By Vi Bui, Mentoring and Volunteer Programs Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Vi Bui
My name is Vi and I am AALEAD’s new Mentoring and Volunteer Programs Coordinator. I am really excited to start this incredibly important and valuable work and wanted to take some time to introduce myself to the community.
I was born and raised in the State of Delaware. Not to be confused with the city in Ohio or the county in Pennsylvania. You’ve probably never been there, driven through it on I-95, done a little tax-free shopping there, or visited one of the many beach towns on the southern coast.
I grew up second generation in a huge family of Vietnamese refugees. The closest thing I had to an ethnic community outside of my family when I was a kid was Vietnamese Language School. And frankly, I hated it. The first activity I was involved in was joining a dance group for the annual variety show to celebrate Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year). I cried the entire first rehearsal, completely unaware of my previous experiences singing, dancing, and modeling in front of strange audiences in my toddler years.
I attended language classes and participated in Tet variety shows for a few more years but I never really felt comfortable in majority-Asian spaces. I have come a long way with embracing my Vietnamese identity since then.
As I was attending elementary school, middle school, and high school, I was only acutely aware of how race and gender impacted my experiences and looking back, I wish I had the resources that were available to me in college to help me navigate this world. I attended a competitive high school that focused on cultivating future leaders in science and math and I found myself lost in not being “Asian enough” to fit in with other Asian students. I was different; I liked marching band and history class, and in those spaces I didn’t see a lot of Asian faces.
It was only until later in college when I realized this was the Model Minority Stereotype at work wearing away at my self-identity.
I attended college at the University of Delaware and I ended up majoring in Operations Management under the business school. After taking an elective on Japanese history, I decided to pick up an Asian Studies Minor in order to learn more about “where I come from.” During college I felt the need to find community with other Asian people and also joined the Asian Student Association which was a turning point in my path to where I find myself today.
Through the Asian Student Association I was able to attend ECAASU for the first time (one of the many field trips AALEADers are able to attend as high schoolers through our programs) and learned about the world of Asian American advocacy and civic engagement. I didn’t realize how much was missing from my life until that conference. Later on in my campus involvement, I became Treasurer, and then President of the Asian Student Association, where I worked on revitalizing programming to include social justice issues into our cultural sharing activities.
Through Delaware’s study abroad programs, I had the chance to travel to Asia twice. My first study abroad was to Hong Kong where I interned at a multinational corporation. The second time I went to Thailand and Vietnam (for the first time). You can read about my experiences through the blogs I kept while I was traveling here and here . There’s a lot I could say about these trips in forming my racial identity, which you can read about in my blogs, but a key reason for where I stand today with my life values is because I had an experience that detrimentally affected my mental health on my trip to Vietnam and felt like I did not have a support system that was aware of the problems that specifically affect second generation people of the Vietnamese diaspora
When I came back to the United States, I was determined to learn about Vietnam through the lens of social justice. In one of my Asian studies courses, I selected to research and write on the impacts of U.S. influence and intervention in Vietnam on politics and gender.
However, when it came time to think about my career path after college, I struggled to decide between continuing my path in business or following my passion in social justice work. I settled on a compromise, accept an offer to start a consulting job in September and spend the summer volunteering for a social justice non-profit. This led me to complete the Seeding Change Fellowship at Boat People SOS in Philadelphia where I worked with low-income Vietnamese-identified youth in a program that focused on history, community, identity, and leadership. My experience that summer brought me closer to my Vietnamese heritage and identity and connected me to a history of Asian American activism and solidarity with other oppressed people.
After completing the Fellowship I returned to the path that had been set for me in consulting. A little after one year, I found myself uninspired by the work I was doing and wanted to return back to youth work, which is how I came to joining AALEAD’s staff.
Today will be my fifth day as the Mentoring and Volunteer Programs Coordinator. I already feel welcome in the AALEAD family and have spent time getting to know some of our Virginia program youth at an ice skating event that was an incentive for their superb attendance. I am looking forward to meeting more of the students and getting to know each and every young person our programs touch.
This is only the beginning!