Huy Duong is familiar with the VSA life: he started off with his own VSA as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, then went on to establish UVSA Northern California and become the president. Today, he is one of UNAVSA’s long-standing sponsors and the founder of the Visionary Scholarship, a grant that sponsors 4-8 students’ trips to the Annual UNAVSA Leadership Conference. As the first day of UNAVSA-14 nears, and in order to better understand what inspired his involvement with local and continental Vietnamese communities, we talked to Huy about his experiences, aspirations, and insights.
What are some of your favorite aspects of Vietnamese or Vietnamese-American culture?
The food! Definitely the food, from the classical dishes to the creative dishes with a new twist of modern to them. Food can say so much about what region the dish came from and even the history behind a dish can say so much.
Describe your experience growing up as a Vietnamese-American. What are some of lowlights? Highlights?
Growing up I remember watching TV and comparing my own family to what I saw. My family never looked liked the people on television in any way. From the food we ate to the way we used our dishwasher it was never the same. I was ashamed to tell people I was Vietnamese and even times try to hide the fact I was Vietnamese. I had felt out of place with my culture all my life up until the point I found UNAVSA.
It wasn’t until I went to my first UNAVSA conference I realized there were many people that had similar experiences. Suddenly I didn’t feel alone in this world and it was a turning point in my life from being ashamed to being proud of who I am. This year, I will become a father of my first born, and I am never ever more proud to show him our Vietnamese culture.
Who were your mentors within the Vietnamese community during your UVSA NorCal and UNAVSA journey? What sorts of mentors do you encourage young students seek?
I can’t point to a single person who helped shaped me to who I am today. It was a combination of many people within the Vietnamese community at the time. I found that everyone comes from many walks of life and I have taken the positives of everyone that inspired me and integrate it into my leadership skills.
Leadership is community responsibility. It really does take a village to raise a child.
I find the best mentors are the ones that allow you to have room for failures and be there to pick you up when you truly need it. It is through failures that gives us opportunities to succeed.
In your opinion, what obstacles do the Vietnamese communities in North America face? What has UNAVSA done to address this?
I think the Vietnamese communities need more and better leaders within. Great leadership skills cannot be picked up overnight and can take many iterations. UNAVSA focuses on an age group where many people are beginning to test their leadership abilities and it is an opportunity to lay down a solid foundation for them for the rest of their lives.
What advice would you give to students who are passionate about both their professional careers and their work with Vietnamese, Asian-American/Canadian, or Asian communities?
The leadership skills you learn can both be applied in your professional careers they are not mutually exclusive. From learning to inspire people, community organizing, and motivate people; those are all skillsets that can be applied in both worlds.
What is your vision for the Vietnamese community 10 years from now? Where does UNAVSA fit into this?
In 10 years from now I want to see more Vietnamese people in leadership positions. UNAVSA will continue to build that pipeline of future leaders.