ZM: This is Zoë Maughan and it is June 15, 2022. I am in the Watzek Library and am meeting with Jill Nguyễn via Zoom today. Jill, we are so glad to have you here to share some of your story. I am wondering if you could begin by stating your name and telling us a little bit about yourself.
JN: Yes, thank you so much, Zoë for having me. Something that sounds like such an easy question, is challenging for me to answer it. It may sound odd, but when people ask me what my name is, I have to think about the environment I'm in. So my given name, my birth name is, that my parents named me is: Thùy-Chiêu Mai. And once I got married to my husband, I changed it to Thùy-Chiêu Nguyễn. So that is my legal name. However, I go by Jill, that's my preferred name. So, again, depending on the environment I’m in, it sounds like such an easy question, but to me I struggle with it, thinking: "Gosh, what name do I give them?" And at home, they call me Chiêu, which is the second part of my legal first name. And that's the endearing name that I feel really close to, but, everyone knows me as Jill. So, there's a really long winded response to a pretty simple question. I am 40 years old. I am a first generation born American to Vietnamese immigrants. I'm a native Oregonian. I'm married with four children, and I am excited to share a little bit about our heritage and my experience as a Vietnamese American here in Oregon. That's it for now [laughs].
ZM: Great, thank you, and thank you for sharing about your name. I think that's something that a lot of people take for granted. But, it truly can be really complex, and depending on the different contexts [JN: Yeah!] the answer changes.
JN: I didn't want to lose… I could've easily changed it to Jill Nguyễn, legally. But I just didn't want to lose what my parents gave me. So my children—they all have first names that are American names, and their middle names are Vietnamese, and of course their last name is Vietnamese. So, there won't be the confusion of what to write down on paper, what to be called, and all of that. It's… of course my parents meant well, they didn't know this would be something that I would struggle with throughout my life, like an identity crisis. But, it's OK. I'm learning to respond in such a way that it's short, quick response, like my legal name or just any name. Most people say: "just any name."
ZM: Right. You've mentioned that you've lived in Oregon your whole life. Can you tell us a little bit about the neighborhoods that you grew up in?
JN: Yeah. So, where we grew up—we grew up in Aloha. And my parents actually still live in that home [ZM: That's great.] So, yes, so it's been close to forty years there. And what I am so grateful for, and I didn't know it at that time, was that growing up and not having to move, you build those relationships with your neighbors, with the students, with the teachers, with their friends' parents. So elementary school, middle school, high school, we were really a tight community, and I still am in touch with folks I grew up with. I mean I don't see them everyday or anything, but we stay in touch. And our reunions for high school have been, well, the pandemic has been a little hard, but we still try to stay in touch, and see each other when people are in town. So I am so grateful for that. I've felt very safe. I played with the neighbors, we were out until the lamp lights go on [ZM: Right!] and that's the cue to get back into the house.
I was one of two Asians, though, in kindergarten, and I remember, people mistaking us for the same person, which I didn't understand. I was in ESL for three years, and my parents at home would encourage us to speak Vietnamese, so that we wouldn't lose our language. At the same time, my sister, who is older than me—I have one older sister and two younger brothers—she would come home and teach us the alphabet, teach us English, and we were just trying to fit in. So there was a hard balance between respecting my parents' wishes and keeping our language—which I didn't understand the importance of at that time, as a child—but wanting to fit in with everyone else and learning the English language. That was hard, because you don't want to lose it, but you didn't understand the importance of it at that time. So, here we are, in elementary school, I'm in ESL for three years. Luckily for me, I didn't face any ridicule or people teasing me, I was really little, and I was so cute. So people loved me, and they were so nice to me. But I do remember, in first grade, our teacher would read out loud the daily lunch menu, here I am coloring—gosh, I remember this so clearly—and she's just reading, you know, whatever was on the list: chicken, mashed potatoes, and she says "corn," and I just looked up and was so excited and said, "Popcorn?" And the whole class laughed, but I didn't think they were laughing at me, I didn't know any better. But I was just so excited, like, "Oh my gosh, we get popcorn for lunch? Like who gets popcorn for lunch?" But, of course we didn't [laughs]. Here I am, so excited, because I didn't know any better, but you know, that's the innocence in me, and I think it protected me for not feeling like: "Oh, they're laughing at me." I didn't have my feelings hurt. So that was what elementary school was, just very few Asians.
Middle school, here we are, where I see more people that look like me, and now I feel like I have separate groups. I remember going to lunch, and I'm just like, "Oh, who do I sit with? People that I grew up with in elementary school, or people that look like me and are inviting me to their group, and I felt like I belonged there." So I chose the latter, and my friend since second grade did express how hurt she was like, "You don't sit with me at lunch anymore." And I didn't even know, now I finally see that I'm different, I didn't even know what I was different before. No one treated me any differently. But now, it's like the choosing between where I'm going to sit, it sounds so small, but it such a dilemma for me at that age, in middle school.
Then we get to high school, and here I am, I’m in all the clubs. I'm in diversity club, because I want to learn about people’s culture. But I'm also in Asian club, because I wanna learn my heritage, keep my roots. I'm in leadership, and Natural Helpers: Natural Helpers was the person that guides the new students in school, welcomes the new students, so they don't feel left out, or just show them where everything is, tour them around it. I was in Key Club, which is an advocate… Key Club was religion, I wanted to learn other religions. And then I was in the Gays and Lesbians Rights Activist Group, to learn about how I could be an advocate. I mean everything that I could, I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it and I did it as best as I could. I was voted most friendliest in high school, and I feel like now that I'm forty, I am finally understanding that it has been my life mission to include people, to learn where they're from, and to respect it. To understand, not just about ethnicity or race, but who they are as a human, accept them, and if I have questions to ask them, but if I don't understand, it's OK. I don't need to understand everything. But that's my delivery to people around me: it's OK if you don't understand, just be kind, and let them be who they are and love them for who they are.
So that was my childhood, I was very lucky that I was just in bubble, protected, safe, it wasn't until college, was when I faced more of the discrimination and remarks. Not understanding why people asked me certain questions. You don't know that it's wrong until you start talking to people. You don't know any different.
ZM: Right, yeah I think you're speaking to all of the examples you shared, really demonstrate your dedication to finding belonging, and then doing that for others around you as well, I think that's really great. [JN: Thank you.] Yeah, you mentioned this a little bit, but I was wondering if you could speak a little more about when you had the realization that it was important to keep your culture, continue to learn your language, or keep that language. When did that realization happen for you?
