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The year 2015 will be remembered in the history books for being epic in so many ways: from politics with the GOP circus clowns like Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio who proved that the American thirst for “blood sport” of reality TV is infinite; to the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) and the deep racial divides in this country as police authorities go unchecked and the lives of POC (People of Color) remain less than equal of protection under our laws.

Across the globe women leaders made history as Aung San Suu Kyi won her election in Myanmar, 20 years after she was under house arrest; Saudi Arabian women got their chance to vote and the stalwart German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was voted Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for her unwavering leadership in graciously receiving 800,000 Syrian refugees fleeing man-made carnage in their homeland.

Showbiz had many firsts with Viola Davis winning her Emmy and making some hard statements in her acceptance speech about gender and racial inequity in Hollywood.  Little by little, we watched as more POCs faces appeared on prime-time television: Fresh Off the Boat gave us fresh stories and Asian faces telling Asian-American family recent-immigrant stories that began to scratch the surface of racism in America.  The latest Netflix series, Master of None, is applauded as “brilliant” wherein writer/director/comedic actor Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang are bringing immigrant-American stories and struggles into mainstream dialogue and social consciousness.

Here in our Diasporic VietnAmerica (both USA and Canada), we saw a great deal of ‘firsts’ and incredibly gifted, talented and dedicated young, recent immigrant Americans push the envelope to make a difference.  So, on this NYE-2015, I thought I’d make #Mai own list of Top 30 of the 2015 Vietnamese-American Hero(in)es who inspired me and who set the stage for boundless possibilities in 2016.

Disclaimer: “Top Lists” are innately problematic because they require people/items to be ranked by a subjective judge(s).   This entails human ‘subjectivity’ which are always fraught with emotion and biases. As this is my blog at La OCVietAmMD.com, I am forthright and unabashed to admit, I *heart* ALL these peeps who made this list and I voted for them, with a committee of ‘one!’  But after reading about them, you’d agree they are all deserving of this and much more accolades!

That said, here we go:

#30:  Julie Thu Võ:  

In 2015, Julie quit her ‘stable’ job at MOMS-OC (a non-profit that serves under-served mothers and helps them identify resources, opportunities to gain skills and become better moms and caregivers for their newborns and families).  After years at MOMS, Julie wanted to stretch her many skills and capacities and took a new position as Development Manager for Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) in Los Angeles that focuses on innovation, creativity and earth-friendly “green” sustainability.  ECS delivers vibrant, innovative, interdisciplinary learning opportunities using the environment to engage students and connect them to the wider world.

Why is this such a big deal? Well if you knew our Julie “emJuJu” you’d know she is at times a quiet heroine taking care of her young-at-heart-mom who is thriving after having a stroke at a relatively young age (< 50 years old).  She is also a long-time mentor for Project Motivate, a non-profit that mentors at-risk Asian Pacific Islander youth in Orange County. She was also an important mentor in creating Common Ground (photo above) which translates in Việt as “Sân Chơi Chung”… literally, “a common ground/space to play.”  Common Ground meets monthly (usually on a Thursday) and is a ‘safe open space’ for young artists looking to find their voices in their chosen arts media: spoken-word, music, theater arts, film or whatever!

She also dedicates herself to an incredibly prolific and dedicated non-profit Vietnamese-American Arts and Letters Association Board (VAALA) which now hosts an annual Viet Film Fest (VFF).  In her new job at the Environmental Charter School, Julie enriches the creative curriculum and shapes young minds.  You, GO, emJuJu!

#29:  Ngọc H. Nguyễn, J.D., Esquire: 


My fellow lunatic sol-sista  in August 2015 won her pitch as part of the MIT Entrepreneur Bootcamp.  This intensive 5-day MIT Bootcamp was like an incubator-conference to refine and advance her disruptive innovative idea to start a business.  She was among an elite group of brilliant change-makers who collaborated to refine a business idea.  Thereafter, in usual Ngọc-esque style, she went on to travel the globe, spreading her special rays of sunshine and touching lives, meanwhile trying to advance Restorative Justice.  Ngọc (and hubby Seth) ơi, you both inspire me to dream big, care bigger and believe that I CAN make those caring, big dreams come true.  2016 is truly going to be a big year for all of us!

#28 Tanya Hoàng Bội Ngọc: Tanya TU y Yo. 10.18.15

In 2015, Tanya Bội Ngọc Hoàng came out of her self-imposed semi-retirement and got back into the workforce consulting with a company to help them improve their HR and revenue stream.  That’s not what makes her my 2015 Heroine of note.  She is the consummate friend to all who are lucky to be in her universe–always ready, willing and able to churn home-made, full fat ice-cream to help a dear friend battling metastatic cancer ‘fatten up.’  Or come to the rescue of a girlfriend having a major recurrent mental health crisis, at a drop of a dime to organize her home office, house and life.  On the community level, she has volunteered her grace, time and beauty to help co-emcee SAP-VN (Social Assistance Program to Việt Nam)’s Gift of Hope Gala Fundraiser for many years.  Tanya, the universe is a brighter place because you are a brilliant star in it!  I love you, gal!

#27 Tam Nguyen, MD, MBA and his family’s Advanced Beauty College, opened their much-anticipated second beauty college in Laguna Hills in September 2015.

Most everyone in Orange County knows Dr. Tâm Nguyễn. His family’s iconic “American Dream” story has been featured widely in mainstream newspapers, television and mass media.  Upon fulfilling his parents’ dream of graduating medical school to become a “medical doctor,” Tâm bequeathed them his MD degree.  He then asked to take over the family’s small business: to expand and run their successful beauty school. (Pictured above is the matriarch behind the Advanced Beauty College’s success: Mrs. Kiên-Tâm Nguyễn, who was also profiled in last summer’s vIetnAMese fOCus (IAMOC) exhibit that runs until March 2016 at the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana).

Since taking it over, Tâm, MBA, together with his sister, Linh Nguyễn have revolutionized the beauty school industry.  They teach their hundreds of students ‘best practices,’ empower them to protect themselves against health hazards of nail products, as well as teach their students entrepreneurial skills to succeed after graduation.

Aside from masterminding business expansion, Tâm is meticulously involved in the business and development of his hometown, Fountain Valley.  Serving on the Parent Teacher Association of the FV School District, he also lobbies in Sacramento for our children’s education.  He is also a champ of a father, helping to coach his son’s sports teams and always makes time to be a dutiful husband and son to his aging parents.  Tâm, my dear dharma brother, you ARE da man!

# 26 Dr. Sĩ Văn Nguyễn, MD: pathologist and long time women’s health champion.

As the College of Pathologists (CAP) Foundation’s “Physician of the Year” in 2014, Dr. Sĩ used his prize money to purchase this Mercedes-Benz van and converted it into a mobile pathology lab.  Inside, he has everything he needs to perform important histologic testing to diagnose anything from cervical to breast cancer.  Dr. Sĩ is passionate about women’s health and for years has partnered with CAP Foundation to develop community health programs to help outreach hard-to-reach women patients.

This year, I was honored to work with Dr. Sĩ Văn Nguyễn in the capacity of then Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the Viet Namese of Orange County’s Southland Health Center (VNCOC-SHC).  Together, we garnered a CAP Foundation grant and hosted an awesome  See Test & Treat Women’s Health Fair on 11/14/22.  STTx offered free PAP smears, with a full-service pathology team on site, processing the Pap smears wtihin a 2 hour turn-around.  Additionally, we recruited 3 gynecologists on site to perform colposcopy for the women who had abnormal Paps and offered follow-up care.  While they waited for the 2 hours for their Pap results, these 50 women and their families had option to get free digital mammograms, dexa bone scans to rule out breast cancer and osteoporosis.  Given it’s strong success of this year’s STTx, there is no doubt that Dr Sĩ’s pathology mobile van will be busy and running into 2016 and beyond!

#25 Thành Ngọc Nguyễn: 

Fearless co-founder and president of Social Assistance Program to Việt Nam (SAP-VN) for over 20 years.  This year, anh Thành’s many decades dedication to the very unfortunate of Vietnam (those born with orthopedic birth defects in the most impoverished and hardest hit areas of our quê hương) as fearless leader of SAP-VN as well as has over 25 years of dedication as a culturally competent math teacher at La Quinta High School was recognized at this year’s Viet fOCus Art Exhibit hosted by UCI’s Fab 5: Professor Linda Võ, Trâm Lê, Dr. Thúy Võ-Đặng and artistes extraordinaires, Trinh Mai Thạch and James Định (to be expanded later).

I have known anh Thành since 1988, when he served as one of the earliest humanitarian aid volunteers with Project Ngọc-UCI, a 10 year student refugee advocacy organization, back in the day.  He has a servant’s heart but more so, he is eloquent, gracious and nimble in leading others to step up and do more, to help those in need.  I am looking forward to joining “Forces” with TeamSAP-VN in August 2016, to assist with your Mobil Health Clinic in our beloved quê-hương, anh Thành!

#24 Dr. Bích Liên Nguyễn, MD: 

Founder of Vietnamese American Cancer Foundation (VACF), the esteemed Dr. Bích Liên Nguyễn, was also honored in a larger-than-life sized tapestry poster at same vIệtnAM fOCus (#IamOC) Art Exhibit.  Dr. Bích Liên has been a champion for women’s breast and cervical cancer along with early liver cancer detection with Hepatitis B and C screening in our Vietnamese American community for decades.  This year, she got some due respect and acknowledgement in Viet fOCus but she has been serving patients and community health for decades.

# 23 Jenny Do, Esq.: lawyer, humanitarian, artist.  In 2015, a San Jose City Council candidate and recurrent, metastatic breast cancer survivor 

There are not enough words to express the public love and support for this sister-soldier.  For decades, as the founder of Friends of Huế Foundation (FHF), a non-profit serving women and children of Huế, the former imperial ancient city in Central Việt Nam and of the famous Áo Dài Festival in Northern California (to raise funds for her FHF), Jenny has been beloved by thousands of fans and supporters throughout the globe.  In fall of 2015, she went very public with her diagnosis of recurrent, late-stage breast cancer–a devastating diagnosis that led to her withdrawing from her competitive bid for San Jose City Council public service.

Since that announcement, it seems like all of VietnAmerica has been galvanized to lend public prayers, love and support to help  Jenny fight for her life–a life so fully lived in the creation of art, beauty and always, mindful to serve others in need. We love you, Jenny!  In 2016, we will walk with you, as you live your life full of #Hope #Dreams and #Mindfulness, reminding each of us how very precious and ethereal everyday truly is.

