In Orange County's Little Saigon community, there's a real worry that Vietnamese language and culture are getting lost in the American melting pot. Younger generation Vietnamese Americans use English in their daily lives, often because it's the only language they know. The situation, not surprisingly, alarms some parents who've decided to speak only Vietnamese to their toddlers.
Sophie Bao Tran, who was born in the U.S. to war-refugee parents and attended the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, shares those concerns. "My Vietnamese isn't perfect," Tran says. "When I speak it around my mom and dad, they correct my mistakes. They are very loving and encouraging, and I want to pass that on."
In Tran's case, bolstering Vietnamese skills for everyone, especially younger generations, isn't just an idle dream. Her The He Tre (Young Generation) Productions has operated with a clear mission: "To help children learn the Vietnamese language and culture through songs." Thousands of kids over the years have benefited.
But Tran isn't just an instructor. She's also a TV producer, model, fashion- and music-show MC, documentary maker, and diversity marketing specialist. Before state Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva lost her Fullerton-area seat in the last election, Tran served as her press liaison. She also translated concerns from Vietnamese American constituents for the assemblywoman.
"I was kind of good at it," Tran says, laughing. "It was fun."
Her outgoing personality and energy have made her a sort of unofficial but ubiquitous Little Saigon ambassador. In recent weeks, she has scored TV interviews with Lee Nguyen, the only Vietnamese American on the U.S. National Soccer Team, and film director Tony Bui (creator of Sundance Festival award winner Three Seasons with Harvey Keitel); co-hosted the Miss Vietnam Southern California pageant; emceed at both the Vietnamese Student Associations/Union's Tet Festival music show and for the community's Rice Cake Cooking Contest at Asian Garden Mall; gave an alumni speech at UC Irvine; huddled with Tet Parade organizers; and modeled at a fashion show.
"I like to keep busy and enjoy being part of events," she says. "You meet so many interesting people."
Bao Nguyen, Garden Grove's mayor, used one word to describe Tran: "special."
You might think Tran would be exhausted, but she isn't.
"I feel like I was put on this earth for a purpose," she says. "I want to transfer my Vietnamese pride to the next generation."