JN: Oh, gosh, I've always had that instilled in me. I was proud to wear my áo dài which is a traditional Vietnamese gown, that one can wear during engagement ceremonies, weddings, Lunar New Year. I found any reason to wear it, even in middle school. You know you have your groups of friends but call each other in the morning, "Oh let's dress the same!" [ZM: Yes!] And we would wear our áo dài on a random day, just to represent who we are. It wasn't even a significant day of celebration, but friends would ask, "Oh, why are you wearing that?" "Oh, because we feel like it!" You know? It's something that even today when I put it on I just—it's a piece of who we are—I actually hosted an international fair for my children's elementary school a couple of weeks ago and I proudly wore my gown up there as I emceed the program and I just loved that people were like, "This is beautiful—the material, the design." It's just something that my grandparents, they still wear theirs on Lunar New Year, we celebrate Lunar New Year every year. It's as big as Christmas and Thanksgiving put together. I love, love, love celebrating Lunar New Year, it's something my children understand. It's not just about receiving red envelopes of lucky money. It's a time to remember our ancestors, and our deep roots. And we pray and give blessings to them often, but Lunar New Year is another time to bow and pay our respects, and all of the food, and it brings us together. But going back to high school, I remember there was an opportunity to go to Benson High School, or Madison, where there was a pageant for Vietnamese girls wearing their áo dàis and we were invited to go and of course we were so excited because again, we want to remember and learn about our heritage and keep it in us. But we were trying to find our belonging as an American. It was hard, we were not American enough, or our English wasn't perfect enough. But are we Vietnamese enough? Because our accents are Americanized. So that was a challenge, growing up. And I still haven't been to Vietnam, I mean I want to go, but there's a fear in my mind of being judged, like, "Oh she's an American." Are they going to look at me as if I betrayed them? Even though I wasn't born there, but a lot of concerns—I mean I shouldn't care what people think, right? But it's just about being accepted, again, being accepted.
ZM: That makes sense.
JN: We try to keep it with our kids too: the language, the culture, the food, the bowing, the respect, the greeting, how we greet people, the titles.
ZM: Right. So, I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about your family and some background.
JN: Oh gosh. [ZM: I know that’s a big ask.] No, I love sharing about my family! On my mom's side, my dad's side, they're still in Việt Nam and we've never met them. But my mom's side, she's third oldest of ten. My beloved grandparents, they're still with us today, we're so lucky to have them, they're in their eighties. They've been married sixty-six years, they're the cutest thing ever. I just love them with all of my being. They're the pillars of our family, the Bùi family. So our story isn't unique in how we escape, but what is unique about family is that there's so many of them. So, Grandma Bùi and her mother—my great grandma—escaped Việt Nam in the mid-seventies, during the fall of Saigon, with ten children in tow, while Grandpa was still fighting in the war—he stayed behind to fight alongside the Americans. And it's just so crazy to me, it's a miracle how they reunited a year or two later. There was no internet back then, no cell phones. I mean, can you just even imagine? But, he found us through communication with family in France, and reunited. But what I've learned, which is interesting, is our family was Buddhist. They were Buddhist, and the Catholic church sponsored our family to come to the U.S., and in their honor, we converted to Catholicism. So we're not old Catholics, we're new. My husband's side, they're generational Catholics, so I'm learning from them still. But I thought that was so interesting because in order for us to all stay together, huge family not getting separated, they took the deal. My grandparents take it very seriously, going to Mass, praying, and being grateful for all that we have been given. So we settled in Oregon, our family is very close, some are in Vancouver, Washington and some are in California. Some sprinkled throughout the United States for education, or permanent moves. And we have others who experience life outside of the United States, but all in all, we're still very close. We keep in touch, we're in group texts, emails, Facebook. All the cousins, we all grew up together. Gosh, I think there's twenty-five of us now, third generation and fourth generation, I think there's twenty, twenty-one coming on board this year. So, yes, we're a huge village, and we just do so much together, a lot of love there. When we come celebrate together, it's so much fun—very loud [laughs]. A lot of games, and we have our sub-pods, but all in all, it's a lot of fun to be together. We take vacations together, we take a whole plane [laughs].
ZM: Yeah, that sounds great. So, you definitely spoke to this a little bit already, but could you tell me what schools you went to and speak a little more about your experiences?
ZM: Yeah, so elementary, middle, high school. We can get into college later [laughs].
JN: Yes, elementary, middle, high school: public schools. Again, I was one of two Asians in kindergarten, she's still one of my best friends today. We are still in each other's lives. Middle school, high school, sprinkling more Asians. And then, I also went to a Vietnamese Sunday school in Northeast Portland. So if you're Catholic and Vietnamese, you will know this school. It's the only school in existence, however, it has a new location in Clackamas now. It's K-12, but I just went through eighth grade. But it's important and it's special because we learn Bible studies in Vietnamese, and then there was Mass, and there was lunch, and then we learned to read and write in Vietnamese. Which, I think was so, so important. And there's still… I know I said there's a location in Clackamas—but there's now other ways to learn Vietnamese, and reading and writing. But it's hard right now because of the COVID pandemic. But my daughter was going, and she was enjoying it, it was every Saturday at Portland Community College. It's a lot though, it's a lot to go to school daily and then you have Vietnamese school on the weekend, and Bible.
But anyway, that was how I was connected to the Vietnamese community, because I lived kind of faraway—I was in Aloha, this was in Portland. So, I looked forward to it, because again, it's my people. It's me learning my language, learning our religion. And it was just a lot, so I remember not enjoying it because it was so far. And the culture is very different, it's very strict. Our upbringing is very—expectations are very high. You had to wear a colored scarf every Sunday, and it represented which level of education you're in. You had to bring it, if you didn't bring it, you better remember next week. But it was uniforms: white shirt, blue pants, blue/black slacks. So that piece was more elementary and middle school.
Middle school, high school, easy for me. I loved it. I had a great experience. It wasn't until college—I went to Portland State—and I earned my finance degree there. Subsequently, I attended George Fox and received my MBA there. But during college, I stayed local. I applied to U of O and OSU, here's where the strict comes in [laughs]: I got accepted to both, I wanted to go to U of O because that's where my older cousin went, and you know, I looked up to her, super close. OSU was more of my uncles and my other cousins. But I didn't have a driver's license yet, I actually didn't learn, I actually didn't earn my driver's license until I was close to twenty-three, very old. Parents were strict and they thought the boys in my family—even though they're younger—they had their license. I had my permit, but I didn't have my license, so how could I get to school three hours away? I couldn't. So, I went to Portland State and stayed local. Worked two jobs, went to school full time. And, one of my jobs was waitressing. I was a server for nine years, and that's where I experienced a lot of the discrimination, the comments. Then I worked in banking, because I needed that for my experience, but I needed the serving job for the money. [ZM: Right]
School, I was fine, I didn't feel like school was anything like where I didn't belong or anything. But I did feel a little lost, I didn't feel like I had a lot of guidance. But that's my own fault as well, I had to be an advocate for myself, but, put in the effort. So it goes both ways, I didn't feel like it was very structured, but maybe that's the lifestyle over there—maybe they want you to be more independent.