For more info regarding Jenny’s non-profit: http://www.FriendsofHue.org

#22 Quinn (Hoa) Trần, CEO of American Red Cross of Santa Clara County.


Chị Quinn is the “quin”tessential (pun fully intended) ViệtnAmerican womyn-warrior: beautiful, smart, compassionate on the outside, tough as nails on the inside.  There were many, many unfortunate disasters in 2015.  In the wake of the fires in Lake County (north of our former hometown of Napa), she helped to coordinate relief efforts.  When tragedy struck internationally for millions of refugees in Europe, Myanmar and Syria, etc… chị Quinn was there leading relief efforts.  Always acting locally while thinking globally, chị Quinn constantly inspires me to do more.

On the personal note, chị Quinn is my go-to-gal when I have a community health project idea.  She is the best of the best chị-2 (older sisters) whom many of us close-knit do-gooder gal-pals call upon to ask for ‘straight talk’ and sisterly advice.  Plus, she has the Rolodex and resources to help a girl make her dreams come true.  She is also made semi-famous by Bay Area photographer, Hải Hồ, who always manages to capture her best in one of her haute coutured áo dàis (above she is in a sheer black áo dài at a fundraiser hosted by gal-pal do-gooder, Jenny Đỗ).  Thank you, for all you do, Chị Quinn!

#21 Associate Professor Tú-Uyên Ngọc Nguyen, PhD, MPH teaches Asian-American Studies at CSU-Fullerton and conducts Asian-Am public health research, focusing on women’s and minority health.


Anyone who is touched by Dr. Tú-Uyên knows she is grace under fire and a cannon of energy and brilliance in a petite package.  Like her fellow womyn-warrior academic Dr. Kiều-Linh, in January 2016, Dr. Tú-Uyên will lead a delegation from her Cal-State University-Fullerton to forge an exchange student program in Việt Nam.  Dr. Tú-Uyên not only teaches Asian-American studies at CSUF, she is also the primary investigator for a $1.5M federal grant to creatively impact obesity and improve student performance for at-risk, disadvantaged Asian Pacific Islander students at Magnolia High School in the Anaheim School District.

She also serves with passion and compassion on 2 non-profit boards:  OCAPICA (Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance) and the VAALA.  At VAALA, Tú-Uyên dedicates many many hours to their prolific art, film, literary programs throughout the year.  For me personally, she has been a beacon of light and sisterhood since the 1980s.  I could not imagine a world without this wonderful heroine!  It would be like having no sun in our universe.

#20  Professor Caroline Kiều Linh Valverde, PhD teaches Asian American Studies at UC-Davis.

Professor Kiều Linh next to Grammy winner Jay King of Club Nouveau and HCMC official, Mr. Cảnh during her November 2015 UC-Davis delegation to HCMC and Hà Nội.

Professor Kiều Linh next to Grammy winner Jay King of Club Nouveau and HCMC official, Mr. Cảnh during her November 2015 UC-Davis delegation to HCMC and Hà Nội.

In 2015, she lead of delegation of academics from UCD to both Hà Nội and Hồ Chi Minh City (HCMC), Việt Nam to build a sister-program in our beloved quê-hương for future generations of students interested in learning about Việt nam.  This will become an ‘exchange student’ experience–in a country that just 20 years ago, normalized “hot” and Cold War relations with the U.S.A.  Programs such as these are possible in this 21st Century between two former 20th century adversaries because way before 1995 US-Vietnam’s normalizations, Dr. Kiều-Linh was doing her graduate student work in the homeland, documenting and writing about life under the communist regime. For almost a decade, I have known this fearless intellectual who is always pushing her undergraduate students to question authority and paradigms.  In this year of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we are all so very lucky that Dr. Kiều Linh is there in the community asking the hard questions of authority and living an example of why (mixed) race relations are important, relevant and urgent in the post-Obama era.

#19 Professor Việt Thanh Nguyễn, PhD, USC English professor and author of his debut novel, The Sympathizer, that in 2015, won many awards, accolades and year-end Book Review “Top 20 Bests.”

Viet_Sympathizer w VAALAmily_4.10.15

Seen here at the Loft Literary Center (Minneapolis, MN) with def-jam spoken word(smith) artist, Bảo Phi, May 2015

Seen here at the Loft Literary Center (Minneapolis, MN) with def-jam spoken word(smith) artist, Bảo Phi, May 2015

In the 40th year of Vietnamese in the Diaspora, Dr. Việt gave eloquent voice to our collective refugee experiences, sharing intimate details of his and his brother’s (now a physician at UCSF Medical Center) refugee experience outta ‘Nam in April 1975.  How cool to discover that both the Drs. Việt and Tùng Nguyễn were processed at the same refugee camp in Indian Town Gap, PA as my family (and that of Dr. Bích Liên Nguyễn) in the summer of 1975.  Thus proving that our stories are ever so interwoven and interconnected–then, as now!

#18 Cần Trương, subject of the documentary film, Can, by NY-based filmmaker, Pearl Ji-Hyon Park, which won the Việt Film Fest 2015’s Audience Choice Award.

VFF_Can Screening.4.18.15

Q&A Session with community and mental health advocates along with “Can” filmmakers, Pearl Ji-Hyon Park and Xuân Vũ

Can is a landmark film that follows over 3  years, the struggles of Cần who suffered crippling bipolar depression.  The film is so powerful because Cần so courageously allowed filmmaker Pearl Park intimate access to his family’s prevalent refugee immigrant experiences and candid interviews.  He also boldly speaks out against the culturally-incompetent U.S.mental healthcare system played a major part in his ‘failure to recover and thrive’ in the US, despite being a highly intelligent, ‘model minority’ Asian-American scholar.

Cần at Paramount Studios in August 2012, attending the SAMHSA conference (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) VOICE conference.

Cần at Paramount Studios in August 2012, attending the “Voice Conference” hosted by SAMHSA  (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

Cần’s survival (and now his thriving) life is an inspiration to all of those in Asian-America who struggle to find hope, strength and sustainable health (and healthcare) in this second homeland for their complicated mental health conditions–“complicated” by the context of a violent war and difficult refugee assimilation processes wrought with racism, bullying, and culturally-incompetent educational and healthcare systems.  For me as a primary and mental health provider, this film was transformative.  Thank you, Cần Trương, for your light, your deep love for those suffering mental health conditions and your compassion to so bravely share your story.  Congratulations on your sustained wellness, off medications for over a decade and now, on your important spiritual journey, dedicated to helping so many others heal!  I salute you, sư-phụ!

#17 Sol-sistas Huỳnh Thanh Thảo (the subject) of the award-winning documentary, Thảo’s Library, by NYC-based actor, filmmaker, writer, director, producer and humanitarian, Elizabeth Van Meter of the Purpose Project. 


Read the above succinct review in the Seattle Times and go see the film. (Available for purchase after January 2016 at your local Walmart, compliments of winning the grand prize at the Bentonville Film Festival–a festival founded by Gina Davis, highlighting women stories or films made by female filmmakers: that’s right, gals!)

Forty years after the “end of the Việt Nam” war, both Thảo and Elizabeth poignantly remind us that the wounds of war last long, long after the troops  have withdrawn out of ‘Nam.

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Thảo suffers (on an epigenetic, physiologic-level) crippling deformities caused by the millions of tons of Agent Orange sprayed on our countryside.  Elizabeth, suffered crippling Major Depression, after her famous younger sister, aka “the youngest aviator to cross the Atlantic Ocean” committed suicide. Elizabeth’s transformative, healing story in search of Thảo (a crippled girl in a wheelchair in a photo) sent her on a Quixotic quest that would change both their lives–and ours. Congratulations, Elizabeth for winning the coveted Bentonville Film Festival Grand Prize! This award took your film around the nation, and brought you to us.  We look forward to seeing this film soar at 2016’s Việt Film Fest.  Your sister must be so proud, up in heaven.  🙂

#16 Quí Nguyễn, award-winning NYC-based playwriter for his stunning opus magnum, VietGone: an eloquent, brilliant yet hipster screenplay that jumbled the best and worst of being ViệtnAmericanese post-April, 1975.

Kudos to the genius that is Quí Nguyễn!  We are waiting with bated breath for sequels #2 and #3, derived from the rich and fertile materials brought to you by the audacious Vietnamese Oral History Project (VAOHP) housed in the newly inaugurated Orange County South East Asian Archives at our alma mater, University of California-Irvine.  Can I have a shout out and a Zot! Zot! for both playwriter Quí and UCI’s VAOHP!?

#15 Sophie Bảo Trân Trần: Little Saigon TV (LSTV) reporter, business owner, runway model, and essentially, the face of VietnAmerica’s Generation-Nexters in Little Saigon-OC.

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Quite frankly, there are few community events where one will NOT find our beautiful and talented Sophie Bảo-Trân, usually donning an haute coutured áo dài, high fashion outfit or looking hipster in a Vogue ‘casual outfit.’  Seriously, she can even make a #Walk4Refugees fundraiser look glam with her “S” pose she taught me in October (see photo above).

But 2015 was when Little Saigon benefited from Sophie’s creativity as she produced and launched her innovative, new TV show on LSTV, “What’s UP? with Sophie.”  On this TV platform, Sophie is able to invite all kinds of community celebrities, change-makers, businesswomen and men to come on her show to give them a platform to tell their stories, educate, entertain and most importantly, empower our Viet-Am Community with grace, style, eloquence and youthful beauty and creativity!

I appreciate you, emgáiđẹpvàgiỏi Sophie!  Rain or shine, you are OUT there/here doing your level best to represent the younger generation and giving back to your beloved VietnAmerica.  May 2016 bring you great joy and success as you become a “Mrs.” and continue to soar!

#14 MyMy Phạm of VNTV and SBTN Việt-language news reporter, full-time social worker getting her Master’s degree in Social Work meanwhile, a dedicated, budding filmmaker and Fulbright-National Geographic Digital-Storytelling Fellowship candidate (and my mentee 🙂 !).

MyMy Pham_LDVN USS Midway_5.11.15

In the year when everyone was telling our Vietnamese American stories, the most notable one was by female filmmaker, Rory Kennedy.  The acclaimed and Oscar-nominated Last Days in Việt Nam was a valiant attempt by a non-Việtnamese filmmaker.  However, to many Asian American studies academics and critics, this film was far too simplistic and way too ‘appropriated’ a narrative about our collective 150,000 Vietnamese escape out of Vietnam, in the final days of the War in April 1975.  However, thanks to the courageous and rogue efforts of many soldiers (both the Việt and American military men/women), my family and that of about 150,000 super ‘lucky’ elite Vietnamese escaped as part of the U.S. Operation Frequent Wind.  We were spared living under Communist Reign of Terror for decades that followed.

