Founded in 1998, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) has been serving our young people for the past 15 years. We are so fortunate to see the impact of our programs on our youth first hand and to see how far they have come and where our alumni are today. It is both empowering and inspiring! With that said, welcome to our newest blog addition, the “Alumni Spotlight”!
First up is a long-time AALEADer, Nam. A first generation Vietnamese American whose family arrived in 1997 to Washington, DC, Nam began his journey with AALEAD in the second grade, as we began our own of becoming the organization we are today. He is currently a junior International Affairs major (with a focus on East Asia), who you can find organizing the Asian cultural group, volunteering with America Reads, voicing his opinions with a social justice group or playing intramural sports at his school–Lafayette College!
I was lucky enough to catch Nam before he jetted off to study abroad in China. Whaaat? That’s right–doin’ big things! Check out the scoop below and see how far he has come since his AALEAD days.
Q: So what’s your deal with AALEAD? Haha!
A: I’ve been with AALEAD since elementary school, since it first started. You know, I started as a kid and kind of went through it up until middle school and then I kind of fell off the grid a little bit. I picked it back up [later] in middle school with the summer programs. But I gradually, you know, as you get older you find how AALEAD can help you. Even now as a college student, I go back to visit. And I did an internship last year, so stuff like that. **Editor’s Note: Nam was an intern for development and communications last summer. He focused on social media and gave an awesome presentation!**
Q: What is one of your favorite memories with AALEAD?
A: Last year, at the Youth Summit. That was the first ever youth summit. I see how things have changed, how it just gets better. It becomes more organized and evolved because with the Youth Summit, you had some enriching workshops and inspired kids, you know. And you can see that that they are literally inspired and enthusiastic about whatever it is. I enjoyed how these high shcool students got exposed to such great workshops and different fields and topics like DJ-ing, the arts, some important issues that they might care about, stuff that normally wouldn’t be addressed. I don’t think we had that when I was younger and it was just good to see.
**Editor’s Note: Intern Nam with AALEADers last summer at our DC office!**
Q: Is there a motto or slogan that you like to live by?
A: Well, you know how life is an adventure? And it’s a journey. There’s no one path to getting there. I think a lot of times, I’ve learned that I’m so focused on getting to a place, you know, achieving something, that I’m not necessarily enjoying and having fun as much. You know, I think a lot of times, we spend too much time stressing out over the little stuff.
Q: If you could rid the world of one thing, what would it be and why?
A: Greed. I’m starting to learn how, you know, money and accumulation, capitalism, can just, as a system, it really benefits some but, you know, there’s that inequality, massive inequality in our world. People do dumb things because of greed. I mean, as humans, we hurt other people because of our greed.
Q: I can’t believe I once…
A: …ran with the bad crowd. Yeah, so I mean, I used to be really caught up in trying to be cool and trying to not be the stereotypical Asian guy who gets good grades and stuff. So that whole identity, how I used to be, I thought it was so uncool. I just got caught up in doing bad stuff and I was fighting all the time.
Q: What was the turning point for you?
A: It just took a toll on me. “Is this lifestyle what I really want?” Trying to be a bad guy. It was those situations, where I was escaping, running away from new environments. And you know, that’s not necessarily who I am. I would say I went through a lot. I got in to a fight with one of my friends. It was really bad. It really got serious. After that, I kind of came to people, like my AALEAD mentor, for support. No one knew I was trying on this new persona and what not. I kind of just dropped it, along with the smoking and baggy pants. I changed it all up.
**Editor’s Note: Nam & DC SSP Manager Alex at the DC office a few weeks ago.**
Q: So let’s talk a little bit about college! What has your college experience been like?
A: I think my whole journey in college has been one of finding my role in society and about finding my own identity. You’ll come across, especially when you go out of state, you meet so many different people from so many different backgrounds and you see how you get exposed to different stuff. So you know, you’re trying to make sense of the world. For me, I’m learning about what it mean to be Asian American, what it means to be a first generation immigrant, what it means to be a productive member of society and how, you know, how I’m supposed to live my life to the best that I can. I think in college, as an undergraduate, I mean, there’s that studying part, but there’s also that personal growth aspect. That’s why I want go abroad. I think that will help with that more than anything.
Q: What would you say is important to you?
A: I would say definitely, identity is very important to me, because I came from DC, where I’m exposed to the urban culture. But then, I also came from a traditional household, a Vietnamese traditional household and I have to bridge the two. I’m still working on, you know, the expectations from my parents and also the expectation of being American. Part of finding who I am is coming in terms with me learning how to bridge the two. What I’m saying is, I guess, I’m trying to do what feels right for me. I understand that my family’s expectations isn’t what I want, but that’s okay. I have to come to terms with that.
**Editors Note: Nam hanging out with HS youth during the Youth Summit.**
Q: Any future plans?
A: Well, I’m right now, in preparation to go abroad. I’m doing a three month program in Kunming, China. I’m excited, as you can tell! I will be focused on kind of ethnic minority issues and how immigration is happening in China, from rural to the city. So big picture type of international affairs, critical issues, trying to analyze how China is changing compared to the U.S. It’s a cultural immersion, language immersion type of program. Ichose China because of how critical it is in the world in the international affairs arena. I didn’t want to go to Europe or any other continent. I wanted to go back to, kind of the so called, “motherland.” Even though I’m not from China –people get me for this–but I feel like, you know, China is the cradle of Asia! **Editor’s Note: Nam is already in China! Follow his blog! http://tsunamiwind.wordpress.com/**
Q: What is one thing you would tell our current AALEADers?
A: I would say, to use AALEAD. Maintain a relationship with AALEAD staff and all the opportunities that AALEAD has to offer because it’s there to support you if you just communicate your needs!
Q: Last question, Nam! What is one thing you walked away with by being a part of AALEAD?
A: I would say AALEAD kind of taught me the value of having a support group. Something to kind of having, you know—you can’t really do it alone. ‘Cause when I was not with AALEAD, I was out. I liked to think I was out, and I liked to think I was doing it on my own, without much guidance. I always value AALEAD as a second family. AALEAD has been like a second home to me. Where I got my brothers and sisters, big brothers, even moms, I mean. People who have played important roles in my development.
**Editors Note: Nam on the last of our DC Elementary School Summer Program.**
It has been a pleasure to know Nam and see his positive growth and development as an individual. We truly wish you the best while you are abroad, Nam! (: We are looking forward to seeing you when you get back!
Thanks for checking out our first “Alumni Spotlight.” Please continue to check back on our blog for program and staff updates. Follow us: Twitter and Instagram (@aalead). Like us on Facebook (Asian American LEAD)!