When she was a young child, Vy Toung Vo and her family moved to the U.S. as refugees from Vietnam. She has since dedicated her career to supporting Vietnamese and, more broadly, Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.
As a bilingual digital literacy instructor with CTN, Vy has taught various cohorts of monolingual Vietnamese-speaking learners how to use the internet. She says that the service is much needed. “Because of the model minority myth and skewed statistics, people think that the entire AAPI community is tech-literate and living in Silicon Valley. This may apply to some, but people assume that our community is more like this than it really is. There are tons of poor and at-risk Vietnamese people. Some of my learners are very marginalized. Many are seniors, disabled, or low-income. Many can’t leave their homes and have no family and are very isolated. We have to showcase diversity in the community — we’re not all like in the movie Crazy Rich Asians. There is really a need and a demand for services [like CTN provides].”
Vy is particularly proud to support digital equity, which she calls “the way of the future.” “Access to the internet is now basically a utility like water or gas. There is no way to operate without it,” she adds.
Giving back to the Vietnamese community has also allowed Vy to feel more connected to her heritage. She says: “It feels really good to be able to use my full name — which is hard for most non-Vietnamese speakers to pronounce — with my students. In fact, the other day, an older Vietnamese woman told me that she loved my name, which translates loosely to a small white flower, a little wall-climbing rose, like a creeping vine. It’s been great to connect with my identity and this part of myself. It’s also been great to connect with my mother tongue, my first language, by teaching in Vietnamese. You can sometimes lose a little bit of the language by not practicing it in our English-speaking society.”
This is not Vy’s first time serving the Vietnamese and AAPI community. The 28-year-old UC Berkeley graduate is also the founder of the Contra Costa County AAPI Advocacy Coalition. The coalition strives to bring resources to the community, empower its members, and respond to local needs. Under Vy’s guidance, the group distributed hundreds of PPE (such as masks and sanitizers) during the pandemic. It also offered capacity-building training to local Asian leaders, led a domestic violence prevention program, and reached out to undocumented families to provide health information and emergency rental assistance. “My goal is for the AAPI community to be happy, healthy, integrated, and included. I want to do whatever it takes to ensure its vitality and visibility, as well as its political, economic, and social wellness,” Vy says.
Through her work with CTN and her other endeavors, Vy truly is making a difference. “I love using my language to serve my community. With CTN, I help students of all different levels. Some start with the fundamentals, and I teach them how to swipe or scroll on a screen. Others are already well-versed in technology and just need someone to walk them through things. A lot of the students are nervous when they first start. I remind them that there’s no quiz at the end and that they can go at their own pace. I’m flexible and trained to work with people where they are.
“I want to break down barriers to give the AAPI community what it rightfully deserves. This work is really rewarding. You can change someone’s life. But essentially I’m advocating for my whole community.”