About Thuy Vo Dang

Thuy Vo Dang is a Postdoctoral Fellow in UC Irvine's Department of Asian American Studies. She is the Lead Researcher/Project Coordinator for the Vietnamese American Oral History Project which will assemble a publicly accessible collection of life stories of Vietnamese Americans in southern California. This collection will be archived in UCI Libraries Southeast Asian Archive. Vo Dang earned her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego and was a Institute of American Cultures Postdoctoral Fellow in the UCLA Asian American Studies Center from 2009-2011.

SUMMER 2013 – Research in Fountain Valley

VAOHP is active this summer through a student-led project funded by UC Irvine’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Intern-Fellows, Howard Diep, Jenilyn Doan, and Khang Nguyen will be introducing residents of The Jasmine Senior Apartments to their oral history research on Vietnamese Americans’ contributions to Fountain Valley, California. For more information and to see our flyer, please like us on Facebook!

VAOHP featured in HASTAC!

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Spring Spotlight 1: The Deconstruction/Reconstruction of the Community and Institution Collaborative Model

From the HASTAC {Humanities, Art, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory} website:

“These DH projects define how existing collecting methods have been tested, challenged and reconstructed to achieve their successful outcomes. Each project takes the basic idea of creating an online resource on knowledge that historically hasn’t been available to interested audiences.

The community collaborative projects are based on these general ideas.

  • A model based on acquisition, preservation and distribution of an existing cultural history parallel to, but not included in the American narrative.
  • An anecdotal history through interviews and a history based on material acquisitions in danger of being lost without this effort to acquire and preserve it.
  • A history presented in visualizations that organize large amounts of data into a manageable visitor experience. Content that has a goal of informing a range of visitors, engaging a community eager for this history and encouraging future scholarship.

Spotlight organizer: Linda Garcia Merchant, Technical Director, Chicana Por Mi Raza Oral History Project
Email: linda@vocesprimeras.com


Interactive History: Generation of Stories

Last summer a group of Vietnamese American Oral History Project interns set out to interview residents of The Grove Senior Apartments in Garden Grove, California where well over half of the population are Vietnamese Americans.  In order to find narrators, they first had to be visible and credible. The opportunity presented itself for VAOHP to partner with a nonprofit organization called EngAGE. Here’s a short description of this organization:

“EngAGE is a nonprofit that takes a whole-person approach to creative and healthy aging by providing arts, wellness, lifelong learning, community building and intergenerational programs to thousands of seniors living in affordable senior apartment communities in Southern California.”

EngAGE has had a presence in The Grove for some time, organizing events such as Senior Olympics and a talk story program that trained seniors to write about and share their life experiences. When I first heard about EngAGE, I knew that a partnership with them would be mutually beneficial. A senior resident, Mr. Anthony LeDuc, reached out to me and invited me to The Grove in May 2012. I met him and EngAGE representative, Nancy Goodhart.

A few weeks later the opportunity came by way of my students’ decision to apply for UC Irvine’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) to conduct oral history interviews over the summer. The Grove already had a built-in population of people we could interview. The research team initially consisted of Howard Diep, Michelle Pham, Tram Vo, Viola Van, and Stephanie Wong. Over the course of the summer, we lost Stephanie to a grad program but we acquired two more interns: Chris Truong and An-Nhien Doan (a Goldenwest College student). We came up with the title for this project in The Grove—Interactive History: Vietnamese American Elders’ Stories. The name suggests that the making of history is an interactive process involving the story-teller and mediated by the listener across different generations. The Interactive History project forges a space in order to capture the stories of some seniors in The Grove, generating stories across generations.

The Opening Social Mixer on August 7, 2012 at The Grove Senior Apartments

Our Opening Social Mixer on August 7, 2012 was a success with the attendance of all the above named students, representatives of EngAGE and about 20 seniors living in The Grove. During this social mixer, we presented our objectives and stories of other Vietnamese Americans who have participated. This initial mixer helped us to recruit volunteer narrators.

Over the course of the summer and early fall, the VAOHP interns headed by Michelle Pham conducted interviews with the seniors. Their efforts culminated in a Closing Social Mixer on November 27, 2012 where the seniors who participated were presented with thank you gifts and EngAGE representatives Nancy Goodhart, Robin Hart, and Dr. Maureen Kellen-Taylor came to celebrate with the students and residents.

