VILSECK, Germany – “My biggest motivator is giving back to this country that has given so much for my family,” said U.S. Army Capt. Vinh T. Nguyen, assigned to the 2d Cavalry Regiment.
Having served in the U.S. Army for seven years, Nguyen discussed his journey and reflected upon significant traditions within Vietnamese culture in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at the Reed Museum in Vilseck, Germany, May 18, 2020.
Nguyen, a Los Angeles native, graduated from California State University in Long Beach, Calif. with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice before commissioning as a military police officer. His family hails from Ho Chi Minh City [commonly known as Saigon], Vietnam.
“When my family first came here to America, we had little more than the clothes on our backs, and the money in our pockets,” said Nguyen. “Now, in the 30 years since then, everyone in my family has been very successful, and it’s thanks to the United States. I’m just here to give back to the country that has helped us.”
Nguyen’s journey as the regimental provost marshal is inspired by Maj. Gen. Viet Luong, who came to America in 1975 after the fall of Saigon.
“One person that inspires me a lot is Maj. Gen. Viet Luong,” said Nguyen. “Since then, he has climbed up the ranks and was the first ever Vietnamese born general in the United States military, and that was a huge deal in the Vietnamese community. Even my mom called me up the day after [it happened] to ask me if I had heard about him.”
At the Reed Museum, Nguyen discussed important aspects of Vietnamese culture to include the ao dai, a traditional Vietnamese garment, with his son wearing the design. The ao dai is a popular and widely recognized national garment of Vietnam, symbolizing national pride.
“The ao dai is normally worn during formal events such as weddings and during the Lunar New Year,” said Nguyen. “In ancient times, the ao dai was typically reserved for the royal family and government officials. Today, it is worn by people of all economic backgrounds. It is also a popular garment at tourist sites such as restaurants and hotels.”
While the ao dai in ancient times was simple in color, today’s ao dai has different colors representing age and status with young girls wearing white, unmarried women often wearing soft pastel colors and married women wearing the ao dai in richer and darker colors.
“There are some colors that are specific to specific events,” said Nguyen to elaborate. “For example during weddings, red is traditionally the color of the bride to symbolize good luck and happiness. Also, white is usually worn by young women to symbolize purity and innocence.”
Nguyen also reflected upon food as being the common thread in the Vietnamese community. Traditional Vietnamese cuisine includes Pho, spring rolls, dumplings and Mi Quang noodles.
“I would say the most important aspect of Vietnamese culture that is important to me is the food,” said Nguyen. “No matter how far we’ve gone and how much we’ve assimilated with American culture, food is the one constant that reminds us of our Vietnamese roots.”
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