Haiyen Truong is a Chinese-Vietnamese American who came to the United States with her parents when she was four years old. She and her family were able to come to the U.S. with the aid of her uncle, who fought in the Vietnam War as a pilot on the U.S. side. Through his work for the U.S. government, he gained citizenship – and thus, Truong and her family were able to migrate to the United States.
Once in America, Truong and her family settled near the Bay Side area of California, where she says she first got her impulse and thirst for knowledge. As an immigrant, she initially only spoke two languages: Vietnamese and Chinese. In school, Truong was provided a translator in her class until she was proficient enough to speak and understand English without a translator. As her ability to communicate in English rose, though, she lost some of her proficiency in Chinese.
“I think, culturally, I was brought up more Vietnamese. Because of my father and his family, I grew up speaking Vietnamese. There was no one for my mom to speak Chinese to, so I forgot a lot of my Chinese.”
In her adolescence, she was keenly aware of the inequalities in the education system. She noted that once she learned English and could perform well on tests, she was often separated from her peers and placed into “advanced” classes. Classes which often were majority white, with very few students of color, and even fewer Black students. The advanced classes did not reflect the diversity of the student body as a whole.
“I was in the 98th percentile for math and 99th percentile for reading, and so then, all of a sudden, I was in special reading classes. And I remember there was a time period growing up where, in my higher level reading classes, all the class would be white with like two Black children…And so I remember growing up and noticing those things…This has always been in the background. Soft racism.”
Growing up, Truong was also very aware of her surroundings and the ongoings of the world. She paid attention to China’s GDP growing at rates ~7.5%. GDP or Gross Domestic Product, it’s a measure used to evaluate the health of a country’s economy. It is the total value of the goods and services produced in a country for approximately one year. For years the GDP of China and the GDP of the United States was neck and neck. Because the two countries were – and still are – considered world leaders, this pitted the two countries against one another. Knowing this made Haiyen very aware of the common rhetoric that pitted the west against the east. And she wondered further as to why the two were always viewed as competitors. To understand better, Truong spent many hours learning about China’s culture, history, language, and global involvement.