Pride of Vietnam fills the Mall of America

The Pride of Vietnam event at the Mall of America was of particular interest this year as it commemorated the 35th anniversary of the start of the refugee boat people exodus from Vietnam.

Event coordinators included Hung Phung and Phuoc Thi Minh Tran, a librarian at Augsburg Park Library, said Hennepin County graciously made her time available to put the event together, while there were many other funding sources including a the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans to help put together the Boat People display.

Tran has turned her knowledge of Vietnamese culture into several presentations and fun filled games and learning exercises that have become the cultural backbone of many Vietnamese events.

At the event, children and their families enjoyed many cultural crafts activities, such as painting the dragonfly, rabbit bookmarks, decorating non la, lotus lanterns by Akiko Atsu, and book lanterns and henna tattoo by Minal.

She estimated a couple of thousand guests stopped inside the event circle to celebrate the stories and remarkable achievements of Vietnamese refugees that work hard to preserve its cultural values and traditions. Many more patrons lined the railings of the circular decks above the main floor to watch the performances.

Tran read from her story presentation, "If My Shoes Could Talk", the story of her life in Vietnam, the war and the dangerous trip on a small crowded boat. She spent 10 months in a refugee camp in Malaysia before coming to America.

Hung Phung, a member of the Vietnam Center and Vietnamese Culture & Science Association of Minnesota, works to promotes excellence in education, leadership and skills development through culture and science. He said the exhibit showcases how far refugees have come in 35 years of rebuilding lives, families and a community.

Hoang said he is very proud to have been a part of the project since the beginning. He recalls the early days with a little space in the Camp Snoopy area of the mall. It eventually moved out to the Sears Court, and then to the main Rotunda since 2009.

He said the MOA makes it possible to capture an audience that may not have otherwise be aware of or attend a Vietnamese community event at area nonprofit or private venues.

The Vietnam Center offers Vietnamese language and culture classes for kids and has a library and community center for exhibitions and special events including an annual arts and culture show.

Chris Filbin volunteers as a student of the Vietnamese language class at the Vietnam Center. He got involved after a relative married a Vietnamese and wanted to learn more and plans to visit Vietnam. He said the events are a way to absorb the culture first hand and immerse himself in the language.

Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker, founding director of the Catalyst Foundation, said this event is one of the few times of the year that Vietnamese community can share its culture with the community at large.

"Not only our heritage and culture, but also our sincere gratefulness for all the opportunities that Minnesota has offered," Nguyen said. "I was very proud to share the event with my daughters and other families that have adopted children from Vietnam."

Parker organizes one of the largest cultural camps for Vietnamese adoptees in the country at St. Olaf College each summer. She and her spouse have two adopted daughters from Vietnam and also run a nonprofit to build schools and improve the lives of orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children in Vietnam.

Hung Duong, owner of Truong Thanh Market on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, was on hand with a presentation on Vietnamese cuisine. She distinguished between different types of egg and rice noodles and where they are used.

Lisa Thai said that she and volunteers decided to send off to Vietnam for special light-blue ao dai gowns. She said they resemble the flight attendant uniforms of the Republic of Vietnam airlines. The matching gowns help to stand out as a group when volunteering at community events and makes things more attractive and orderly.

The band, Quoc Tu, managed by Greenfield Entertainment.

A slide show on 35 years was put together by Simon Cuong Phan and Thinh Quoc

A silent auction benefited the Circle of Giving and Vietnamese Cultural and Sciences Association of Minnesota.

The history of Vietnam has changed with the communist government takeover, and the veterans and survivors of the Republic have to work on their own to protect the pre-war heritage and history.

Mr. Ngu Duong does this by creating small Republic of Vietnam flags, with the yellow background and red stripes - versus the red flag and star of the communist government. He does this out of his own pocket, teaching about Vietnam to all who will listen.

There were also cooking demonstrations with Van Anh Hoang preparing and rolling egg rolls; and Jeano Ticarro on the specific ingredients and on how to make a best Pho.