But while I was working, I would get—so I worked for a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant, that was my uncle's family's restaurant at the time, and then I worked at a Japanese franchise restaurant. And remarks would be, "Oh, you speak good English." So it's offensive because one: you're acting surprised, and two: you're insinuating that the aunties don't. However, I would say just a little bit to not get in trouble, but I would respond like, "Thank you, but I speak English well." And the look on their face was, "Oh, I can't believe she said that." [laughs]. It's not good English, you know? Other things are like—I don't mind people asking me where I'm from, or where my family is from. I don't mind it. But it's hard when you hear throughout your day, all day long, every day, "Oh, I have a friend from Thailand." Even though I'm not Thai. But it's like, "Great, okay." Or, "Can you speak Chinese?" Even though I tell them I'm Vietnamese, "No, I can't speak Chinese." I mean, I don't know, it's just, people would poke me with a chopstick. "How did you get here?" I've heard before. Gosh, all kinds of stuff, and I haven't even opened up that memory box in so long, so I can't even remember, but gosh, I remember all the time. A friend of mine, "Oh, you know when you have your hair tied up, you all look alike, you're all the same size." And my friend and I, I don't think we look alike, but we're the same height, and our hair was tied up in a ponytail, and customers would accuse she or me—we forgot their order, or whatever. And we knew what was going on. So we would just politely say, "Alright, we'll be right back." Instead of, "No, you got the wrong person." And we would just go to each other and say: "Hey, did you forget the hot tea?" It was funny because it wasn't just a serving job. I was in retail with my kindergarten best friend, and we're the same height, but people still got us mixed up. It's so hilarious though, it's like I feel like throughout my lifetime, at work, at school, that people would say so and so, and I'm just like, "Oh, that's not me" [laughs]. But, you know, you laugh at it, and it's just not even a big deal anymore.
But, just thinking back about how people are—I still, even to this day, I remember this lady. I sat down with my son, he was probably just a few months, she just poked her head into the little stroller and was just like asking how old he is, which is a normal question, and then asked his name, and I said his English name. She said, "Oh, that's not a Chinese name." And I said to her, "Well, we're not Chinese." And she says, "Is his father like you? Whatever you are?" I'm just like, "Oh wow, lady." And I'm just like, "Yes, he is Vietnamese." And then she asked how many children I had, and at the time I had two. But she would make comments like, "Well, that's enough." I don't know, I was just like, "Oh my gosh, somebody rescue me and get me out of here!" I just think—people mean well, but they just… I don't know… need to be more educated, or just aware, or be more surrounded by outside of who they are, you know? [ZM: Right.] I don't think she meant to harm me, but it was just so bad.
ZM: Right, that kind of comes down to the intention versus impact idea, you can mean well, but it can still cause harm [JN: Right.]. Day in and day out, that sounds exhausting.
JN: Oh, it's exhausting, it's exhausting. I just remember… gosh, it's been a couple decades—makes me sound so old—since I've experienced the daily. But even growing up… okay so now I'm banking… I remember, again I'm short. And to people, if you're short I feel like you lose some power. I'm saying this from experience. But, as a minority, as a female, and younger, when I was in banking, it was so frustrating. So here I am in downtown, the heart of downtown, our clients are businessmen, business women, business people. In and out, hustle and bustle. I would often times get challenged by men—they would say whatever they want to say, and I would respond accordingly. And they would ask to talk to a manager, and it was so annoying! And the manager would come and repeat what I stated. But it would happen to me all the time, and I felt so inferior. I remember asking my aunt, she’s Filipina, and she's short, shorter than me, even. She was a strong woman in real estate, very successful, and I asked her, "Where did your confidence come from? Do you ever feel nervous because we're small?" And she's like, "No! Never!" So I thought, "Gosh, I could feel like this, I could have confidence too. I don't need to be judged by my size." I don't know what people's implicit biases are, I just know they're treating me differently by what they see in front of them, even today. So it's not because I was young, or small, because I'm still small, I never grew [laughs] since two decades ago. But I've learned who I am and to be proud of who I am and to be strong. And to actually to share that message to others. To also have that confidence in you and to be proud of who you are, no matter [what] it is: color of our skin, color of our hair, height, education, gender, sex, whatever. Love who we are, and represent ourselves.
Gosh, now I'm thinking, do I even get those experiences anymore? Gosh, I don't know. Because I'm in a different environment. I'm sure it's still there, maybe I just brush it off. But, I don't recall anything recent about my ethnicity… Oh, but I did experience something recently. This isn't having to do with being Vietnamese, but I want to share it with you because it's important. I, last week, was speaking to my husband's colleague, learning about their benefits, and he's so nice, not in HR, but took time out of his day to explain things to me. And, again, unintentional, he wasn't trying to hurt anybody or disrespect anybody, but this is why education and awareness is so important. His statement was—because there was so many plans and it was confusing, and I just said, "Ugh, insurance. It's overwhelming." And he says, "Well, most guys choose this plan and their wives like it because…" Well first of all, you're assuming that all engineers are men, that's annoying, and offensive. You're assuming that they're heterosexual, that they're married, with wives. But I didn't say anything because he was helping me. And under any other circumstances, I would have. But, one should have said, "Well, most employees opt for this plan because their partners like these type of benefits. [And not all people are in relationships and there sure are plenty of people who seek insurance benefits who are single.]" So, we're not assuming that one is married, spouse, whatever, wife, husband. And we're not assuming that engineers are men. Which, they're not all men! So, come on now. But, that's why I am so passionate for being an advocate for all that I can and to share my heritage. Again, thank you for this opportunity. Also, to speak up when I hear something I don't like. Which I am so good at now, but hear me out, I was not like that as a child, because we are not raised that way. As a female minority, especially a Vietnamese one, you don't have an opinion. Because whatever you say is talking back. You don't have a voice. You don't have the space to ask questions, you just do it. You're obedient, and you do what you're told. So that was hard. Again, I don't blame anything, it was the culture, it's learning, it's moving from another country, they literally lost everything. I don't blame it. But I'm not going to repeat it. That piece of it isn't going to be passed down. The pieces that I'm proud of, of course that will be passed down. But the pain, the hurt, the trauma, no. It stops with me, and I am the voice as loud as I can be for all that I can.
