Netflix’s A Tourist’s Guide to Love sparked curiosity not only for its filming locations but also for the ethnicity of its Vietnamese character, Sinh, and the other local characters. While the streaming platform did cast actual Vietnamese actors, this is not always the case in the American entertainment industry. Unfortunately, appearance and popularity often precede cultural accuracy, causing missed opportunities for underrepresented actors.
Like most Vietnamese Americans, Scott Ly immigrated to the US “to find freedom and happiness,” as he mentioned in one of his interviews. But unlike Scott, most Vietnamese actors and actresses don’t get to play Vietnamese characters on the big screen.
But that’s not the real problem here; it’s that there are not enough Vietnamese people in the industry advocating for more Vietnamese stories.
This is where Kate Vũ comes onto the scene and starts changing the narrative of the Vietnamese creatives and Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in general.
Kate, born Tố-Uyên to a Northern Vietnamese father and Southern Vietnamese mother at the heart of California’s Little Saigon, is a Vietnamese American actress, casting producer, production assistant, and the founder and president of Viet Creatives Collective (VCC), a space for AAPI creatives to connect, network, and grow.
In time for the AAPI Heritage Month, we spoke with Kate Vũ to gain some insight into what it’s like growing up in Little Saigon, her passion for storytelling, and the collaborative efforts they do at VCC for the AAPI community of creatives, including their official launch happening today, May 6.
Shaping her passion
Growing up in a region known for its large Vietnamese population, Kate’s parents exposed their children to Vietnamese culture as much as possible. In fact, despite being born and raised in the US, Kate’s first language was Vietnamese.
“Growing up as an American-born Vietnamese, I always felt like there were aspects of my heritage that were not talked about,” she shared. “Although my parents and community were important connections to my Vietnamese identity, I didn’t have many ties to Vietnam beyond them. As a result, I felt like big question marks and unresolved issues within the Vietnamese community and diaspora needed to be addressed. This influenced my current work, which is focused on uniting the Vietnamese community.”
When asked how her parents introduced Vietnam to her, Kate said they “never let me forget it.” Her father was a soldier in the Vietnam War and fought for the South. He was always proud of his Vietnamese identity and made sure that Kate and her brother spoke Vietnamese at home. And her mother is just as passionate about their culture.
“Even when my brother and I were born in the US, our father insisted on having Vietnamese names as our legal name,” said Kate. Although her mother had initially chosen the name Kristina Katherine for her, her father was adamant about having a Vietnamese name. “So, I just took it from what my mom has given me, Kate.”
Although she says it’s a bit weird, one of Kate’s proudest moments occurred when she studied abroad in London. She had always disliked Vietnamese food and tried to distance herself from her culture by disregarding her Vietnamese heritage, “I was born in the US, and I’m a quarter French so that means I’m really white!” That’s what she always tells her parents then.
However, on a random day, she craved Vietnamese food badly. “That never happens,” she pointed out. “I hated Vietnamese food, and I didn’t know how to eat them properly, but that day, I finished a whole bowl of pho, including the bean sprouts and other garnishes. I even ordered in Vietnamese. I felt very proud of myself.” That moment was a turning point for Kate.
During our interview with her, we asked Kate to say something to her parents in Vietnamese. And she grabbed that opportunity to express her gratefulness to her parents because they taught her about her Vietnamese heritage.
“Cám ơn bố mẹ đã dạy cho con được biết về di sản của mình.”
Kate’s upbringing in Little Saigon profoundly impacted her personal and professional growth. Her exposure to a community with a solid Vietnamese identity, hearing war stories, and being surrounded by Vietnamese culture helped her develop a deep connection to her heritage. But while these stories helped her connect with Vietnam, they left her with many unanswered questions. And if there’s one thing every Vietnamese American (or immigrants in general) knows, it’s never to stop looking for answers. For Kate, it has led her to advocate for the Vietnamese community.
Stories that bridge generations
Kate’s a born storyteller, and her love for performing dates back to when she was just a kid. She and her cousins used to put on mini-plays, with Kate directing and taking on roles. The thrill of being on stage and entertaining others captivated her. And with her dad being a musician and songwriter, her fascination with the performing arts grew even more.
However, despite her passion, she did not pursue it seriously as a career due to the pressure from her family. In the Asian culture, creativity is not always seen as a viable job, so she felt the need to pursue something else. But, over the past two to three years, she has considered seeking her first love more seriously.
