ZM: This is Zoë Maughan and it is May 17, 2022. I am in the Watzek Library and am meeting with Vyvyan Doan via Zoom today. Vyvyan, we are really glad you are here to share some of your story. I am wondering if you could begin by stating your name and telling us just a little bit about yourself.
VD: Yeah, hi, my name is Vyvyan. Some facts about me: I am five feet tall. I'm a social introvert. As a social introvert, I would say my energy level gets drained really easily when I'm around a big group of people. But since I can hold a conversation decently well, I think people get really confused. They're like “No way! You're an extrovert!" And I'm like: “No, I'm not.” And so, it's always good to start there. So if somebody assumes I'm an extrovert, I will tell you: “No, I am not.” But yeah, career-wise, I am all over the place. I like to just call myself a creative ninja at this point.
ZM: I love that.
VD: Yeah! I mean, I enjoy everything there is to creativity. And I bounce around so many different mediums that when somebody asks me: "What do you do?" I'm always like: "Ugh." You know? I'm like "I don't know!" So now I'm just a creative ninja, that's all you need to know. I'm good at a little bit of everything, and I just realized throughout the years I like my work environment and projects to be more flexible, to be more free-flowing.
ZM: That's great, thank you. So we can start with a little bit about your life in Portland: so, have you lived in Oregon your whole life? And what neighborhoods did you grow up in?
VD: I did. I've been here for twenty-eight years. And my parents actually opened a business around mid to late nineties, and so we were living in Gresham up until I was about seven, and then my parents wanted to have a shorter commute time, so we ended up in Northeast Portland. And I've been here ever since.
ZM: Awesome. Could you tell me a little bit more about their business?
VD: Yeah. So my parents originally started owning a laundromat, then moved onto - no sorry - dry cleaning, and then they moved onto moving a convenience/gas station business, and then they've been doing that for, oh my god, twenty years. They do a little bit of that, they're also investors, they're also property managers. And so, really really inspiring to see how their progression through their career has been, and yeah, it's just so inspiring and it really pushes me to be somewhere where they are at some point in my life.
ZM: That's great. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and where you went to school, and if you have any key memories that you'd like to share?
VD: Yeah. I grew up in a really really big family. So I have lots of siblings, lots of cousins. I have two brothers, one sister. And we lived in this house with four other boy cousins, and so we just had a really active household. My grandma was the one that was watching over us, and so I remember being really into video games, music, art, and just making random videos on my dad's camcorder. And so I'm just recording my siblings, and my cousins, and we just do some really really funny skits, and because there were so many of us, I felt like we could plan a lot of group activities. And so there was this one summer, I remember seeing my brothers and cousins spending a lot of time playing League of Legends and I really wanted to get them out of the house. So I was like: "Come on you guys, we gotta be more active. Let's not spend summer playing games everyday." So I set up this thing called "Summer Games" where we just went out every week and played a different kind of sport. We played badminton, kickball, soccer, and it was so funny because I think I was maybe twenty at the time, twenty-one. I would use my paycheck from working part time at Macy's, and I would use that money to buy all the sports gears and activity gears. And they would kick the ball up to the roof, somehow, and everything would be gone. And we laughed about it because they were like: "You spent so much money on that stuff, only for us to lose it." And I was like: "I don't even know how you guys did that." Then I would take them out to lunch afterwards. It was a really good time. We talk about it often, about how that's one of their favorite summers. Yeah, I grew up with a really big family.
ZM: That's awesome. That sounds like a really great household dynamic.
VD: For sure.
ZM: Can you tell me a little bit more about where you went to school and what your experience was like? And that can span from elementary to high school, and we'll talk about college in a minute.