ZM: That's great. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm going to circle back around to college a little bit, just to keep in line with our questions. But thank you so much for what you've shared, I love the direction we're going in. So, while you were in college, what did you study? What drove you to choose that?
JN: So, gosh, when you look at my transcript, it's just, oh, it's so bad [laughs]. When I started going to Portland State, my heart wasn't in it. I stayed, I settled, because I couldn't drive—had really no other option. I wanted the college experience, and I wasn't going to get that staying local. I knew that. I wanted to be in the dorms. I wanted to be with my cousin. I wanted to just be in different environment, be on my own. But I was on my own in downtown, just differently. And it's fine, it's fine. Because I still believe this, and I know it’s cliché, but everything happens the way it's supposed to. And I would not have met my husband if I left. So, all good. Don't regret any of it. But, I was lost. I didn't know what to do. I had a little bit of banking under my belt, barely. And a lot of serving experience, but, I knew I liked math. I actually wanted to be a pediatrician when I was younger because I love children, I love babies. But I couldn't get through ninth grade biology—it was dissecting frogs—it was so, ugh, the smell, and just cutting something up made me feel like, "Oh my gosh, if I can't even do this…" I couldn't even look at blood, how am I going to be a doctor? So, forget that. I just knew I was good at math. So what am I going to do? I didn't know what I was supposed to take, because I didn't go see a counselor, I don't know. I didn't have any direction, I didn't know what to do. I registered for a four hundred level class, which was not what you're supposed to do as a freshman. You're supposed to do one hundred level classes, but I didn't know. It was family studies or something, and it was a course way too comprehensive for my brain at that age. So I rarely went, and I got a really bad grade, of course, of course, naturally. A friend of mine who was working on campus, was the one I went to and I said, "You know me enough. What should I major in?" She said, "Finance." And I'm like, "OK!" So then I just started to take whatever I needed to take to get a Finance degree and I took some classes in women's studies, just because I was curious. And I graduated with a BA in Finance, and started working in insurance, so risk management, so it's life insurance, disability, and long-term care. I did that for a few years, and I did it successfully. So that's another story, of feeling inferior because I was a female, I am a female, younger, minority, amongst a career that seems like it's only successful if you're a white male in your forties and fifties. Because that's what I was up against, and it was just an uncomfortable feeling. You know, when I was being interviewed, and greeted by females in the office, it wasn't until I was hired on and went to Seattle, for a conference, and it was two thousand of us. And only a sliver of us were female, and I just thought, "Oh my gosh, what am I doing here? I don't belong here." Ugh, it was so uncomfortable and I didn't even know who to sit with at lunch. Here I am again! By choice again! Why is lunch such a PTSD moment for me? But luckily, a guy from my office in Portland recognized me and said, "Hey, come sit with me." But I expressed this feeling to my husband and he just said, "Try it out for a year and if you don't like it, quit." I can do that. And I tell you, I made top ten in my office, which is Oregon and Southwest Washington. Top twenty females on the West Coast. I think it was top forty new reps under two years in the nation. It was amazing because I found my niche! The Vietnamese community! To educate! And I left, it was hard decision to [leave], but I knew I had to. It was 2009, it was just… market crashing, and I really wanted to get my MBA, and I knew I had to do it now before I had a family. So that's what I did, I went and pursued my master’s. I actually graduated in April 2012, and had my first baby in July 2012. It just went according to plan! So perfect! And I had a great experience with my MBA program as well. But I just knew I had to check that box off before I had any regrets. But that was such a relief, to finish something that I aspired to do. To prove that I can do this, once I set my mind on it. And not worry about barriers and what people think. I was working full time and I was going to school one night a week and one Saturday a month: it was a lot. But just imagine layering on children, and babies. Oh my gosh! That would be too hard! So I'm glad I just did it, got it done. And then moved on.
ZM: Yeah, that's great. Did you say where you got your MBA from?
JN: Yes, George Fox [ZM: Oh, right, yes.] in Tigard.
ZM: It's great that they have those programs where you can do the alternate schedule, but it also can be so taxing too.
JN: You know, it was doable. And I had such a great experience. And my husband, I encouraged him to finish his degree. He's such a good man—he chose to take a full time job to support his family over education. But I knew it was something that he wanted to do for himself as well. So there was a program called an Adult Completion Program at George Fox, and he looked into it and oh my gosh, you know how your credits expire after a certain amount of years or something? When he was registering, it was the last year that he could transfer his credits without it expiring. I’ve got to tell you, that was, wow, timing is everything. Also where you are in your life, could you take on the capacity of going to work full time and then layer on school? So, anyway, we are so appreciative of universities having that type of flexibility—what they call "untraditional" [laughs]. But it should be starting to become traditional, because people’s lives, there's gotta be some balance, and people want to earn things, but they just need to figure out how [ZM: Right.] while supporting their families as well.
ZM: So, what do you do now? And how did you become involved in your line of work?
JN: That's a great question. So, I am so glad I was a bank teller back in the days, because it got me to the banking world. After I left the insurance company, I had to find a steady job. Insurance was 1099, it was a contract. So I worked at a local bank for only three months. And the manager there, who there for like thirteen years, over a decade, was head-hunted to open up a new office of a separate bank in downtown. And I had the honor of going with her, she asked [me] to come with her, and it was just a huge compliment, I was only working with her for a few months. It was scary though, because I'm just like, "This is a new bank that we're opening in Portland." I mean, there was other departments that had existed in the area: investments, trust, and commercial lending, I believe. but not the banking part, quite yet. So, we opened up the Retail Bank in downtown Portland. She and I, and two other partners from the old bank that we left, and I've been there ever since. It's been twelve years. So I started out as a banker for a few years, and then I was asked to join the trust company. Which was again, such an honor. Great team, great manager. So I've been there for nine years. And, currently, so we're in trust administration, so corporate trust, corporate trustees, for trust accounts. And our beneficiaries range from newborn, I mean children, of course you communicate through the parents as guardian, and all the way up to elderly folks, who I just simply adore. And we just carry on duties for them, and just work to the best of their interest. And, yeah, great company.
ZM: That's awesome. I love hearing the path of what led you there.
JN: It's about connections, you know? Education is one thing, but it really is the people that you know. The people that you build relationships with. And, it's all about that, I really think. Well, education and competency is important, of course. But, the connection.
ZM: So what does a day in the life typically look like for you? And I recognize that there may not be just one [laughs] typical day.
