By Victor Phu, 2016 SF City Hall Fellow. My name is Victor Phu and I am a second generation Vietnamese American from East San Jose. I am the first in my family to graduate from University of California, Berkeley and to step into the world of politics. As a City Hall Fellow, I am placed at the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) tasked to implement My Brother & Sister’s Keeper (MBSK), in which I will be enduring the challenge to ensure every African American student enrolled in SFUSD is tied to a postsecondary pathway to success. I am in a privileged position to be a City Hall Fellow and I would never have expected to be where I am today.
Growing up in East San Jose, I was always disappointed at the disproportionate allocation of resources to my community in Little Saigon as opposed to surrounding regions like Evergreen, Blossom Hill or West San Jose. I was always curious why Vietnamese students were seen as a model minority when the aftermath impacts of the Vietnam War still existed in our homes. I was always angry that my community always relied on food stamps and other forms of social safety nets, but it was never enough to address the financial needs of our families. I could not articulate what I was feeling or why I was so angry. I was not equipped with the adequate education, vocabulary or critical mindset to digest the systemic issues impacting my Southeast Asian community.
Despite all of the adversity, I was still able to come to Berkeley to pursue higher education. Berkeley is where I became aware of the historical and political factors contributing to my hardships, and where I became motivated to change these systems for future generations. My development as a community activist at UC Berkeley has shaped my perspective on how minorities are particularly affected by unseen public policies that negatively affect their everyday experiences and overall lives. I realized that the adversities that my Vietnamese immigrant family faced were due in large part to public policies that do not account for the daily struggles that members of marginalized communities face.
As a young Southeast Asian activist, I came to City Hall Fellows expecting the worst. As a person that was criticizing systems of power on the daily, it was a strange feeling to challenge the system from the inside out. I expected to deal with bureaucracy, unwelcoming work environments, and an incredibly non-diverse workforce. To be real, it all came true. As a Vietnamese American, I felt that I had to constantly share the struggles of my Southeast Asian community to my workplace because all the data on school achievements reveal “Asian” students were doing extremely well. As the only Asian American working in the Black community, it was an assumption that I was a Chinese American brought up in an affluent home. Just today, I had a community member who told me, “Your people don’t need help.”
This is a common challenge that many Southeast Asians experience coming into the public sector. Our stories become invalidated because we are constantly questioned whether we are a “Person of Color” or “White.” But, it was a necessary challenge to experience because young Southeast Asians are extremely underrepresented in government positions and positions of power. There is an increasing need to have our stories told and to disaggregate the data in all school districts and cities to paint the real picture of what is actually happening.
As I am learning and exploring my first career in the San Francisco Unified School District, it is always important to remember my journey leading up to today. My first blog post is a reminder about my identity as a Southeast Asian boy growing up in East San Jose. It is easy to get consumed in our career because we are thinking the next step. But we must always remember how our identity and journeys shape our sense of social justice and advocacy.
If you are reading, then I hope you remember to reflect on your journey as well. From what I learned from the Southeast Asian Student Coalition at University of California, Berkeley, our stories are valid and it will continue to shape our ideas and values of social justice and activism.