OUR FOUNDER – VY V. PHAM
Mr. Vy Van Pham, the founder of Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota, was a humanitarian and selfless advocate for many refugees and immigrants. Northeast Minneapolis resident Vy Van Pham’s accomplishments span continents, decades and many different causes, but they all have one thing in common, making other people’s lives better. He grew up in North Vietnam and escaped communism by fleeing to South Vietnam with his mother, his wife Be Nguyen, and nine children, in 1955. His labor union leadership started at a rubber tree plantation owned by the French Michelin Tire Company, in which he later successfully organized the first strike ever against them. He later became the Deputy Secretary-General, and Commissioner of International Affairs of the Confederations of Vietnam Trade Union. Pham also advised both Presidents of the Republic of Vietnam as a member of the National Economic Council.
When South Vietnam collapsed in 1975, Pham and his family left everything behind and fled. Hofstede said Pham negotiated with a barge company, that he had previously led a strike against, to transport 200 people out of Vietnam. Pham eventually landed in the United States with “not a penny in his pocket” and settled in Minnesota. In his early years in the U.S., Pham worked as a national organizer for the AFL-CIO. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter invited Pham to meet with him in the White House. Carter also invited him to a U.S. Governor’s Convention. After completing school, Pham began a career in social work that lasted 30 years. He worked with the refugee community and with young people as a social worker for Hennepin County, where he was also a human rights commissioner.
Pham helped found the Vietnam Center in St. Paul, putting up his own house as collateral, which later transitioned to the creation of the Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota in 1987. Furthermore, he has helped build Buddhist temples, including the Phat An Temple in Roseville, and was a delegate to the Democratic Party convention. He also served on the Minneapolis Mayor’s Office Indochinese Advisory Council, on the Cablevision Advisory Council, in the Twin Cities Area Human Rights Coalition and the Minnesota ARC Steering Committee. From helping refugees, to working as a union organizer in Vietnam, to advising national leaders on diplomacy, to making sure his nine children went to college, Pham touched many lives, but those who knew him best said they didn’t realize how many people he helped, until his death. Pham was one of 39 people the Minnesota Historical Society interviewed for its “Asians in Minnesota Oral History” project. Visit here to read more about his past and hear the interviews, in which he provides insight into the refugee experience and talks about the labor movement in Vietnam and its ties to the international labor movement.
We believe in the power of entrepreneurship – and an entrepreneurial spirit – to tackle global challenges, transform communities, create jobs, spur economic growth and close the opportunity gap that confronts far too many people here in the United States and around the world.
We believe that through entrepreneurship, we can create more vibrant communities, a stronger America and a more prosperous world, close the opportunity gap and scale creative solutions to persistent problems.
A sense of economic opportunity is like fire – when ignited, it spreads quickly. We intend to stoke the fire and support the visionary change makers ready to take action.
The founding of VSS of MN
Having recognized the difficulties and challenges faced by the first group of Vietnamese refugees settling in Minnesota, Mr. Vy Pham had put up his house as collateral and led a small group of people in the Vietnamese community to start the Vietnam Center in 1987, which later transformed to the Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota. His mission and vision was to help Vietnamese refugees to acclimate to the new life and changes and assist those in need. Since its inception, the non-profit agency has opened its door to serve countless Vietnamese refugees and immigrants. Initially, VSS of MN was only serving the Vietnamese community, but later have extended its social services to the Korean, Chinese, Somali, and now the Burmese (Karen, Kareni) populations. Vietnamese Social Services (VSS) has been serving the community of over 25,000 Vietnamese-Americans in Minnesota for many years. Large numbers of former refugees have begun to flourish as a vital part of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic fabric of Minnesota.. VSS is proud to have played a role in this progress, with the majority of Vietnamese families now living in the metropolitan area having been touched by the outreach and services of VSS. Vietnamese Social Services (VSS) recognizes the need to expand its services beyond addressing the initial needs of refugees and immigrants where survival and immediate resettlement needs take precedence. Now, the agency is looking more and more to promoting the preservation of the unique cultural identity of the Vietnamese, to serve the needs of an aging first generation, and to find ways for the community to engage with the larger Minnesota society.
After suffering war and psychological trauma, Vietnamese immigrants had to adapt to a very different culture. Language was the first barrier Vietnamese refugees with limited English proficiency had to overcome. English uses tonal inflection sparingly (primarily for questions); Vietnamese, a tonal language, uses variations in tone to differentiate between meanings of a sound. Ma can have one of six meanings, depending on tone: “ghost”, “but”, “code”, “rice plant”, “cheek” or “tomb”.Another difference between Vietnamese and English is the former’s widespread use of status-related pronouns. “You” is the only second-person singular pronoun in English, but the Vietnamese second-person singular pronoun varies by gender (anh or chị), social status (ông or bà) and relationship (bạn, cậu or mày).
Like other Asians, the Vietnamese emphasize parental status; however, American culture challenges this traditional value. Vietnamese American parents have expressed concern about decreasing authority over their children. Part of this concern is due to cultural differences; although corporal punishment is accepted in Vietnamese society as an effective way of educating children. Older, newly arrived Vietnamese Americans are polite in dealing with others and avoid expressing open disagreement; young Vietnamese-American straightforwardness of expression may be perceived as disrespectful by their elders.
Emotional health was considered an issue common to many Vietnamese refugees, with war-related loss and the stress of adapting to a different culture leading to mental-health problems among refugees. The problems covered a broad spectrum, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, adjustment disorder, somatization, panic attacks, schizophrenia and generalized anxiety. About 40 percent of the children of resettled refugees experienced an increase in conduct and op-positional defiant disorders.
Vietnamese Americans’ income and social classes are diverse. In contrast to Vietnamese refugees who settled in France or Germany, and similar to their counterparts who arrived in Canada, The Czech Republic, The United Kingdom and Australia, refugees arriving in the United States often had a lower socioeconomic standing in their home country and more difficulty integrating due to greater linguistic and cultural barriers. Vietnamese Americans have arrived in the U.S. primarily as refugees, with little or no money. While not as academically or financially accomplished collectively as their East Asian counterparts.