From left: 1. gifts for participants 2. narrators, EngAGE representatives Nancy Goodhart and Melly Morse, and VAOHP representatives Thuy Vo Dang, Michelle Pham, and Howard Diep 3. Michelle Pham presents narrators’ stories.

During the bilingual Enlish and Vietnamese presentation, one of the seniors Mr. Le Huu Khoan made a moving speech about his participation in the project. Mr. Le Huu Khoan was interviewed by Michelle Pham and he imparted his appreciation and his thoughtful feedback on how to improve future efforts to interview seniors at The Grove or other apartment communities similar to it. Below is an excerpt of his translated speech:

“Truthfully, during that conversation—yes, indeed a conversation—with Michelle over more than 5 hours, I recollected ‘My Life’ in full detail, including the joy and the sorrows, moments of happiness and those of pain, “lên voi và xuống chó” [an expression that means riding high such as on the back of an elephant and sinking low as to the level of dogs], successes and failures,  peace and danger,  good health and illness, luck and misfortune…and so on. One could say that: I was born in wartime, grew up and matured during wartime, participated in the “game” of war and ended up a prisoner of that war. One could say that what I shared can be a mirror reflecting many of the lives of seniors present here, the Vietnamese Americans in their 70s and 80s and up.”

Mr. Le Huu Khoan and his peers in The Grove have generously shared with the interns and with the world a snippet of their lives and we hope that this will inspire others to do the same.

Seniors mix and mingle at the Closing Social Mixer on November 27, 2012

~Thuy Vo Dang

VAOHP Community Reception: website launch and celebration

Last week VAOHP held a community reception at Van Lang Community Hall to celebrate the formal launch of their official website.  Along with the collective efforts of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation (VAHF) based in Texas, VAOHP has made UC Irvine the new home of hundreds of Vietnamese life stories. Dr. Thuy Vo Dang along with Dr. Linda Trinh Vo served as the event’s masters of ceremonies. Along with a league of volunteers and research interns, the event was up and running in a matter of hours. Upon arrival guests were greeted at the entrance hall along with a nametag, those that participated as narrators had blue ribbons attached.  Once inside guests indulged in traditional Vietnamese finger foods and the moving art work of Trinh Thuy Mai. With volunteers replenishing the food table there wasn’t an empty belly nor a clean hand in sight. Speakers from UC Irvine and VAHF spoke of the importance of continuing such and endeavor.  As an added bonus the VAHF awarded Dr. Linda Trinh Vo and Dr. Thuy Vo Dang with plaques of accomplishment for all they have done for the Vietnamese community.

From left: VAOHP interns, the audience, Asian American Studies Department chair, Dr. Jim Lee, speaks, Wells Fargo representatives present VAOHP a giant check.

From my humble perspective, the milestones that VAOHP has made in a year were simply mind boggling. When I became a part of the project only a few months ago I was told that the goal of this project was to bridge the gap between academia and community. The overwhelming outpour of support made me feel that my efforts and the efforts of those around me were being recognized by the community. The highlight of the night came from an extremely generous grant from the Wells Fargo foundation.  Our little “grass roots” project has blossomed into this, might I say, movement.  I can already imagine years down the line more narrators, volunteers, and interns will be added on to the growing project and hundreds of stories might become thousands.   The idea of leaving a piece of ourselves and our experiences for our children and future generations is something that resonates within our community.  All too often during my interviews I heard how parents and grandparents want to tell their stories to their children but have trouble doing so for whatever reason, whether it’s a language barrier or the even the wrong time.  The purpose of having this public unveiling was to help the community recognize that we are a possible resource to overcome these obstacles.  With people becoming more reliant on technology for information access, the online repository is perfect way to eloquently illustrate the fruits of our labor.

Features at the community reception, from left: Denise Cao, Giana Nguyen, Trinh Mai

To view the oral histories launched through the UC Irvine Libraries’ Southeast Asian Archive, please visit: vaohp.lib.uci.edu.


Representatives of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation and the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, from left: Long Nguyen, Dung Vu Hoang, Linda Vo, Nancy Bui, Thuy Vo Dang, Thieu Dang.

