Carol Hứa enters Coco Leaf, a popular cafe near Fields Corner in Dorchester that mainly serves Vietnamese desserts. Already, she greets a girl sitting near the door. I don’t know if she knew her or not. As I stand up from the table, she approaches me with a nice “hello” and asks if she can give me a hug. Hứa seems happy and excited, smiling brightly. I haven’t seen her since February when I participated in the leadership program she led. After ordering her iced coffee, we sit at a spot near the window and talk.
Up until February, Hứa was the youth program director of Viet-AID, an organization that provides accessible and affordable services to the Fields Corner community. She grew up living in public housing in Dorchester and attended Boston Latin Academy. During her high school years, she was involved in Asian American work by participating in the youth program Asian Voices of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment.
Hứa believed she wanted to be a history teacher until her senior year in college when she saw a job opening at Viet-AID, one of the few places in the city that focuses on the needs of Vietnamese youth. “You know, many of our families are from working-class families. So we need academic support that's bilingual and bicultural,” Hứa said.
Viet-AID does much more than just give youth academic support. They also provide families with affordable housing and childcare, volunteer opportunities for high school youth and a summer program open to first through eighth-grade students. Viet-AID is not just for Vietnamese children, but for kids all over the neighborhood.
Hứa said she was thrilled to accept the job at Viet-AID because it allowed her to do so many things she probably couldn’t do as a teacher. “It was kind of like a really happy marriage where as a youth worker, I get to teach, I get to organize, I get to plan events, I get to do a bunch of things...” she said. Hứa has led youth programs that teach about identity, Vietnam’s history, gentrification and oppression.
When Hứa was young she was confused about her Asian American identity. Programs and community centers like Viet-AID help youths with these kinds of problems and expose them to their own histories and cultures. Hứa felt bad about speaking Vietnamese, even when she enjoyed it as a kid and felt proud. “I went through this transition of like being really proud and then being taught that if I was speaking anything besides English, I'm going to have an accent that's going to be really bad. And then I internalized nativism, right,” Hứa said, describing how it felt growing up.
From being insecure to speak Vietnamese and internalizing nativism, to working at a Vietnamese American community center for six years, Hứa inspires and gets young people thinking about tough Asian American topics.
When reflecting on her teenage years, Hứa tells me about being a part of Asian Voice of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment and how important it was for her. “It was my first time being able to have a space to talk about my identity as an Asian American person...meeting Asian American college students and going to conferences,” Hứa said. When it came time for her to teach a program that provides a powerful experience for youth, Hứa made sure she was making a mark and helping participants. Through watching Vietnamese American films, having important discussions about immigration, resettlement and lived experiences, the youth interns are then able to conduct their own projects that can range from leading workshops for eighth-graders to writing books starring Asian American characters. Through these projects, the youth are able to grow and learn about their culture and history.
Even though Hứa no longer works at Viet-AID, she was originally inspired to join their team because she wanted to impact the youth. “I think the inspiration is really thinking about how can I support young people to be seen, to be heard, and help some feel affirmed through what they're learning. And really mobilizing them to use our power for good both individually and collectively.” Hứa said.