Since the early days of civilization, Vietnamese history has been chock full of tales of powerful Vietnamese women and femmes — warriors, queens, and even fairies who helped shape the course of our peoples. From the legend of the Trưng Sisters, who rode elephants into war against Chinese invaders in AD 40, to Vietnam’s fashionable last empress, Nam Phuong, who in the early 1900s demanded the end to the royal concubine system, the contributions of women to modern Vietnamese statehood, society, and culture are clear. And that’s not to mention the countless women who took up arms, on both sides, to fight during the Vietnam War.
Modern Vietnam is still marked by a strong culture of womanhood. Though strong inequalities persist, particularly in poorer rural areas, Vietnam has made significant strides to close the gender gap. According to The Economist, “Vietnam has one of the highest female labor-force participation rates in the world,” with 79% of women between the ages of 15 and 64 in the labor force — higher than that of most of the OECD nations. And this extends to the C-Suite: a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group found that 25% of senior-level management positions in Vietnam were held by women, compared to 10% in Singapore and 6% in Indonesia.
Across the 4.5 million-strong global Vietnamese diaspora, women of Vietnamese descent have also emerged as leaders across numerous industries. Many have done so in the face of war, trauma, and displacement. From legendary California chef Helene An and Andrea Nguyen, the cookbook author often dubbed the “Julia Child of Vietnamese food,” to Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran and civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Amanda Nguyen, these pioneers are opening doors and paving the way for a new generation of young Vietnamese and Asian women and femmes to pursue their dreams.
To commemorate the spirit of the modern Vietnamese women and femmes both in Vietnam and around the world, we asked some of those who inspire us most to share points of pride, learned wisdom, and career advice — all from the perspective of the Vietnamese woman.
Sahra Nguyen, founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply (Brooklyn, New York)
“To remember that Vietnamese women have been fighting their whole lives for me to be here, so pursue life with conviction, joy and pride. Knowing that I am part of a lineage and legacy of fierce, resilient, loving and deeply generous Vietnamese women makes me proud to be Vietnamese. An inaugural member of the International Women's Coffee Alliance Vietnam Chapter committed to empowering Vietnamese women in the coffee industry. Through Nguyen Coffee Supply, my goal is to elevate Vietnamese coffee culture and bring long-overdue recognition to Vietnam as being one of the biggest contributors to coffee experiences worldwide.”
Thuc Doan Nguyen, writer (Los Angeles, California)
“Being a Vietnamese-American woman to me means remembering that we are warriors, ala the Trưng Sisters. We must fight various kinds of things today — racism, sexism, white feminism and those who pull us down due to believing in scarcity and that we can’t help each other all rise. We must not be “those crabs that drag each other into the pot” when one gets some traction and instead uplift one another, help each other shine, improve the quality of how we’re treated/how we treat one another — as well as how we’re represented everywhere.”
Ella Trịnh, co-founder of Vulcan Augmetics (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
“I'm proud to be a part of the new generation of Vietnamese women in tech who are driving the country's innovation competency to the frontline and making marks and contributions to the global tech map. Most Vietnamese girls are expected to grow up and remain in the rear line of a family. And we can follow and stay there as long as we want to. However, if you wish to be in the frontline of industry innovation, national economic growth, and a global social movement, you inherently have the ability to do so. If you haven’t made the decision on who you want to be and what impact you want to make, do it today. Or others will make that decision for you. And very often, it won't be as delightful as you expected.”
Thuy, Vietnamese-American pop artist (Los Angeles, California)
“Live for yourself and yourself only. Don’t be worried about fulfilling your parent’s dreams for you because you only live THIS life once. At the end of the day, your parents only want you to be happy and financially stable so take the risk and start living for yourself. When you take risks in life and you bet on yourself (even when your family may not approve at first), the universe will present so many opportunities for you!
I think society puts a lot of pressure on women already to be a certain way or achieve milestones by a certain age but it can be even tougher when that’s combined with cultural pressures. But, my advice would be to fight past these fears. When something scares you in life, it’s even more of a reason to do it. On the other side of fear, lies freedom. This is a quote I try to live by.”