Kate believes storytelling is essential to celebrating Vietnamese culture, especially for younger generations. When asked how she would introduce Vietnam to a 7-year-old Vietnamese American kid who is just starting to get curious about their heritage, Kate emphasized the importance of using food to connect and educate.
“I’d start with food because I feel like food is such a great way to introduce anyone to Vietnamese culture, not just little kids but also to grown adults. I feel like introducing a 7-year-old to food like we can make spring rolls together and talk about ‘Where does rice paper come from?’ or, ‘Why do we have so many different types of rolls.’ Another thing is the banh chung during Tet, the story behind the emperor and his children. There are so many traditions that are passed down through food. I think food in its own way is storytelling.”
With her advocacy work, Kate hopes to press more stories about the Vietnamese experience that are not typically discussed, such as mental health, the patriarchy embedded in Vietnamese culture, and the experiences of LGBTQ+ Vietnamese individuals.
“I want to see stories that bridge generations. I want to see things that we, as a community, don’t talk about. Stories that make people think about their situation, their relationships.”
Through these stories, Kate believes that the Vietnamese American community can heal from past traumas and bridge generational gaps. Kate’s passion for Vietnamese culture and storytelling is evident in her work with VCC, and her efforts inspire others to learn more about and celebrate their heritage.
Viet Creatives Collective
When Marvel released its first Asian superhero movie, Shang-Chi, Kate was elated. But at the same time, wondered, “Where are the Vietnamese?” adding, “Why does everything related to Vietnam relate to the war?”
Viet Creatives Collective is a community of artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers with a mission to provide a safe and supportive space for Vietnamese creatives to connect, grow, and collaborate. Led by the visionary Kate, the collective is determined to give a voice to Vietnamese stories and perspectives that the war narrative has overshadowed for too long.
Through VCC, Kate and her team of just-as-talented-and-passionate Vietnamese creatives aim to create a platform that could advocate more Vietnamese stories with Vietnamese people telling them. “The Vietnamese community has always been here, but we lack a platform. That’s why VCC is here,” Kate told Vietcetera.
“We hope our events and programs will help inspire aspiring creatives to manifest meaningful connections and learn from each other. We support opportunities for our members to collaborate on creative projects, including art film, music, writing, and other methods of creative expression. We work to expand resources and funding that help bring these projects to fruition.”
As a registered non-profit organization, VCC can now accept donations to expand its resources and reach. According to Kate, they don’t have a formal membership program just yet; they operate and are open to everybody as needed. But looking ahead, “we would love to give grants and offer fellowships or scholarships to people who need financial help in getting to the industry specifically for creative arts.”
Just recently, VCC helped an improv group gain exposure by doing what they do best: tap into their networks, show up, and support in all ways they can. For Kate, success is not just about their accomplishments but the success of each individual in their community. They hope to reach and serve the Vietnamese diaspora globally and have already received interest from people in Northern California and the East Coast.
“We know it’s ambitious, but we’re working hard to make it happen. We believe in collaboration over competition and want to help each other as a community succeed.”
Still new, not even a year old yet, but VCC is already out there making connections with other AAPI organizations. “We’ve found that meeting people in person and supporting them in their events helps us build personal relationships and expand our network,” said Kate. “We might promote their events, provide funding for emerging creatives, or refer someone through our network for a role. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, and we’re all part of the same movement.”
For any young, talented Vietnamese Americans out there who may be reading this interview, wondering if they can make it to the big stage when they grow up, Kate wants to say, “If you don’t see the opportunity you’re looking for or don’t find what you want to do, don’t be afraid to create it yourself. That’s exactly how VCC started for me.”
VCC is officially kicking off with a bang to mark the culmination of its vision and dedication to fostering a thriving community of Vietnamese and AAPI creatives.
In collaboration with HOT NOIZE, and Little Saigon Official, VCC is proud to present their biggest event yet – Về Quê Nhà: Coming Home, a celebration of Vietnamese identity, culture, and heritage in the heart of Little Saigon, Orange County.
Immerse yourself in the largest group exhibition of Vietnamese artists and illustrators in North American history, featuring stunning works from the Vietnamese diaspora, including muralist Thao Huynh French and illustrator Huyen Dinh.
Whether you are coming from far away or returning to a place you have long forgotten, physically or symbolically, Kate and the whole VCC team open their arms to the children of Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ, as well as others who are coming to Little Saigon to discover Vietnam’s unique culture.