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Camp Len Duong: A Personal Experience from a New Yorker

Got pride? This question is aimed towards all my beloved fellow Vietnamese brothers and sisters. My name is Minh-Bao Pham. The name can’t get any more Vietnamese than that. Right? And the fact of the matter is, I love my name, I carry it with much cultural pride. Why? Because it reflects my culture, my origin, my ethnicity. It’s who I am. I am Viet Nam and Viet Nam is I. I was not always so proud though. As a matter of fact, I used to be ashamed of my yellow skin. So ashamed that it’s sickening.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. In my elementary school, I was one of two Asian kids in the entire school. When I moved on to high school, I was the only yellow-skinned human being in sight. I went to a school called Clara Barton, located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Crown Heights is the neighborhood in which the Rodney King riots took place; it is a predominantly African-American neighborhood, one of Brooklyn’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas.

Like I stated earlier, I was the only Asian student at the school, there were not any other Asian kids in the neighborhood, and the only Caucasians around were teachers. Ever since the first grade, and all the way through high school, I was constantly ridiculed for my yellow skin, especially in high school. It never failed; at least once a week I would always hear, “Hey pork fried rice, yo beef and broccoli, look at that chink hahaha, ching-chong wing-wong, hiyaaaaaa, wassup Bruce Lee?”… The list of insults goes on.

Everyone always wanted to touch my hair–like I was some kind of alien from Mars. People laughed at my name because they thought it sounded strange. People were always calling me “chink” or “gook” like it was funny. I never laughed. One day, I got sick of it. These two guys from the neighborhood called me “ching-chong” as I was walking to the train station and I decided to stand up for myself and fight back. They beat me up badly. My face got all swollen. I remember a whole crowd watched as I got stomped on repeatedly, but no one helped me as I got beaten. No one helped me as they stole my jacket. After they took off my jacket, they were still hitting me, taunting me, “Who the f … does this chink think he is trying to fight back?” Luckily, some of my African-American friends from school came to my aid and chased the two guys away. I got a safety transfer out of that school after that. But the damage was done, I was already ashamed of who I was, ashamed of the color of my skin, ashamed of being Vietnamese.

One day, my mother asked me if I wanted to go to a Vietnamese sleep-away camp in Texas. All I was thinking about was girls, girls and more girls. I was like, “What? A sleep-away camp full of Vietnamese girls? I’m going.” All I was thinking about was girls, but I had no idea that my life would change forever. I had no idea what to expect because I had never been exposed to so many of my people before, not to mention the fact that my Vietnamese was not very good, so these factors made me feel a little bit nervous as I reached the camp site. But I immediately felt comfortable because everyone was so open with each other. For the whole time I was at camp Len Duong 2000, everyone around me showed me nothing but love and respect. The staff at the camp educated me on my culture and gave me a clear insight of what being Vietnamese really is. I was overwhelmed by all the love that I was surrounded by, and I knew exactly why the people there gave me so much love. Because in their eyes, I was a brother, a Vietnamese brother, and everyone treated me like family. It opened my heart and touched my soul. My Len Duong experience helped me find out who I am. I loved every moment of it.

I cried on the plane ride back to New York. I cried remembering all the memories that I will never forget. I will never forget all the love I felt at my first Len Duong experience. I also will never forget all the fun that I had at the camp. All the activities and games always made me smile and laugh; they made me feel that much more comfortable and open with the other brothers and sisters around me.

So to all my Vietnamese brothers and sisters, I would just like to say that my Len Duong experience really influenced my life for the better. And I think that camp Len Duong is great, especially for the Vietnamese brothers and sisters who were born in America and are curious about their roots, culture and history. Like the famous saying goes, “you won’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from.”

I also think that Len Duong is a great experience for the brothers and sisters who were born in the homeland, but are currently living in the U.S. Len Duong might help quench your nostalgia, ‘cause everyone around you will be Vietnamese.

Learn more and register for Camp Len Duong 2023 here.

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About the author:

Minh Bao Pham first came to Len Duong in 2000. After that he came back and volunteered as full-time staff in the Security Team for camp Len Duong 2001, and Len Duong 2002. In 2004, he graduated from college with a Business Degree and worked in the banking industry. In 2005, he decided to quit his job to become a fire fighter in New York. After a year of rigorous training with many challenges, he became the first Vietnamese American fire fighter in New York. His success is an inspiration to all Len Duong campers.


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