Vice President Dat Nguyen congratulating me on becoming a scholarship recipient.
“Amazing” is an understatement. My first UNAVSA Conference was inspirational and one of the best memories of my college career. Not only did I get the opportunity to meet new people from across the continent, but the experience was unique and impacting. Perhaps, my favorite memory is the culture show: I never witnessed anything like it before I attended UNAVSA-10. Seeing a live play that featured a cross-continental cast and touched on relatable social issues for me as a first-generation Vietnamese-American was amazing nonetheless.
Fast forward to the present where I am currently serving as the UNAVSA-14 Executive Director. This crazy idea of hosting conference in the Gulf Coast region all started back in 2015. At the time, I served as a co-regional representative alongside my good friend, Kent Tong. We both felt now is the right time to bring back the UNAVSA to our home turf, New Orleans, a city that is near and dear to my heart and contains the largest, most resilient Vietnamese community in the Gulf Coast region.
New Orleans, or “The Big Easy,” is considered one of the fastest growing cities in the country. With its French and Spanish Creole architecture, the city is known for its cross-cultural and multilingual heritage. Famous for its cajun and creole cuisine and being the birthplace of jazz music, the city is embellished with historical districts such as the French Quarter, Garden District, Uptown, Mid-City and Algiers. Countless festivals occur in the “Festival Capital of the World” including the crème de la crème “Mardi Gras.”
Aside from all the unforgettable experiences the city has to offer, UNAVSA-14 marks the ten-year anniversary since the UNAVSA Conference was hosted in New Orleans. This year, my hope is for attendees and conference staff to understand the value of unity, especially when achieving a mutual goal in addition to developing new leadership skills and building lifelong relationships. As millennials, we have the potential to become a driving force for future generations by taking action and making life-changing differences that will ultimately better the North American Vietnamese community.
I believe the City of New Orleans itself symbolizes change, positivity and hope for a better tomorrow. Nine years ago, UNAVSA-4 was hosted in New Orleans, merely two years after the Hurricane Katrina devastation. Since then, the city has rebuilt and revitalized with the helping hands of local residents and community organizations. Now, with UNAVSA-14 being hosted 10 years later, I hope this conference can effectively strengthen and bring the North American Vietnamese youth together in a lively and culturally-infused city to serve as a reminder that through thick and thin, our strength in numbers is what keeps us moving. As we say here in The Big Easy, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” Let the good times roll!