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International Women's Day Nashville

I am going to share my story, but there is a catch. You will be a part of this story.

During the Vietnam War, my family worked closely with the American army. When we lost the war, my family became traitors, a death sentence under the new government. My family quickly prepared to flee the country. My father left with my sister, my three brothers, and my aunt on a small fishing boat. That small boat, like many other boats, capsized in the ocean. My mom was left behind because she pregnant with me. (show picture of family)

If you have lost someone or something important in your life, raise your hand.

Look around. You are not alone. Our stories are very similar.

My mom tried seven times to escape with me. Each time, we faced death, were conned, robbed, blackmailed and imprisoned.

When we finally escaped, we spent four years in three different refugee camps, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines with thousands of other refugees. Our camps packed like sardines, surrounded by water tainted by feces, urine and disease. If we survived the diseases, we still had barely enough food to feed ourselves. (show picture of refugee camp)

If you’ve had struggles and problems in your life, raise your hand.

We got our chance to come to America. We arrived with just the clothes on our backs. Churches and charities gave us food and clothes. But we did not have a free ride. We got a loan for $900 to rent a 500 square feet apartment, shared with six other families. My family worked in factories for $2 an hour, we cleaned houses, and at the age of 7, I started selling sodas at the flea market every weekend. The neighborhood we lived in terrorized us, stealing our few belongings, threatening us with their racism, and when I went to school in my flip flops and ragged old donated clothes, students would bully me, beat me in the playground and tell me I should go back to my country. (show childhood picture)

If you’ve ever been hurt by words and actions of others, raise your hand.

Look around. You are not alone. Our stories are very similar.

I was not safe at school. When I went home, there were still other families living with us, so we could afford the rent. They were all strangers, and one of them was a pedophile. I would tell my mom that he was bad, but she didn’t believe me. If my mom didn’t believe me, no one would. So like most victims, I kept it to myself. I lived with my abuser until I was a teenager.

If you’ve ever had your trust violated, raise your hand.

You are not alone. Just keep fighting.

All the discrimination, racism, bullying, abuse, and family problems hurt me deeply. Before I was 8 years old, I already started to find ways to kill myself.

If you’ve ever been sad, angry, or depressed, raise your hand.

You are not alone. Choose to be alive.

But I did not give up on life. I want to tell you that my scrawny little self I fought off my bullies everyday in the playground with swinging my jacket. I stood up to racism by using my learned English to defend my family. I learned English so well that I got a full scholarship to go to college and grad school. I went on to learn French and Japanese. My family overcame poverty and started their own businesses. I am successful because of the everyday people who were kind: my teachers who bought me schools supplies and saw beyond my color and rags and said I was smart, the people that volunteered to teach my family English, the charities that gave us food and clothes, and all the people that welcomed us as human beings. It was because people gave me hope. (show picture of awards)

(Bring chopsticks out) My parents use to tell me a chopstick story. If you are one chopstick, anyone and anything can break you. But if you are a bundle of chopsticks, together, it is almost impossible to break.

If you have hope, please stand up.

Together nothing will break us.

Our story brings us together, makes us stronger, and gives us hope.

Now take the hands of your neighbors, lift their arms up.

Be brave and lift each other up and share your story. Thank you for being a part of my story.

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