VD: Yeah, so I went to Parkrose High School. And I also went to a Sunday school. I went to (Our Lady of) Lavang Parish. It was crazy, because I did school six days a week instead of five days a week, for thirteen years. I don't know how I did that. People and friends would be like: "Come on let's go shopping" on a Sunday, and I'm like: "What's that? I can't do that. I have school." And they were like: "What? You have more school on top of the school you already do?" So then eventually once college came around, I went to Portland State, and I had really great experiences at both schools. I was really academically involved, I was in a lot of different clubs, I spent most of my high school on the dance team. I was in choir and student government. But with college, I spent a lot of time studying science, and just being really active in different Asian clubs. But with college, I did experience depression, since I was in a career field that was not right for me, it just didn't align with who I was, and every day I felt like I wasn't using my strengths and my talents. Like I know I'm not meant to be here. And I struggled a lot to communicate that to my parents, just the idea of switching a major and not doing science altogether. And I think a lot of that happened because my parents had really high expectations, I think they wanted me to be in some sort of health/medical field. And, I was just really afraid of getting kicked out of the house. So, I think a lot of my friends were like: "Well, you should just tell them, they should understand." And I was like: "See, you think they would, but I don't think it's gonna be like that." It was really hard. I saw my grades, and they weren't great with my science classes, but, when I was taking other classes, like a PR communications class, I really thrived in it. I'm pretty sure I had the highest grade in that class. And it was just a nice validation, that when my strengths and talents are being used, I go a lot further. I'm passionate and I'm learning and feeling a thousand times more happy and confident about learning about the subject. I didn't get that with science. So in some ways I kind of regret going to college a little bit because I wish I had spent those years getting more work experience, job shadowing, doing internships. Or even studying abroad. I wish I spent more time being curious about the world and meeting people who could inspire me and help me figure out who I was and who I wanted to become rather than restrict myself to one type of career path. Knowing what I know now, I look back and I would have done things so differently.
ZM: Yeah, I think that makes sense. Rather than diving in, creating that space for yourself to figure out what you're good at and what you love to do.
ZM: So you touched on this a little bit already, but, what other organizations did you participate in as a child or maybe you can tell us more about your experience at Lavang.
VD: So, I was there for thirteen years. It's like a Vietnamese Catholic school. The program was interesting: the first half of the day was spent learning how to read and write in Vietnamese. And then the second half of the day was spent learning about religious studies. But, what was great about that school was I think towards your last years, your high school years, they wanted you to get more involved and they wanted you to actually go out and volunteer with the community. And they wanted us to participate in more retreats and things of that nature. That's how you got to really know the community, through events like that. The retreat was really cool because they were put together by high school alumni. They would come together and volunteer their time, and be like: "Okay, these are the things we want you to know to be more connected to the church, and be more connected to the Vietnamese community." It was a cool way to open up about our struggles and maybe some of the experiences we have as a Vietnamese American community. I feel like a lot of us didn't have that, or didn't have the space to do it, and that was definitely a space for it. So, that's one of the communities I appreciated growing up. I definitely was a part of the Asian American Youth Leadership Conference in high school. Those were always really nice, and we had an Asian club in high school, but I wasn't super involved, and I think that's just because I didn't have time for it. I was just so busy with dance team. But, I definitely attended the conference and it was cool because you met kids from other schools and I would see my friends from Sunday School at other schools and it was just nice to be like: "Oh yeah, nice, this is the school you go to." And then once college came around, I was a part of VSA (Vietnamese Student Association), and I was a part of the Filipino Group as well. And that was really nice too, you're a part of a student organization where there are different events that enrich the student life environment. It gives people a way to not only study, it gives cool ways to be involved, dance, throw events, learn about the food, learn about the history. And so, yeah, so I would say those are the most memorable organizations I was a part of.
ZM: That's great.
ZM: So we definitely have already touched on this, but I'll ask just in case you'd like to add: as a child, did anyone encourage you to learn about the Vietnamese language, culture, or tradition? And if so, how was that encouraged?
