I haven’t experienced dark days like these since we fled Vietnam as war refugees in the spring of 1975. People suffering so much from the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve seen my American-educated children – Linh Nguyen who was born in California and Tam Nguyen who was just a toddler when we escaped Vietnam – become brilliant professionals and caring contributors to so many different causes and organizations, and they have been doing this for decades now.

For more than one year now since the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, they became leaders in the all-volunteer Nailing It For America effort along with other co-founders of the action-oriented organization: Christine Nguyen, Ha Duong, Johnny Ngo and Ted Nguyen. These Vietnamese American professionals are generating constant news media coverage locally, nationally and internationally because their volunteer efforts are making a difference.

That work collected, purchased and delivered more than 1.2 million personal protective equipment worth approximately $30 million and more than 70,000 restaurant meals for healthcare professionals and other front-line heroes battling the coronavirus.

Seeing my adult children with their other professional colleagues contribute so much to help their fellow Americans made me well up with pride that our sacrifices during our darkest days in Vietnam led to them bringing much light and joy to doctors, nurses and other front-line heroes. And of course, I was honored to contribute to the cause with my own monetary donations – even soliciting funds from my friends and members of my Buddhist temple.

We’ve all been shocked by the videos of Asian American seniors being punched, kicked and spat upon. Some were stabbed. And some have died from unspeakable violence for simply being Asian.

Unfortunately, while the Nailing It For America organizers were helping combat COVID-19, some of these volunteers experienced anti-Asian hate words themselves. And I was shocked and saddened that I experienced these hateful words myself.

During the pandemic, it was my goal to take walks or exercise every day at the park. On several occasions on my walks, people would leer at me, then scatter away and yell: “Get away from her! She has the virus!”

It broke my heart hearing those words and seeing people run away from me.

Just when my heart swelled up with happiness and pride knowing that we were making a difference by helping so many of our fellow Americans, these hurtful words pierced my heart. As Americans of Asian descent, these hateful words and vile violence puncture all of our hearts.

Ironically, just steps from where I experienced those dark words, I participated in a beautiful ceremony earlier this month where my children, grandchildren and others created hundreds of luminaries that spelled out “Stop Asian Hate” with a heart below. During this beautiful moment, prayers and chants from faith leaders gave us hope. While we reflected upon the lives loss from COVID-19, the candlelight vigil also brought much-needed attention to the spate of anti-Asian hate words and violence, especially against vulnerable seniors.

At that moment, I realized the site of these hateful words was quickly replaced with a groundswell of unity as young and old alike joined with people from all races and backgrounds to light up the night sky with messages of hope and love.

I knew I wanted to do something when I heard that my children and their colleagues were honoring the eight lives lost March 16 from the horrific Atlanta shooting and after the senseless tragedy of 10 people dying from the shooting in Boulder, Colo. on March 22 with a candlelight vigil with more luminaries one night later. But instead of being on the ground, the luminaries were placed upon the peaceful pond at a park in Garden Grove.

Earth. Fire. Water. Air. That’s why I donated to have an airplane write up in the sky two simple words: No Hate. Perhaps then will all of the universe’s elements feel our collective hope for peace.

But most importantly, I pray that our positive actions will help change those wounded hearts and minds, so they well up with tears of hope and love replacing fear and hate. 

Kien Nguyen, 76, is a mother of two and grandmother to six, of Fountain Valley, Calif.

Go here to read this in Vietnamese: https://voiceofoc.org/2021/03/nguyen-chung-ta-phai-huong-len/

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