Terry Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American journalist who grew up in Orange County, California. In 2019, she graduated from the University of Southern California and was subsequently hired as a reporter at Vox, where she covers culture at the intersection of trends, technology, and the Internet™. Her cutting-edge work has spanned from pieces that explain the domestic rise and popularity of retail giant Shein to coverage of increasing Anti-Asian hate crimes.
Raised by Vietnamese immigrants, Nguyen is well aware of how her traditional upbringing has influenced the work that she’s creating — especially at a time when animosity against immigrants is rising. Whenever she can, she pushes for the stories of the Vietnamese diaspora or, more recently, the Asian-American community. Her work has garnered a large following on Twitter and Substack, where she runs a newsletter called Gen-Yeet, dissecting all things Generation Z.
Recently, Vietcetera caught up with Terry to learn more about how she became a writer, the role that Vietnam plays in her life, and how she writes about identity in times of upheaval.
How did you get into journalism?
Growing up, I always loved writing and I had the idea that being a journalist was one of the easier ways to make money as a writer. You know, because Hemmingway and Joan Didion and all these major figures were journalists in addition to being writers... A funny story, I actually grew up around newspapers because my dad delivered for our local paper. He was at the bottom of the distribution chain and now I’m kind of at the top as a writer, which is always fun to think about.
Describe your upbringing — do you speak Vietnamese?
I grew up in Orange County, California, which is a very big Vietnamese hub. My parents are first-generation. My dad and my mom actually met here in their twenties and thirties. So I grew up predominantly speaking Vietnamese and I can converse in it fluently.
Would you say your Vietnamese heritage informs your work today?
I think it has a really big impact on how I view myself and the world. Growing up in a cultural hub, (diversity) was all I knew and I'm very comfortable being surrounded by other Asians and other Latinos. It has helped a lot in my work because sometimes if I want to tune out discussions about identity and race and just write about what I care about, I can do that. But I also have the background and knowledge to write from the perspective of someone who comes from a marginalized community in America.
What is some of the writing that has inspired you?
One of the most influential works I read in my late teens that made me want to write more about the diaspora beyond what I was told was The Boat by Nam Le, who is an Australian-Vietnamese writer, and obviously The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
As both an Asian-American and a cultural commentator, how has the Stop Asian Hate movement influenced your coverage?
I would say that originally I thought of myself as Vietnamese before Asian-American. But because of the events of the past year, we saw a lot of different Asian-American communities create solidarity with each other because it felt like our working-class people were being attacked, old people were being attacked, regardless of specific Asian ethnicity.
It was during that time I was able to report on some of the activism that was happening online and it was really great to see solidarity come out all across the country. In Orange County, too, people were expressing how nervous they were. It showed that even when surrounded by a community, people didn’t always feel safe, which was super disappointing.
Have you felt more pressure to insert yourself into your writing now that more people want to hear from Asian writers?
I think that after the shooting that happened in Atlanta, there was a spike in interest (in our stories). But I think there’s also a need for a more lighthearted, humorous culture writing about Asian-American identity. I appreciate that now, we don’t necessarily need to pander to a white audience but kind of just exist for other Asian people and people who are interested in Asian culture.
Is there something you’re looking forward to in terms of this new era we’re in, where people in the West are giving more space to Asian writers?
I really look forward to seeing the prominence of the Southeast Asian diaspora. I love that more Asian-American creatives are having a seat at the table. I think there’s always room to make art that’s more complicated, more nuanced and more specific. I’m just excited to see the second generation of the Southeast Asian diaspora grow up and do that — we’re seeing the second-generation growing up and producing their own stuff and their own perspectives.