~Michelle Le Pham

~photos by Christopher Truong

RADIO VNCR Talk Show “Oral History: Stories Between the Generations”

On Monday, June 25, 2012, the VAOHP launched our radio program on VNCR (FM 106.3) called Oral History: Stories Between the Generations with co-hosts Hoang Trong Thuy and Thuy Vo Dang.

Listen to our introductory episode that aired on on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm and follow us every week on FM 106.3 at the same time. You can also listen online at www.radiovncr.com or click the image:


My Dad: A Story of Strength and Survival

When Professor Vo-Dang announced in class that we were going to do an oral history project, I immediately whispered to a classmate “My Dad”.  Having my father as the narrator was an obvious decision.  As a child my father would tell me stories of his childhood when I sat in his lap and rested my head on his once plump belly.  His detailed account of surviving and eventual escape from Vietnam was perfect for a project like this.

The actual process of conducting the interview was somewhat difficult and a little raw in my opinion.  Usually when he regales me about the stories of home it was so effortless and vivid, it was as if these stories happened only a few months ago.  But with the recorder between us and a pen and notebook in my lap, my father’s stories became stagnant and one dimensional.  I don’t know if he was just nervous to the idea that he was going on the record about his past or that my interviewing skills were less than par, either way the first half hour was forced on his part and awkward on mine.

As in the interview wore on my father became more accustomed to the process and didn’t seem to mind the recorder as much.  Unfortunately, I was still stumbling my way through the pre-written questions desperately trying to sound professional.  Speaking coherently and concise was not something I could easily do, at least when I’m writing I can have long pauses and re-edit my thoughts.  After poking and prodding my father’s memories for a good hour or so, I stopped recording and thanked him for being such and awesome daddy.  He then asked me if he could make a final statement, I was pleasantly surprised and more than willing to oblige.

My father’s closing statement was by far the most insightful thing I’ve ever heard him say.  To be honest I didn’t think he had it in him.   Seeing his hands glide in the air as if illustrating his timeline and his head bobbing with the rhythm and intonations of his voice took me step back and see the person sitting in front of me as more than just my loving father, but a man that endured so much and still has the strength to carry on.

Pham Tri Duc

Pham Tri Duc

Sure, the interview brought forth the suffering and tragedies of war, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to marginalize the Vietnam War, but conducting the interview especially with my father made me understand the aftermath.  My father deals with issues of identity, something I never knew until the project.  During the in-class presentation of narrators by classmates I realized that the VAOHP sought to peel away the faces of war torn refugees and reveal thriving and enduring individuals.

~Michelle Pham

UCI student reflects on interview with his mother

Narrato, Hue Minh Truong

Narrato, Hue Minh Truong

The Vietnamese American Oral History Project at UC Irvine has had a
tremendous impact on my growth as a scholar and as an individual.
Throughout this project I have learned a lot and have gained a better
perspective on the experiences of many Vietnamese immigrants and refugees.
My experience conducting my interview for the project was also very
insightful and humbling experience. I conducted my interview in my
hometown of San Diego and the narrator was my mother Hue Minh Truong. She
is currently fifty-four years old and is ethnically Chinese (Hakka). She
immigrated out of Vietnam and to the United States in nineteen eighty-five
and was the first person in her family to immigrate over to the United
States. She first came to San Francisco when she arrived in the United
States and had to work relentlessly in multiple jobs in order to provide
for herself and sponsor the rest of her family. She then moved to several
different regions within California and finally settled down in San Diego
after the rest of her family was sponsored over to the United States. She
has eight other siblings including three brothers and five sisters. She is
the second oldest child and she is the oldest daughter. During the
interview process I learned more about her four-day journey across the
Pacific, her stories in the refugee camps of Indonesia and Singapore, and
her assimilation process enduring discrimination and unequal opportunities
as well as her successes in adapting to U.S. culture and attaining
citizenship.  My mother was interesting to conduct my Oral History Project
upon because my mother has suffered so much throughout her life. She had
to work hard in order to provide for her family and still does. She also
had to endure the passing of her husband in two thousand and five, and she
had to raise my older brother, my cousin, and myself. I’ve learned a lot
from my mother and from the Vietnamese American Oral History Project. I am
glad to be taking part in the creation and preservation of conscious

Hue Minh Truong and son, Howard Diep

Hue Minh Truong and son, Howard Diep

~Howard Diep