Tell us about your heritage.
My heritage is really interesting because my dad is a first-generation American from Eastern Europe and my mom was born in Vietnam, so I come from an immigrant family on both my paternal and maternal sides of my family. My mom was born in Vietnam during the Vietnam War to an Italian American helicopter pilot and a local Vietnamese woman who worked on the nearby U.S. Army base due to her knowledge of English. When my grandfather brought my mom and grandmother from Vietnam to the U.S., it was at the height of the unrest from the conflict and he feared for how they would be treated. With the Vietnam War being so controversial, my family has always embraced our history because for all the destruction it caused, personally for us it also fostered the beauty and diversity of my family.
How do you like to celebrate your Vietnamese heritage?
I like to celebrate my Vietnamese heritage by convincing my grandmother to cook traditional Vietnamese dishes and inviting my entire family to share them with one another. My favorite dish is Pho which is a beef soup, but a close second is Bhan xeo which is similar to a crepe. And I can’t forget about Banh mi, which is a delicious baguette sandwich. I will always remember the distinct smell of fish sauce in the house after my grandmother cooked, because when she cooked with it the whole house and all of our clothes would smell like it for the rest of the day! Try explaining that smell to your American friends growing up.
What do you wish more people knew about your Vietnamese heritage?
I wish more people took the time to understand the history of the Vietnam War and not just the history we learn in textbooks, but how that conflict affected families like my own. When my grandparents and mom lived in Vietnam, my grandparents feared that my mom would be sold on the black market as a ticket into the United States because she was a mixed baby and by birth rights to a U.S. soldier/an American citizen. Until they could all move together to the United States, my grandmother would hide my mom in village homes in Vietnam so she wouldn’t be targeted or taken. And then, when my mom finally came to the U.S., she was the product of an unpopular war – straddling two worlds as a dual U.S./Vietnamese citizen. There are many Vietnamese Americans who have similar stories and I don’t think we learn enough about them.
With rising anti-Asian harassment and hate crimes, what would you like non-Asian Pacific Americans to know or do?
I would like non-Asian Pacific Americans to know that not all people from Asian descent are from the same country. Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. all have different traditions and customs and we cannot be lumped together into one category. I think non-Asian Pacific Americans can educate themselves and others – there are great resources available online, even if it is just starting by listening to podcasts to become educated. They can donate to organizations that support Asian Pacific Americans or support local businesses that are owned by Asian Pacific Americans. Finally, speak up and report incidents of hate. If you see something, say something.
What advice would you give to a young Asian Pacific American individual who is thinking about going to law school?
Go for it! Believe in yourself and shine. I am inspired by my classmates in law school who truly want to make the world a better place for everyone. Our classmates need to hear our diverse experiences and perspectives, and we need to feel comfortable sharing them. We all learn from each other and until more minority students go to law school and enter the legal profession, not everyone will have a seat at the table and we will go on being underrepresented or not represented altogether.
What could legal employers do to make workplaces welcoming and supportive for Asian American Pacific lawyers?
The first thing employers can do is acknowledge the problem. Culturally, at least for the Vietnamese women in my family, it is easy to feel invisible because we don’t always speak up and have our voices heard. Many incidents in the workplace are microaggressions that leave us unsure of whether to report it or not. Ignoring that this happens just makes it worse. Employers can initiate conversations by offering trainings that empower everyone in the workplace to speak up, victims and bystanders. Creating safe and inclusive corporate culture is a good first step.