Camping during Memorial Day weekend amid a backdrop of pine trees, camp fire sing-alongs, and making new friends is nothing short of fun. But adding in debates about cultural identity among 300 other campers and a keynote address by former NFL player Dat Nguyen (the first Vietnamese American in the league) makes the 2012 Camp Len Duong stand out from the rest. This dual goal of team-building and cultural immersion is what brings me to Maple Lake, Minnesota for the 15th anniversary of Camp Len Duong (which means “embark” in Vietnamese).
This year’s camp theme is “Live Your Dream: Conceive, Believe, Achieve!” and is hosted by the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association, a non-profit organization headquartered in Houston, Texas. It is a weekend filled with tests of physical stamina, group communication skills, self-reflection, and an occasional dose of Vietnamese history and culture. Around 300 college students and young professionals of Vietnamese descent from the United States and Canada are expected to attend, with a majority of them representing the 2nd or 1.5 generation Vietnamese Americans (those who were born abroad but grew up in the U.S.). Growing up in North America as children of immigrant parents offers a unique set of challenges in navigating cultures, languages, and set of expectations dictated by traditional customs.
Camp Len Duong addresses these topics through professional development workshops from national organizations like Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP); midnight fireside chats; and the chance to work on a real-life case study for non-profit organizations serving the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. These multi-faceted programs encouraged me to come back as a veteran camper and as a full-time staff member in Minnesota this year. Every camp experience has personally contributed to my development as a leader in my community, from ample opportunities in public speaking, to the chance to lead my team for a day among team members twice my age. Each year I feel a few degrees closer to my parents’ roots. The staff does their best to incorporate cultural elements throughout the campsite. For example, cabins are named after major cities like Saigon or Nha Trang. My team name was the word “integrity” in Vietnamese, encouraging my teammates to live up to our namesake when we competed in the “Big Game,” which was a mixture of team challenges from a Ropes Course and Vietnam history trivia and customs.
My first Camp Len Duong in 2006 changed my life. My second Camp Len Duong in 2008 helped me explore my Vietnamese identity. My third Camp Len Duong 2011 set me on a course. Camp activities can inspire new ideas to help build a better community, but the competitive seed grants allow those ideas to come to fruition. What is unique is that campers can apply for a $1000 grant sponsored by the New Moon Foundation, which I applied for in its inaugural year. Through the grant, I started a project to expand civic participation in the Vietnamese American community in Houston, Texas, with the goal of increasing the number of registered voters and the number of bilingual election clerks on Election Day.
This is just one of the many projects stemming from the inspiration and energy that followed Camp Len Duong. For emerging leaders and those who are interested in enriching their lives through public service, Camp Len Duong is something you do not want to miss. Scholarships are available which cover travel and camp fees through the generosity of community supporters and Camp Len Duong alumni. For more information on the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association or Camp Len Duong, visit www.lenduongcamp.org.
About the Author: Cindy Dinh, 23, was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Through grassroots initiatives and public policy in the future, Cindy is committed to empowering the Asian American community. For the past six years she has taught Vietnamese language and culture to over 300 students, equipping them with the confidence and linguistic skills necessary to connect the immigrant population to mainstream society.
She is passionate about human rights, language access, voter participation, and culturally competent health care. She has interned in Washington, DC in the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum and is a Board Member of the Houston chapter of OCA (a national Asian American social justice organization). She is the Public Relations Co-Chair of the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association and three-time veteran of its flagship program, Camp Len Duong.
Cindy holds a B.A. from Rice University where she double-majored in Sociology and Health Policy and was selected as a 2010 Harry S. Truman Scholar for the state of Texas. She will pursue a joint JD/Master’s of Public Policy this fall at the University of California-Berkeley and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.