I was honored to be “found” by this firecracker of a budding news and international field reporter named MyMy Phạm.  She was asked by the local public television station in San Diego, KPBS, to help identify a ‘Vietnamese American (preferably female) hometown hero(ine)’.

As karma would have it, MyMy ‘found’ me in the heart of Little Saigon through a mutual friend, Garden Grove Councilman, Chris Phan.  MyMy then invited me to represent the Vietnamese community for a very special screening of Kennedy’s “Last Days in Viet Nam” aboard the U.S.S. Midway, the ship that rescued my family on April 29, 1975.  What an incredibly memorable event that was, MyMy!  Thank you for finding me and for giving my family a lasting memory to pass down to posterity.

Since that May 2015, screening, MyMy’s career continues to take flight. She then had the audacity to REACH higher than she ever thought possible and applied for the coveted Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.  Together–2 sisters, hand-in-hand, MyMy and I gave it the best we got to garner this honor.  I have yet to hear if she got this 1 year fellowship that would take her around the world to capture and document little-known stories of quiet and unsuspecting heroes in her 3 Asian countries of choice: Cambodia, South Korea and Việt Nam.

Take a look at this YouTube digital portfolio and tell me you didn’t just fall in love with MyMy?!

In 2016, whether you are a Fulbright-Nat Geo fellow or not, I have no doubt you will speed into orbit, my lovely sister.  Much love and all the best, emgáiđẹpvàgiỏicủachịMP!

#13 Nancy Bùi of the Texas-based Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation and Executive Producer of VietnAmerica, a much more nuanced and culturally-competent documentary that premiered  at the Saigon Performing Arts Center on May 17, 2015 in Little Saigon-Orange County.

VietnAmerica screening_Nancy Bui_5.30.15

Like yours truly, cô Nancy has as she so admitted “zero” experience as an Executive Producer of a formidable documentary telling the stories of several Vietnamese Americans and the struggles we all face with War, Love, Loss, Forgiveness and mental health trauma as a result of our collective refugee experiences.  As an important counterpoint to Rory Kennedy’s film, VietnAmerica is a must-see for those who are interested in a more culturally-competent and accurate, first-person narrative of our collective Vietnamese-American experience.

Cô Nancy Bui is also credited with self-funding-raising and compiling (out of her own passion to document and archive) over 500 video oral histories of Vietnamese Americans around the country.  This is her mission and this is her cause at the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to “the preservation, promotion and celebration of Vietnamese American history and heritage for present and future generations of ViệtAmericans.

For more info, visit: www. VietnameseAmerican.org or http://www.Facebook.com/VietAmerica.

#12 Thanh Tân, staff writer for Seattle Times, multi-media journalist and consultant for many different outlets, who comes from a long lineage of community activists.  She has garnered 2 Emmy Awards for her multi-media journalistic works at Idaho Public Television, as well as reported and reported for multi-media projects at the Texas Tribune, in Austin. In short, she can do it ALL, in journalism!

In 2015 for our 40th Anniversary of the “end” of The Vietnam War, The Seattle Times featured a powerful retrospective penned by the word-smithing and ever-truthful Thanh Tân unearthing the little spoken about ‘war amongst each other’ that Vietnamese are acculturated to do so ‘naturally.’  Check these links below out and read for yourselves:


and then there’s this one:


and this final one:  http://www.seattletimes.com/2015/04/refugees-face-greater-challenges-today/

Can you tell I am a HUGE fan of this lady’s writing?  Giving voice to the voiceless with a personal ‘soft spot’ for past and present refugee-immigrant experiences, in this historic year for global refugee exoduses.  It’s hard to find anyone else in VietnAmerica who does it better.

To your writing and multi-media journalistic success(es) in 2016 and beyond, #QueenThanhTân!  xoxo 🙂

#11 Định, James Định (NOT to be confused with #007)?!  Architect extraordinaire but lesser known as the quiet and unassuming VAALA ‘secret weapon.’  James has served as a prolific VAALA Board Member for several years.   In 2015, James won a competitive bid to design an architectural statue to ‘represent’ our Vietnamese American contributions to Little Saigon.  When this statue is done, it will be live in the *heart* of Little Saigon-OC, at Phước Lộc Thọ aka Asian Gardens Mall.

James Dinh VietFocus_8.4.15

James is also the “Jack of All (creative, design) trades” and in this case, “the master of ALL of them!”  James is the genius behind the VAALA and Việt Film Fest logos, web and poster designs.  He orchestrates and engineers all of VAALA’s incredible year-long programs from the well-attended Việt Film Fest in April; to their awe-inspiring vIetnAMese fOCus (IamOC) Exhibit running from summer 2015 until March 2016.  From VAALA’s annual favorite tradition, the Children’s Moon Festival in September to their many art exhibits throughout the year, James makes ‘magic’ happen such that VAALA can realize it’s motto and mission: “Make Art. Build Community.”

VAALA ended 2015 with their breath-taking 40 Hues between Black and White Art Exhibit at the Orange County Contemporary Art Museum in Santa Ana, at the end of December 2015.  40 Hues commemorated and reflected on the diverse mixed media art works of Vietnamese Americans in the last 40 years in the Diaspora.

#10 Trâm Lê, Associate Director of UC-Irvine’s important, timely and progressive Vietnamese America Oral History Project (VAOHP).


My countdown to #1 ViệtnAmerican of 2015 continues…  Coming up next: the “Top 10 of 2015!”  Stay tuned, friends!


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Garden Grove, California (November 14, 2015) — Did you know?  Among all ethnic women in the U.S., that Vietnamese-American women have some of the highest rates of cervical and breast cancers?  The reasons for this are multi-fold.  Namely, cervical cancer is predominantly, a result of a sexually transmitted virus that causes a chronic infection and irritation to the female cervix. This prevalent virus is called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

HPV is transmitted sexually from men to women.  Because HPV is endemic in the Asian Pacific Islander community (and in particular, among Vietnamese Americans), it is the cause for the high incidence of cervical cancer in this ethnic minority community.

PAP cell changes

To address this higher prevalence of cervical and breast cancers in the Vietnamese community, the Viet Namese Community of Orange County (VNCOC, Inc.) is hosting an innovative one day, free cervical and breast cancer screening health fair called “See, Test and Treat,” targeting higher risk women who are low-income and/or uninsured on Saturday, November 14th, from 8:30am to 3:00pm at their Southland Health Center.  

Located in Garden Grove at 9862 Chapman Avenue, Suite B, cross-street Brookhurst Street, (next door to the 24 hour CVS Pharmacy), Southland Health Center is where many ethnic enclaves converge:   Little Saigon, Korea-town-Garden Grove, Santa Ana (Latino) and Little Arabia, Anaheim (Muslim).  Hence, Southland Health Center is in a prime location to serve the healthcare needs of these richly diverse immigrant communities in the O.C.

See, Test and Treat is an innovative community health program offered by VNCOC in collaboration with the College of American Pathologists (CAP)  and CAP Foundation.  It is made possible by a generous grant from CAP Foundation and in-kind donations of industry sponsors including CooperSurgical, Hologic, Pathology, Inc.; Huntington Beach Hospital and Alinea Medical Imaging.


See, Test and Treat is an “all-inclusive, under one roof” project.  Within the span of 7 hours, low-income, uninsured women will have the unique opportunity (by appointment preferably) to be examined by Southland Health Center primary care providers, lead by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mai-Phương Nguyễn (internal medicine).  The PCP care team will take relevant histories then perform Clinical Breast Exams and Pelvic exams including Papanicolaou (Pap) smears to screen for abnormal cervical cells.


These PAP smears will be turned over to an on-site pathology team headed by Dr. Sĩ Văn Nguyễn of Huntington Beach Hospital.   Within 90-120 minutes process, Dr. Sĩ and his pathology team will be able to give the patients their Pap smear results.  Upon request, he is able to review their abnormal slides and cells under microscopes with the patients.

PAP smear take

It is estimated that 10% of all Pap smears will yield an abnormal Pap result.   If an abnormal Pap is identified, there will be 2 volunteer gynecologists (Drs. Thomas Trí Quách and Kevin Khải Tiêu) on hand to further work-up the abnormal Pap smears.  These gynecologists will be able to perform more in-depth testing via colposcopy and biopsy any abnormalities found.  The biopsies can thereafter be prepped and reviewed by the pathology team on-site to ascertain their severity.

For the women whose Pap smears yield worrisome findings, Drs. Quách and Tiêu will see them in their offices for treatment on follow-up.  For those who are uninsured, VNCOC’s certified health insurance counselors will help to enroll them into a health insurance plan for which they qualify, such as Medicaid or Covered California.  This will enable them to access other advanced surgical therapies and treatment options as indicated, as well as essential preventive, primary care services.

While the scheduled patients await their Pap smear results, they will also have the opportunity to get free breast cancer screening mammograms.  In partnership with Alinea Medical Imaging based in Santa Ana, and funded by the “Every Woman Counts” program, those women from ages 40-64, can update their mammograms.  Alinea Medical Imaging’s radiology team headed by CEO and Medical Director Dr. Monish Laxpati, MD will read all the mammograms.  Southland Health Center’s primary care team will follow up on any abnormal findings on these mammograms.

According to the latest October 2015 recommendations by the American Cancer Society, women ages 40-50 years old should consider getting a mammogram only if they are at higher risk for breast cancer.  Higher risk factors for breast disease include: family or personal history of breast cancer, smoking, obesity or history of consuming high saturated-fat diets.  Also, the women should not have had a mammogram within the last year (i.e. since November 2014).

Also while waiting for their Pap results, the women patients (and their families) can be educated by the lead physicians, Drs. Mai-Phương Nguyễn (fluent in Spanish and Vietnamese), Thomas Trí Quách and Kevin Khai Tiêu (both speak Vietnamese and English).  These patient advocates will give 10-15 minutes health ‘charlas’ or in-language talks on healthy diet, nutrition, smoking cessation and exercise in addition to presentations on the importance of regular breast and cervical cancer screenings via mammograms and Pap smears.

Orange County is home to the largest Overseas Vietnamese community in the world. The Southland Health Center is a NCQA Level III Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) that is distinctly qualified to coordinate the care of complex patients in a culturally-competent and linguistically-appropriate manner.

The Vietnamese Community of Orange County (VNCOC, Inc) is a non-profit health and human agency that was founded in 1979 to meet the vast social needs of the influx of Vietnamese refugees coming to Southern California following the end of the Viet Nam War post-1975. Since 1997, VNCOC has expanded its social services to include primary, dental and mental healthcare services to meet the growing healthcare needs of this large immigrant population.  In the post-Affordable Care Act era since 2012, VNCOC’s Southland Health Center serves all-comers, regardless of insurance or immigration status or ethnicity.