VD: I would probably say my entire family - my Grandma, oh my gosh. I didn't really touch on this but my family operates like a bee family operation. [laughs] That's the best way to put it, it's crazy because...yeah, we lived in this house of twenty-something people together, back when we were in Gresham. And then once we moved to North East Portland, we still stayed in the same house for maybe a year or two, and then everyone started, like my Aunts and Uncles started to move. But when they moved, they were only like five minutes away from my Grandma. And I realized this more recently, like in Vietnamese culture, or like in Vietnam, the village or the neighborhood you were born in is also where you're most likely to grow up and be at for the rest of your life. That is unless you decide to move for work or for school. But, I think really you only see the younger generation be more likely to move away. But a lot of the older generation, they stay as close as they can to the elderly. So my family, I don't know how, managed to do that in America. And if someone was like: "Oh, the house is on sale in the neighborhood." Then my Aunts and Uncles would find a way to make it happen and they would buy a house. So essentially, my extended family on my Mom's side, we all just went to the same high school, we went to the same middle school, everything. And then when would come home, my Grandma was the one that cooked for us. We'd always come home and have delicious food every single day. And I know my Aunts and Uncles did the same, before they went to work, they would eat at her place, then as soon as they got home, they would eat at her place. Anyways, very bee-operation: Grandma's the queen, and then the families - everyone else - are like the workers, the ones that bring the money back to the house to get food on the table, and the kids are developing to become working adults. Because of that, I think it helped me to speak the language at home and, because we have such a big family, again, we just celebrated holidays and special occasions in the most traditional way that we could. It really helped that we were exposed to the wedding, the tea ceremonies, the Tết games. It just made you appreciate the culture on so many levels. I think when everyone is here, it just makes it easier to be able to do those things. Because I know my partner, on the opposite spectrum, he has a smaller family unit, and so when I ask him: "Do you play the Lunar New Year games and all this stuff?" And he's like: "Oh, no, we do, but not the way your family does it." [laughs] And I'm like: "Oh my god you're missing out! You need to come over and do this with us, we just go all out." Again, I think it's the numbers, it helps. It helps a lot to have so many people.
ZM: Yeah, that's great. That sounds so fun. [laughs] Before we pivot to college and career talk, I was wondering if you have a favorite dish that your Grandma makes, that you wanted to share about, or something like that.
VD: Oh, favorite dish. Oh, she makes so much good food. What's amazing too is that she remembers every single grandkid's favorite dish. It's amazing.
ZM: That's so sweet!
VD: Yeah. So when she'll make something, she'll be like: "Oh, I know this is Charlie's favorite, or I know this is Vince's favorite." And I'm like: "Oh my god, how do you remember what our favorites are?" And actually I asked them recently last week: "Does Grandma remember all your favorites?" And they were like: "Yeah." Like, she knows. My favorite from her, is, uh, I think her, hmm, there's so many, I'm going to have to pick one. I know that she knows my favorite - it's her soup, which is called [in Vietnamese 18:02 ]. I'm just trying to remember what that is in English. I don't know if it's like a spinach kale soup, it's really good. I like that one. She also makes, really good Banh Xeo, which is Vietnamese pancake, that's really yummy too. And of course her Pho is awesome. So I would say those are her top three.
ZM: That's awesome. Okay, so we'll move on to some college and career questions, which we've already talked about a little bit. How did you decide that you wanted to go to Portland State? And what was your experience like?
VD: Portland State was close to home. And so that's why I made that decision because I remember at the time I really really wanted to go out of state. My parents were super not open to the idea of it, unless I was able to obtain a full ride scholarship. But I didn't, and so they were like: "Well, since you didn't get a full ride scholarship, you have to stay and go to Portland State." And I was like: "Okay." And again, because I mentioned my family operates like a bee family, my Grandma, like anytime she heard any of us were going to move for school, she would sort of freak out a little bit. She was like: "Oh no! You're leaving!" Even though it's temporary, but I think to her, it comes from a place of love and concern, like:" Who's gonna cook for you? Who's gonna take care of you?" And we're like: "Grandma, we're gonna be fine, don't worry!" You know? I think that made it a little but harder to move away from home, because everyone is like: "Stay close, stay close." But sometimes you really do need to fly on your own and experience life. But, I stayed for Portland State. I have to say, the institution was really interesting because you get a mix of young and older folks. So you can have someone in your class from seventeen years old to someone in their eighties. Personally, I really appreciated that, just because I typically connect better with older folks. So it wasn't weird or anything, to be studying with somebody in their forties, like: "Okay, we're both taking the same math class together." It wasn't weird or anything. Because I know that people were very used to going to college with only people in their early twenties. But yeah, I liked it. I think it was cool environment. I would've liked to go out of state, but I appreciate Portland State for everything that it was.
