It is currently 8:19PM, Sunday, May 15th, 2016. Most of you are probably just getting started on the homework you neglected over the weekend, as you are still finishing up your senior year, wishing it was summer already. Meanwhile, I am spending a summer night planning up a lesson for my unofficial student-taught course (official ones exist too) “Vietnamese101” and wondering… will y’all be remotely interested in this class? Will y’all even be interested in VSA? Will there even be a Class of 2020 for VSA???? Will I get an entire gallon of ice cream to myself because no freshman showed up to our introductory ice cream social? Will VSA cease to exist next year?! (Let’s be real, none of you will be reading this any time soon. Or ever.)
‘Sup y’all. My name is Thu Nguyen and according to this webpage right here, I am the VSA president for the coming year. According to the constitution, this is my job description:
” The President shall be responsible for conducting meetings and handling general administrative duties. Representing the face of the organization, the President(s) must act in a professional manner, always being mindful that decisions should be based primarily upon the interests of the organization. The President will delegate duties to officers and fill in as needed. Each President must be a former officer of the organization.”
Unfortunately, I think the Constitution has it wrong. What it should say is:
The president shall be responsible for keeping this family together through whatever means possible – be it constantly pestering members to show up to events or throwing shade by tagging members in photos of events they didn’t show up to – and making sure VSA continues to be the biggest, baddest cultural org on campus. (Okay, so we’re not the biggest, but it is a known fact that we are the most active on campus.) Representing the face of the organization, the president must be approachable and accessible to the members to their fullest capacity.
But I’ll talk about why this is relevant later.
Some of you met me at the Owl Days fair and asked, “What is VSA?” Not going to lie, all of you didn’t look too enthused at the sight of our simply made, red lettered, yellow poster with old photos. Maybe it was the awful humidity, or maybe we just didn’t impress you that much or at all. And to be quite honest, when I stalked the VSA the summer before entering Rice, I had the same look on my face: the website was made from the most basic HTML that could date back to the 2005’s, the Twitter was dead, and the Facebook page was sparse. The only thing I had going for me was my immense pride in the Vietnamese culture, so I joined VSA anyways.
I also joined VSA because this rando TA in my freshman bio lab acted like he knew me and invited me to pick up “[my] goodie bag,” whatever that meant, from the VSA table later. Turns out, he was the internal vice president of VSA that year, Linh Nguyen. Turns out, he is now one of my best friends, my mentor – the older brother I’ve always wanted.
Throughout my freshman year as a member, I learned what VSA does. We don’t have general meetings like UofH or UT VSA’s. We have ice cream socials, dinners together on campus, dinners together off campus in ChinatowLittle Saigon aka ‘Bellaire,’ and a couple of parties. We host a full day College Leadership Workshop, where we volunteer our time to teach high school students from lower income families about the college application process and financial aid. (We are the ONLY cultural club to give back to the community at this magnitude.) We put on 2 of the largest acts of the annual Lunar New Year Show. And we have boba sales to raise money for the Workshop and club activities.
Sophomore year, I was the Historian. As a member of the board, I learned what VSA tries its best to do. We try to incorporate Vietnamese culture through food and the li xi (red envelopes) we hand out at Tet (Lunar New Year.) We try to be inclusive and make sure that everyone knows they are welcome, Vietnamese or not. We try to schedule dinners and events that will be most convenient for our members because we know everyone here is a Rice student with lots of homework and many other clubs to tend to. Eventually, I got mad. Where was the history talk, where was the language? Why has no one here ever seen the movie “Journey From the Fall”? That year, I met a freshman named Cindy Nguyen. Now, I am so, so thankful she joined VSA – she’s the twin sister I never knew I had.
Junior year, I was the co-president with Bao Vu. Rice made Bao and I do club management training, risk management training, food safety training; VSA made me become the off campus storage and private bank for short term loans – yunno, the usual. Meanwhile, I tried to answer my own questions. To the board, I asked for an event to screen the movie “Journey From the Fall.” It was voted down, and I ended up just screening it myself and asking VSA members to come out. We had an audience of five, including myself and two other officers. To the members, I slipped and spoke Vietnamese but remembered that some of our members are not actually Vietnamese, and some are only half Vietnamese so they naturally won’t understand the language.
Eventually, I learned what VSA really does for its members. It is a family of brothers, sisters, mentors, mentees, and the occasional VSA couple(s). It is a safe space, socially speaking, for people with common interests, experiences, and/or backgrounds. It is where you can go to find your soulmate (platonically or romantically) or find the answer to your question about the origin of banh chung (the banana leaf wrapped log looking thing made of sticky rice filled with beans.) Maybe you’re having trouble communicating with your parents, or you just need more advice on choosing majors even after talking to all the PAAs and Advisors. (Though I am proud to say we have PAAs in our club.) Our VSA is so small, and our members are so academically oriented, that VSA really only has time to be just that. A family, a safe space, and a resource for people to come to if needed. (Hopefully there will always be at least one person like me, somewhat well-versed in the old legends, traditions and language, in VSA…)
It will be my senior year, and I am now the president of VSA. After all these years at Rice, VSA has given me more than any other class, professor, club, or residential college (sorry Wiess) has. It has given me the majority of my inner circle: Linh, Cindy, and a few others I won’t name for the sake of not playing favorites. It has given me mentors and icons who I will always look up to and can never thank enough: Nathan Truong, Megan Chang, Laura Le, Bo Kim, etc, all of whom have inspired and contributed to my achievements with VSA and other activities outside of VSA. It has also given me a chance to share my pride in the Vietnamese culture, something I could never do in my predominantly white hometown.
So, in my final year, I hope I can follow through with my own job description from above. I hope to maintain, if not grow, VSA into an even more meaningful organization than it is now. And I hope you will take advantage of that, of VSA, of me.