JN: Chaos, you know. I have four kids, my youngest just turned two, and I have a five year old, who is starting kindergarten. And then my son just turned seven, and my oldest daughter is turning ten next month. So, a lot of moving pieces with school, we're not doing extracurriculars right now because of the pandemic. But usually there is swimming, and golfing, and like I said, Vietnamese school and Bible school, and all the fun stuff. I said I was really close with my family, my parents live not that far away, so my mom helps watch my kids too. And my grandparents live nearby, so we try to see each other as often as we can. Our time is limited, and we hate to think that, but it's reality, so we try to just pop in there and see them as and stay in touch with the cousins and the aunts and uncles. So family is really important. My husband's parents live not too far, they're here in Portland. So we try to see them every Sunday as well, and visit. You know, stay close to the family. Work is work, and it took me a long time to realize it, but your family comes first. Work is there as a means to support your family, but your family is your number one, and you're raising the future. So, we try to remember that and instill things in them, like reading a book to them. They'll see a big turtle, a medium turtle, and a little turtle. And the kids will say, "Oh, a daddy, a mommy, and a baby." And I'll say, "Oh yes. But it could be a daddy and a daddy. Or a mommy and a mommy." And you know, my nephew is gay, and I had the honor of performing the ceremony for his wedding, and I would tell my kids, "Remember, cousin so and so has a husband." And they're like, "Oh, yeah!" So it's just normal to them. It's not like: "Oh why? Why isn't he married to a woman?" No, it's just normal to them. And I love that, because that's how it should be. [ZM: Right, that's great.] But in everyday life, we have to be able to take that extra step and have our brain go there. And when I was speaking to you earlier about titles and respect, it's been a challenge for me, I admit. And I haven't found the right answer yet. But, in our upbringing, our parents taught us to never call an adult by their first name, that's just not respectful. It would always be Mister, Missus, or Miss, or Teacher, or whatever, Doctor. Or Auntie and Uncle if it's appropriate. So, I have been doing that with my kids: Mister and Miss, Auntie and Uncle. But now I'm thinking, "Gosh, I didn't even ask people for their pronouns at the store." But do we really want to get into that conversation of, "What are your pronouns? What do my kids call you? Thank you Miss Sarah!" Because you want to say "thank you" at the check out line [ZM: Right.]. We want to recognize that, I like to use people's names, when they have a name tag. So, I should ask more people. I've asked, some people say they don't know. But, things like that [laughs] things are changing, and it's OK, it's OK that people are changing, we just go with it. Be fluid and not just so black and white.
ZM: Right, and I like what you said about it's important to take that extra step and take that initiative to be inclusive, as you've been mentioning a lot.
ZM: So, moving on to our community section. Do you currently feel a connection to the Vietnamese American community here in Portland?
JN: Oh yes, absolutely. So, I've been actually involved in a few projects lately. That has brought so much clarity in what I'm meant to do. This is confidential, for now. I know I shared with you that I love the company that I represent. I do. They are an amazing company, great employees, I couldn't ask for more, great benefits. But the one thing that I could ask for is: my heart, my joy, my purpose, my magic, my spark, and where that belongs. So, I was asked recently to facilitate a focus group on behalf of Asian American Pacific Islander community for this big organization. And it was such an amazing and beautiful experience. My partner who brought me into it owns her own consulting company, focusing on DEI, and she and I earned our master's together, so we go way back. She asked if I was interested in facilitating a certain group, and I was just like, "I don't know. What does it entail?" And it made sense, she said, "We need someone who is of the Asian American Pacific Islander community to facilitate it because if we're trying to get authentic and natural response and vulnerability and all of that, you've got to be one of them! [You] can't be something different. They're not gonna relate." And she was so right. She was so right because, they would make a comment about something and I made a comment about something, and it just made sense. So, there was camaraderie, and there was joy. But what I found from that is yes, I am proud to represent who I am, and relate to the experiences of my peers. Stand up against Asian hate and all of that. And what came out of this experience is supporting Asian American Pacific Islander businesses. Supporting artists, supporting the community, however that may mean. So, yes, when we go to Northeast, we got to the Vietnamese cafes, delis, restaurants. Of course we do, even if we could make something at home we want to support the business, make sure they are staying afloat—especially during the pandemic. And, put it on social media, put it on your stories, make people know, what you recommend, all the food that you recommend, what kind of drinks. So in order to stay connected, you've gotta support. You've gotta support and ask, "Oh, I heard you're opening up another location. Where?" And just spread the word, and I'm so good at that. I love connecting people, I love sharing my experiences, of course positive ones. And then sometimes if it's just such a bad experience, I'll have to share it because you've got to be real. But again, that experience made me feel the joy of bringing out why it's important for us to be heard. Not just during an AAPI month, but on a recurring basis. And, encouraging others to share their voice as well even though it was not something we were raised with and how we grew up. Which is so much of a challenge because you're basically tweaking your brain in such a way that you are unlearning what you are taught. So I'm trying to pull things out, "It's OK to share about your experiences, because it's real and it's raw." And this is why the organization is engaging us, it's really an honor that they want to hear about it because that's how we're going to make change. There's no way for change to happen if they don't really know how we have been treated, or how we've been feeling left out, or not represented, all of that. So let's share the rawness of feeling muted, or not seen, or blended in the background. And other things as I mentioned, trying to have my children go to the Vietnamese school, they do celebrations there too, with Autumn Moon and Lunar New Year. But again, it's on pause. But it's important to continue that, it's very, very important to me. Other things that isn't so much me tying to the Vietnamese community but me sharing it, is I have taught Lunar New Year lessons to my children's classes. And I've been doing it for many years now. Actually, just recently I raised my hand and asked the teacher, "Hey, Lunar New Year is coming up, can I come into the classroom and teach it, or zoom?" And I love it! I love being able to share what we do and why we do it, and what's the meaning behind it, and what the fruit means, and the wishes of prosperity and longevity, and all of that. And it's not just the kids, the staff loves it too. You see their eyes light up, and their brains working because they're trying to figure out what year they were born—or they know what year they were born but what animal they are—it's just so much fun, and I wish I could do it more often, which I'm going to do. I had an epiphany last week, and I know it's so recent, so raw. I'm thinking of doing this, to the retirement community, to the elders. Creating a cultural program, every month I'll bring in someone to share the origin of something and why we do it as a lesson. And I think they'll love it, outside of their puzzles and bingo night, and movies, and what we can bring to the cultural event every month. I think it's gonna be something fantastic, it's a new idea. I'm gonna run with it because I know I can do this and I can do it well. [ZM: That sounds amazing.] It just brings me so much joy when I talk to my clients and they tell me they miss me—I haven't seen them since 2019, because the beginning of 2020 is when… I didn't see most clients in January and February, also in March, we were sent home. So it's been three years that I've entered into the facility to have lunch with them, or check in on them or talk with them. I miss that, and I know they miss it. They've told me. I would ask them, "How's your day?" And they're just same old, same old, and not that they're not grateful for the community that they have, but they have no connection with the outside world and I wanna bring that, I wanna bring it back as safely as possible. But also, an educational piece—learning creates longevity, and I just love sharing a piece of me as why it's so important to us, and to keep it alive, most importantly. And in order to do that, we have to talk about it. And not just once a year, not just during it. That's where my energy is right now.
