Interview by Rehana Paul
- What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Professionally, I think the Vietnamese Boat People podcast is my greatest accomplishment to-date. My entire life, I have wanted to somehow tell these stories. But things got in the way…school, financial obligations, fear, excuses…you name it. And finally it took turning the fabulous forty that kicked me into action. My biggest accomplishment in my personal life would have to be raising two spunky toddlers! So far so good.
2. What compelled you to start the podcast and how does your own personal history factor in?
I am the youngest of seven, and was only three when we escaped Vietnam in 1981 to flee post Vietnam war oppressions. So you can imagine being so young, I don’t remember that journey at all. I grew up hearing bits of my family’s story and the pain and losses my parents endured seemed to silently linger in the backdrop of our lives. This always pained me because I viewed the story as inspiring.
So last year, I finally decided that I would focus on documenting my family’s stories so they would get appropriately passed onto younger generations. Because I thought, what a super loss it would be, when my nieces, nephews and children are old enough to understand these stories, my parents wouldn’t be around to share the them and I would not know enough of the details to do the story justice.
When I started documenting my own family’s story, I did some research on memoirs of boat people and noticed that there was not an easy platform for people to share their stories. Because writing a book is hard, and getting it published is even harder. And I didn’t want that to prevent people from being able to share their stories. I also became more aware of the mainstream movies, documentaries and books about the Vietnam War, but most of them seem to marginalize the voices of the civilians and families that were affected by the war and the aftermath.
And in today’s political environment on refugees and migrants, I felt like these stories were still relevant today. I wanted a way to share these stories so people would have a little more compassion and understand why families and individuals feel compelled to leave everything behind and migrate to foreign land. It’s not an easy decision and it is usually because of desperation for survival and freedom.
3. What is the best part of what you do?
I get to meet new people and listen to their amazing stories. I always feel so honored when someone reaches out to our nonprofit and ask for our help in preserving their stories. These are personal family stories and they trust us with something so invaluable. It’s truly touching and I feel such great responsibility. I’ve had many of our interviewees say they feel a little lighter after our conversations since these stories have been bottled up for so long. I hope that we bring a little healing in the process for people.
4. What is the hardest part of what you do?
The hardest part is editing the stories. Most of our interviews run many hours b/c people are telling them in detail and it’s been a long time since they discussed this with anyone. So we allow the memories to flow naturally in the conversation and try not to rush people. At the same time, we know that we have to edit it down to a bite-size podcast episode. So it’s very hard to decide what to include and what to take out to do the story justice.
5. What are some of your day-to-day duties?
A large part of what I do as the Chief Storyteller is engage with people directly who are interested in sharing their stories. So lots of very interesting conversations and long hours of developing episode concepts, stitching multiple stories into themes and editing. These stories are very precious and we treat all the stories with great care as if it came from our own families.
6. What is something you did not expect when you started this podcast?
I did not expect to have such a broad reach. Our podcast reaches over 20 countries today and our listeners are very diverse. Old, young and definitely not just Vietnamese. We also have had boat rescuers, refugee volunteers and sponsors reach out to us wanting to share their stories of how they helped during the Vietnamese refugee crisis. I also did not expect this and love that it’s an entirely new perspective. We hope it encourages others to give-back and take action in today’s migrant and refugee situation.
7. What advice would you give to young women looking to start podcasts?
I would say do what you are passionate about. Even if you have no background or experience. I learned about podcasting when I had the idea. It was hard and still hard, but it’s so rewarding when you are doing something you love. If there’s passion, it doesn’t feel like work. And remember to stay agile. Everything you do won’t be perfect every time, but learn from it and make it better the next time. Sometimes, I listen back to my Prelude episode and I’m so embarrassed of it, but a great mentor once told me, “If you’re not embarrassed with your first release, then you’ve waited too long.”
8. Apart from the podcast, how do you stay in touch with your culture?
I do a lot of reading and following other culture-based organizations. My parents live in a Vietnamese-American dense city in Virginia so I take my kids to visit them often so they can be around the community, good food etc. And recently our organization has been collaborating with many Vietnamese organizations across the world to team-up.
9. What is your go-to coffee order?
Large, plain coffee, no sugar, some nonfat milk or oat milk if the store has it. I love oat milk.
10. What do you consider to be the biggest problem facing Asian women today?
Wow, that’s a really hard question. I’m not sure I can generalize for an entire community. It would be good to see us continue to be louder and prouder of our accomplishments and push it to the forefront. Like what Overachiever Magazine is doing! I think in our Asian cultures we tend to accommodate and go with the grain to avoid confrontation. And that doesn’t always work in our favor. And while I think it’s great that we are uniting more, we do need to continue profiling our uniqueness. As Asians, we are generally clustered together in one big ethnic group when our cultures, languages and countries are actually quite different. So the clustering sometimes I think stifles our individual identities.