From your perspective, what positive changes have been made in City Heights over the last 30 years? How have these positive changes impacted your life as you've watched these changes unfold?
The completion of the Interstate 15 freeway through City Heights, and the creation of Teralta Neighborhood Park on top of the freeway, connecting both the Teralta West and Corridor neighborhoods. I grew up on Central Avenue, and prior to the project breaking ground in the late 90s, this area was the poster child of disinvestment with abandoned houses, buildings, and empty lots. The original City Heights Community Garden was a great idea and led to the New Roots Community Farm. Aside from the displacement of hundreds of families, the redevelopment and the eventual opening of the SR-15 Mid-City Centerline Rapid Transit have been positive for this community.
What has your involvement in City Heights meant to you and your family?
City Heights is where my family landed after escaping Vietnam as refugees. It is where my parents set down roots, learned a new language, raised their children, and rebuilt a sense of community. This was where our Vietnamese language church was located, shopped for Southeast Asian staples at local ethnic supermarkets, and could easily access vital services in our native Vietnamese tongue. City Heights provided familiar sights and sounds; andallowed this refugee family to strive for the American dream.
What reflections do you have on the power of youth? What is it about youth today that gives you great hope for the future of City Heights?
Young people bring energy, commitment, and a never-give-up attitude to anything and everything they are involved in. I saw this first hand with the City Heights Skatepark Campaign. They never cease to amaze me and I respect the authenticity they bring with them.
The youth are not just the leaders of the future, but they’re also the leaders of today. It gives me tremendous hope knowing that they’re guided by their values, principles, and morals. I don’t have any reservations or concerns for City Heights, because the youth will always have pride, ownership, and love for this community. [I saw this firsthand with the City Heights Skatepark Campaign. They never cease to amaze me and I respect the authenticity they bring with them.]
What are your highest hopes and dreams for the future of City Heights? For the region?
That City Heights will always be a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees, that provides residents and visitors a safe place to speak in a non-English language, that the diversity in culture, food, and traditions will continue to live on in the shops, restaurants, and businesses that call City Heights home. That residents will not get pushed out because of rising prices, and that they will always have a place here in the community they’ve created.
Given your position with The California Endowment, have you gained a deeper understanding of how different agencies work and operate? Do you have any advice on how nonprofits can build stronger collaborations with foundations such as yours and other agencies?
Each agency has their own method and process. At the California Endowment, we look for partners who share the same values that we do, who seek to uplift historically disenfranchised populations, helping them realize the voice and power they have, and providing them support to act on and realize that power.
Given the positive impact your presence and involvement has had for so many people in City Heights, what wisdom would you impart on youth who are interested about pursuing a similar career path as you?
Never be afraid. Be bold. Always let your values, principles, and morals guide you. Take every opportunity that presents itself to you. Knock on closed doors. Raise your voice, ask questions. Ultimately, believe in yourself, because this community believes in you.
What is something you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spending time with family. Whether it’s catching a movie with the nephews and nieces; or taking them out to a local lake, a playground, or to the beach. Family is extremely important to me, and there’s no price you can put on making quality memories with them.
Where is your favorite place to eat in City Heights?
I could eat Phở all day, every day. If I had to pick one course to eat for the rest of my life, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it would be phở. With that in mind, my go-to spot would be Phở Vân Vietnamese Restaurant on El Cajon Blvd. Get the off-menu fresh noodles, known as “bánh tươi” with your phở.