A group of 15 mostly Vietnamese youth trickle into the dimly-lit basement of the Josephine Butler Parks Center on a recent Thursday afternoon. After snacking on cookies and chips, they take their places at a long table. Some pull out school books and they casually partner up, speaking a mix of Vietnamese and English.
Some are new arrivals to the United States, others are veterans of the Vietnamese American Community Service Center, where they perfected their English and learned more about Vietnamese culture during after-school and summer sessions.
The basement, rented by VACSC, once hosted a group of 50 kids. But due to recent budget cuts, VACSC had to let go of four of its staffers and the after-school program had to reduce in size, which is now geared toward serving older kids. President Hien Vu is the only full time staff member left, and she’s taken on everything from counseling Vietnamese adults on how to apply for Medicare to translating for students and parents.
Angela Lam is a volunteer who comes by VACSC often to help tutor students in subjects such as English. She said the group of youth in the program represent “the epitome of the Asian-American experience,” in that most are low-income and have parents with limited English proficiency or no English proficiency.
“There’s kind of a myth that all of the Asians left D.C. But these kids are still here,” she said. “These kids attend all these D.C. public schools that are mostly Latino and black… A lot of these kids are the only Asian faces in their schools.”
That’s been Tony Nguyen’s experience. The 16-year-old Woodrow Wilson High School junior said that being Vietnamese in D.C., “it’s pretty much a struggle. You’re a minority in school.”