ZM: Can you talk a little bit more about what you studied while you were at Portland State?
VD: I studied science, because the goal was to become a pharmacist, or a doctor. I hated every minute of it [laughs]. If I could go back in time, I think I would've rather been a business, psychology, architecture, or communications major. But again, sometimes you never know until you actually experience life a little bit. Because I remember at the time, I was like: "if I don't do science, what else? I don't know." And my parents always told me "You're not cut out for business." And I remember them saying that, and I think it's so funny because I'm in business now and I love it. They said I was not a very out-of-the-box thinker, also wrong. And they were like: "you're better going towards the medical route because you're so text book and book-smart." I was like: "No way, you have everything wrong about me!" [laughs]. So I also think it's projection. I think they were projecting what they wanted to see in me. And instead of actually being like: "No this is what our daughter really is. She's creative, she's artistic. She's meant to do something a little bit more colorful." But that's what I studied: science, general science.
ZM: So what inspired you to start Dream Escape Design?
VD: Dream Escape Design happened because I initially started as a social media manager, or account manager, which literally just means virtual assistant for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter for your client. And a friend of mine, who was also a client at the time, she's a Portland make up artist and hair stylist, and I remember asking her if I could redo her website. And as I was working on it, I'd show my boyfriend the new website. Because that's what you do when you're really proud of your shit, you go to your boyfriend [laughs]. SO I was like: "Boyfriend, look." And I remember him being really impressed, like: "Wow, this is really good, have you thought of becoming a web designer?" And I was like: "Yeah, I mean this is really fun. I like it, so, maybe I'll do it." So I started sharing my work on social media. And before I knew it, it had built a pretty decent clientele. People were reaching out, and they were like: "Please design my website." And then even more so, during the pandemic. So I think I came in at a really good time, because that was when business store fronts were shutting down, and then people were throwing their government stimulus money at me. And they were like: "Redesign my website!" And I was like: "Okay!" And so by the end of 2020, I had done like twenty websites, by the end of the year, by myself.
VD: Yeah - and I was really tired [laughs] I was really burnt out.
ZM: I’m sure!
VD: But it was just crazy, because I really did come in at such a good time to build that business. So yeah, 2020 Dream Escape Design.
ZM: So what is next for Dream Escape Design? What do you see it becoming? And do you have some future goals for that?
VD: I don't know. I have been trying to close down Dream Escape Design. I personally want to honor it for what it is. You know, it came to me in a time in my life when the universe was like: "Hey, it's OK, you can do this. You can leave your 9-5. You can be financially stable. It's all possible if you just jump into this thing at a 100 percent." And I did. And because of that, it helped me pay off my debt. And it helped me feel confident in building a business and connecting with really great clients and having amazing relationships with them. But, at the same time, I was really burnt out. I was really tired, and I realized it caused a lot of creative blockages in my life. And I just didn't enjoy it as much as I did initially. And so, I've been trying to move away from it, but, it's so funny, maybe an hour before I got on this call with you, I got a call from Expertise.com and they were like: "Oh, we just named you as one of the top Portland designers." And I was like: "No! [laughs] Thank you, but no. I'm trying to get away from this." So, I'm gonna say, I think I want it to close down. I think it's going to happen. But I’m also thinking maybe there could be a possibility of creating an agency from it. So, maybe I just need to meditate a little bit more, for what that next step is. But right now, I'm like ninety percent sure I want to close it down. I just think, everything I say it's done, it's over, something keeps popping up at me. It's like: "No, you're not. There's more to it." And I’m like: "No, I'm done." So yeah, that's where I'm at with Dream Escape Design at the moment.
ZM: Yeah, it sounds like it's been a really great stepping stone for you, and learning experience. But now it's time for the next step, whatever that is.
VD: Very much so. That's, again, a creative ninja, that's what I feel it is.
ZM: We'll move onto what inspired you to start Ooh What's This?
