By BRYAN THAO WORRA
AAP staff writer
Minh-Giang (Anna) Nguyen is in her third year of teaching as a 5th grade educator in Alum Rock Unified School District in East San Jose.
While working in San Jose, she has also organized with VietUnity, a progressive Vietnamese grassroots collective based in the greater Bay Area. Additionally, she is involved with South Bay First Thursdays, an organization bringing awareness of Asian Pacific Islander issues to the community through dinner and discussion.
She studied Mass Communications and Sociology at UC-Berkeley while dedicating her undergraduate career to the education and empowerment of under-served populations. Organizations she has been connected with include REACH! Asian Pacific Islander Recruitment & Retention Center, bridges Multicultural Resource Center, the Southeast Asian Student Coalition, and the Student Learning Center. She enjoys writing, running, sleeping, dancing, singing/rapping old school jams, keepin’ it real, and being in the company of awesome individuals.
Asian American Press recently caught up with her.
Asian American Press: How did you get started as an artist, and what keeps you going?
Anna Minh-Giang Nguyen: I’ve been interested in poetry since I was a child. I loved writing about friendships and following rhyming schemes. Later on, I became more passionate about it in high school because I saw poetry as an outlet for my emotions, especially concerning my interpersonal relationships with family, friends, and love interests. However, my inspiration to take on raw/no-reservations poetry came from the opportunity I had of visiting UC Berkeley during a high school senior outreach event called “Senior Weekend.” I got my first taste of slam poetry/spoken word and was in love ever since. Since then, I’ve written poetry that speaks the truth of my emotions and perspective as a young Vietnamese womyn and educator.
While I write and perform sparingly, my passion for sharing my experiences and continual progress keep me writing. I write to speak truth, and I perform to seek solidarity with others who feel similarly and also in hopes of providing a voice to those who do not have the opportunity to speak their truth. I also know that there’s always room for improvement, especially when I want to do my messages justice in each piece, so I continue to write and perform to build on that skill of delivering powerful messages. In terms of retaining myself as a writer, I have been blessed with having many positive influences in my life – in the form of family, friends, fellow writers, and YouTube poets – who support me and inspire me during my writing process.
AAP: What are some of the themes you’ve enjoyed exploring through your art lately? When do you know a piece is finished?
AMGN: My last piece “shameless” was written in attempt to summarize my understanding of my father within my 24 years of life, who only opened up to me about his experiences as a Vietnamese refugee in the past three years. The evolution of my poetry has gone from writing about how I feel about others, to how I see myself, to how I understand the people and world around me – and I’ve been exploring the latter theme a lot more recently.
For me, it’s really hard to determine when a piece is finished. If I’m writing about a certain experience I’ve had in the past, then I will normally revise and edit until I’ve exhausted all information and imagery I could use to deliver the message of the piece. However, if it’s about my personal and interpersonal experiences, I often find myself dissatisfied with certain parts of the poem because I feel there’s so much more I need to learn about myself or others before I share it with others. I’m also very critical of my own writing, as I always strive to share my best work, and that itself makes it hard for me to declare that a piece is finished.
AAP: What’s your artistic process like for you as you start developing a new piece?
AMGN: My writing process often has to start with a spark. When I encounter a racist jerk on the street, have a quarrel with a friend, get heartbroken, or hear an inspirational song, or any similar experiences, I sometimes write down lines for a future piece I’d like to write or end up drafting a piece within two to three hours. I usually sit down with my best neo-soul and conscious hip-hop collection (i.e. Erykah Badu, Corinne Bailey Rae, Blackstar, The Roots, etc.) and get out all the thoughts I can onto a Word Document, then revisit it later to revise it to make my message clearer. It often takes multiple revisits and critical advice from writer friends before I feel comfortable sharing it with others.
AAP: Where do you feel you’re really pushing yourself in your latest work?
AMGN: Right now, I’m pushing myself to speak my holistic truth in my poetry without fear of judgment. I’m the kind of person who seeks to please those around me, and a lot of the pieces that I’ve written have not been as raw as they could have been because I fear hurting those close to me with my perspective. For example, I’m still on the fence about sharing “shameless” with my father because I fear he would upset at the fact that I shared so much about him with a crowd of people who know nothing about him. However, I think if I am able to make that giant leap with him, I can take further steps towards sharing my experiences to the fullest extent.
AAP: What’s your next project you’d like to take on?
AMGN: Even though a lot of my effort and energy goes into the classroom and the families I work with, I have yet to write a piece about my students. My students and their families are some of the strongest people I know; the parents’ stories of struggle as immigrants in America show how much they persevered for their children to have a good life, much like what my parents did for me and my sister. One particular topic that has been brewing in my mind is about a student I had during my first year of teaching (this year is my third) who really helped mold me into the better teacher I am today. I’ve been meaning to write about him, especially given what teachers have told me about him in the past and are saying about him now, but I’m currently waiting for that spark…