• Trent Martin

Connecting with Family and History

(Today we are excited to share the story of Ashlee, who is the Communities & Partnerships Director for the organization Vietnamese Boat People. This organization seeks to help tell the stories of the Vietnamese Boat People, through their podcast and other venues, so that younger Vietnamese-Americans and others will stay connected to this important part of their family's history. Here at BPSOS we also are seeking to remind the next generation of leaders in the Vietnamese community and beyond of the history of the Boat People and how that legacy can be continued going forward. For more info about what BPSOS is doing to educate the next generation check out our NextGen Summit at https://www.bpsos.org/nextgen-summit )


I am a grandchild and daughter of refugees.

My childhood holds memories of family feasts with containers piled high with chả giò and bánh bèo, animated Beatles karaoke sessions and hours spent listening -- well, mainly watching -- my grandmother chatting on the phone in Vietnamese with our globally-spread relatives. As much as I cherish these moments, it is the stories that happened way before I was born, that I am most curious about. 

Growing up, we never spoke of “life before America” or even the challenges of adjusting. And still to this day, I don’t know the detailed story of how my father, his six siblings and my grandparents successfully escaped for freedom.


This photo is of me with my bà nội (paternal grandmother).

My father is Vietnamese-born and my mother, American. I lived primarily with my mother and maternal grandfather, but spent many weekends and holidays with my paternal side. As you could imagine, we wanted our time together focused on family traditions and simply, each other -- there was no dialogue about ‘the war’ or anything deemed discomforting.



 This photo above is my 'modern family' at my college graduation. 

Now that I am in my 30s and the hopes of starting a family are closer to reality, it is even more important that I preserve my family’s past to appreciate the present and uphold its future. Being a part of the Vietnamese Boat People oral history project is my opportunity to not only learn the details of my family’s journey, but also to empower other second generation Vietnamese-Americans to uncover their own.

I have been philanthropy-minded since grade school and I even started my professional career in fundraising and development. As Head of Communities & Partnerships for Vietnamese Boat People nonprofit organization, my goal is to foster relationships with refugee-focused programs nationwide and engage our Vietnamese-American communities to pay-it-forward and help today's refugees settle into safer lives. The stories from our upcoming Podcast series will highlight not only the adversity, but also the charity placed upon the ‘boat people’ and it is our civic duty to continue that cycle of giving back.


With that said, I am beyond grateful to embark on this quest about family, with family.

My aunt, Tracey, is the youngest of my father’s siblings and has always been an elder sister to me. Our relationship has evolved from dirty diapers to career guidance to bachelorette parties -- and all along the way, she has been one of my biggest cheerleaders and inspirations. This photo is us back in the day. 


My cousin, Bella, is the second eldest grandchild (I’m oldest) and is truly one of my best friends. Being that we’re only five years apart, our younger years were spent awkwardly-hovering age gaps, to sharing boy gossip, bottles of wine and life lessons. Today, I am simply in awe of the astute, independent and kindhearted woman she has become. This photo is us. Bella still has the same infectious smile!

Each member of my family has a special place in my heart with even more special memories. I cannot wait to share with you some of their stories through this project and help others uncover their own family stories.

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Names and photos may have been changed in order to protect the identity of our clients. 

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