VD: Ooh What's This is my escape from Dream Escape Design [laughs]. I just wanted something really fun and really different and I knew that e-commerce could be that next thing. And I started it because when I was working on a website for a very particular client who was making face masks. I was like: "I love how she's really taken off with this business and I really love how she's made it her own, and is getting a lot of recognition from the community for it." And I thought it was cool I was just like: "I love it. I think this is an awesome business to get into." So, I remember being on Subtle Asian Aesthetic, and just scrolling through the pages and other Facebook groups. And there was just all of these amazing designs. And people were like: "Hey, look at what I made. Like, what do you think?" And I was like: "Holy shit, this is beautiful. I think we need a website to promote this." And I think there could be an Asian Etsy, and so that's how I started. I reached out to a lot of designers and makers during the pandemic, and I was so excited to work with them and give them more visibility, and so now, I work with Asian brands and designers from all over the world. So we've got makers from Australia, the UK, New York, Idaho, California, Delaware, Washington. And, I just get to be this person that brings it over to the west coast. People in Portland fall in love with the products. That's exactly why I got into it, because I fell in love with it, and I wanted to people to fall in love with it as well. I gotta send you some our Asian candles - that's our most popular product right now, the Bison candles. We have brown sugar boba, Vietnamese coffee...
ZM: ...I've definitely checked them out!
VD: I'll definitely send some to you. They smell amazing. I think the Vietnamese coffee, that one's been giving people...how do I describe it...This one day I was at the Portland Night Market and people were smelling that specific scent. And they just have this...I don't know...like a crazy reaction, their body would shake [laughs]. And I'm like: "What's happening?" And everyone was like: "I just feel so awake. That candle just woke me up." It was funny because that day, twenty people had the same reaction. This candle is powerful!
ZM: That's funny. It's a great candle!
VD: So if you don't wanna drink anymore coffee and you just wanna be more awake, just light it in the middle of your workday, and it'll instantly wake you up. So yeah, I'll send you that one.
ZM: That's really cool!
VD: That one is my favorite.
ZM: Moving on to the next one - oh - I was gonna say to you: I think it's really cool I'm seeing some parallels between how you were describing how your family has built community here in Portland, and how you've built community through Ooh What's This? I think that's a really cool parallel to see.
VD: Yes! It's so fun! I remember having a meeting with all the different makers. It was just so nice to hear people open up about their cultural experience and what starting their creation and business means to them. And just how they've been supported by people in their lives. I love it. And again, it goes back to me mentioning the kind of relationship I prefer with my work. Not boss-to-employee, not client-to-contractor, I prefer this: "You run your business, I run my business. You're a creative, I'm a creative - how do we work together?"
ZM: Right - kind of non-hierarchical.
VD: Yeah! That's my ideal business relationship situation. It just is so fun. I feel like we're supporting each other in the best ways.
ZM: So I think we've definitely touched on this already. But I'll ask again, the Ooh What's This? website describes how the shop is about celebrating a movement that supports AAPI folks and a pursuit to make a successful living through art, design, and creativity. Can you talk some more about the core values of Ooh What's This?
VD: I wanna say that ninety percent of Ooh What's This? makers have other jobs and careers or are still in school, and they maybe ten percent of them actually do it as their full time job. So a lot of my makers have shared with me that their parents weren't super supportive of them creating jewelry, candles. But they constantly express how much fun it was for them and I can tell it really just helps them express their creativity and it's even a stress reliever for some of them, actually, from their current jobs or from school. And so, I think really the core value here is just: "how do I support these folks to keep doing this?" And to even make money off of it. I think there is always this conversation about art and how art is difficult to make money in, but in this day and age with social media it seems a lot more possible and especially with reels and TikToks. There's so much more platforms to bring visibility and bring more traction to someone's online business now. My requirement to become an Ooh What's This? vendor is just to have an artistically unique product. Which literally means: "Can I run to Target and get it?" And if the answer is "no", then yes, very artistically unique. Your products just have to be under an artsy, handmade, jewelry, self care, eco friendly category, that's it. But my goal with Ooh What's This? at some point is to move over towards gift sets. We get a lot of people who actually like to customize a gift set for special occasions, so we get people buying stuff for birthdays, or buying stuff for their moms, or for their boyfriends and girlfriends, and that seems to be the route that people want to experience with Ooh What's This? I think it's because the site - where you're looking at a bunch of products - is overwhelming. I think seeing a giftset and being like: "Okay, I can pick and choose, or I can have them surprise me and create a box." I was telling a friend about a themed Asian snack box. Maybe Asian tea snacks - snacks that would be really good with your tea, that could be a really fun box. Right now we have our Pink Box out, we're about to push our Green, and our Sunflower Yellow Box. So very color themed, or more like Asian themed. So I think I'm seeing it become a designated Asian giftshop/giftset situation.
