Vietnamese American oral history gains momentum with support from Frank Jao

Frank Jao’s impact can be felt aScreen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.27.13 AMcross the UCI campus and well beyond it. When walking through Aldrich Park, you’ll encounter a sculpture garden featuring ancient Chinese figures generously donated by the Jao Foundation. When you’re listening to, or learning about, a refugee to the United States from Vietnam, it’s likely the story was captured by the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, which the Jao Foundation funded in 2011.

Frank Jao, a retired businessman, is the principal developer of Westminster’s “Little Saigon” community, the largest concentration of Vietnamese Americans outside of Vietnam. His foundation, the Jao Foundation, has the mission to promote academic scholarship and cultural awareness and understanding.

Mr. Jao has been involved in the real estate industry since 1975 and has been active internationally, particularly in China and Southeast Asia, since 1981. As a real estate developer, he has earned many awards of civic and professional distinction.

He was a presidential appointee to the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) in 2002-2009 and Chairman of VEF in 2005- 2006. The VEF provides educational exchanges between the United States and Vietnam. Currently, Mr. Jao serves on the the University of California, Irvine Foundation Board of Trustees, International Advisory Board at Chapman University, and Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam (Fulbright University Vietnam) Board of Trustees. “

While there is much recorded about the Vietnam War and Vietnamese migration, I felt there was a vital component missing – the range of voices and stories of those who experienced it firsthand. These rich details need to be recorded in order to accurately capture these moments in history,” said Jao of his inspirational gift to the Vietnamese American Oral History Project.


Led by Linda Trinh Vo, director, and Tram Le, associate director, VAOHP actively assembles, preserves, and disseminates the life stories of Vietnamese Americans in Southern California. The project contributes to expanding archives on Vietnamese Americans with the primary goal of capturing first generation stories for students, researchers, and the community. The VAOHP is housed in the Department of Asian American Studies in the School of Humanities and collaborates with the UCI Orange County and Southeast Asian Archive Center.

Currently, OC Parks and VAOHP are showing an exhibition titled, “Vietnamese Focus: Generations of Stories.” The interactive art and history exhibition captures the compelling and complex Vietnamese experience before, during and after the Vietnam War. Utilizing photos, documents, oral histories, artifacts and artwork, the eight-month exhibition commemorates the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the influx of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants into the U.S. and, specifically, Orange County.

The exhibition is open now through February, 2016 at the Old Orange County Courthouse and then will be housed at the Viewpoint Gallery at the UCI Student Center