Hello! My name is Sarah Ho, and it’s very wonderful to meet you. I am the 2015-2016 Culture Coordinator for UCLA’s Vietnamese Student Union, and also the Executive Director for the 36th Annual Vietnamese Culture Night at UCLA.
As the new director, I would like to restart the Director’s journal. I thought it was a great way to get insight into the makings of a Vietnamese Culture Night and a great way to hype myself for show day. And, following in Calvin’s footsteps, I’d like to share my motivations for directing VCN.
When I talk to people about VCN, I always say it’s the best thing I’ve done in college thus far. Nothing even comes close to my experience with VCN. Through VCN I have laughed, I have cried, I have stressed, I have raged, I have learned, and most importantly, I have explored myself as not just an individual with broadening capabilities but a Vietnamese-American with a growing pride for her culture.
My first experience with a VCN was VSAUCI’s 2012 production, which I believe was titled “Two Hearts”. My sister was dancing in their modern dance team, Level V Origins, and goaded my family into attending. After a lot of grumbling, I relented.
To be honest, I don’t really know what I expected. I think I expected a crummy production filled with all of the stereotypical Vietnamese things: preachings about the language, the preservation of culture, and so on. I expected it to feel old, boring, and irrelevant to my understanding of my Vietnamese culture.
What I experienced was nothing like what I expected. What I saw was a collection of students coming together to create a production that was not only entertaining but pertinent to what I understood Vietnamese culture to be as a Vietnamese American.
… Well, okay, maybe not extremely cultural and thought-provoking, but definitely entertaining.
I left the theater that night inspired by what my community could do, and from that night on became obsessed with the idea of culture nights. I wanted to bring it to my high school, to create an Asian-American Culture Night which, sadly, never even came close to taking off. I went to UCI’s culture night the next year and sat through the legendary 4.5-hour production, titled “Time Will Tell: Thời Gian Sẽ Trả Lời”.
At that point in time, I was a senior in high school committed to UCLA. I came in expecting something that would blow my mind as much as the previous year’s production did. What I got was still an impressive show– just an extremely long one.
As a prolific writer in high school, I began to fantasize about having my stories onstage. I began to imagine plots, characters, and scenery in my head, hoping to one day have them displayed onstage. At the time they were passing daydreams, and never did I think that I would actually have these dreams realized.
In my first year of college, I knew that I at least wanted to be a part of VCN at UCLA. I knew nothing of UCLA’s illustrious history of VCNs that make people cry ugly tears. I just knew that I wanted to help create a production that marked my community’s place on campus.
At first, I wanted to join VSU Modern. I love to dance, and, after dancing with UCI’s Level V Origins for a couple of summers, thought I’d have a good shot at joining. It was also something familiar and something to which I could relate with my sister. Unfortunately, I ended up having class during all of the audition dates and workshops, so I never even got to audition.
After that depressing experience, I decided to try out for Awechords A Cappella. I made callbacks, but unfortunately did not make the group. What I did gain, though, was a newfound love for music through a vehicle I’d never truly explored before: singing. In the past, I’ve done a lot of instrumental performances– violin and piano are my specialties– but I’d never really put any effort into singing. After going to callbacks, I was inspired.
Of course, since I didn’t make Awechords, I had to find another foot in the door for VCN. I ended up applying for and joining the stage design crew. Having done similar things in high school, I was reluctant to be stuck painting sets again, but if it were for the sake of being in VCN, I was willing to do it.
I was rewarded with an experience unlike any I’d ever had before.
My first VCN was “Almost Home: Mái Ấm Gia Đình”, directed by Teri Nguyen. She used her VCN to discuss mental health, specifically PTSD and autism, in the context of the Vietnamese experience.
I still remember the first time we did an all-cast run through. I cried through almost every scene, and at the final scene– which featured Awechords singing “Fix You”– I just broke out bawling. I’m honestly not sure why it broke me so much. Maybe it was the fact that I could relate so well to the characters, or maybe that I just become too invested into characters too quickly, but I wanted to change something about my life after I watched that show. So I did.
Then last year, which was the 35th annual VCN titled “Fight to Keep”, I wanted to be on staff. The only problem was whether or not I would be able to handle the workload, and if I actually wanted to be the stage design coordinator. I spent most of my summer thinking about it, and initially decided against it.
Last summer, though, I had the chance to really talk to past CSULB VCN director Kyle Portman. We talked a lot about VCN and it was through his experiences that I finally decided to apply as stage design– a week late, true, but I did it.
The only problem with my term as stage design coordinator was that I was working by myself. I was coordinating all the work days, planning all of the scenes– all of that fell on my shoulders alone. Whereas other component heads had partners to help them out, I was working mostly by myself. My stage crew was amazing and put in so much hard work, and it definitely helped me out that they were such amazing artists and hard workers.
But what I was most thankful for was the opportunity to work under Calvin, Andy, and Breigh. Calvin’s creativity and his use of the stage was absolutely phenomenal, and Andy and Breigh were just amazing. It was really an honor to be able to work with both of them.
When VSU elections rolled around, though, I was hesitant to apply. Would I be enough? Did I have something that I wanted to say? Would my message be enough?
My board hearing, though I prepared for it, did not go nearly as well as I thought it would. My victory was bittersweet at best, and left a sour taste in my mouth. I doubted myself. I didn’t know if I would be able to continue.
I asked myself why I wanted to be Culture Coordinator. What is it about this position that made it so important to me? Would I be enough? I thought about these things for quite a while before I finally accepted my position.
I love VCN. I love my culture, I love my heritage, and I love being able to show it. So if I’m not enough now, I’ll work hard to become enough.