To schedule an appointment at See, Test and Treat Women’s Health Fair, please call  714.640.3470 or email info@thevncoc.org.   For more information, visit http://www.theVNCOC.org. 

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Fountain Valley, California (11/22/15)  — On Sunday, November 22, 2015, Orange County residents are invited to the attend the second Walk With A Doc (known as hashtag, #WWAD on social media) community health program, spearheaded by lead physician, Dr. Mai-Phương Nguyễn. Interested walkers meet at Mile Square Park’s Freedom Lake (located at the intersection of Edinger and Euclid) at 8:30am. Equipped with a good pair of walking shoes, Dr. Mai-Phương Nguyễn (former Chief Medical Officer of VNCOC’s Southland Health Center), and friends will lead walkers (of all ages, ethnicity and physical capacities) to walk for 45-60 minutes at their own pace.


Former California State Assemblyman, Lou Correa came to support the inaugural Orange County #WWAD at the #Walk4Refugees event, held at Mile Square Park, October 18, 2015.


The impetus to start Walk With A Doc in Orange County came after Dr. Mai-Phương attended NEPO’s Building Healthy Communities leadership conference in Riverside, California in September 2015.  NEPO (short for Network of Ethnic Physician Organizations) is a conglomeration of over 58 ethnic physician organizations throughout California whose primary mandate is to advance health equity for communities of color, most of whom experience greater health disparities and difficulties accessing affordable healthcare.

Although Dr. Mai-Phương has been attending NEPO leadership summits for nearly a decade and had heard of the 10 year old #WWAD program in years past, it was not until she became Chief Medical Officer of VNCOC’s Southland Health Center in 2015 did she have a platform to coordinate this efficacious, community and public health program to bring its benefits to Orange County. Since leaving VNCOC, Dr. MP Nguyen continues to host the monthly #WWAD-OC program.

The 2015 statistics for #WWAD shows that of the nationwide participants who have committed to a regular #WWAD program in their respective communities:

  • 97% enjoy the refreshing concept of pairing with a local physician expert and connect outside of the traditional medical office/hospital setting
  • 97% feel more educated about their health since joining a local WWAD program
  • 79.4% are exercising more since starting the WWAD program
  • 78.8% feel empowered in their interactions with their doctors and healthcare providers.

In addition, Dr. Mai-Phương, who attended the University of Southern California (USC) medical school and completed an internal medicine residency at UCLA, is also a local expert on mental health disorders among ethnic communities.  In particular, she served 10 years in East L.A. (in the aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King and Los Angeles Riots), attending to predominantly Latino immigrants who escaped political strife in Central American countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and México. It’s worth noting that she minored in Spanish Literature from the UCI-undergraduate and is fluent and multi-culturally competent in Spanish and Vietnamese traditions.

Earlier at the turn of the century, she also lived three years and worked in the Pacific Island of Guam, Saipan and Tinian. For the past four years, she has returned to her Southern California “home” Little Saigon community where her aging parents have lived since 1988.  In private practice in the O.C. since 2011, she has become a local expert on the unique primary care and mental health needs of Vietnamese American patients–a community comprised predominantly of refugee immigrants.

Dr. Mai-Phương envisions the #WWAD  as having a fifth mental health advantage: decreasing the social isolation of monolingual first generation or recent emigrated seniors who she has found to be ‘languishing’ in their adult-children’s homes.  “Many of our beloved elders do not feel integrated into the greater American mainstream society.  Being Limited English Proficient (LEP),  those who retire from their factory, assembly jobs or nail salon work (where they never had to learn to integrate), unless they are attending to grandchildren, many of them suffer in silence, cooped up in their senior apartments or in their adult-children’s homes,” says Dr. Mai-Phương.

“Meanwhile, their more integrated (perhaps 1.5 or 2.0 generation) adult children lead busy, Socal lives and do not have time to adequately attend to their aging parents growing healthcare needs.  Many of these aging seniors become lonely, depressed, anxious. the common theme is they ‘don’t want to bother their busy Americanized adult-children. Slowly, they become disaffected, physically and mentally!” remarks Dr. Mai-Phương.

A community-based, public health program such as #WWAD would be “instrumental in coaxing these vulnerable, isolated seniors to venture outside the comfort zones of their apartments and houses and come walk with a culturally-competent and linguistically-appropriate doctor,” states Dr. Mai-Phương Nguyễn.

Since its inception in October 2015, every month, Dr. Mai-Phương and her 2 community health doctora-champions, Dras. Helen Hiền Trần (Patient Safety and Compliance Officer for Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey, California) and Teresa Flores, MD (CMO of Share Our Selves, SOS Community Health Center in Santa Ana and Cost Mesa) host a #WWAD event.


Las 3 doctora-amigas-community health champs who host #WWAD-OC monthy: (left to right) Dras. Helen Hiền Trân, MP Nguyễn and Teresa Flores, MD.  All 3 are fluent in Spanish and English.  Dras. Helen and MP also are fluent in Vietnamese.

They begin at 8:30-9am with healthy snacks, stretches and a health charla. During this warm-up, the “Doc-of-the-day” gives a 10-15 minute health charla or chat about a news-worthy community health topic, bringing the latest evidence-based research in science, health and technology to help excite participants of all ages to commit to walking and improving their wellness.  For the price of a good pair of walking shoes, Dr. Mai-Phương believes that the Return On Investment (or “ROI”) of this #WWAD program will be exponential for all of Orange County members–beginning here, in Little Saigon.

“Stretch. Load. WALK!”


Dr. Mai-Phương invites colleagues from medical organizations such as the Orange County Medical Association (OCMA), The Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) and other community-based health and wellness groups to build a tidal wave of support and expand the #WWAD program. Furthermore, she envisions partnering with health-conscientious businesses to sponsor the walks to build a cross-sectional community-health collaborative. By including local, small businesses and respective ethnic Chambers of Commerce to endorse and actually, Walk With A Doc, Dr. Mai-Phương hopes to Build Healthy Communities, together!

For more information, visit: http://www.WalkWithADoc.org.

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About a month ago, my 74 year old father underwent open-heart, (aka coronary artery bypass graft or CABG, pronounced like “cabbage”), surgery to bypass 2 critically clogged arteries in his heart.  He was offered open heart surgery to save his life even though he had no symptoms of chest pain, dizziness, palpitations or shortness of breath.  Amazing, considering that the 2 critically clogged arteries (the left circumflex and the right coronary arteries) supplied 2/3 of the blood flow to his heart.    The events and decisions leading up to his surgery happened quite quickly.

He went in on a Friday for a ‘routine’ angiogram to further elucidate an abnormal stress thallium test from 6 years ago that he and his prior primary care doctor chose to ignore.  His cardiologist found the 2 critically clogged arteries that had ample collateral blood vessels (hence, he had adequate blood flow and did not suffer any chest pain or discomfort).  He was scheduled for bypass surgery by the following Monday, on Martin Luther King holiday.


In dad's case, his left circumflex was 90% blocked and his right coronary artery (RCA) was 80-90% blocked.

In dad’s case, his left circumflex was 90% blocked and his dominant right coronary artery (RCA) was 80-90% blocked.


My father, a busy businessman who continues to work harder than many people half his age, seeing clients 6 to7 days/week, meanwhile playing tennis several times a week, felt he did not have time to waste in indecision, waffling between which hospitals to have the procedure done or which surgeon to do the big operation.  He trusted his Vietnamese, IV League trained cardiologist, Dr. K, implicitly.

Dr. K has been his physician for over 15 years.  Nowadays with people switching insurances and primary care doctors so often, for me, it is a beautiful thing to bear witness to their sacred doctor-patient relationship.  It gives me hope that in the future we will still be able to preserve that level of intimate trust between patient and physician.  Being a very intelligent man, my father would always listen very carefully to what Dr. K had to say and if Dr. K’s recommendations made sense to him, he followed Dr. K’s orders.

To get to the heart, surgeons have to crack the ribs, and cut open the heart sac or pericardium.

To get to the heart, surgeons have to crack the ribs, and cut open the heart sac or pericardium.


So when Dr. K told my father that his 2 critically clogged arteries were NOT amenable to stenting and that he needed bypass surgery, my father (the busy, businessman, former Green Beret/Vietnam War vet) was unshaken.  He did not want to get a second opinion from a fancier cardiologist across town, in a more expensive zip code.  He simply entrusted Dr. K’s choice of cardiothoracic surgeon and he put his life/health in God’s hands.

His surgeon would be an Egyptian whose first name sounds like Allah but spelled Alaa which means “great one.”  I would call Dr. Alaa the great communicator because his best sales pitch to my father to have surgery was his spending close to an hour explaining his medical conditions and what he hoped to achieve with bypass surgery.  At the bedside, with several of us adult children in the room and my mom, dutiful by my father’s side, at every turn, Dr. Alaa explained everything so clearly and with confidence that my father had no reason to doubt he was making the right decision.

But before surgery could be done, dad needed leg vein mapping (so they could harvest his saphenous or leg veins); he needed to have his carotid arteries checked to make sure there wasn’t severe blockage.  He also needed a chest Xray, arterial blood gas and lung function tests given his remote history of smoking 40 years ago (but for 17 years when he was in the military, before he had 4 children).  All these tests Dr. Alaa coordinated in 1 day so that dad could go home for Saturday night to get 2 night’s good sleep in his own bed, only to come right back for the surgery on Monday.

Sure enough, his 7 hour surgery went well without a glitch on MLK Day.  “Free at last, free at last…daddy is free of clogged coronaries, at last?”  But his irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation) and his labile (erratic) blood pressure would keep him in the intensive care unit for 3 more days.  Through it all, our beloved maman or mother sat by his bedside for most of the 8 hours during the daytime, everyday.  I would come to visit for an hour or so after work was done or after I had put Nam-Uy to bed.  It was on his second night in the ICU that we had a bear of a time trying to get his blood pressure down.  The diligent and capable nurse was on the phone with Drs. K. and Alaa throughout the night.

Mom and Dad snoozing off, while they wait indefinitely for the doctors to round .

Mom and Dad snoozing off, while they wait indefinitely for the doctors to round .

It has been 3 years since I did inpatient or ICU care.  I cannot say I miss the intensity of it all.  I CAN say that I am ever grateful for my father’s competent and meticulous physicians and ICU nurses.  As a practicing physician, I know way too many things that could go wrong in the hospital.  It makes me a bit anxious overseeing my father’s care.  And yet, I have to say that the lesson I learned from my father this time around was to have faith in others.  (It’s hard because having trained in the County system, and working in the third world on medical missions, I have witnessed many mistakes made or things left undone by clinical staff).