ZM: That sounds really, really amazing. I love that you're working towards that.
JN: Thank you. I hope it's going to be something… there's a DEI component, but the niche would be cultural enhancements for senior living. It's sharing a piece of me, a piece of my friends, my network. Bringing them in to talk about the day of the dead, we have Laotian dancers, Filipino dancers, Irish fiddlers. Let's just talk about why people do what they do. What's the origin behind it? What brought fiddling to Ireland? I want to learn, I need to learn about it. So it's not just a performance, it's just history, which is so important. It could change, or be translated in different ways, or gosh a lot of things I feel like were not represented correctly from when I was in school. And my dad was so right, I hated that. He was right about this, but he said to me, "Do not learn what they want to teach you from books about the history of Vietnam, because it's going to be biased." He's right, because who's writing the book? When I was a kid, Christopher Columbus was a hero. And now it's like… my eyes opened and I was like, "Wow, that was so bad." And now, it should be indigenous, there shouldn't be a Thanksgiving. There's a lot of changes, but again, let's be fluid about it, let's be accepting about it, let's learn about it. We don't have to understand everything, but let's be accepting of our mistakes, of what we learned incorrectly. And now correct it. No matter what you think is right in your brain, this is right that we're correcting a piece of history and however that means. So I'm so proud of what my kids are learning these days, different tribes even. Back then, I only learned about Native Americans. And my kids are learning about different tribes, and what it means to be here in this location. I just love that so much.
And… I just thought of something—do you know that there is a Lewis and Clark national museum in Astoria? [ZM: Yes.] Maybe you can be my messenger, but I forgot. I've been wanting to call them. So we go there, and we learn about [phonetics: Sa-cag-ah-way-ah] Sacagawea, when I was a kid it was [phonetics: Sacka-ju-we-ah] Sacagawea. But Sacagawea, and her mission, and all of that. And again, haven't learned this for over thirty-some years, and it was neat to hear it again. But then they have this black and white video running, back in what looked like the old days, you can hear it rolling. So I'm sitting there, and we're hearing the story of the explorers, and they say, "We're approaching territory and there are evil spirits." Oh my gosh, I was just like, "Excuse me, you're trespassing on their land! And this movie needs to go, it needs to go." This documentary made me feel like: evil spirits, spooky, the feeling? No! You guys are the ones coming here and killing the Natives, and it was just… I don't think any of the workers are watching it because they've seen it before twenty years ago. But we've got to call that out and be like: "Hey, you can't show this anymore." Show it, but change it. I don't know, you gotta fix it. Because maybe that's what was felt at the time, but nonetheless, you're making it look like the white guys are the heroes, and they're absolutely not in that story. Ugh, it's just so hard, it's so hard, but we've got to clean it up. That's our duty. It's 2022, we've got to clean things like this up. However it is, I don't have the answer, not everyone will. But it will take a group of people to look at these things and slowly over time make it right.
ZM: Right, at the very least, providing context for materials that at this point are not so much informative as they are historical documents. [JN: A disclosure.] A disclaimer that gives that context and maybe states that this isn't our understanding of this anymore.
JN: They may have had that at the beginning, I don't know. [ZM: It should be prominent.] [laughs]. Maybe there should be a running banner at the bottom [laughs]. But again, I get it. That's what I learned, when I was a kid, was that white people were the heroes all the time, all the time, and everyone else was an enemy. And it was sad to think this, but I felt safe not being either Black or whatever they were saying were the enemies. I was like, "Good thing it wasn't me." Gosh, how awful to think like that as a child? To have to even go through the process of that. No! That's not OK! But I was just so scared. I was so scared. And when they were saying how the Chinese were slaves building the railroad tracks, I just can't even imagine. And yes, there's still slavery to this day, and it's heart wrenching, and I can't go down that path because it just breaks me. I try to do what I can do and what control I have. Because if I think of every pain out there, it just crumbles me.
ZM: I identify with that. For sure. I think even in this project that we're working on, it's really an effort to challenge that pioneer narrative that is so deeply ingrained in our history and to say, "That came from a perspective that is not one we really align with today." And so I think offering those corrective histories is really, really important.
So are there events that bring people together in the community? Or places in particular where you gather? I know you’ve spoken to this a bit already.
JN: Specifically for Vietnamese?
JN: So the Lunar New Year is huge, and it's Chinese Vietnamese. I'm just gonna throw some stuff out there, I don't know if it's current, because of the pandemic, but I know Washington Square will do an event. I've seen clips of it, and it looks amazing. I know that the Chinese Garden had done events. Like I said, with the schools—we had a space at Portland Community College—it's called Lac Hong and they would do a celebration for Lunar New Year as well, but they also incorporated Halloween, which is cute. It's not a Vietnamese thing, but we still had a Halloween party. There's the Autumn Moon Festival—I'm thinking about August—what others… the Grand Floral Parade, which is the Rose Festival, is huge. I think the Vietnamese community does have a float each year. And we're usually in our áo dài gowns, and could do a little dance. Again, the lion dancers or the drums beating, it's a huge, huge thing. Have you seen one before? [ZM: Yeah!] Oh gosh, they were amazing, and I was so lucky enough to book them for our international fair for the students, because they're so popular, and they're just so, I feel like they're hard to book, but they did it for us! And they did such an amazing job. And the kids were squealing with delight, and the adults were just amazed. And that's what I love: energy. I seriously almost had a tear in my eyes, because I was just so proud of this part of our heritage and its energy, and all of it, the loudness of it, and the kids, the excitement, and the smiles. I love that.
You know, when you talk about the Vietnamese community, funerals—I know that sounds odd, but when you have a really tight church community, and when someone in your family—so my husband's grandma died, in May. It's not just his family that comes, it's the whole Vietnamese community will come to Mass to pay their respects. And I think that's really special, you know? It's like come one, come all, someone, so and so passed away, and they're so and so's grandma, or mother. And out of respect, people will just, as safely as possible, show up, and it's such an amazing thing to see. I don't know if that's normal, I haven't been to any other funeral, outside of a Vietnamese community one. But I feel like that is special for folks to come and give their condolences, but to just show up, more than anything, just to be there.
