Michael Nguyen, 40's
Recruitment and Retention Manager, Seattle Teacher Residency. I oversee the recruitment and admissions process for a University of Washington (UW) graduate program for folks interested in teaching in Seattle Public Schools. That's the formal job description, but I do a lot more than that. Prior to this role, I taught elementary school for 10 years in both Los Angeles and Seattle.
What racial, ethnic, cultural community or communities do you identify with?
When and how did your family come to the United States? Where were you born?
My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War and came to the United States in 1975. I was born in Oakland, California. I'm the oldest of 4 children, and we were all born and raised in the U.S.
What are the strengths and challenges of being Asian, Asian American, and/or Pacific Islander?
Strengths: I've been fortunate enough to live in areas with a strong Asian-American presence and a significant Vietnamese diaspora (Bay Area, Southern California, and now, Seattle). Because of this, I've been able to build and maintain strong ties with extended family, community, and culture in all of the areas where I have lived, and that has allowed me to build my education, career, and family while staying in touch with my identity and heritage.
Although I think there is definitely political and cultural strength and purpose in having an Asian-American identity and connecting across the many languages and cultures that this idea represents, in recent years, I've also tried to connect more closely and specifically with my Vietnamese-American identity and what that means, because the story and history are unique and different from others who identify as Asian-American.
Challenges: Like many other Asian-Americans, I think there is always the challenge of deciding between more closely identifying with White Americans, who see us as the "model minority", or choosing to be in solidarity with other people of color. Early in my life, I was definitely more complicit in White supremacy, trying my best to assimilate and be the best American I could be. As I came into my adult years, I've made a conscious decision to shift away from that and choose to more closely identify as an Asian-American and Vietnamese-American in a more political sense.
I know that with as much privilege as I have (education, career, stable family, etc.), I need to use that power to better uplift the voices and stories of those who came before me and made those things possible - especially Black and Indigenous folx. I still have a lot of unlearning to do (I can still remember my parents telling me about the "dangerous Black people"), but I really feel that the path that I've chosen for myself, my career, and my family align more closely with my personal values.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I have completed 3 Ironman triathlons - each of these were (back to back to back) 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, and 26.2 miles running - yes, you run a marathon at the end. I've also completed dozens of marathons, as well as many ultra-marathons, including 50k, 50 milers, and up to 100k in distance.
I've never identified as being an "athlete" and I definitely am not genetically gifted. Many people don't think of Asian-Americans as athletes (outside of the stereotypical high school badminton), and these were really difficult - physically and mentally - and took months of training for each event.
What is one thing you learned or appreciate from your family growing up?
Being resourceful. Little things that I think many other immigrant/poor families can relate to: Handing down clothes to siblings, reusing bags from the grocery store, learning to fix things that were broken, packing food instead of eating out, taking road trips instead of flying, etc.
Do you speak your family's native language? Why or why not?
No, not very much. My parents were told by my (white American) elementary school teachers to speak English at home so that we could better learn the language and "be more successful in school." Now, our language is lost with my generation (my siblings and I). I think it is one of my parents' biggest regrets - not passing on the Vietnamese language to my generation.
What advice do you have for the younger generations in our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community?
Stay connected with your family (as frustrating as they can be) and find your community, whatever that may be. Be proud of your heritage, culture, and identity, no matter where your education and career take you. Don't apologize for being who you are. At the same time, use your (relative) privilege and power to stand in solidarity with other POC, especially Black and Indigenous folx.
What gives you the greatest joy in life?
This answer probably changes week to week and month to month. I love life - there are so many things out there that I love doing and that I want to try to learn more about and explore. But at the moment, the answer is: Spending time with my children.
If you would like to share your voice as a person of color, please read the directions and fill out this form here. All ages, backgrounds, and generations welcome. Thank you!
Who are we?
Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander voices in our communities.
This is a section for AAPI specifically because, coming from our Khmer culture, we often feel invisible in various spaces from school to the media.
We want to show the ways in which we are the same and different, and that all of our backgrounds and experiences are valuable to learn and celebrate. Let's uplift each other!
Want to share your voice?
To be featured, read the directions and fill out this form. All ages, backgrounds, and generations welcome.
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