This year, UNAVSA changed its pillars to emphasize the importance of education for its constituents. This change highlights the necessity of the pursuit of knowledge and learning, and is especially significant for a population that still trails its white American and Canadian counterparts (Pew Research, SEARAC, Monthly Labor Review, Statistics Canada, VSS Canada).

For each conference, the programming committee strives to create a set of workshops that educate attendees on social issues and current events in Vietnamese communities in both North America and Vietnam, and how to apply that knowledge in both a VSA and leadership context.

UNAVSA’s annual leadership conference is not only its gala, or its performances, or its family programming, though these are all significant aspects of attendee development–it is an opportunity for attendees to connect themselves to movements beyond their cities, region, and even nations and use it to spark positive change. We spoke with past and current members of UNAVSA’s Programming Committee about their vision and investment in planning workshops.

What encouraged you to be on UNAVSA’s Programming committee and do the work that you’re doing today?

UNAVSA-14’s Programming Committee (otherwise affectionately known as PRO-tein)

Julie Tran (UNAVSA-14 Programming Committee): As an aspiring educator, there is nothing satisfying than creating educational resources to impact people. I try to bridge a connection between what I have learned as a graduate student with programming since educators and workshop presenters share a similar of educating.

Tina Nguyen (UNAVSA-14 Programming Committee): I wanted to experience facilitating programming for UNAVSA, as the idea of sourcing workshops and speakers across North America sounded very enticing, along with the privilege of working with incredible individuals. They are thrilling opportunities to explore new ideas and get yourself moving to where you want to be in your life.

Jimmy Mai (UNAVSA-14 Programming Director): I had a great experience on the UNAVSA-13 programming committee and I was inspired to come back for this conference to provide my committee members with that same experience. I also wanted to be able to make an impact within the UNAVSA community and provide attendees with something tangible that they can take away.

Jenni Huynh (UNAVSA-13 Programming Director): One of the committees I oversee within my position as External Vice President is the Alumni Relations Cabinet and we are implementing alumni conference programming this year, something I’m especially excited about. I’ve been asked to lead a few workshops within UVSA South, NW VSA, and UNAVSA – still terrifying to publicly speak, but a good kind of terrifying. Programming is the structure of any summit, conference, camp, or the like. Exposure to all kinds of beings and experiences draws me to programming – it is a platform for education and inclusivity to thrive from.

What types of workshops do you enjoy the most? What aspect of UNAVSA programming inspires you?

John Tran (UNAVSA-14 Programming Committee): The type of workshops that I enjoy the most have to be learning about different leadership styles and interactive workshops where we get to interact with the workshop presenter(s) and attendees; I especially enjoy having the opportunity to interact with different leaders from all over the continent to share our leadership experience with our respective VSAs/UVSAs.

Jimmy Mai: I think an aspect of UNAVSA that inspires me is just being able to see all of the attendees gather at conference to be able to advance themselves as leaders and as vanguards to engage their communities.

Julie Tran: I enjoy workshops where there is more hands on interaction versus the traditional workshop lecture. I feel that workshop attendees retain more if they can be involved with the learning process, and if they’re provided a safe space for the attendees to be able to express themselves without any judgement while the other attendees actively listened with respect.

What is the most pressing issue in the Asian American/Canadian community today?

One of the traditional workshops from UNAVSA-13. Attendees also attend experiential learning workshops and discussions.

Julie Tran: We lack representation in voice, professions, resources and history–when there is representation, all of the Asian ethnicities are pigeonholed into one group lumped as Asian. This is how issues such as the model minority myth are created: the lack of disaggregated data makes it frustrating to help out Asian ethnicities that are often misrepresented.

Jimmy Mai: Asian Americans have been placed in a sort of pedestal in order to marginalize us from other minorities. As a community, we should ally ourselves with other ethnic groups and support their causes.