I'm trying to think of other Vietnamese events. I mean, my dad is in a band. He's a singer, songwriter, guitarist, composer. So, back in the day, back in the recent day—pre-pandemic—they would have band concerts at facilities and people would go. We stick to our people, but we still of course broaden our circle and try to assimilate, but we don't want to lose who we are either. And it's OK, people are with whoever they're comfortable with, so do as you please, there's no rules. But yeah, weddings are huge, we still do the tea ceremony, and the dragon dances—the lion dancers—they come to receptions as well. But it's an all day event, it's getting ready, the tea ceremony in the beginning, at the bride's house, church ceremony—if there is church, or temple. And then go to the groom's house, and that symbolizes bringing the bride to the groom's family. And then the reception is an all day thing. But at my age, it's little cousins getting married now, we've all been married for so long now. So we don't see as many weddings in this decade of our lives. I talked about Lunar New Year, it's big on both sides, we play games, more like gambling, but it's OK. You have the red envelopes, you do the bowing, and the incense, and the food—the food is amazing, of course, food is always amazing, right? It's our love language. And then we see our family as often as we can for every celebration, birthdays, and graduations. Back in the days we'd go to each other's volleyball games, and music recitals, and whatever, whatever we could do. The whole family would send out a text, "Oh we got this going on" and fundraisers we’ll show up, we're there to support.
ZM: That's really great. So do you participate in any religious or community organizations? You've definitely spoken to the community organizations, but also, any religious organizations?
JN: So we are Catholic. Our children are baptized. But for the last decade or so, we are a part of the Holy Trinity Parish. So it's in English. And we, however, my husband and I were raised in a Vietnamese church, so it's funny because now that I'm learning how to pray in English, it translates over. It was hard because when you learn in another language, when I learned in Vietnamese, it was more like memorization, and reciting, and responding. But I never translated it to English because those words that we say in prayers aren't daily words that we use. So when I was translating [into] English, I was like, "Oh my gosh, that's what that means!" Sounds so obvious, but it's interesting. It's interesting to be just in the middle of the worlds. So my children learn it in English, so we did take them to Vietnamese Mass because of the funeral events, and they still did all of the movements, but they didn't understand how to pray in Vietnamese. But yeah, it's very, very interesting. But then, like I said, my family were originally Buddhist, when we do the respectful anniversary prayers for my grandpa's mom, it was in a temple, so it's a different experience of course, because different religion. So we learned that, and we do what we're supposed to do, even though we don't know it because we were raised this way. However, whoever passes, we do it in their religion. We also do it in our's too, so we share our respect. It's interesting: the English, the Vietnamese, the Buddhist, Buddhism, Catholicism. It's many worlds.
ZM: When have you felt most at home in Portland? And what do you like about this city and your community?
JN: Wherever my family is, is home to me. Wherever my mom is, my grandparents, my aunts, my cousins. When we're in Hawaii, we're home, because we're all together. My brother got married in Hawaii, so we took up the Hilton Hawaiian Village. We would see each other while walking around, it was so awesome. It's just as long as we're together, we have so much fun, and we're home. In Portland, I feel like… I don't know. I have family in Orange County and in San Jose, they have a very big Vietnamese community there, with restaurants, and the salons, and everything. I remember I was probably in middle school, and I was looking through my cousin's year book, "Oh my gosh, all the Trans, and Nguyễns on there! Everyone was Vietnamese!" When I was walking in Orange County, I was like—it was rare when you saw a Caucasian person. And I felt like, "Wow, it's like little Saigon down here!” Not up here. No way! Unless you're in Southeast 82nd over there. Now I'm thinking about my children's elementary school, there is a lot more minorities, I feel like minority is almost the majority now. There's a lot of different ethnicities in the classrooms, and I've learned that there's over twenty languages that are spoken by our students in our school. That's so cool! Because I feel like there was only a few, or a handful if that, when I was in elementary school. I do feel, for me, I do feel OK here. I wouldn't say I feel safe. I'm so little, someone could just pick me up and kidnap me. I still joke about, I'm five feet, and my office is in downtown. And downtown is just not the place to be right now. And thankfully, sadly, thankfully though, my family and I haven't had direct altercations about being blamed for COVID. But friends, family members have, and they share it with us. It's just so crushing to hear it. It makes me so mad, especially when they're attacking our elderly people. I mean anyone, of course, doesn't deserve to be attacked, but your elderly are so helpless. It just angers me to no end. Here is where I am very hesitant about using my voice because I don't want to get shot. In this culture right now, in America, I used to be the one that would back up anybody. But nowadays, in public, I don't even want to. It's just like, "Go. Just keep going." It's so scary, it's so sad, and it's so unnecessary. It's so heavy.
ZM: You predicted the next question on the list—it was just about if you wanted to share any experiences of racism or discrimination that you experienced, but you've also shared a lot already so I understand if you want to move forward.
JN: Yeah, I really touched on it when I was a server. Because that was a lot. Everyday, there was a question about where I'm from, where's my family from, and again, that's not offensive, but the remarks, or how I speak English, how well or not well. It's just hard to take because I really want to say, "Well how many languages do you speak?" My aunties are trying really hard, and you're making fun of them. That's just so hurtful. Oh, here's another experience: my mom and I were at Costco, and we're ordering hot dogs, and she's saying she wanted a Polish. And this girl… I feel like you could understand my mom, she says, "Polish." And the girl's like, "What?" But just really rude, not "excuse me," but "what?" And my mom said the "Polish hot dog," or whatever she said. And then again, the young woman was like, as if she didn't understand. And I just said to her, "Can you just be a little bit more respectful to my mom?" And I think she was just blown away that I was standing up for my mom, maybe she doesn't ever get that. But she's asking for a Polish hot dog, and I just don't think you should treat her that way. I just wanted to cry, my mom is the sweetest, sweetest, sweetest person. Any person, any friend you'll bring home, she'll feed you, make you feel comfortable, and be at home, and you don't lift a finger. And here, this girl is just being so disrespectful, and impatient, and ignorant. I just, now I'm getting all mad. It's my mom! You can say whatever you want to me and I'll stand up for myself, but gosh, don't' be like that to my mom, and my grandparents.