ZM: That sounds like a really cool direction to move in, for sure. My next question, which you answered amazingly, was about the future of Ooh What's This and some goals, so I don't know if you have anymore that you wanna share, but, what you've just shared sounds really awesome.
VD: Thank you! I mean, Asian Etsy. That's the goal, as simple as that. Really, an Etsy for Asians.
ZM: That's awesome. So I'll move on to our last section of questions, which are some community questions. So the first one is: do you currently feel a connection to the Vietnamese American community here in Portland?
VD: That's a great question. A couple things about the Vietnamese community here: I think we have a great community when it comes to our churches and our temples. We've got events like Lunar New Year and the Moon Festival - those things really bring people together. And of course the convention center is another big one. But, to be honest, I actually wish we had a Vietnamese district here in Portland. I was just in Chicago last week and I was really impressed to see that they have a Vietnamese district - they have all these Vietnamese businesses around and Vietnamese people walking around, and I was like: "Ugh! Why don't we have that in Oregon!" Like I feel like our establishments are so scattered in Portland, and I wish we had an area just dedicated to us.
ZM: Somewhere centralized.
VD: Right? And then if not that, then at least some sort of accessible directory that highlights Vietnamese businesses. I think we need to step up our tech game a bit because I feel like the only way to find out about Vietnamese establishments is still word of mouth, newspaper ads, or driving around. And then of course Facebook groups. But I sense that having a mobile app or something like that would encourage the younger generation to support the Vietnamese businesses and for the older generation to have a library or form access to news and relevant updates from these businesses. If anyone has time on their hands, I would say, get on this, do it, the community here would definitely benefit from it.
ZM: That's awesome, that's a really great idea. And once again, I feel like in a virtual way, it's kind of like creating a centralized community, if you can't have it physically. Although it would be great to have it physically too.
VD: Right? I'm just thinking of Vietnamese Yelp. Just a Yelp for the Vietnamese community and then people can talk about: "Oh, this is my favorite food at this restaurant, or this is where I get my flowers from, or this is where my daughter got her wedding dress from, or who's your make up artist?" I feel like we still go to our Aunts and Uncles about these questions, and I feel like there could be an app that answers these questions for us.
ZM: That's a really great idea.
VD: Somebody, take it over!
ZM: You talked about this a little, but are there any specific events that bring people together or places in particular for gathering?
VD: The first thing that came to mind was concerts. I know my family likes to attend a lot of concerts, and music events. I know sometimes supermarkets host events too. I know Hong Phat did something. A lot of temples, a lot of churches, that's really where I see people gathering. Of course there is the Jade district. And some of the markets. That's about it. Again, I wish there was some sort of app or just like something that pushes that reach a little bit more than strictly word of mouth, or strictly newspaper.
ZM: Right, kind of makes connections.
VD: Yeah, because I'm pretty sure my family still gets...they'll be like: "Oh did you know there's a concert in town." From a newspaper they found at the grocery store [laughs]. So that's how they find out about concerts - I find out about concerts through Spotify. So, just that difference and how word and news goes out.
ZM: Do you participate in any religious or community organizations?
VD: Used to, but not as much. I mentioned I was part of Lavang. Actually, I stopped going to church for the past couple of years, maybe towards the end of college. Sort of the reason why I stopped going to church - I am still a very spiritual person - but I just don't go to church. The reason why was I felt like the community was more for my parents and not for me. I tried to go out to different churches and tried to experience and find other communities for myself. But, nothing really stuck. And so I thought: "Well, you know what? If it ever finds me it will. And then for now, I'm just going to take a break from it." I still pray, I still practice. And same with community organizations: as soon as college ended, I just wasn't as active as I would like to be. And I wonder sometimes if work is in the way, or if it's just because I'm not a part of the church community anymore. Because if I think I was, I might be more open to volunteering. Again, it's like I would only go out of my way to volunteer is if I connected with other people who were like: "Hey, come join this, come join this." And church and temples are a great way to be able to know about those things. Otherwise, you're kind of out of it a little bit.