However, my father’s unwavering faith in his own cardiologist, surgeon and the nurses is infectious.   It would serve me best to adopt his unflinching faith in the healthcare system and staff.

As for mom, she is love incarnate.  Since dad has been home (5 days after his surgery), she has slept on the couch outside his makeshift downstairs bedroom (because he is not yet strong enough to climb the 2 flights of stairs to his bedroom).  When he gets up at night (due to insomnia or needing to urinate), she gets up to attend to him.  She has bathed him, tended to his wound and pain, and made him home-cooked meals that are low in salt and low in carbohydrates everyday for almost a month.

I don’t want to misrepresent my parents’ relationship.  They have been married almost 50 years.  They can be cranky and unpleasant towards each other but there is no doubt that their love is enduring.  It’s the gritty, I-don’t-say-“I love you”- kinda love.  Theirs is the rugged kinda love that stands the test of war, displacement as refugees in America, time, grown children and yes, even cardiac bypass surgery.

On this Valentine’s Day, I have so much to be grateful for.  Mostly, I am thrilled that my iconoclastic father is alive, with new pipes for blood vessels that will hopefully bring freshly oxygenated blood to his vibrant heart so that he can live long into his 90s as he wishes.

More so, my respect and admiration for my mom–her quiet patience and gentle kindness–is ever deepened.  And lastly, I have fallen in love with the art of medicine all over again.  My appreciation for all the men and women who dedicate their lives to tending to the sick is somehow greater, having had to advocate for my dad.  Being in and out of the hospital, then to the doctors’ follow up appointments for this past month, I am reminded of just how much we as clinicians and caregivers do to tend to the cajillion issues that patients present with.  The art of medicine is really a beautiful thing… and oh boy, am I glad that my father has some really skillful and caring medical artists on his team.

His overwhelmingly positive experience makes me less nervous about the next time we will have to return to the hospital or face a serious health problem.  For invariably as our parents age, they will be back in the hospital.

But rather than dread having to be the ‘doc in the family negotiator’ with the unenviable task of mediating differing siblings or family members, I am now more prepared and comfortable to navigate the next adventure…for many years to come, ‘God willing’ (as Dr. Alaa likes to say).


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Bilingual speech in support of CSU-Fullerton’s new Việt Language Bachelor’s Major & K-12 Bilingual Education Credentialing Program,

Garden Grove Community Center

July 17th , 2013

–by Bác Sĩ Mai-Phương Nguyễn, M.D.

(with Việt language translation assistance of Vanessa Hồng-Vân Nguyễn)

[Note: I had volumes more to share but given the “2-3 minutes time limit,” I already was stretching it at 6.5 mins. Here…we.go!]

The impressive program, with over 25 bilingual speakers giving supportive testimony in favor.

The impressive program, with over 25 bilingual speakers giving supportive testimony in favor of Vietnamese  bilingual education.

Chúng ta ai cũng đã biết rằng hiện tại: dân-tộc sống lâu hơn.

We all know: the population is aging and living longer.

Nhưng có thể quí vị chưa đã nghe đến những thống-kê khũng-khiếp mới nhất của Trung Tâm Luật Pháp, Phục Vụ Người Á-Châu Thái Bình Dương (TBD) cho biết tháng 6 vừa qua:

But you may NOT be aware of the startling latest statistics released last June by the Asian-American Center for Advancing Justice (formerly, Asian Pacific American Legal Center or APALC) that dispelled long-standing Asian “Model Minority Myths”:

1. Học-vấn/Education attainment: Người Việt có trình-độ học-vấn, thấp nhất so với 6 sắc tộc thiểu-số Á-Châu khác (đông-dân-cư nhất) sinh-sống toàn nước Mỹ (như Người Phi Luật Tân, Trung-Hoa, Ấn-Độ, Việt#4 Đại-Hàn, Nhật Bản).  Và so với các sắc-tộc Á-Châu-TBD khác tại tiểu ban California, người Việt tốt nghiệp bằng trung-học ít nhât!

Viet-Ams are LEAST likely to have attained a high school diploma, of six major Asian-American (AA) groups including, in descending population numbers:  #1) Filipinos, 2) Chinese, 3) Asian-Indians, 4) Viets; 5) Koreans and 6) Japanese-Americans.   

2.  Khả-Năng Ngôn-Ngữ/Language skills:  37% người Việt tự khai là họ không nói-rành tiếng anh (LEP) và gia-đình họ không tiếp xúc với CĐ giòng-chính (mainstream).

(37% of Viet-Ams self-reported Limited English Proficiency or LEP; and feel that they live in linguistically isolated households, segregated from mainstream American society.)  

3.  Về Chăm-sóc Y-Tế/Healthcare

  • So với các CĐ bạn, người Việt có con-số-tử-vong (death rates) cao nhất vì bệnh ung-thư (31%) so-với 28% of API.  Sắc tộc khác chết vì bệnh tim.)
  • Compared to other ethnic minority groups, Viet-Ams have the highest rate of death due to cancer (31%), compared with APIs overall (28%). Most other ethnic groups die of cardiovascular/heart disease.
  • Nguy cơ bị bệnh trầm cảm và tự-tử cho Người Á-Châu nói chung 36% cao hơn người giòng chính.  (Và cho người Việt nói riêng, với lịch sử chiến-tranh, và tỵ-nạn–vượt biên và vượt biển–chúng ta nghĩ là có thể cao hơn.)
    • (AA have 36% higher risk of suicide, believed even higher for Viet-Am communities born from traumatic legacies of war as well as Boat People and land refugee/immigrant experiences.)
  • Trong Cộng Đồng Việt, số người cao-niên bị chẩn-đoán có bệnh mất-trí-nhớ tăng 195% (gắp đôi so với các Cộng Đồng bạn) trong 10 năm vừa qua!
    • For Viet-Ams, the # of Alzheimer’s Dementia diagnosed doubled in the last 10  years!

Với cương vị 1 người BS Nội-khoa hay chăm sóc cho các bệnh-nhân không nói-rành Tiếng Anh cao-niên tại CĐ chúng ta ở Little Saigon, MP thấy sự cần thiết để khuyến khích các BS trẻ (sinh-trưởng hoặc lớn lên tại nước Mỹ) ráng giữ-gìn văn-hóa Việt và sau này, trở lại để phục vụ CĐ Việt chúng ta.

As a practicing doctor tending to LEP patients here in Little Saigon, Orange county (many of whom are elderly), I see daily, the grave need for us to encourage younger generations of physicians (who were perhaps born in the U.S.A., or grew up here after emigrating at a young age from Việt Nam) to hold onto their Việt language and culture, so as to better serve our community’s healthcare needs.

In CSUF-Titan appropriate orange, delivering my speech: 1 of 25 testimonials, ranging from Viet-Am high school valedictorian, parents, educators, lawyers, police officers, government officials and businessfolks.  Proud to represent the  healthcare field!

In CSUF-Titan theme color of orange, I delivered my speech.  I was third from last (1 of 25 testimonials!) ranging from Viet-Am high school valedictorian, parents, educators, lawyers, police officers, government officials and businessfolks. Proud to represent the healthcare field at this auspicious community event!

Hiện nay các Bác Sĩ trẻ Mỹ-gốc-Việt ra trương phần đông, không có đủ khả năng tiếp xúc và thông-cảm với các bệnh nhân không nói rành tiếng Anh.  Vì vậy họ không-thể chăm sóc hiệu-quả và bệnh nhân và BS có thể hiểu lầm nhau.  Vì vậy nếu các BS trẻ không nói được tiếng Việt, họ cũng sẽ cần đến những Thông-dịch viên Anh-Việt (bilingual medical interpreters) giúp họ trong công việc chăm sóc y-tế.

Today, most younger generations of Viet-Am doctors graduating from U.S. Medical Schools do NOT have the linguistic capacity to relate to their patients who have LEP.  Thus, they may have difficulty taking effective care of their patients, giving rise to greater miscommunications between patients and doctors, medical errors and consequently, higher healthcare costs.  Moreover, if these future Việt-American doctors cannot relate to their LEP patients, they too will need the services of certified, bilingual Việt-American medical interpreters in the future to effectively care for their patients’ healthcare needs.

Do đó chúng ta thấy rõ sự cần thiết và quan-trọng của những Chương Trình giáo dục và duy-trì (preserve) văn-hóa và ngôn-ngữ Việt của Đại Học CSU-Fullerton.

(So we see clearly the dire importance of these exciting, innovative programs to preserve Vietnamese Language and Culture at CSU-Fullerton.)

Meeting monthly for over a year, this first-in-the-nation Việt language major and K-12 bilingual teaching credentials program at CSU-Fullerton was a byproduct of many peoples' dedication.  Shown here is the programs community Advisory Board.

Meeting monthly for over a year, this first-in-the-nation Việt language major and K-12 bilingual teaching credentials program at CSU-Fullerton was a byproduct of many peoples’ dedication. Shown here is the programs community Advisory Board.

Bởi vì nếu chúng ta (thế hệ trước) có thể giúp bảo tồn (preserve) văn-hóa và ngôn ngữ Việt cho các thế hệ trẻ (và các Bac Sĩ tương lai) thì tất cả chúng ta đã cùng làm 1 việc đáng ghi-nhớ sau này.  Đó là giúp cải-tiến (improve) sự chăm-sóc sức khỏe cho CĐ VN chúng ta; đồng thời, chúng ta sẽ giảm-thiểu (decrease) được những lỗi-lầm trong công-việc phục vụ y-tế CĐ; và hơn nữa, chúng ta sẽ đóng-góp cho xã-hội Hoa-Kỳ bằng cách tiết kiệm ngân-quỹ y-tế.

So if we are able to preserve our Viet culture and language, we (the older generation of Viet-Ams who came before) will have left behind a worthwhile legacy for future generations of Viet-Ams (including Viet-Am doctors of tomorrow).   Not only will we have contributed to improving the healthcare quality for our ethnic minority communities, we will have also contributed to decreasing healthcare costs for the greater American society.

Rốt cuộc, chúng ta có thể giữ-gìn phong-tục (traditions) và tập-quán quí (cultural practice) của người Việt: đó là lễ-phép và kính-trọng người lớn, và lưu-truyền lòng hiếu-thảo!

Ultimately, we will have contributed to preserving our ancient Vietnamese cultural practice of honoring our elders and passing on our precious tradition of filial piety.