Jenni Huynh: If mental health issues were more addressed, I believe this would positively affect physical health, our relationships with family and friends, and give more space for us to express ourselves freely and be confident in being up to something big in the world. While many things can deter us from striving towards progression, the biggest one is ourselves and I love imagining a world in which we are our biggest supporters and not critics. A world where we think about we, and not I. Maybe that is why I am so drawn to yoUNAVSA.

What topics are most difficult to address in the Vietnamese community, especially for younger members such as those who are attending UNAVSA?

John Tran: Mental health and sexuality/sexual orientation, and integrating discussions into our own communities and families. Addressing this is no easy feat, but I am a firm believer in the power of communication and effectively expressing why these topics are important in the Vietnamese community, the repercussions of not addressing it, and last but not least, the benefits of addressing these issues.

Attendees during UNAVSA-13 listening intently during a workshop

Julie Tran: The amount of awareness about mental health disparities in the community is growing, but as leaders of our own communities we have a long way to go. The lack of Vietnamese representation in the mental health profession is apparent. This is why the UNAVSA-14 Programming Committee is dedicated to bringing those who are qualified in talking about taboo discussions such as mental health so that the attendees can have solidarity within themselves and their communities.

Jenni Huynh: Our workshops aim to create a space for attendees to express themselves freely or relate to someone courageous in their sharing Whether it is experiencing depression, having been an assault victim, or being gay, we want to support our members and build upon how that affects the Vietnamese American and Vietnamese Canadian community. As EVP, my outreach to partner organizations and cross collaborations educate and give opportunities to vote, inform our constituents of current happenings, and provide resources.

What is different about workshops this year (or hasn’t been present in recent years) that attendees should keep an eye out for?

Jenni Huynh: I’m very giddy to announce a new partnership formed with You Offend Me, You Offend My Family (YOMYOMF) and one of our projects is hosting a panel within UNAVSA-14 covering what it means to be Asian in a non-traditional career field. We’ll be covering journalism, acting/performer, and filmmaking.

Tina Nguyen: This year, we have quite a few special and unique workshops that we think will surprise attendees: ranging from martial arts to social justice, our selections contain a wide breadth of current hot topics and subject matters that will leave our attendees feeling motivated, energized, and knowledgeable. We sought out workshops that were interactive and engaging to keep the mind and heart flowing.

Jimmy Mai: When reviewing the workshops, we looked for workshops that were unique and interactive. We sent out a content survey for the UNAVSA constituents and asked what topics they thought were relevant to them. Using the content survey as a guide, my committee thoroughly reviewed each workshop submission to select exactly what our constituents wanted. There are a couple of workshops that I’m actually excited to attend myself that have never been presented at a UNAVSA conference, so sign up for those as soon as you can!

What would you say to workshop attendees who might be unsure about selecting and attending workshops?

John Tran: Come with an open-mind and be prepared to learn. To those that aren’t sure about their workshop selections, don’t choose what your friends are choosing but choose what sounds interesting to you and think, how can this benefit me? You never know what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet that can possibly change your life.

Cultural dancing lessons during an experiential learning workshop at UNAVSA-13

Jimmy Mai: The presenters are not here to change your perspective or convince you to sell your soul to them. They have valuable experience that they want to pass along to leaders who currently have the ability to make an impact within their communities. Often times people may think that workshops are boring or have this perception that the workshops won’t be able to help them, but there are a wide variety of workshops for those in different walks of life.

Tina Nguyen: I personally think it’s better to select a workshop with a subject matter that you may not be very familiar or comfortable with. Workshops are there to teach you something new and valuable that you can carry with you in your career and personal interests. Challenge yourself; you never know if it’s going to be the catalyst that pushes you towards a new direction in your life.

 

Workshops are typically the hidden gem of UNAVSA’s Annual Leadership Conference, as they are rarely recognized as one of the leading pivots attendees’ perspectives on the role they play in their respective communities. This year, with a new batch of topics and speakers, UNAVSA-14 workshops will energize, educate, and empower.

Registration begins Sunday, May 28th at 2:00 PM PDT. Don’t miss out!