Tony Vo, 20’s
White Center, WA
Program Manager, Bellevue College
Co-Owner, Happy Balloon Decorations
What racial, ethnic, cultural community or communities do you identify with?
Vietnamese American, LGBTQ.
When and how did your family come to the United States? Where were you born?
My family came to the U.S. in 1988 as refugees from Viet Nam. They were boat people from Viet Nam and escaped to Thailand. My middle name is "Thai" so that I can honor and remember their struggle and reflect on their journey to the U.S.
My family settled in Seattle where my sister was born. Eventually, we moved to St. Louis, MO because we had some family friends. This was where I was born. Shortly thereafter we relocated back to Seattle because we had more networks there. I was raised around what is now Mt. Baker Station, High Point and White Center, WA.
What are the strengths and challenges of being Asian, Asian American, and/or Pacific Islander?
A strength of the Asian American community is the diversity within that broad category. There is so much culture, traditions, and history. I love that each ethnic group has their own things they do, but we still come together to celebrate, mobilize, and eat!
I am seeing more and more Asian Americans break the mold and be in different sectors and fields. The challenge of the model minority myth is still pervasive though and we still need greater representation and disaggregation of data.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
One of my proudest accomplishments was leaving UW nursing school. It was not a career I necessarily wanted, but I thought my family would appreciate. When I told my mom I was dropping out of nursing school, she told me "I just want you to be happy." Her verbally saying this was one of the most profound moment in my relationship with her. The decision to leave nursing school ultimately pivoted me into education and lead me to finishing my Masters of Education from Harvard and my Doctorate of Education from Seattle University.
What is one thing you learned or appreciate from your family growing up?
Two things that really speaks to me as a Vietnamese American is our value of family and how we give back. Even though we grew up poor, my mom saved up money so that my sister and I can go to Viet Nam and meet our family every 3-4 years. She taught me generosity by giving to others even when we had so little. Even until this day, she reminds me to give and put others first.
Do you speak your family's native language? Why or why not?
I do! My parents never learned English and worked primarily in the Vietnamese restaurant industry, so because of this, I only speak in Vietnamese to them. Gratitude also goes to my Buddhist youth group (Gia Dinh Phat Tu Duoc Su) that I attended every Sunday to learn Vietnamese. In high school, I also attended Van Lang Vietnamese school as well.
What advice do you have for the younger generations in our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community?
Give yourself options, don't limit yourself. A lot of people ask me what I want to do with my Doctorate, and to be honest, I don't really know. But what I do know is that I have a lot of options. With my doctorate, I have been able to become an adjunct faculty, but I also operate a balloon business with my partner and I serve as a board member for a LGBTQ Vietnamese group called VietQ. I do all of this because I find joy in all of it. Find what's fun for you and invest time and energy in it, whatever it may be.
What gives you the greatest joy in life?
I love working in education and seeing students explore their interests, graduate, and pursue their dreams.
Are there any projects you have created that you'd like to share and promote?
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!
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