News | May 28, 2021

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Spotlight: Manh Nguyen

By DLA Aviation Public Affairs Office

The Federal Asian Pacific American Council national 2021 theme is “Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service.” This year’s theme is the start of the new theme series for 2021-2024, highlighting leaders who believe in leading with values, offering encouragement and feedback, and putting employees first.

DLA Aviation spotlights Manh Nguyen, a customer logistics site specialist in the Naval Customer Facing Division, Customer Operations Directorate. He has worked for DLA Aviation for 15 years.

What does the 2021 Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you? For me, it is a time to reflect on both the struggles and beauty people of my culture experience.  Asian Americans are not a monolithic group but many of our shared experiences carry very similar themes and struggles.  Being Asian American means being often misunderstood and facing everyday battles of finding balance within our American culture and our Asian roots.  The mentality of “don’t make big waves” comes from survival defense mechanisms and doesn’t serve us well as we strive to demystify our experiences to other non-Asian Americans.  We are constantly seeking stability between our innate reverence (and respect-based culture) and our search for more impactful representation.

We are often made to be invisible in our American society.  Even scientific studies and surveys (such as the Census Bureau), has inaccurate representation and reporting of the Asian communities, due to language barriers, multiple generations living under the same roof, and other factors.  Our voices, struggles and stories are often suppressed, and our country often does not recognize it.  The trauma we have faced before immigrating to America, and the tribulations living here, are often left out of the conversation and the consciousness of our non-Asian American peers.

The rise in hate crimes pains me deeply.  It breaks my heart watching so many of our Asian people get brutally attacked with no justification.  I think about my journey from Vietnam to America with my family and how Asian people who were brutally attacked have lived similar struggles.  Towards the end of the Vietnam War, my family and I got onto a barge that was previously used to tow and transport weapons and supplies up- and down-river.  The barge, having no engine, floated us out to the China Sea and Pacific Ocean.  We were constantly shot at and mortar was blown at us.  We were eventually rescued by the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.

Tell us something unique about your heritage, country or origin or family traditions. Our family tradition is unique in that we cleaned the house thoroughly before New Year. After that for the next three days, we do not sweep, mop or clean up. We believed that if you sweep, then you are sweeping money out the house. Children are not yelled at, for you might have to yell at them all year. Elders would give us a red envelope with money in it and we wish them health, happiness, peace and prosperity. Most important is that we respect our elders.

What misconception about your heritage or country of origin would you like to correct? The misconception about our heritage is that we are timid, quiet, work hard and mind our business. With that, most people thought that we are selfish, stuck up and unfriendly. Once you get to know us, we are talkative, very friendly, and we look out for our friends.

What do you consider one of your most important accomplishment that you would like to share? This accomplishment can cover any topic: health, academia, professional, etc. Several accomplishments are important to me so far in my life. First, surviving the escape from Vietnam. Second, I joined the Army to pay back what our country has done for my family and to show we earned the right to live here. Third, I was able to go back to Vietnam to sponsor five orphanages by providing food, clothing, etc.

Tell us a little known fact that most people do not know about you. A little-known fact about me is that during Vietnam War, I used to beg GIs [soldiers] for food, money, and to take me to America. Also, when I escaped Vietnam, I went through five different refugee camps: Subic Bay, Manilla Bay, Wake Island, Guam, and last but not least Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

How important is it to you that Defense Logistics Agency Aviation recognize this month? It’s very important that we recognize heritage month for all groups. It displays that we recognize the diversity of our work force, and that we are a united organization that support our warfighters, our country in times of war and peace.

What do you want the DLA Aviation workforce to take away from celebrating this particular month? DLA Aviation workforce can take away that we have faced a devastating pandemic for the last year. It’s more important than ever to remember to not scapegoat or blame and attack Asian people for the pandemic. Our workforce is still there to support each other and DLA’s commitment to protect all of us while still focusing on supporting our country’s mission.