The Mid-Atlantic Union of Vietnamese Student Associations (MAUVSA) Conference is an annual event over a spring weekend where VSAs from universities all over the United States can come to network with one another and prepare for their future careers. Over three days, the attendees enjoy workshops of their choosing, meet members from different schools, and are treated to a formal with a 10-course meal and entertainment. For many of the attendees, the best part of the conference is the opportunities to meet new friends and network with potential employers.
As a former VSA board member of George Mason University's (GMU) chapter, I've seen the impact of MAUVSA on GMU's members. Many new members will attend from the urging of upperclassmen, but they never regret that weekend. And I can easily say the same about my own experience, even for just an hour during the networking event.
Project Yellow Dress had reserved a booth during the networking event that Saturday, February 27th, of the 5th Annual MAUVSA Conference. T.T. had already set up the booth when I arrived with a poster hastily but lovingly made. Although we are a new platform, we are enthusiastic and determined by our mission.
There were so many individuals of different backgrounds. Our diaspora maps of the United States and of the world revealed various ancestral treks from Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. Below are pictures of the maps:
It is important to remember that these maps only represent a small population of Vietnamese/Southeast Asian families. And yet, look at the spread! One of the U.S. populations that surprised me was Michigan. I had no idea that Michigan had Boat People there. It was T.T. who explained to me that the reason for this was because of the Michigan Refugee Center. Even now, with the Syrian crisis, Michigan remains a huge supporter of aiding refugees.
One of the best surprises was meeting Trung Nguyen, a youth program coordinator with Boat People SOS (BPSOS). Before the start of the networking event, T.T. and I had talked about eventually reaching out to the organization, so it felt like fate that we'd run into a representative of theirs. A little fun fact: They are based in Falls Church, Virginia, where Eden Center (considered the hub of Vietnamese restaurants and shopping) is located. That explains why there is a Vietnamese community in Falls Church.
Overall, the conference was a huge success. We gathered such interesting information and stories from the people we met. I'm excited to perhaps interview a few for a more in-depth perspective of their stories and how their lives have been shaped by their parents'/their journey as Boat People.
As J.N. pointed out, this MAUVSA Conference was one of PYD's first networking experiences. MAUVSA Advance Conference Co-Executive Director, Tiffany Nguyen, told J.H. and I that we could have a booth during the networking fair. We were both so excited that we talked on the phone like crazy. We began discussing what we really wanted to promote and how we should decorate our flyers and bookmarks. Once J.N. joined our team, it was even merrier!
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest interactive parts of our project was the diaspora maps. We loved how engaged people were with the maps as they tried to locate where their family members currently are in the aftermath of the war. It made each and every one of us very reflective of where we are today and how far we've come along as a group of people and as a group of individuals. In the process of people mapping out their family diaspora onto the map, J.N. and I began hearing wonderful (and heart-breaking) stories of people's families escaping after the Vietnam War (many of the students and alumni of VSA who came to the fair were also sons and daughters of Vietnamese Boat People). Many also shared the same feelings as PYD in regards to how little these stories are known. Many did not know about their parents' and grandparents' journeys from Southeast Asia until they were a lot older when they began to question certain things like identity, history narratives, or institutional teachings of the Vietnam War.
Overall, PYD's first networking session was very successful because we met all kinds of people from all over America. Not only that but we also met other people who are working on similar goals and missions as PYD (Bars for Blogging, Boat People SOS, Project AVA). We even reconnected with old friends from VSA/college and made new ones, which is always great! Essentially, it was wonderful to see everyone sharing their stories so openly and passionately, and we can't wait to receive more new submissions soon! We hope PYD will grow further some day and become a platform to preserve all these lost voices and to inspire future ones!