Jenny N: We walked into the Hyatt Regency Crystal City with windblown hair and arms full of workshop materials. MAUVSA VII was held on the lower level – the excitement of which we felt the moment we stepped off the elevator. Friends were reunited, people were meeting for the first time and talks of the upcoming featured speakers – like Kathy Tran – were abuzz in the air.
For the past two years Tammy and I have had a Project Yellow Dress (PYD) table during the networking session. This year, Natalie Doan-Dunn, the event coordinator, asked if we would like to hold a workshop in addition to a networking table. Of course, we were delighted to do so. And this year, we had an additional team member to make our contribution to MAUVSA even more successful: Dan Sanworanart, our multimedia specialist.
Every year Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) students from all along the East Coast universities attend the annual Mid-Atlantic Vietnamese Student Association (MAUVSA) Annual Conference. Side note: It’s not a requirement that the student be of Vietnamese descent, only that you’re open to learning about other cultures. And we certainly saw an interest during our workshop – many attendees were not Southeast Asian American and were eager to share and learn about different experiences.
We titled our workshop Embracing the Southeast Identity because it’s one of the core goals of PYD. We want to start conversations and we want these conversations to cultivate a stronger sense of self.
The workshop started with a quick clip from the short film First Generation by Jeannie Nguyen and Andrew Yuyi Truong. The film depicts situations that many Asian Americans can relate to. With the mood set, we broke out into small groups where each group was assigned a question from our prompt sheet. These were our conversation starters, a way to start sharing, to learn, and to relate.
I heard so many interesting stories. There were those that I could absolutely relate to. And then, there were those that only reaffirmed how important our mission is.
An attendee shared how her father used to regale her with stories about his time during the Vietnam War, even going so far as to wear his uniform for her. She was in middle school, a time when we generally are not as interested in our histories. When he passed away, she realized just how much she didn’t know about her father’s past. But she’s doing something about it now – she attended our workshop, shared and learned about other similar experiences.
Each of us has so many stories and we rarely share them in the way we want. This workshop was a way for our attendees to do so and we hope they enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed meeting and talking with them.
Tammy T: As Jenny mentioned, ever since we started Project Yellow Dress we have always done the networking booth at MAUVSA. In many ways, it is a tradition for us to come every year and connect with old and new faces from the Mid-Atlantic Vietnamese Student Association. It also gives us a chance to display what we have done so far as a team but let people to know that there is a space to share their stories. It's so great to see the new rising generation become interested in connecting with their own heritage, roots, or even learn about other people’s cultures. And, it's a great place to meet other companies, organizations, and platforms related to the Southeast Asian communities. In fact, we met Boat People SOS in a past MAUVSA conference and collaborated on a project with them!
Every year we try to do something interactive at the networking event. In the past, we created a world diaspora map where people could place pins or draw dots to show the multiple destinations their families have traveled through to get to where they are today. It's so insightful because it gave many attendees a chance to ask questions or to think about how they arrived to where they are today. It also prompted people to consider asking their parents about their life narratives.
This year, we decided to play a game where attendees drew cards from a deck. On each of those cards, we had a key word. The point is to share whatever comes first to their minds when they see the word. Examples of words we chose for this game were: boat people, refugee, home, diaspora, bubble/milk tea, immigration, etc.
We were also excited to pass out our PYD swag: postcards, bookmarks, and most exciting of all, our new pins and stickers! Our pins and stickers do not just have our PYD logo but they also say Child of Refugees or Child of Immigrants. The idea is to raise awareness of the many different narratives and experiences of immigrant and refugee families. These pins were well-received and many mentioned how much these messages resonated with them.
If the pins resonate with you or you know someone who would like them, click on this link.