16 November 2006


This past weekend I visited an old friend, H, back in my VAYO days. VAYO stands for Vietnamese-American Youth Organization. Surely we are no longer youths, both "old" men with wife and children. Seriously, the youth in VAYO refers to the people for which the group was founded, not its founders.

It is amazing how time flies. Not too long ago I drove out to South Brunswick to visit H and his wife because they just had a son. This past weekend's visit the son was already three years old, running all over the house! Every time I visited H, I want to move out of New York City, to some place bigger. He has a front yard, a backyard big enough to house a trampoline, guest bedroom, the kids can play on the street, etc. That's H's daughters and son having fun on the trampoline. The older daughter, in pink, is really good at it and can even do forward flip.

I knew H from my college days. I don't remember the exact circumstance, but I do recall he had a limp at the time, probably from some recent accident. I was a bona fide Cooper Union engineering student while he was a in a dual-degree from New York University. Yes, when he graduated, he had a degree from NYU and another, Electrical Engineering, I think, from CU. And I thought Cooper was difficult enough.

H and some friends of his founded VAYO to provide a place for Vietnamese-American kids to hang out, instead of getting into troubles with the law or worse. It was the 1990s with Born To Kill gang giving Vietnamese a bad reputation. I am not sure if Vietnamese gangs still exist today, probably just not as violent as back then. Some things just never go away.

My involvement with VAYO started with its Vietnamese school in the Bronx. I was living in Long Island City and a VAYO member, DD, lived in nearby Astoria. Almost every Saturday he would drive me to St. Nicholas of Tolentine church at University Avenue and Fordham Road in the Bronx. The church provided the space for free or for a nominal contribution. The primary teacher for VAYO was Tr, who lived not far from the church. Together, we taught kids of various ages the Vietnamese language. I only learned Vietnamese up to the fifth grade so I stuck with teaching the little kids the basic stuff. My drawing skill came in handy at times to keep the kids entertained. Some kids were with the program for many years and became teenagers capable of reading and writing Vietnamese. Sadly, when we tried to raise money for VAYO by asking for donation, most parents stopped sending their kids to the Vietnamese school. With almost zero attendance, the VAYO school was closed. Fortunately, I heard from H this past weekend that Tr still teaches Vietnamese at St. Nicholas for some other school programs run by the church. Good for him!

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