ZM: I'm curious to hear what you think the church community could possibly do to appeal more to younger people?
VD: Have younger priests [laughs]. Have younger organization leaders. That's really what it is. Personally, I feel that church mixes religion and culture a little bit too much. Especially some of the older religious leaders, some of the older priests. Sometimes when they preach, it seems like it's more advice about how you can be a better child. And I always thought that was so weird. Because they were always like: "Make sure to listen to your parents. Make sure to be a good kid." And I was like: "Yeah, but parents aren't perfect." I think there should be a little bit of: "Parents are wrong too." Yes, kids are wrong, but sometimes parents are wrong. Sometimes I feel like their teachings were always like: "Parents are right. So you need to listen to them." And I grew up pretty early thinking: "No way. Parents aren't always right." [laughs] You know? They're not perfect. Having sometimes young organization leaders they keep things fun and keep things relevant. I remember going to a church where this priest was referencing Star Wars, and I was like: "That's so cool. He found an interesting way of connecting to today's culture with the Bible." And at the end of that church, he was like: "Oh by the way, if you're part of this church, everyone gets to go to Wow Waves for free." And I was like "Holy M-" So that community, I was really interested in, but they were in far Washington.
VD: So yeah. My boyfriend at the time, he was like: "Oh, this is my frickin church. I love it here." And I was like: "Okay, chill. You're missing the point of what brought you out here. But yes, Wow Waves for free, that's awesome." I just think sometimes the Biblical teachings are not always relevant to everyday life. And if they can make it relevant to everyday life, with references that people would recognize and know, especially younger people, they're more likely to stay in the church. I think they're more likely to see that it's worth being in. Just knowing how it applies to their daily life.
ZM: Yeah, I can see that appeal. When you have you felt most at home in Portland? And what do you like about the city and community?
VD: That's a great question. I definitely feel most at home when it comes to our food. Portland food is amazing. We've really done a great job building an amazing food community. Food here is unlike any other city. You come here, and it's like: "we're really known for our beer, our wine, our cider." Drinking culture is really awesome here, food culture is really awesome here. But also, LGBTQ culture is amazing here too. We have all of these drag brunches. Lots of ways to celebrate all different kinds of groups. One of the things I describe about Portland is that our creativity is very child-like. I feel like everything just goes. There's just not a standard, compared to LA and New York, I feel like if anything is a little off or a little weird, people are like: "Oh. I'm not about that, that doesn't fly here." But in Portland, everything goes. People are like: "That's a little weird, but we accept it." We're just so open to it. That's what makes me feel most at home, knowing that weird is totally accepted. You're not gonna get rejected for anything. Everything here is "we get it." For some reason, other cities will not. But in Portland, we will.
ZM: That's really great. I definitely see that too. Have you ever encountered racism or discrimination in Portland.
VD: Yeah. I'm trying to think of a very big moment where I have. But I feel like it's very little moments. So back in Gresham, I was working at my parents' gas station and you get the people who are like: "You're English is so good, where are you from?" And I'm always like: "Is that a compliment?" Everybody lives in America, so it seems like people here are going to have good English. I mean, a little bit of that. I don't really get discriminated based on my race, per se, but sometimes maybe my age. I think I look really young, so sometimes I don't get taken very seriously professionally. So I experience that, which I think has to do a little bit with race. Because I think Asians are typically very youthful looking, and because of that, I think we get overlooked for leadership positions. I think people don't see us as leadership quality because we don't look "mature", or "old". Sometimes we don't have very commanding voices. So that's some of the discrimination that I might have experienced at work. Yes, I did work for a big company, and I remember feeling like: "Oh, this place looks like they have a boys' culture." Long story short, there was a boss I worked under in this big company, which I'm not gonna name. And I felt like he had a boys' club, like a white boys' club. And so I felt like he was really trying everything in his power to bring these guys with him and bring them up in his company and then all the other folks, all the people of color in the very same team felt very isolated. And we felt it immediately. We're like: "Hey, something's really weird here. We're not getting good projects, we're not getting better opportunities." Even when it came down to promotion and getting rehired at this place, people were like: "we're not getting good reviews, this boss isn't recommending us the way we should be recommended for the work we are doing here." That is what I've experienced in Portland, more work wise I think, than anything else. I think sometimes what it really comes down to is just education. It's just going back to working with upper management, working with lower management, being like: "Hey, we need to talk about these things more. We also need to have educational classes for anyone who is stepping up into management positions. These are things that you need to know, and here's how to educate yourself and not find yourself in biased situations."
