Vietnamese-Americans 30th at the Smithsonian?
By Jackie Bong-Wright
The Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American (APA) Program, Dr. Franklin Odo, met in mid-October with Vietnamese community activists to propose marking the 30-year Vietnamese-American presence in the U.S. with an exhibit at the museum. The idea, he said, would depend on the response from the Vietnamese community at large. Needed were funding sources as well as material for the exhibit such as paintings, photos, films and other artifacts.
Francey Youngberg, the Development Consultant to the APA Program, set a goal of $60,000 in seed money to be raised by the end of the year in order to set the stage for the exhibit’s creation. The seed money will be used primarily to hire a Vietnamese-American scholar and to expand the fund-raising effort. It will take approximately another $50,000 to $60,000 to have the exhibit created and installed at the Smithsonian. Another $40,000 to $50,000 will be needed to “travel the exhibit to a dozen venues around the country for three years,” bringing the total cost to $150,000 to $175,000. The exhibit won’t be open until 2006.
Individuals, families and non-profit organizations can become part of the “Founders’ Circle” by making a minimum contribution of $2,500 by December 31, 2004. In some cases, siblings are pulling together funds to make a donation in the name of their parents as a way of honoring them for their sacrifices and success in making a home in America. Other are getting together with their high school classmates and donating in the name of their school. The Smithsonian is also seeking larger donations from corporations and foundations at five “levels of giving”: Coral ($5,000), Ruby ($10,000), Pearl ($15,000), Jade ($25,000 and Diamond ($50,000). Donors will be acknowledged by level of giving in the exhibit credit news releases, in exhibit announcements, and on the APA Smithsonian Program website.
By the third week of December, Youngberg had already received pledges and payments amounting to $55,000 from Vietnamese donors. “The fund-raising success has inspired the Smithsonian to use it as a model in fund-raising for the 2006 Filipino American Centennial Commemoration, and it is “setting the bar” for other groups,” Youngberg said.
The Viet Heritage Society was the first to make a pledge, of $15,000, thanks to the efforts of Chau Nguyen, one of the primary organizers of the Vietnamese American National Gala (VANG). Ban Tran of Merrill Lynch, along with Chau Nguyen and V. Thanh Nguyen, began the discussion about the exhibit with the Smithsonian APA Program and has been leading the fund-raising effort. The two top executives of the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans (NCVA) have also been active in drumming up support for the project. Nguyen Ngoc Bich, NCVA chair, has spoken in California to major Vietnamese activists, artistic groups, and business and media people, all of whom have promised to help make the exhibit a success. “Fund-raising and awareness campaigns have been on the right track,” said Hung Nguyen, NCVA executive director, who hopes to meet the target by year end.
This will be “the first exhibit at the Smithsonian which will honor the history of survival, sacrifices, and triumphs of the Vietnamese people against overwhelming odds,” the Smithsonian APA Program stated.
Odo will bring the proposed project to the attention of a national conference of scholars specializing in South East Asian American Studies when he addresses their conference in Riverside, California, in April.
Vietnamese-Americans across the U.S. also intend to commemorate the 30-year anniversary. A Viet Music Fest 2005 and a Freedom March for Vietnam are expected to draw 10,000 to 20,000 Vietnamese Americans to the nation’s capital. Event planners welcomed the Smithsonian exhibit.
The achievements of Vietnamese-Americans are substantial. According to the Census Bureau, the 1.3 million Vietnamese are the third-highest Asian population in the U.S. after the Chinese and Filipinos. Half-a-million live in California, 150,000 in Texas, 50,000 in Washington state, and 45,000 in the Washington, DC, area. Their average family income was $47,000 in 2000 as compared to $30,000 ten years earlier. Sixty percent of the Vietnamese own homes, with only 14% falling below the poverty level and an even smaller 10% on welfare. In 1990, 24% were homeowners. Six out of ten Vietnamese have graduated from high school, and one in five has earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
For more information, check out prior APA exhibits and programs at www.apa.si.edu or contact the APA Program office at 202-786-2409.