By Amy Taxin
GARDEN GROVE, California (AP) – When Thuy Vo Dang came to the United States as a young girl, her English took off. Her parents sent her to Vietnamese school on the weekends to learn her native language, but she eventually had to study it in graduate school to become fully literate.
Now, the 35-year-old mother of two and archivist for the University of California, Irvine’s Southeast Asian Archive has been lobbying for her Southern California school district to start the state’s first dual immersion elementary school program in Vietnamese. She said she wants to help keep the language alive for the next generation growing up in the United States.
“I can see how quickly they’re forgetting their Vietnamese,” Vo Dang said of her 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. “I would love if this were available for him when he starts kindergarten.”
The move to expand the use of Vietnamese in so-called dual immersion programs comes as the children of refugees who fled the aftermath of the Vietnam War are coming of age and striving to preserve the language for their American children.
Nearly 1.9 million people of Vietnamese heritage live in the United States, and a third were born here, according to census data.
In the last few years, schools in Texas and Washington state have begun Vietnamese language dual immersion programs. The Garden Grove Unified School District voted last month to consider starting a program in one of the largest Vietnamese immigrant enclaves in the United States.
The move came after young Vietnamese American parents and 30-somethings pushed for the program, hoping their children will get a strong sense of their heritage and be better prepared to work in a global economy. Dual immersion programs are usually split between English speakers and English learners, so children model the languages for each other.
“Our parents didn’t really have a say in our education and that’s understandable,” said Bao Nguyen, a Garden Grove schools trustee. “Now that we have our place in society and we want to contribute and we want to prosper, we want to make this a better place for everybody. We have a voice, and this is what we’re doing — we’re exercising our voice.” (end)