The rotunda was surrounded by posters of Vietnamese community role modes with their photos and biographies.

Tran T. Nhon went to Canada from Vietnam and earned an M.B.A from the University of Alberta. As a graduate of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth - Advanced Minority Business Executive Program, Mr. Tran went on to become a successful businessman but also as small business advocate and procurement specialist.

Mr. Tran was National Director of National Council of Ethnic Canadian Business and Professional Associations in Canada, and was the Executive Director of the Minnesota Minority Supplier Development Council. He currently serve as a board member of the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans.

"The best gift for the younger Vietnamese generation is a good example from the older generation," said Tran. "Life takes on new meaning when we invest ourselves in others."

Mr. Hung Duc Phung escaped Vietnam on a small boat to the Philippines in 1980 and made his way to St. Paul in 1982. He completed high school and college, and worked at several area nonprofits before joining United Nations High Commission for Refugees to work in Hong Kong Detention Centers.

He eventually resettled his family in Minnesota and has worked with Bloomington Public Schools as a culture liaison since 1995.  He received a Masters in Education in 2001 and is a facilitator for Seeking Educational Equality & Diversity in Bloomington.

Mr. Liem Vu escaped Vietnam with his two brothers by boat in the early 1980s, and were eventually sponsored to the U.S. by a family in 1990. He went on to earn a degree in chemical engineering and a teaching license in science education. He now teaches at Kennedy High.

Sang Truong has degrees in English and French and a master's in Education. She has helped many Asian students to excel in their studies and with adapt to the United States. She is also active at the Phat An, Thien An, and Giac Lam Buddhist Temples.

"One must possess love and compassion towards people and dedicate one's lives to them in order to lead a noble and virtuous life, always think positively, being honest, sincere, and truthful and face challenges with courage, perseverance, and diligence in order to overcome them," said Ms. Sang.

Mr. Phan Cuong Simon left Vietnam at age 10 and went on to become a monk of the Benedictine monastery of Saint John's Abbey for the past 18 years. Now know as Brother Simon-Hòa Phan, he is currently a Filmmaker and Associate Professor of Visual Arts at Saint John's University.

He directed and produced documentary film "Mother Tongue, Fatherland" on Vietnamese Amerasians, those born of American servicemen and Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War.

"I am proud of my heritage, of what is good and beautiful about the people, culture, and history of Vietnam, but I also accept the sad and not-so-beautiful aspects," he said. "They all are part of me, and they made me the person I am today and continue to form me."

Mrs. Susan Mezum Lien, a community organizer who came from Vietnam in 1979. She has organized benefits that have raised money for causes such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Szechuan Earthquake, the Vietnam Flood, and most recently, the Haiti Earthquake.

"I have ongoing efforts with Friends of the Poor, an organization that helps provide education, training and other resources to soon-to-be mothers," said Lien. "This November I will travel to Vietnam with Project Health International, an organization that will perform cataract surgeries for those who cannot otherwise afford to correct their vision problems."

Other role models include two new students at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Mr. Huy Nguyen came from Dalat, Vietnam in 2003, and Ms. Thuy Duong Nguyen-Tran, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who also coaches the traditional Hoang Anh Vietnamese Dance Group with her sister and volunteers with Circle of Giving.

"I just want to send a personal thank you for choosing me as part of your poster display last Friday at MOA," said Huy Nguyen. "I felt deeply honor and ecstatic to be chosen alongside with all other amazing people. I leaned so much by just reading to their stories and kind words."

Ms. Thanh Tam Nguyen came from Vietnam at age 9 in 1991, and is now completing the last year of her Internal Medicine residency at the U of MN.

Ms. Julia Nguyen is a Vietnamese Amerasian, and vice president of the Vietnamese Amerasian Society. She came to the United States in 1990 though the Homecoming Act and is now a scientist with the Department of Medicine Hematology Oncology Transplantation at the U of MN. She is also an active member of the National Association of Professional Women, Mau Tam Choir at St. Joseph Hien Catholic church in Minneapolis.

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