View Youtube recording:

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Step into the lively, main activities hall of Acacia Adult Day Services (ADS) center (in Garden Grove, Orange County), and you are transported to a happening, multi-cultural feast of smells, sights and sounds.  From Monday to Friday, the loving-care, fun and excitement at Acacia is palpable.

On this particular day, the entire hall was filled with the delicious aroma of sauteéd scallions.  Volunteers and staff are preparing “stuffed fried tofu” (served with optional soya and Siracha garlic-chili sauces on the side) for upwards of 80-100 participants as part of a weekly cooking class.

Nearby, 82 year-old Viet-American childless widow, Như-Ý Herman, is holding court, telling zany jokes to aged friends at her table.   Như-Ý: “Why is the number 6 afraid of 7?”

Diane Lê, who spent most of her life in Norway but now has resettled to Little Saigon to be closer to her adult children, replies: “I don’t know.”

Như-Ý:  “Because 7, 8 (“ate”), nine!”  (Both women erupt in laughter, even though Như-Ý has told this joke before.)

Silver haired Như-Ý Herman shares a snack and a joke with new friend, Diane Lê.

Silver haired Như-Ý Herman shares a snack and a joke with new friend, Diane Lê.

In Vietnamese, her name, “Như-Ý” means “how I like it.”  While her mind remains sharp, her frail body is ravaged by a debilitating Parkinsonian tremor, that is made worse when her severe anxiety disorder acts up. The tremor starts in a hand or leg, then marches up her body and crescendos into a total body, generalized seizure called a ‘pseudoseizure.’

Seeing her joking around and so engaged, it’s hard to fathom that just 8 months ago, she was going in and out of Hoag Hospital’s emergency room, each time she had a panic attack.  Như-Ý had relocated from Texas where she was subsisting in Assisted Living homes when her doting husband passed away.  There, she was becoming  morbidly depressed each time the paramedic sirens shrilled throughout the home, in response to emergencies.

However, since her enrollment into Acacia Adult Daycare Services, Như-Ý Herman has been given a new lease on life.  She has not returned to Hoag’s ER.  Her extended family and primary caregiver–a niece named Trang Võ (who is in her late 50s), have all been given a true gift: peace of mind.

According to Thành Hà Nguyễn, Acacia’s Vietnamese-speaking social worker and community liaison, “chị Trang Võ is often stuck in a precarious ‘sandwich generation’. That is, she is ‘sandwiched’ between taking care of her immediate family (comprised of her husband, a teenage-daughter and own 86 years-“young,” spry mother) in addition to her aunt, Như-Ý.

In this particular family’s case, both Trang Võ and her vibrant yet elderly mother (whose late husband was Như-Ý’s older brother) take turns tending to aunt Như-Ý, along with a hired in-home caregiver.  Võ offered her beleaguered aunt Như-Ý refuge in her Huntington Beach home, hoping the sea breeze and Southern California sun would help improve her physical condition.  However, two years living in California, Võ and her family’s generosity were wearing thin as Như-Ý Herman’s emotional and physical health was not improving.

But since Herman enrolled in Acacia, all 3 women: Như-Ý, Trang and her mother have been offered  significant respite.  While at Acacia by day, they are assured that Như-Ý will be well cared for so that she may stay mentally, physically and emotionally healthier.  Thus, she will be able to live independently longer and avoid having to go back to Assisted Living homes–situations which previously left Như-Ý feeling more anxious and desperate.

Several days a week, Như-Ý Herman is transported door-to-door from Võ’s Huntington Beach home to Acacia through a special program via Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA).  Through the Adult Day Healthcare Services program, her complex medical and psychiatric conditions and medications are overseen by a medical director, licensed nurses, nursing aids and several social workers.

To improve her balance and conditioning and to decrease her fall risks, she participates in group as well as customized physical and occupational therapies, provided by licensed physical, occupational therapists and aides.  More importantly, she is shrouded in the multi-cultural, compassionate care that is the trademark of Acacia.

Under the guidance of physical therapists, the seniors work out.  Here, at her first visit to Acacia, Như-Ý is doing exercises from her chair.

Under supervision of physical therapists, the seniors work out. Here, at her first visit to Acacia, Như-Ý eagerly exercised for the 1st time from her chair.

Every month, Acacia’s “young-at-heart”staff coordinate festive and diverse celebrations to bring joy to the seniors.  From Bingo and board games with Natalie Franks and Cee Tong (the activities coordinators), ESL classes with Gloria Woo, to arts and crafts with Chloris;  “Balance and Mobility” with Kenny Yu, the seniors are kept active and engaged day-long.

For example, in February, they hosted a Valentine’s Dance with a live rockabilly band.  The prior week, they pulled out all the stops for their annual Tết (Lunar New Year) celebration.  All the enthusiastic staff members donned Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean outfits to create a brightly colored reverie.

Dressed in traditional Chinese, Viet and Korean outfits, Acacia’s staff hosts a multi-culti, Lunar New Year Celebration.

Even Bubu (the center’s pet therapy dog) got into the Asian spirit and wore his own doggie, satin-silk outfit.

Program Director, Julie Duarte, Bubu-the pet therapy dog, and staff model their Chinese silk outfits for Lunar New Year.

Program Director, Julie Duarte, Bubu-the pet therapy dog, and staff model their Chinese silk outfits for Lunar New Year.

A Lion Dance troop, complete with vibrant tae-ko drummers, blessed the center and spiced up the day’s celebrations.

There was even a beautiful altar to pay homage to the ancestors complete with incense, fruit, candles, sweet treats, and the former Nationalist Vietnamese flag (yellow with three red stripes).  Clearly, Acacia’s staff understood how important filial piety was for the Vietnamese senior participants, most of whom still revere and mourn their now-extinguished former democratic nation.

Traditional Lion Dancers perform for 100 participants, in the backdrop is the ancestral altar.

Traditional Lion Dancers perform for 100 participants, in the backdrop is the ancestral altar.

Thus, everywhere one looks throughout the center, there is compelling evidence that Acacia is deeply committed to paying attention to the innumerable, small yet important details to ensure that their culturally diverse seniors feel welcomed, loved and ‘at home.’

In a time when the overwhelming demand for senior healthcare necessarily has to to be cost-effective, culturally-appropriate and creative, Acacia is stepping up to meet these myriad challenges.

The latest report in June from the Asian-Americans Advancing Justice (formerly Asian Pacific American Legal Center, APALC) dispelled further Asian “Model Minority Myths.”  Asian-Americans now have the highest rate of death due to cancer (28%).  Amongst Vietnamese-Americans, this cancer death rate is even higher (31%).  As for the rise in Alzheimer’s dementia diagnoses, Viet-Americans have seen 195% rise (i.e. a doubling) in the last 10 years, one of the highest of all ethnic minority groups.

Thus, Adult Daycare Centers such as Acacia which provide excellent, culturally-appropriate care are precious, essential community-based organizations in the era of the “Aging Population”.  Acacia serves a catchment area spanning from Long Beach to the north; Huntington Beach to the south and Anaheim to the east.  Its participants are ethnically and cultural diverse, with over 50% Asian Pacific Islanders (the vast majority being Vietnamese).  Acacia also serves many Caucasian, Latino and diverse other ethnic seniors.

Beginning this summer, Acacia, as 1 of 7 select centers, will participate in a statewide 18 months SCAN Foundation grant to set best practices on how such Adult Daycare community-homes can keep culturally diverse seniors healthy, out of hospitals and nursing homes and thriving, through the oversight of a designated nurse navigator.

Victor Võ, RN, who just started in this new role on July 1st as bilingual (Việt-English) nurse navigator, is tasked to closely follow the most complex patients, making home visits and coordinating their care.  The aim of this grant study is to show that such a customized, pro-active, preventive approach to Adult Day Services “community homes” will be cost-effective and efficacious.

After just his first week on the job, Victor Võ eagerly shared, “I’ve worked in the private and non-profit sectors…a week here at Acacia is unlike any other.  The folks at Acacia are so dedicated–so grassroots–they stretch every dollar and put everything into caring for our senior constituents.”

For its remarkably compassionate, culturally-competent care, Acacia Adult Day Services won Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce’s “2013 Non-Profit of the Year” Award this past June 13th.  At the Awards Luncheon, Executive Director Mallory Vega reflected that, “Aging is a gift.”  For the past 34 years, Acacia’s gift back to the community has been to provide the highest quality services to its seniors.  Acacia’s motto is to “keep seniors well and engaged by day so that they can remain home safely at night,” –thereby, avoid losing their independence.

Board Members: Les Jones (President), M. Vega, Denise Clynes (also GGCOC President), Julie Duarte holding up the "Non-Profit of the Year" Award.  (In the background is July 4th artwork made by senior participants)

Board Members: Les Jones (President), M. Vega, Denise Clynes, Julie Duarte holding “Non-Profit of the Year” plaque.  (In the background is July 4th artwork made by senior participants)

Just two years ago, this award-winning daycare center almost did not survive the grave economic recession sweeping the nation.  Here in California, the state legislature, in order to balance its deficient state budget in 2011, cut massive funding to Adult Day Services.

But under Mallory Vega’s unwavering leadership, with the dedication of her team and Board of Directors, Acacia has not only survived, it is well on its way to a sturdy recovery.  Vega’s many admirers include colleagues such as Peerapong Tantameng, JD, MPH–Director of CalOptima’s innovative PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly).

PACE clinic is due to open in October 2013.  It is strategically designed with a state-of-the-art, pristine new center to deliver all-inclusive, multi-disciplinary care under one roof.  The hope is that PACE will optimally coordinate the care of severely debilitated, low-income dual-eligible MediCare-Medicaid seniors, to keep them out of costly hospitals and nursing homes.

Tantameng commented, “In the midst of the fiscal storm, Mallory was unflinching.  While centers all around were closing, she never showed any fear.”

But while Vega is the unflinching captain of the Acacia ship, she is supported by an incredibly committed team who are always seeking creative, community-based solutions to their many challenges.  Second in command is Program Director Julie Duarte who, like Vega, has been part of the Acacia family since its inception in 1979.

In 2011 when Vega insisted that Acacia would weather the storm irregardless, it was Duarte who worked late nights and weekends to devise a transition plan to ensure that Acacia’s seniors would have a place to go and be attended to–in the event the Department of Public Health forced Acacia to close down due to lack of funding.

Perhaps the late Barbara Salzbach (an iconic Acacia benefactor and beneficiary) who said it best: “Acacia is love!”  Both Salzbach and her husband, (a local podiatrist) were recipients of Acacia’s “love” for many years before they passed away.

