Photo for Family stories documented and shared

Photo: Tracey Nguyen Mang/Vietnamese Boat People

Tracey Nguyen Mang shares her family story and why she founded a podcast to deepen how Vietnamese diasporic history can be centered on personal experiences and emotions.

By Kitty Hu (UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies)

 

A Story of Two Flags

 

In a virtual colloquium hosted by the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies on October 27, 2020, Tracey Nguyen Mang, founder and host of the Vietnamese Boat People podcastshared her personal migration story and motivations for launching the podcast.

 

Born in Nha Trang, Vietnam only two years after the end of the war, Nguyen Mang is the youngest of seven children. She came to the United States in 1981 at the age of three and was considered a "boat person." After three years of being separated, her family was able to reunite under one roof in a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. Eventually, they moved to live in government subsidized housing in Northern Virginia, where they stayed for the rest of her adolescence.

Growing up, she felt ashamed of being a refugee and therefore did not often mention that aspect of her identity.

 

"I felt Vietnamese at home, but when I left home, I felt like I had to be American," Nguyen Mang said. She was afraid of bringing friends back home because of the "foreign" smells and tight spaces. Despite being fluent in Vietnamese, she would pretend to not know the language in public. She even renamed herself as Tracey after being made fun of for her given name, Nguyễn Quán Trường Anh.

 

After completing her undergraduate studies in Rhode Island, she continued onto business school at Thunderbird School of Global Management, where she found herself among a diverse group of students. For her graduation ceremony, students were selected to honor their home country by carrying the flag down the stage. Representing Vietnam, Nguyen Mang was backstage with a red flag that had a single yellow star in the center, the designated flag of Vietnam after the war. Her family was shocked.

 

"This was the first time that it clicked for me – this history is so deeply rooted in my parents that even decades later, this topic is extremely sensitive," she remembered. "And it is still sensitive. The other flag [of South Vietnam], yellow with three red stripes, is what was hung in most of our communities."

 

Nguyen Mang politely declined to walk the stage that day.

 

Remembering Her History

 

Years later, Nguyen Mang married a Chinese Irish man and now has two young children. She realized that her kids have a much different life than she did growing up. They may also never learn her family’s history, especially because they do not speak Vietnamese at home.

  

"They couldn’t communicate with my parents who were struggling to be American for them, and that actually made me really sad,” she said. "My parents struggled to be American for me and now that they’re 80, they still have to be that way for my children. Why should it be like that?"

 

Around the same time, anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. flooded the news. Some Vietnamese also supported government efforts to tighten restrictions on asylum seekers and refugees into the country.

 

"How could we have quickly forgotten that we were once in that state? We would have never gotten this without the generosity of others," Nguyen Mang asked.

 

She wanted to somehow document her family’s migration history and share their experiences with more people.

 

"When you learn about the Vietnam War in school, it literally ends when Americans leave the country," she said. "When I was younger, I felt like these stories came with so much trauma that I didn’t know how to celebrate the goodness. I want these stories to have global reach. I wanted to choose a medium that would encourage younger generations to ask questions."

 

A Podcast Began

 

In 2018, the Vietnamese Boat People podcast was born.

 

Nguyen Mang hoped to include digestible stories from ordinary people, which became "a collection of personal stories of hope, survival and resilience of the Vietnamese diaspora." The podcast also developed into a nonprofit to support other families and to partner with refugee relief organizations to advocate their missions and services that help resettle recent refugees. 

 

More recently, the organization expanded to live events and virtual programs and will soon offer conversation-starter toolkits for young people to use to initiate the process of exploring their own family histories.

 

For anyone looking to start a podcast, Nguyen Mang shared five tips:

            1. Learn by doing.

            2. Skills will get you far, passion will get you further.

            3. Don’t get caught up in the numbers; stay true to your mission.

            4. Fuel yourself by others who share similar passions.

            5. Take it personally.

 

Season four of Vietnamese Boat People will launch early next year, exploring "The Search" metaphorically and physically.

 

 

 


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Published: Monday, November 9, 2020