By Frances Woo
UCSB’s Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) formed in 1997 and has remained true to the organization’s core values since. It was created by and for a different generation trying to escape political turmoil in their home country. They came to America for respite rather than resettlement and held the temporary mindset that they would eventually return back home. VSA stemmed from this older generation’s need to lift up and support members of their community during this stressful time of assimilation and integration into a different society. They needed to create their own space where they could hold onto their cultural identities during this time of temporary relocation. These self-made ethnoburbs allowed the Vietnamese American community to connect, share their experiences, and practice their heritage within an organization that encouraged cultural preservation and community support.
Over the years, VSA has stood by their core values of providing a space space for Vietnamese Americans to exist not only within their own group, but among the entirety of UCSB. Since its inception, VSA has opened itself up to include not just Vietnamese Americans, but Asian Americans as a whole, creating an even wider and stronger sense of cultural community. Through events such as Vietnamese Culture Night (VCN), Phở King, Vietnamese Outreach Initiative for College Education (V.O.I.C.E), Anh Chi Em (ACE), and more, VSA has created a cultural family within its own organization and provided a platform to showcase Vietnamese culture with the world. Vietnamese Culture Night, one of the biggest events hosted by VSA, is an annual, student-run production incorporating dance, spoken word, and singing into a cultural script celebrating and informing the audience about Vietnamese history, culture, and identity. This event is a shining example of providing a sense of community within the contributors of this event while sharing Vietnamese culture with the world through these artistic outlets. Another outreach program created by VSA is their Vietnamese Outreach Initiative for College Education, or V.O.I.C.E. This conference allows low-income, underrepresented high school students from Orange County, California, to experience a weekend in college and encourage them to seek out higher education. Through campus tours, bonding activities, college prep workshops, and other social and informational events, VSA actively encourages students to pursue higher education and provides them with the support system they need to reach those goals. In addition to these outreach programs, VSA practices Anh Chi Em within the organization, also known as ACE. The ACE program matches up an Em, a little sister or brother, with an Anh, a big brother, or Chi, big sister. The older siblings are veteran members of VSA introducing new members, or little siblings, into the family. These match-ups instill a sense of family and belonging for new members and perpetuate the strong network and support system stemming from VSA’s origin in 1997.
VSA has grown over these past 21 years into a widespread community for not only Vietnamese Americans, but Asian Americans on campus. They serve as a safe cultural space to validate Asian American experiences and provide a sense of “home away from home”, says Lilyanne Pham, president of VSA. Through outreach programs and showcasing events, VSA has evolved into more than just a student organization, but into a hub of culture, support, connection, and family. These core values stand at the heart of UCSB’s Vietnamese Student Association and will continue to uphold this sense of community for years to come.
Pham, Lilyanne. (2018, November 30). Personal interview.
Vietnamese Student Association, UCSB Vietnamese Student Association, Retrieved from https://www.ucsbvsa.com/