In 1968, there were two groups of Vietnamese students who were studying abroad who created two Vietnamese student organizations. Both of these newborn organizations had the common purpose of uniting the Vietnamese students and creating a sense of belonging within CSULB. Vietnamese students at the time were not very common and tended to affiliate with each other, since they were yet assimilated into the American culture. After the Vietnam War, in 1975, only one organization remained and this became officially known as the Vietnamese Student Association. (VSA).
In its primitive years, CSULB VSA was small but full of energy within the Long Beach community. Many small cultural events were created to preserve and promote the Vietnamese culture and to establish a bond among the members. As the years progressed, VSA continued to sow the seeds of what their previous leaders had established. The desire to find the means to grow beyond Long Beach and reach out into the Vietnamese community has always been a high priority on the agenda. In 1977 Hoa Hau Ao Dai Long Beach (HHADLB) commenced under the leadership of Pham Tam Hoe, Cao Ba, and Tran Tuan Bac (VSA President, Internal Vice President and External Vice President of 1977, respectively). In that year, HHADLB was held at the ELKS Club in Long Beach and was a grand success.
Through HHADLB, we were able to preserve and promote our culture through the demonstration of the Vietnamese Ao Dai. The Ao Dai truly defines our Vietnamese culture as it symbolizes gentleness, grace, and elegance, which are virtues of the traditional beauty of the Vietnamese women. Additionally the proceeds from HHADLB went to refugees and in later years to GKH. Soon after HHADLB became internationally known and brought CSULB VSA to a new level. HHADLB's international status proved that "with a good teamwork anything can be possible," said Cao Ba proudly. In the following years, HHADLB continued its reign of success due to its right timing. At the time there weren't many cultural productions, thus the Vietnamese community fully embraced and supported HHADLB. Producing pageants is an opportunity to utilize our creativity and seek ways in which we can touch base with our culture. HHADLB is a powerful way to express and share our fascinating and beautiful culture to others.
As the years progressed, VSA became larger and stronger. This enabled the organization to create small events and big events, such as HHADLB. These small and large events helped create and strengthen a bond among the members and thus expanded membership. The large membership provided many volunteers for HHADLB and for other events. The factors that helped develop the organization were the experienced and motivated student leaders and the students who were not yet fully assimilated into the American culture and still firmly adhered to the Vietnamese culture. This created and established a united foundation for the organization.
On September 1, 1984, under the leadership of VSA President Nguyen Minh Lan, with the strong support of VSA and CSULB professors, and especially the Association of Former Vietnamese Educators Overseas (Hoi Ai Huu Cuu Giao Chuc Viet Nam Tai Hai Ngoai), VSA initiated and organized Giai Khuyen Hoc Ve Lich Su Van Hoc Viet Nam, which was also known as Giai Khuyen Hoc (GKH). This annual competition had many categories, ranging from Essay Writing to Oral Team Competition on Vietnamese history, literature, and geography. GKH tests the young students' knowledge in the areas of Vietnamese history, literature, and geography.
The strong concept behind GKH was to build and enrich the younger Vietnamese generation in America. In a society where there is an integration of a myriad of different cultures, we often forget the uniqueness of our Vietnamese culture. It is often through unity that we realize how valuable our culture is. Through GKH, the youths would be able to understand their culture better, apply what they learn to their current generation and carry on the Vietnamese language and tradition to the next generation. "We are here to help the younger generation understand their heritage. Hopefully through this process, it will help them strive to reach their goals and enrich their lives. The older generation will always care about the happiness and success of the Vietnamese youth," said Nguyen Thi Kim-Ngan, External Vice President of GKH. 1991 was the last year of GKH due to the lack of many experienced volunteers. In 1997, under the leadership of VSA President Ngo Gia Bien and with the help of CSULB alumni, GKH was re-initiated. In 1998, it became community based. Since then, in addition to the various contests GKH also has creative writing awards, outstanding achievement awards, and VSA Grant. VSA Grant is for Vietnamese student organizations that have activities that preserve and promote the understanding of the Vietnamese language and culture.
The 1990's marked a newer generation, where many students in the organization were born in America. The difference between the two generations is that the older generation struggled to preserve and carry on the beautiful image of their culture while the newer generation struggled to learn and understand in addition to preserve and promote the Vietnamese culture. It became incredibly difficult for VSA to maintain the same image that the older generation has created and built, since times have changed. HHADLB and GKH are classic examples.
As time advanced, many other areas were expected to advance as well. During the 1990's, entertainment standards were raised due to the appearance of many productions companies, such as Thuy Nga, Asia Productions, Diem Xua, Hollywood Night, and etc. Maintaining the audiences' expectations became a challenge, since they wanted more for their money. In addition, the appearance of many other pageants created fierce competition. Donations, which the HHADLB partially relied on, became scarce due to formation of many more non-profit organizations. These changes convinced VSA to search for other solutions. This resulted in 1994 where HHADLB was produced by Asia Productions. Granted this collaboration was a success, VSA had to sacrifice its expertise and independence. In 1995 a collaboration with Diem Xua was established and it proved to be a failure, hence VSA experienced a great financial loss. Consequently, HHADLB was forced to go through a year of restructuring.
-- Ngo Ngoc-Hang Cathy