This photo of the "Women of Acacia" hangs in their office. (left) Mallory Vega and Julie Duarte stand behind Barbara Salzbach

This photo of the “Women of Acacia” hangs in their office. (left) Mallory Vega and Julie Duarte stand behind Barbara Salzbach

When asked how she felt about Acacia, Như-Ý Herman smiles and gratefully says, “When I’m here at Acacia, I enjoy activities, friends and everything…’ how I like it!’” (translation: “theo như-ý!”)

For more information, visit: http://www.acacia-services.org or take a tour of Acacia, located at 11391 Acacia Parkway, Garden Grove, CA 92840.  Telephone: 714.530.1566.

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The chaos that erupted as thousands of South Vietnamese clammered to evacuate out of a Falling Saigon, 4/29-30/75.

The chaos that erupted as thousands of South Vietnamese clammered to evacuate out of a Falling Saigon, 4/29-30/75.

I have few memories of the motherland I was evacuated from as a young girl on 4.29.75.  But dramatic images of U.S. “Operation Frequent Wind” (like the photo posted here) are emblazoned clearly, in Hi-Def-Technicolor, in the cobwebs of my mind.  These images, until only recently, have haunted my adult life.

Thousands of us Vietnamese refugees suffer needlessly from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and refractory Depression. Tune in to a special re-broadcast of Sức Khỏe và Bạn (SKVB) Monday (4/29) at 2:40pm and Wednesday (5/1) at 6:20am on Việt Nam California Radio (VNCR, 106.3FM) to learn more about PTSD: What are the symptoms? How can it be effectively treated? Where can you/your loved ones get help? with special guest and founder of the Southern California mental/behavioral health non-profit, http://www.Viet-CARE.org.

In memoriam of “Black April” & the Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975.
To Your (mental/spiritual) Health, Friends!

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Actual ViFF Spotlite Award

Irvine, California, April 18, 2013 — Late last Sunday night nearing midnight, Emmy-winning filmmaker, Đức H. Nguyễn and co-producer/wife Mai-Phương Nguyễn, were shocked when their latest documentary film, Stateless, won “The Audience Choice Award” for short films at the Closing Night celebrations of the 6th Biennial Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF). ViFF is hosted by the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) every odd year.

“Shocked,” because earlier that evening, they had already received ViFF’s coveted “Spotlight Award” which was bestowed upon director Đức Nguyễn by the ViFF Screening Committee for “Outstanding Achievements in Filmmaking,” at an intimate reception open to the public, sponsored by the Vietnamese Community Ambassadors (aka VACA, the Vietnamese chapter of the UCI Alumni Association), the UCI South East Asian Archives (SEAA) and the UCI-Vietnamese-American Oral History Project (VAOHP).

Spotlight Awards Flyer.4.14.13

Speaking at that reception for Stateless supporters before the World Premiere of the film, Dr. Mai-Phương reflected:  “It was destiny that Đức and I met here at ViFF in 2005 and it is destiny that we return 8 years later to showcase our latest film–here, at UC-Irvine, where my journey to find identity, purpose and voice began 25 years ago.”

And how true it is because there would be no way that sheer serendipity and random chance could explain the uncanny homecoming that Stateless (and Bolinao 52, Đức’s directorial debut film that won 2 Emmy Awards in 2009, for that matter) received on Sunday.

The journey of the Bolinao 52 and Stateless began 38 years ago when Saigon fell in April, 1975 to a North Vietnamese communist victory.  This landmark event ushered in 2 decades of millions of Vietnamese fleeing a repressive post-civil war regime.

Twenty five years ago, co-producer Mai-Phương was the 3rd co-chair of an idealistic and fearless student, refugee advocacy organization at UC-Irvine called Project Ngọc which lobbied on the local and world stage.  Project Ngọc, in 1989 sent Southern California Vietnamese community delegates to the Geneva Convention, to speak on behalf of the powerless refugees.  Moreover, for over a decade, young students raised public awareness, letter writing campaigns, sent interns to work for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Washington DC and summer volunteers to teach English and social skills to the Vietnamese refugees in SE Asian camps.

In that role, Mai-Phương developed formidable grass-roots leadership skills and cross-cultural, community-organizing capacity to raise substantial funds as well as give voice to the voiceless refugees stranded in the SE Asian camps from 1989-91–exactly during the era when the world was tiring of the Việt Boat People’s plights.  This was the historic time when the camps were closing down and advocacy was more imperative than ever.

In April 2005, upon hearing about the extraordinary story of the Bolinao 52 from now, husband Đúc Nguyễn (whom she had just met at ViFF ’05), Mai-Phương resolved to raise funds to help him realize his ideal film.  She thus rallied her life-long, former Project Ngọc girlfriends.  Together, they organized 2 fundraisers to garner enough seed money to get the the shoestring Bolinao 52 cast and crew  (a.k.a. affectionally as “the B52’s”) to the Philippines and Japan to shoot the raw footage for the film.

Within 1 month of reinvigorating key, former Project Ngoc members (which included current CSU-Fullerton Asian-American Studies Professor, Tu-Uyến Nguyễn, and Khánh Ninh–a former Project Ngoc co-chair–who in turn, recruited her close friends, Tanya Ngọc Hoàng and James Dịnh), these core members were able to mobilize an effective campaign that culminated in a fundraising event at the Người Việt Community Center in the heart of Little Saigon-Westminster–the largest Overseas Vietnamese community in the world.  This event reunited a decade of former Project Ngọc members who came out and donated a lot of their time and money.  (It could not be simple serendipity that both Dr. Tu-Uyên Nguyễn and James Dịnh would later become VAALA board members and ViFF organizers.)

Project Ngọc Reunion at the UCI-SE Asian Archives, April 2012.  From Left to right: Mai-Phương, Nicole Nguyễn (final PN Co-Chair in 1997, Tom Wilson (founder of PN), Anne Frank (UCI-SEAA founder and retired archivist), Dr. Tu-Uyên Nguyễn, former PN volunteer in the SE Asian Camps and DC intern in 1994.

Project Ngọc Reunion at the UCI-SE Asian Archives, April 2012. From Left to right: Mai-Phương, Nicole Nguyễn (final PN Co-Chair in 1997, Tom Wilson (founder of PN), Anne Frank (UCI-SEAA founder and retired archivist), Dr. Tú-Uyên Nguyễn, former PN volunteer in the SE Asian Camps and Washington DC intern in 1994, now, a VAALA board member.

At that first Bolinao 52 fundraiser, it was destiny that the keynote speaker was none other than legendary Vietnamese actress, Kiều Chinh, who compelled guests to raise $15,000 in one night in May 2005.  And it was more than coincidence that the mistress of ceremony at that event was Ysa Lê, Executive Director of VAALA and ViFF.   Last Sunday, both Kiều Chinh and Ysa Le attended the Stateless World Premiere.  Kiều Chinh served as chair of this year’s ViFF screening committee.

Back in 2005, $15,000 dollars were raised in one night by resurrecting powerful, reprints of original art work from the UCI-South East Asian Archives–artwork that was created by the detained refugees and smuggled out of the camps by Project Ngoc members back in the day under Mai-Phương’s leadership.  Also, proceeds were garnered from generous donations of artwork and Asian antiques that were auctioned from the private collections of James Định and Dr. Quỳnh Kiều, a physician-champion who provides healthcare for the poor in rural Vietnam every summer for over 20 years.

Boat People Cry w. a rose

Sample of hundreds of original artworks created by detained refugees from SE Asian camps, made from art supplies smuggled in and out of the camps by Project Ngọc summer volunteers, now housed at UCI-SE Asian Archives.

However, further funds were needed to afford the B52 cast and crew’s shoot in the Philippines and Japan.  Undeterred and energized, Mai-Phương and Đức masterminded an encore event in San Jose–home to the second most robust Vietnamese diasporic community one month later–without any professional leads there.  They recruited new girlfriends from Orange County, Julie Võ and Ngọc H. Nguyễn (two twenty-something-year-olds, whom they had just met through ViFF and the Vietnamese Professional Society).  (It’s noteworthy that Julie Võ is now also board member of VAALA and Ngọc Nguyển is a newly graduated lawyer working to reform the legal justice system in L.A.)

These two dedicated, American-born, 2nd generation women were so inspired by the B52 film project, that they volunteered to drive up to San Jose, spend a few days at a former Project Ngọc member’s (Steve Thịnh Lê) home, to help organize the event with a couple of indie filmmaker friends they barely met but fully trusted.  The B52-NorCal Team was able to raise an additional $10,000 from both the Vietnamese and Filipino communities in Santa Clara County at the  Jacinto Siquig Northside Community Center on June 30th, 2005.

The keynote speaker of that San Jose event was the transnational, former radio host of San Francisco’s KQED’s Pacific Time, Nguyễn Quí Đức.  Quí-Đức initially answered co-producer Mai-Phương’s cold call with scrutiny and caution.  But inevitably, he came through and opened the doors to many media contacts in the Bay Area.  One of them was a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News whose 2 full-page article the weekend before the Bolinao 52 fundraiser took place, drew 20 members from the San Jose chapter of the Bolinao Club and brought Victoria Escuton to the event.

It is uncanny that Victoria who in 1988, as a young girl, remembered clearly the day Bolinao fishermen brought that ailing, infamous Bolinao 52 boat to harbor because she was swimming in the bay.   The large newsprint photo of the Bolinao 52 boat jumped out at her and compelled her to corral fellow Bolinao Club members to attend the fundraiser.

She subsequently introduced Đúc and Mai-Phương to her parents who lived on the Filipino island of  Bolinao.  Uncle Ben and auntie Belen generously hosted, housed and fed the B52 cast and crew during their 2 week shoot on island in August 2005.  Moreover, as a retired lawyer and mayor of Bolinao, Uncle Ben facilitated the finding of the key fishermen-rescuer, Caloy, who so fully completed the film’s healing story.

It would be further destiny that upon arriving to Manila to prepare to film the Bolinao 52 documentary, Đức and Mai-Phương would be hosted by Hội Trịnh, Australian-Vietnamese lawyer and refugee advocate who had lobbied for 8 long years to resettle over 2,000 Vietnamese long-stayers, caught in the maelstrom of politics and refused resettlement to the West since 1989.

Even more amazing is that destiny would bring the the B52 cast and crew to Manila just a few days before the US officials from the Office of International Migrations (IOM) would arrive to interview the “Vietnamese Long-Stayers” for their last chance to resettle to the West.  This timely “coincidence” gave filmmaker Đức a unique opportunity to capture their live interviews.  Thereafter, for 8 more years, he followed their migration stories to the US, Canada and Western Europe to birth his 3rd documentary film project, Stateless.