Kelly Vo, founder & host of Dear Our Community podcast (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
“As a young Vietnamese woman, I’ve witnessed many positive changes in people's perspectives of the role of Vietnamese women in modern society. However, there are still a lot of barriers for local women who come from disadvantaged backgrounds where they have to face greater challenges every day to change their lives. As a result, those who come from a circumstance with hardship and adversity often become more persistent and resilient. I believe when women support each other, the opportunities for all of us are endless, not another way around. We see ourselves in each other and we help to lift up each other's life.”
Marion Hoàng Ngọc Hill, Vietnamese-American filmmaker (New Orleans, LA)
For me, to be a woman of the Vietnamese diaspora is to know where I come from, but to not quite know who I am. It is to feel that I have many siblings, and yet no siblings. It is to meet another young Viet Kieu and need urgently to hear their story. To know that we understand everything about each other and also nothing. How, when, why are we here, and what do we do now?
Yen Vo, founder of Madame Vo (New York City)
“Historically, Vietnamese women have served as the backbones of their households and communities. Their resiliency is incredibly impressive. I think it’s important to remember that in modern times, as our voices tend to be silenced as women of color and members of the Vietnamese diaspora. We need to harness that innate strength and trust our feminine intuition to stand our ground, even when it goes against the status quo.”
Denise Sandquist, founder of Fika (Stockholm, Sweden)
“I am proud to be a Vietnamese woman, or born Vietnamese, because in these women I see their strength, patience, dedication and love, and, above all, a great sense of humor when things get tough.” Denise’s career advice is to ask yourself, “What do I like? What am I passionate about? And if you don't have an answer, find out. Only you can live your life, no one else can. Be brave and take that risk, regardless of what others think. Do not give up too fast, everything takes time, anything that’s worth it will. If I’ve learned anything from spending time in Vietnam and being surrounded by amazing Vietnamese women, it's this: It’s important to find yourself and what you believe is important to you.”
Lucinda Sterling, bartender & consultant (New York City)
“Maternal instincts are key to the process of coworker and nurturing guests in customer service. Formulation of bonds is imperative, especially between females. Keep goals in mind. The right men can aid in resources and protection. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t let people be negative towards you, but welcome constructive criticism.”
Ruby Nguyen, COO of Vietcetera (Ho Chi Minh City)
“My advice to my younger self would be, first, is to always stay humble and curious, learn something new every day, and believe that you can learn anything. The second is, seek the truth but embrace mistakes and unknowns, don’t settle because of fear or pressure from outside. Lastly, be kind and generous to yourself and others.”
Doris Ho-Kane, founder of Ban Be and 17.21 ASIAN WOMEN (Brooklyn, New York)
“We come from a long lineage of unapologetic women — as warriors, survivors, rousers, nurturers. We are not defined by our trauma. We let all of the joy and victories seep in. The powerful spirit of Hai Bà Trưng lives within all of us!”
Quyen Nguyen, entrepreneur (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
“Whatever role or business project you may choose, choose the ones that truly spark joy to you or matter to your values. Spending a good time figuring out the reason why you want to start something and how you will end it, as this will help you navigate through turbulent times without losing sight and also define how you will play this role or lead the project. Once you make choices, put 200% of yourself in it, because to succeed or not to live a life without regrets it takes not only passion but also persistence and the whole journey will also bring you much better satisfaction and valuable experience. Whatever it may happen, it is yours and simply move on. Don't take others' words personally as words are both curses and gifts to your personal freedom. Start a day with a simple thought “What a miracle to be able to wake up!” and finish the day with a simple question: “What would you do differently or better tomorrow?”. Never stop learning and rediscover yourself. To be happy and live intentionally, keep searching for these 4 things and mixing them in your 24 hours of each day: What you are good at, What you can be paid for, What the world needs now, and What you love.
No matter how hard things could be, be selfish and allow yourself to take a break. Real liberation will make the woman authentically a woman, not an imitation of man. Be yourself! Think like there is no box at all.”
Bonus: Lady Triệu, 3rd Century Warrior (Thanh Hóa Province, Vietnam)
Lady Trieu is often seen as the historical embodiment of the Vietnamese spirit — male, female, or otherwise. As legend holds, Lady Trieu led her army into 30 battles with the Chinese, and held the oppressors back. Without warriors like her, it’s possible Vietnam as we know it today would not exist. The following quote is often attributed to Lady Trieu, and we’ve included it as it still holds truth and meaning today. “I'd like to ride storms, kill orcas in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.”