By Lynda Nguyen, AALEAD Summer Development & Communications Intern
Photos Courtesy of Nga Nguyen, AALEAD Alumnus
Today’s Alumni Spotlight will be on Nga Nguyen. Nga has been with Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) since the very beginning (I’m talking about the 15th-Street-Building days). Though she has graduated from AALEAD for almost 12 years now, her memories of AALEAD are still vivid as ever. We were finally able to catch up after I managed to snag her away from her busy schedule! To my surprise, I found out a few cool things that I did not even know!
So her she is, former AALEADer, my sister, Nga Nguyen!
Q: Where are you now?
A: I have been living in Philadelphia for the past 12 years. I started college in 2001 at Temple University, where I received my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance in 2005. In 2007, I graduated from Drexel University with my Bachelors of Science in Nursing. I am a Certified Critical Registered Nurse, currently working in the Medical Intensive Care unit at Albert Einstein Medical Center, an urban trauma hospital in North Philadelphia. Besides working at Einstein, I am also a full-time Nursing Staff at the Pennsylvania hospital working with status post heart surgery patients. I love my job, but I try to balance my work life with dance. I was a competitive amateur Latin dancer for five years.
Nga performing at a dance competition (Photo Credit: Kathy Tang)
Q: I always loved going to your dance competitions! What are your future plans? [although I already know this...]
A: I am currently working to publish a paper relating to my nursing practice. My goal is to obtain a dual degree: Masters in Nursing and Masters in Public Health from the University of Pennsylvania. My ultimate dream is to become a Nursing educator.
Q: You attended AALEAD from the very early days. How would you describe your AALEAD experience?
A: AALEAD was my second home for many years. I started going to AALEAD when I was in 9th grade. I took my first modern dance class through AALEAD. I learned and fell in love with it. Dance gives me freedom, confidence, and an intense passion that no other art can offer.
Q: What is your favorite memory of AALEAD?
A: My fondest memory of AALEAD is Youth Power (almost the equivalent of today’s AALEAD Youth Council!). There were about fifteen of us. We were all first generation Vietnamese American high school students living the same neighborhood. We had the same desire to create a voice, an outlet for us Vietnamese Americans living in Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights. We wanted to bridge the generation gap within our Vietnamese community. Youth Power did numerous projects with the community: We cleaned, planted, and painted the park. We had programming for Vietnamese youth on Saturdays, after school, and during the summer. I don’t remember what year, but there were a lot of Vietnamese people living in my apartment building in Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights at the time. These apartment buildings however were in terrible conditions. Youth Power, along with other organizations, protested the unjust conditions. The landlords were forced to renovate of the buildings.
Nga with with other AALEADers
Q: I think I remember that! So with experiences like Youth Power, how has AALEAD impacted you as a member of the Asian American community?
A: I am more conscious of the experience of being a Vietnamese American. I understand and remember the difficulty of assimilating into the American culture. I remember what it was like to start 3rd grade in the United States trying to learn a new language.
There were times when I selfishly wished my mom could afford to send me to dance school when I was younger, but my family was on Welfare and Foodstamps. I have two brothers and two sisters, who were all underage. My dad is legally blind. My mom, who barely knows English, was the only working parent. Because of this experience I understood the value of money and what hard work meant.
I understand the importance of having a nonprofit organization that caters to the need of immigrant youth. AALEAD introduced me to two amazing mentors, Henry and Jeyon. AALEAD gave me the confidence and leadership I needed in my professional and social life. Sandy Dang [founder of AALEAD, but more importantly a long-time family friend] was an inspiration to me.
Q: If you could give some advice to one of our current AALEADers what would it be?
-Your mentor can be your best friend and best teacher.
-Take advantage of what AALEAD has to offer.
-Go to ECAASU. It’s awesome!
Youth Power (that's Sandy Dang (AALEAD founder) in the middle!)