The Vietnamese Culture and Science Association has been one of Houston’s many community organization treasures since its founding in 1990 by Bao N. Nguyen. However, like with every lasting organization, change is afoot.
While its original mission was to “preserve the Vietnamese culture while also fighting for democracy in Vietnam,” the Houston chapter — the first in the United States — has begun to shift more of its sights to local matters.
What pushed the VSCA’s mission to change its focus? It may have something to do with the shift in demographic. As VCSA President Teresa Trinh observes, “Our current membership is probably the youngest it has ever been.”
The VCSA has been putting on events that center on the city’s youth since its creation, from its annual Youth Leadership Camp to its Youth Excellence Recognition Ceremony honoring high school valedictorians and salutatorians of Vietnamese descent in the Houston area. The 2022 scholars’ luncheon — with more than 15 honorees — was chaired by two VCSA members who had been honored as high school students two years earlier.
These events promote and encourage academic excellence within the Vietnamese community, a theme that harkens to the organization’s name and founders, many of whom had a technology and science background.
Promoting a strong educational foundation isn’t the only draw to the younger demographic, however. According to Trinh, allowing younger leaders to learn from their more experienced counterparts while providing insight into current trends that deserve attention.
“We encourage our younger members to lead our smaller projects,” she says. “It is extremely important to recruit and retain younger members of the organization. Having younger members allows the organization to stay relevant as they are able to provide insight into the current affairs of the younger generation.”
This younger perspective became particularly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the early days of the pandemic, many within the Vietnamese community were having difficulties getting tested,” Teresa Trinh explained. “A group of VCSA members saw the difficulties (and) became concerned with how those in the Vietnamese community who may have language barriers or barriers to technology would be able to get vaccinated.”
With this feedback, the VCSA jumped into action.
“This small group ended up gathering information from the elderly or those most in need of vaccination appointments at local retail pharmacies,” Trinh said.
The VCSA was able to provide over 2,000 COVID-19 tests, 1,000 vaccine appointments, and over 7,000 vaccines to Houstonians of all backgrounds by partnering with local medical professional nonprofits like the Vietnamese American Medical Association, the Vietnamese American Nurses Association and the Vietnamese American Pharmacists Association to establish testing sites throughout the Houston area at local clinics, churches, and templates.
Coupled with the VCSA’s healthcare efforts is its great love for celebrating culture through the arts.
“Houston’s art scene is emerging to be a very important part of” the city, Trinh said. “We now see art bridging cultures and generations.”
Some of the art scene has been carefully curated by the VCSA with the help of grants from the Houston Arts Alliance and Houston in Action.
One such art collaboration can be seen in the heart of Houston’s Asiatown in a wall facing the H Mart at 9896 Bellaire Boulevard. With funding from the organization, local muralist Thomas Tran and many volunteers painted a mural of Asian-related symbols called “Longevity.”
“VCSA created the largest community-based mural in the Asiatown area of Houston. It is a dedication to the many different Asian ethnicities in Houston,” Trinh said. “This mural was a community effort from start to finish.
“We had over 200 volunteers participate in the creation of the mural, including random people who saw us work as they were driving by. They stopped and inquired about the mural, were offered an opportunity to paint a portion of the mural and ended up staying for hours. Some even left to bring back family members to participate.”
Trinh and her fellow organization leaders are looking to expand the VCSA’s community influence through membership growth.
She also aims to bring the organization’s original pillars of science and technology to the foreground again.
“In addition to the pivot from COVID-related health programs to mental health programs, I would also like to see us expand our programs into the STEM fields. We have focused quite a bit on the cultural side of our organization. Perhaps, we can begin to focus on the science side also.”
She believes this emphasis will assist young Vietnamese Houstonians in finding their calling, as it did for her.
“I truly believe VCSA made me the leader I am today. It is from my leading of VCSA projects that I found my passion as an event planner. Now, I coordinate weddings as a side venture when not working in my professional career.”
With 2023 underway, the VCSA has a lengthy roster of large events, initiatives, and programs ready to be explored by the public.
Its Len Duong Camp at Camp Cullen in Trinity, Texas comes up in May and its Viet Cultural Fest will take place in September.
All VCSA programs are funded by grants, sponsorships, and personal donations, further binding them to the community. The organization thanks its financial backers over the last 30-plus years and vows to continue its growth and celebration of Vietnamese culture.
— By Caroline Cabe