I’ve shared the story of my journey to Vietnam countless times, but this particular retelling holds special significance — it unfolded in the United States among a gathering of Asian-American professionals.
Before I dive into the details, let me shed light on the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) event itself. What’s it all about, you might wonder? Think of it as a unique gathering of Asian and Pacific Islander leaders coming together with a purpose.
The NAAAP Leadership Convention is a time for us to come together, listen to inspirational speakers, explore corporate practices related to diversity and talent management, discuss emerging topics and best practices, forge new friendships, rekindle old ones, and honor Asian leaders from various walks of life. This recognition extends to individuals who have made lifelong contributions, community unsung heroes, and prominent NAAAP leaders.
It’s a celebration of our achievements, a platform for learning, and an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who share a passion for making a positive impact. Truth be told, we all agreed it was where we “embraced what it means to be Unapologetically Asian.”
You see, during my time in the US, I always used “Hao” as my name — I was born and raised there. Yes, we enjoyed traditional dishes like phở and thịt kho, but I had no idea that my name came with an accent or diacritic. Well, I was made aware by my parents but was taught to anglicize my name in order to fit in. I also didn’t realize that I should stick to a specific pronunciation of the A in my three-letter name. I always thought I had a no-nonsense name.
However, upon arriving in Vietnam, I quickly realized that in Vietnamese, my name took on a different pronunciation and carried distinct meanings.
One specific incident etched itself deeply into my memory. It happened at a friend’s party where I had just met someone who found it amusing to mock my name, referring to me as “HOW.”
I vividly recall a moment when things got interesting during a border control check. An immigration officer wanted to know how to pronounce my name in Vietnamese. I was utterly stumped, unable to provide an answer. This encounter triggered a significant decision: from then on, I introduced myself as “Hảo” in Vietnam, with the actual, correct pronunciation of my name. It might seem like a minor change, but it signified a profound connection to my heritage.
In August, I was invited to share my story at the NAAAP Leadership Convention, which had the theme “Unifying Visionaries.”
It was there that I felt a stronger sense of pride in my Vietnamese identity, transcending my American one. I had the incredible opportunity to share the stage with notable figures such as Michelle Wu, the Mayor of Boston, George Takei from “Star Trek,” and Bing Chen from Gold House.
At Vietcetera, our mission revolves around bridging the gap between Vietnam and the world, fostering cultural exchange, and showcasing our rich heritage.
My journey from “Hao” to “Hảo” symbolizes more than just a name change – it represents a profound reconnection with my roots and a celebration of diversity.
NAAAP’s commitment to nurturing Asian leaders served as a poignant reminder that our stories, names, and cultures are not only worth celebrating but are also powerful tools for empowerment. It’s about inspiring the upcoming generation to embrace their heritage with pride and make a lasting impact on a global scale.