Meet the Founder of Vietnamese Boat People Podcast
Introducing the founder and creator of the award-winning podcast: The Vietnamese Boat People, Tracey Nguyen Mang! We had the pleasure of chatting with her during our 'Cooking in Community' episode last Dec 7th. You can watch it here in case you missed it: Cooking in Community with @cookingoffthecuff and @vietnameseboatpeople.
About Tracey Nguyen Mang
Tracey Nguyen Mang is the creator and host of the Vietnamese Boat People (VBP) podcast and nonprofit. She fled Vietnam with her family at the age of three and grew up ashamed by the stigma of being a refugee and struggled with navigating her own Asian American identity. In 2018, she began to document her family's story and along the way, discovered that there are many others like her, trying to piece together the history. Tracey started VBP by publishing her family’s story in Season 1 of the podcast, and today, the organization shares stories from other families and individuals through its podcast, events and programs.
Tracey has over 20+ years of professional experience in management consulting, social impact, and intrapreneurship. Tracey is a frequent speaker on the topics of storytelling and design thinking principles, Asian American narratives, diversity, inclusion and employee engagement, and critical refugee experiences. She has a bachelor’s from Johnson & Wales University and an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Tracey currently resides in Montclair New Jersey with her husband, two kids, a big dog and a goldfish.
About Vietnamese Boat People
The Vietnamese Boat People (VBP) is a podcast and non-profit with the mission to preserve and carry forward the stories of the Vietnamese diaspora. The organization seeks to educate and inspire listeners, evoke more interest in Asian American stories and empathy towards the millions of refugees around the world today.
The podcast curates stories of lived experiences, captured in first person from multiple generations; family stories of history, heritage and migration journeys. It is available on all major podcast platforms and reaches a global audience.
Vietnamese Boat People is an award-winning podcast and has been recognized by NPR, Forbes, PRX, National Geographic,and critical refugee studies from around the world. In addition to the podcast, VBP also empowers people to preserve their own stories through storytelling workshops and events, a community blog, conversation kits, and journey mapping. The organization's work is being preserved as a special collection by the New York University’s Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives and The Asian/Pacific/American (A/P/A) Institute.
Community partnerships on programs and events have included working with Chrysler Museum of Art, Annual Viet Film Fest 2021, UCLA Critical Refugee Studies, Montclair Art Museum, WHRO Public Media, LiveNation, Asian American Podcast Network, Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations (UNAVSA), Finn Partners, and more.
What compelled you to start the podcast and how does your own personal history factor in?
I am the youngest of seven, and was only three when we escaped Vietnam in 1981 to flee post Vietnam war oppressions. So you can imagine being so young, I don’t remember that journey at all. I grew up hearing bits of my family's story and the pain and losses my parents endured seemed to silently linger in the backdrop of our lives. This always pained me because I viewed the story as inspiring.
In 2018, right around the time I turned 40 and my dad turned 80, I finally decided that I would focus on documenting my family’s stories so they would get appropriately passed onto younger generations. Because I thought, what a super loss it would be, when my nieces, nephews and children are old enough to understand these stories, my parents wouldn’t be around to share them and I would not know enough of the details to do the story justice. I am the youngest of seven children and my kids are the youngest grandchildren, too young now to really understand these stories so it was very important to me as a parent to preserve the stories for them.
When I started documenting my own family’s story, I did some research on memoirs of boat people and noticed that there was not an easy platform for people to share their stories. Because writing a book is hard, and getting it published is even harder. And I didn’t want that to prevent people from being able to share their stories. I also became more aware of the mainstream movies, documentaries and books about the Vietnam War, but most of them seem to marginalize the voices of the civilians and families that were affected by the war and the aftermath.
And today there are still very negative perceptions and assumptions of refugees and migrants. I felt like these stories would help people learn and have a little more compassion and empathy on why families and individuals feel compelled to leave everything behind and migrate to foreign land. It’s not an easy decision and it is usually because of desperation for survival and a desire to live a life with dignity.
Why is the work you do through your organization so important?
I get to meet new people and listen to their amazing stories. These are personal family stories and they trust us with something so invaluable. I’ve had many of our interviewees say they feel a little lighter after our conversations since these stories have been bottled up for so long. I hope that we bring a little healing in the process for people.
I think in my generation I focused on assimilating to American culture and was ashamed of my refugee background and Asian heritage. It was very important to me in my adult life to reconnect to my heritage and do a full circle to appreciate all my parents had endured to bring the family here. But we were not alone. There were millions of Vietnamese refugees and I know there are people like me going through this journey. I’m proud to be a small part of helping younger generations reclaim their heritage and identify and take it forward with a sense of pride. My parents' generation will not be around much longer, so the window to preserve these stories first-hand is critical.
We host events and programs to help empower people to begin the journey and to share their stories. Whether it be through our blogs, story slams, conversation kits, journey maps; it’s a portfolio of things we’ve created in hopes to inspire people to learn about the Vietnamese diaspora.
We curate stories across multiple generations and definitely not just Vietnamese. We have had boat rescuers, refugee volunteers and sponsors reach out to us wanting to share their stories of how they helped during the Vietnamese refugee crisis. I also did not expect this and love that it’s an entirely new perspective. We hope it encourages others to give-back and take action in today’s migrant and refugee situation.
What is your favorite dish? Is there a story behind it?
bánh bèo is my favorite dish. There is no real story behind it. I’ve just always loved the soft chewy dough of tiny pancakes served with dried shrimp, dried onion, fresh herbs and garlic fish sauce. It’s so good just thinking about it. My mom used to steam them in small ceramic dishes growing up and it was a tedious task and she only did it a handful of times, since we only had one steam pot, so she would spend all day making batches. When I was in my early 30s, I visited Huế Việt Nam. There is a small restaurant in someone’s house where they specialized in bánh bèo. I forgot the name of it, but I remember falling in love and sitting there for hours with my husband. We must have gone through a hundred tiny ceramic bánh bèo dishes! Was so good.
What does courage mean to you?
This is a tough question. I think based on my work with VBP, what I’ve come to understand is that courage comes in many forms. Some people automatically assume it’s when you speak up or when you do dangerous things or try new things. And it can be that, but it’s not limited to that. There is a lot of courage in our culture, even when it’s not spoken out loud or shown. It may sit internally and go unnoticed. My dad is a very quiet person but he had the courage to navigate in his own way, a better life for his family. My mother was raised to fall into the ‘female’ role defined in her generation, but she never let that define who she was. She became a strong independent person and believed she could do anything, even when society boxed her in.
Where can we expect to see you in the next few years?
Wow! I’m not sure. Making VBP was a dream come true for me. It grew organically and the support and the connection we have built with our listeners and community has really validated that this is important work and there is still so much more to do. I do have dreams to write a screenplay one day about our stories. So who knows!
Thank you so much Tracey for sharing your story with us! Tuk Tuk Box is proud to exclusively feature Southeast Asian ingredients and include refugee, migrant, and generational stories in every box.
If you or someone you know wants to share their story with us, send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned for future stories and the newest products by subscribing to our mailing list.