Hey there! My name is Calvin, and I am the 2015 VCN Director and Culture Coordinator for the Vietnamese Student Union at UCLA.
For the first time ever, we’re starting a Director’s Journal so that you can follow along behind-the-scenes as we get to show day! I’ll do my best to bring you some cool insights on the process of preparing for the very FIRST culture night on campus (and arguably the most popular, heh) — just don’t expect spoilers, good jokes, or free food. But if you want to sponsor food for our cast, feel free. (See what I did there? No? Told you so.)
But before all of that though, we have to start from the beginning. Since this is my first journal entry, I’ll tell you a little bit about how I got involved with VCN. #STORYTIME
In the summer before starting college (2012), I attended a large cross-campus statewide conference called the UC Student Congress, held at UC San Diego that year by the University of California Students Association (UCSA). As an incoming first-year, I wanted to get involved. Attending the conference felt like a great way to meet other folks and start that process early.
It just so happened that a number of VSU Board members and friends were attending the conference that year. I recognized a few of them from SEA Admit Weekend the year before (WOOH GO SEA ADMIT!) so I got acquainted with them quickly. Then, from one person to the next, I got to meet some amazing people who would later be my fellow VSU staff members, mentors, and close friends. :’)
Steven Pham, VSU and VCN Fiscal Coordinator at the time, talked to me one day at the conference and asked me whether I liked performing and being on stage. I told him I did some speech and debate stuff in high school so, “yeah, sort of.” He then told me about his involvement with Vietnamese Culture Night and encouraged me to check it out if I was interested. Now, as someone who had never heard of culture nights, I was a bit put off by the idea of a dainty night market-like scene will stalls selling food I already ate at home, old-fashioned Paris by Night music playing in the background, and a tiny stage showcasing little bits of nón lá dance routines and nothing more. Cute idea, sure, but maybe not for me.
Fast forward six months later — I’m running to Royce Hall as fast as I can after returning back to campus from home a little later than usual. I’m dashing through the insides of Royce and seeing the grandeur of the place for the first time. TV screens to my left and right display what was unfolding on stage. I finally sneak in onto the left balcony, and from there, I sit back and witness one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring, and riveting stage shows I have ever watched next to 1,800 other people. (Trời ơi, John Le!)
I knew after that night I wanted to be a part of this. I wanted to be up on that stage telling the stories that mattered to the Vietnamese American community and showing the pride I have for my culture. I wanted to touch other people’s hearts and consciousness, like that show touched mine.
A year later, I did just that. Being a part of the Drama cast was just so natural and fun. I got to represent an issue that I so deeply care about (mental health) and met people who changed my life for the better (cảm ơn Teri and Johnny!). I was suddenly that much more aware of my Vietnamese identity and heritage simply through researching for my character and watching the other components perform. And damn, to say that I got to perform on the Royce Hall stage where countless other significant figures in history have stepped foot on before… just unforgettable.
You stuck with me through this whole story! That was pretty long, but needless to say I’m very passionate about VCN and what it stands for. That’s why after serving as VSU’s Public Relations Coordinator last year, I decided to return as Culture Coordinator, knowing full well that I’m just another successor in a line of extraordinary and dedicated individuals before me. In particular, I’m grateful for the opportunity to stage another beautiful production this year and on the 35th Anniversary of the show no less. As every year passes, VCN becomes increasingly valuable as a resource to educate new generations of Vietnamese Americans about their cultural roots — a generation that is growing farther from a tumultuous Vietnamese past painted with war and hardship that made possible our livelihoods today.
To top it all off, 2015 will mark the 40th year since the Fall of Saigon in 1975, responsible for the worldwide exodus of the Vietnamese people and which forced so many thousands of people to flee their homeland as refugees. I think it’s really, really exciting that our staff has the honor to work on such an important show on such an important occasion. I can’t say too much yet, but with such a talented staff and soon-to-be cast, you should know that we’re all eager, pumped, and prepared to pull out all the stops for this year’s show.
Until next time!