ZM: Right - you want to go beyond that one-and-done training idea.
VD: Exactly. Exactly. Because I think a lot of bosses are unaware that they even do it sometimes. They're like: "What? Really? I didn't know I was discriminating anybody."
ZM: Right. That lack of cultural competence.
ZM: Moving on. In your mind, what role does being Vietnamese American play in your life?
VD: I wanna say being Vietnamese American....I want to give you a good answer for this...what makes me proud to be Vietnamese American. I wanna say I'm really proud of our food, I'm really proud of our holidays, and I'm really proud of seeing people in Hollywood, and Miss Universe. I think there was this one year where one of the Vietnamese Miss Universe was runner up. I was like: "Ah, that's so amazing." Being able to see representation in that way makes you really proud. The older generation comes from this mindset of: "Oh, we're gonna live in America, we're going to work as hard as we can." And a lot of it is just paving the way for the younger generation. But for me, when I see a Vietnamese American really going out of their way to be in Hollywood and do all the things that people are like: "That's so risky, that's so not what everyone else is doing, that seems so out of the box." And then somebody makes it, and I'm like: "Oh, this is so awesome." I think now, Vietnamese Americans are understanding you may or may not be stuck to one career for the rest of your life. I think a lot of the older generation are just like: "Okay, this is the job that I'm doing. I'm going to save up a lot of money. I'm gonna invest. and I'm not gonna do anything else." And I worry sometimes, because I think the older generation, when I ask them: "When you retire, what do you wanna do?" They have no idea. They're like: "I don't know. I plan on working for the rest of my life." And I'm like: "Really? What makes you happy? If money wasn't a thing, what would you be doing?" And I can confidently say a lot of older folks have no idea. So I think as a Vietnamese American, I'd like to encourage folks to see what life could be like with or without work. What are the things you want to do? What kind of life do you wanna create beyond work? What would make this life more fulfilling for you than just work? Nobody lays on their death bed and goes: "I should've worked more." They say: "I should've had more fun." What does fun look like for you?
ZM: Right, and creating space for that.
ZM: We've definitely spoken about this before but in case there's more you wanna share - what differences do you see between older and younger generations?
VD: Yeah, fun [laughs]. I think that's the best way to put it. Our definition of fun, our definition of hard work, is very different. That's really it. Hard work looks different for both generations and I think in my parents' eyes, if I'm not tired and not sweating, then I haven't worked hard enough. And I'm like: "No way! That's not hard work, -yes it is hard work but is that smart work?" Instead of being like: "I sit at a desk , I do design, that's how I make money, and I own an eCommerce store. And all my work is digital, that's what I like. It is really hard, maybe not in the ways you've experienced, but this is how I wanna experience work." So I just want to encourage young and older folks to find fun in work that makes sense for them.
ZM: Yeah, that work-life balance is really important.
ZM: Okay, so, in closing, is there anything that we haven't talked about that you'd like to share?
VD: No, not that I can think of. I just want to say I really enjoyed this interview actually. It's given me a lot to think about.
ZM: Thank you so much for being here, this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you for taking the time to share with me. If you're ready I'll just wrap up our interview. Thank you so much. Again, this has been Zoë Maughan speaking with Vyvyan Doan via Zoom, on May 17, 2022. Thanks!