And finally, it would be poetic destiny last Sunday, April 4th, 2013 back at UCI where the filmmaker and co-producer first met at ViFF 2005, that their second film together, Stateless, would return “home,” to receive not only the coveted “Spotlight Award,” but also to close the 10th Anniversary ViFF 2013, by garnering the prized “Audience Choice Award” for Best Short Film.

Closing Night Awards w/ the B52s (fr. Left to Right): Dr. Bảo Nguyễn, Ysa D. Lê, Khánh Ninh (former PN Co-Chair), ViFF ice, co-producer Mai-Phương, Dr.  Tu-Uyên Nguyen (former PN DC intern and SE Asian camp counselor), Huy Trần, director Đức.

Closing Night Awards w/ the B52s (fr. Left to Right): Dr. Bảo Nguyễn, Ysa D. Lê, Khánh Ninh (former PN Co-Chair), [ViFF ice], co-producer Mai-Phương, Dr. Tu-Uyên Nguyen (former PN DC intern and refugee camp volunteer), Huy Tường Trần, director Đức.

There is no doubt, Stateless–like director Đuc’s antecedent film, Bolinao 52–is a universally heart-wrenching tale that speaks to many generations of Vietnamese in the Diaspora.   Meanwhile it also enables those foreign to the Boat People experience to better understand the depth of loss and sacrifices made, in the search for ‘freedom’ and ‘home’.

Through director Đức Nguyễn’s skillful and empathic lens, in the universal language of film, both these documentaries pull the viewers into the world of displaced, rejected yet ever-hopeful and resilient Boat People.  Đức’s films force audiences to collectively bear witness to horrific human tragedies while delivering them on journeys of triumph of the human spirit, giving way to lasting healing from collective, deep wounds of war.

But beyond the incredible story-telling of and by the subjects in these two landmark films, the love story behind the making of the Bolinao 52 and Stateless, there is a bigger love story that extends far beyond that of filmmaker and co-producer, now, husband-wife, Đức and Mai-Phương.  It is the story of the intense love of country and love for a democratic nation that–while perhaps may have been vanquished after the Vietnam-American War ended–remains immortalized in the hearts and souls of the Overseas Vietnamese people who are forever defined by their shared refugee sagas.

As director Đức commented during the Question and Answer (Q&A) session after the film premiere, “it is so moving to see the film on the BIG screen (after years of editing it on his computer, small screen)…and to hear you, the audience, clap and root for the Stateless cast.”  (This, is in the context of hearing  the viewers erupting in collective cheers and applauding towards the end, when the Stateless triumphantly arrive to the West after decades of arduous struggles.)

As one of the key audience members (who is also a well-recognized community leader) Lân Quốc Nguyễn, commented in the Q&A session, “this movie is so important because it reminds us not to take our freedoms for granted here in the U.S.” 

Two decades earlier, as a young, new lawyer, Counselor Lân shared that when he went to the Philippines with a Boat People S.O.S. delegation to help resettle Vietnamese Refugees: “I remember advising some of the refugees and it struck me hard to realize that they had been tragically separated from their families and children–some for 10-14 years–whereas, I had just left my wife and son a few hours ago at the LAX airport…I had to fight to hold back the tears.” 

Also echoing the power of Stateless and Bolinao 52 to elicit raw emotions for the Vietnamese viewers, actress Kiều Chinh remarked to Đức Nguyễn, “your films always make me cry!  I don’t like to cry [in public]!”

From left to right: co-producer/former Project Ngọc refugee advocate turned minority-healthcare advocate, Mai-Phương Nguyễn, legendary Việt actress Kiều Chinh, director Đức H. Nguyễn, and lawer/refugee advocate, Lân Quốc Nguyễn

From left to right: co-producer/former Project Ngọc refugee activist now, minority-healthcare advocate, Mai-Phương Nguyễn, legendary Việt actress Kiều Chinh, director Đức H. Nguyễn, and lawer/refugee advocate, Lân Quốc Nguyễn

But as co-producer Mai-Phương (who is also a doctor practicing in Little Saigon as well as a champion for minority healthcare) so adeptly recommended, “We made  Bolinao 52 and Stateless to be shared for generations to come.  Please use them as vehicles for you as grandparents and parents to tell your painful yet heroic stories…to open up the difficult but necessary dialogues with your children and grandchildren about our collective refugee experiences so that they can be ever proud to be Việt-Americans… and let the healing continue!” 

And finally, it is dramatic destiny that on the weekend before the U.S. Congress would introduce historic Immigration Reform bills for debate, Stateless would be released into the world to help deepen the dialogue about innocent peoples’ plights to live free, with dignity and universal human rights, worthy of protections under the law.

Lastly, a viewer’s discretionary advisory:  have your kleenex tissues handy when Stateless arrives to a theater near you!  It stops next at the San Francisco Global Film Festival on Sunday, April 28th at the historic Roxie Theater (2:45pm); followed by a screening at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) on Saturday, May 4th at the Director’s Guild of America (2:45pm).  Stateless is also nominated for LAAPFF’s Grand Jury Prize for documentary films.

[Addendum: On August 17th, 2013m STATELESS will screen at the CAAMFest-San Jose, at Camera 3 Cinema (288 S. Second St, San Jose 95106), 4:15pm.  Many in the audience will be supporters who helped breathe life into STATELESS years ago.    A reception will follow the screening at 19Market Restaurant (19 N. Market St, San Jose, from 6-8pm).  Filmmakers Duc and Mai-Phuong will be available at both the film screening and reception to update on the film project as well as to raise finishing funds to polish the film to the caliber requisite to air on public (PBS) and cable television in the near future.  CAAMFest-San Jose is a 3 day film festival hosted by San Francisco based Center for Asian America Media, a major supporter and funder of Bolinao 52 in 2007. ]

For more information:

http://laapff.festpro.com/films/detail/stateless 2013


STATELESS is a production of Right Here In My Pocket: http://www.rhimp.com

Watch trailer: 

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Spotlight Awards Flyer.4.14.13

Join Emmy-winning director, Đức H. Nguyễn, and co-producer, Mai-Phương Nguyễn, for a Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF) SPOTLIGHT AWARD Reception (free and open to all) at UCI-Humanities Gateway #1030, 2pm.  This event is co-sponsored by VACA (Vietnamese American Community Ambassadors), a chapter of UCI-Alumni Association, UCI-Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP) and UCI-SE Asian Archives.

Following the Spotlight Awards,  STATELESS will World Premiere at 4pm in Humanities Instructional Building #100, next-door.   An 8-year work-in-progress, STATELESS is fully funded by friends and supporters of the Vietnamese-American communities throughout California.   A collaborative effort culminating from years of grass-roots mobilizing of former UCI-Project Ngọc members, supporters as well as long-time refugee advocates such as Hội Trịnh and his non-profit organization, VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiatives for Conscience and Empowerment), STATELESS is truly a testimonial to what unwavering hope, faith, hard work and resilience can accomplish.

This unique ViFF Spotlight Award Reception and STATELESS screening promise to be a heart-warming “home” coming, on so many levels, for all those who have experienced displacement and longing for  ‘home,’ as a result of war or complicated politics.  On the eve of the U.S. Congress unveiling landmark Immigration Reform legislation, the premiere of STATELESS could not be any more timely.

Watch Trailer here:

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Irvine-California.  April 12, 2013.  The latest documentary film, Stateless: Vietnamese Long-Stayers in the Philippines (US | Philippines, 2013) by Emmy-winning filmmaker, Đức H. Nguyễn, will receive the SPOTLIGHT AWARD when it World Premieres at the Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF), Sunday, April 14, 2013 on Closing Day at UC-Irvine, HIB100, 2-6pm.

STATELESS elucidates the story of 2,000+ forgotten Boat People who were stranded on the islands at the lowest tide of compassion fatigue in the late 1980s and thus, were denied resettlement to the West.  For over 16 years, they lived on the fringes of Filipino society, stripped of their civil rights.  By 2005, the asylum seekers were given a final chance to find “home” when U.S. immigration officials returned one last time to review their cases —the end result of 8 long years of lobbying by a maverick refugee rights lawyer, Hội Trịnh, from Australia who is also a former Boat Person.  www.VietFilmFest.com/stateless.html

Eight years in the making, Director Đức Nguyễn follows a few Stateless refugees on their quixotic quest to find “home.”   He captures their heart-breaking journeys via candid interviews during their anxiety-provoking waits for interviews with immigration officers.  We hear first-person recounts of their tragic experiences:   Some risked multiple failed journeys by sea to escape a corrupt and repressive post-War Communist Vietnam; others escaped on foot through the land-mines of Cambodia; but all would eventually arrive to the Philippines and remain stuck.   Unfortunately this group of long-stayers arrived to the refugee camps after the arbitrary deadline of March 1989, when the South East Asian refugee camps were closing.   Unable to prove their ‘bonafide refugee’ status, these Vietnamese asylum seekers were denied resettlement.

For almost two decades, they subsisted in limbo, without any legal protections of their basic human rights.  In the year of Immigration Reform here in the U.S., STATELESS gives a rare and poignant glimpse into the tragic lives of innocent people caught in the maelstrom of international politics and rejection.

STATELESS has also been selected as a finalist for the FESTIVAL GRAND JURY PRIZE in NON-FICTION at the Los Angeles Pacific Asian Film Festival (LAAPFF) and will screen on May 4th at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood (2:45pm).   http://laapff.festpro.com/films/detail/stateless 2013

It makes a Northern California sneak preview at the San Francisco Global Vietnamese International Film Festival on April 28th at the historic Roxie Theater (2:45pm).  http://www.sfgvff.wordpress.com.

STATELESS is Đức Nguyễn’s second feature-length documentary film.  His debut film, BOLINAO 52 (shot in Japan, Philippines and the U.S., 2007), won 2 Northern California Emmy-Awards for “Outstanding Documentary Film” and “Original Music Composition” (to composer,  Mark Izu) in 2009.  Bolinao 52 tells the unspeakable tale of 52 survivors aboard a ship of an original 110 Boat People that left Vietnam in 1988.  Adrift at sea for over 37 days, the remaining 52 refugees resorted to cannibalism to survive.   Rejected by Japanese, U.S. Naval and several other ships that could have potentially rescued them, they were finally saved by poor Filipino fisherman to the island of Bolinao.  Đức Nguyễn’s Bolinao 52 is another powerful tale of human resilience and forgiveness—one that offers closure and healing for both Vietnamese and American survivors of the Vietnam-American War.

Website: www.statelessdocumentary.com

STATELESS is a production of Right Here In My Pocket: http://www.rhimp.com

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