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Nguoi Viet: Building the Vietnamese Community from the Ground Up

NCM Profile

NCM, Pueng Vongs Posted: May 02, 2003

When Yen Do began Nguoi Viet Daily in Orange County in 1978, there were only 12 Vietnamese-owned businesses in the area. But Do, a former journalist in Vietnam, recognized a fledgling community that hungered for news from its homeland and needed a guide to its new country. I wanted to help resettle and educate the newcomers here and to continue the collective memory of our group of refugees, says Do.

A lot has changed since then. The Vietnamese are a thriving community in Orange County and the population has ballooned to approximately 140,000 the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. What hasnt changed is the role of Nguoi Viet as a bridge for the Vietnamese American community to their homeland and to each other.

When Do first began the newspaper as a four page leaflet compiled and distributed by a small staff of volunteers, he filled the pages with news of Vietnam translated from international newspapers. He also added bits and pieces from personal accounts: interviews with social workers who worked with new refugees as well as letters sent by loved ones from Vietnam. He kept those in the United States in touch with such important issues as the impact of a skirmish on the China and Vietnam border to news on who had escaped the country. Today, the newspaper still focuses on the actions of the Communist government of Vietnam and how it impacts its people, but there is also greater coverage on the economic renaissance of the country and its growing role in the global economy. An economic column in the newspaper is perhaps its most widely read.

Do remembers the days when his readers needed how to articles on the details of American life. He published pieces that explained how Vietnamese residents could apply for drivers licenses, register children in school, or buy a home. There was no such thing as mortgages in Vietnam, Do said. Today, Vietnamese are one of the leading homebuyers in the county. The local scope of the magazine has expanded considerably over the years to cover the political and economic empowerment of the community. Children of that first generation have grown to have children of their own many who do not speak Vietnamese. As a result, Nguoi Viet is expanding its weekly English edition. The newspaper also publishes a literary magazine, an important creative outlet for the new generation.

Many say Do was an integral part in building the foundation for the present Vietnamese community in Orange County. When he began the newspaper, Do gave new Vietnamese businesses greater visibility by running ads for just $5 each. Do also gave interest free loans to community members who needed a down payment to buy their first home -- even though it was several years before they paid him back. Today, recognizing the importance of the Vietnamese diaspora to communicate with one another, Do recently sent three correspondents to Moscow to study the Vietnamese community in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The Vietnamese in this region, he says, are an important conduit for news channeled from Hanoi to Moscow.

Today, the newspaper has a global reach and is distributed as far away as Australia, China, France, Russia and Vietnam. Nguoi Viet has blossomed with the community and employs about 70 people, producing a Vietnamese directory and its own radio show broadcast in Southern California.

Do looks back on his original intent 25 years ago to ease the transition of the Vietnamese to the United States and sees that he has more than met his goal.

Nguoi Viet is online at www.nguoi-viet.com.

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