I remember when I was in banking, again, the elderly people, they love me. They'd come to my line. My colleagues would even say to me, "How are you so patient with them?" I just say, "You have to think of them as your grandparents. Talk to them slowly, hold their hand, and be gentle. Because you don't wanna rush them, you don't wanna confuse them, you don't wanna make them feel anxiety and nervous. You just talk to them how you wanna talk to your grandparents. How does your grandparent deserve to be treated? They don't deserve to be rushed. I know you need to get to the next transaction, but who cares? They came to you, so talk them, give them a chance. And if it's hard to understand, it's OK, they're trying to deliver their message the best they can. They're not trying to make it hard for you! It's not a game." So, I think that's me sharing—the people around me trying to understand the message, and I guess to be a little more forgiving, and sometimes it's hard. Very hard. But grace, grace can take you a very long way. Just try to understand that people's intentions aren't bad, we hope. And if you can feel that out, then just be a little bit more understanding. People make comments all the time. I have four kids, "Oh, you have your hands full." Oh my gosh, OK. Or just, "Are they all yours?" People are going to say something about anything [laughs].
ZM: So in your mind, what role is being Vietnamese American play in your life? And you've spoken to this a lot already. [JN: What role?] Yeah.
JN: As I've gotten older, I am more comfortable in my own skin. I'm more proud of who I am, what I represent. And I try to share that message. I have friends who wrote and illustrated a book called, The Day I Woke Up Different. And it brought me to tears, because it's basically my story, our story, our generations' story of being a child of Vietnamese immigrants, and trying to find your space, try to find where to fit in. And also not to lose your roots. Be proud of the food that we eat, and how we pronounce it. Before it was, "Gosh. I just want to fit in and be like everyone else and perfect my English and not have an accent." But, that's who we are. And it's OK to have an accent. It's OK to be who we are, and we're all learning. When would people even say, "You don't even have an accent." Well, am I supposed to? I don't know! How do you take that? It's hard, because like I said to you before, I've gone thirty-five, forty years as Jill, but, that's not even my real name. It's not even legal. I've thought of going to Chiêu, but, I don't know. My family calls me that, my really, really close friends. So, is it reserved for them? Or am I able to make it public? Am I ready for that? I don't know. So, identity-wise, that's a challenge. But I know in my blood that's my name [laughs]. I'm Vietnamese American, I'm proud of it. And I don't want to lose it, I don't want my kids to lose it. We should talk about it, we need to educate people. Our flags are different, what you'll see in the books you'll see a red flag with a yellow star, that's actually not our freedom flag. Our freedom flag is yellow with three red stripes. But people wouldn't know that, so when we did an international fair, I had to speak up, "Hey, if we're gonna do flags, please be careful." But again, people aren't gonna know that. So, we're like walking textbooks, we're walking educators. But I cannot take offense to it. They don't know, how would they know? So we just have to be teaching in such a way that we're respective of where they're coming from. Again, they're not coming from bad intentions. And they're not coming from trying to offend us, if the wrong flag was put up. But again, be proud of where we came from. Remember where we came from too. I am who I am today, I am a successful business person because of my grandparents, because of my parents, because they left all that they had in Việt Nam for my freedom, for my kids' freedom—I'm getting choked up. They were very successful, and they left everything. And I can never forget that.
ZM: Thank you for sharing that. I just have one final question for you. So what differences do you see between older and younger generations of Vietnamese Americans?
JN: I see it in just American generations alone. But then when you add in the element of being Vietnamese, we're still bowing, which is so important. We have to never lose that. That's so respectful. So what I'm learning now as a parent is, I'm not forcing my kids to hug people. Back then, we were like, "Hug your family. And if you don't you're naughty, or disobedient." But I wanna respect their bodily autonomy, and their choices. So for me, it's, "You don't have to give them a hug if you don't feel comfortable. But, you can give them a bow." Of course they will do that. Some people just say fist-bump because it's just not so physical. But yes, we do bow, all the time. And when we greet, I don't want them to just say "Hello," or "Hi," I want them to say, Thư Ông Bà—which is a respectful formal greeting for grandma and grandpa, but Thư instead of "Hey," or "Hi" which is what they naturally do because it's in English.
I think we're having the freedom to express ourselves more. So we're loud. And I think, back then, if you just think, I just imagine a Vietnamese obedient female, she's just closing a drawer with two hands, quietly, gently, patiently. But me, I'm slamming things, faster, louder, quickly, just go. But I think that's also just America, fast fast fast, go go go, busy busy busy, so much. But I feel like they take it slow, they still take it gently, that generation, but maybe they're just old, I don't know—sorry Grandma. You've got to be careful, walk slowly, use your walker. But, I do feel like we're doing a good job keeping our traditions alive, I do. But people do remark—they know I'm American, when I speak in Vietnamese. I asked for a charger once because my phone died, but I literally said, "My phone died." in Vietnamese, and my sister in law—again—they're laughing because I'm cute, they're not laughing because I'm not intelligent. So I laugh too. And they're like, "Yeah, it just doesn't translate that way." I said it literally died. Chết. Like it's deceased. You would literally say, "I ran out of battery." But that's too many words [laughs]. But anyway, I still encounter that, and of course they still say, "You're so cute." But I do get compliments like, "Your Vietnamese is pretty good for being an American." I'm like, "OK, is that a compliment?" I try. I'm trying. I would have to ask my husband, because his family speaks faster. And it depends on where you're from—Northern or Central or Southern. And there's accents. There's actually different words, even, for certain things. So, I'm really Americanized [laughs], but it's OK. It's OK. I accept that, but I’m trying to understand too. [ZM: Right, finding that perfect balance.] Maybe there won't ever be one. [ZM: Right.] The fact that I'm putting effort, and I'm trying, it's there.
ZM: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you'd like to share? I know that's another big ask.
JN: I know, it's OK. I think we've covered a lot of how I grew up, how I became who I am today. Building the confidence, I think it's just really important how I found that. It just came with me when I established work and school, and believing in myself. But I think that's also surrounding yourself with a strong community who believes in you as well. I've learned that it's so true, if you're surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, it will not take you far. I feel like you have to have diveristy, you have to have diffferent age groups, and sexual orientation, and gender, and demogrpahics, all of that. Just, to hear from people's experiences, because they're all different, and everyone has a story to tell. Everyone just wants to be heard. But if you have a room of all white males, you're gonna cause a lot of hurt and pain, and making wrong decisions. It's a fact, just looking at our country right now. It's like we need to have females represented, minorities, different age groups, different experiences, different education, if we're going to want to have a bright future or a world of peace, or a world of acceptance. We need to hear more of other people's stories. Be more understanding, open-minded, kind, aware, all of that. Just, be more all of that, and to not forget where we came from.
ZM: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Again, this has been Zoë Maughan speaking with Jill Nguyễn via Zoom on June 15, 2022.