IGNITE is thrilled to announce that we have our first Houston Fellow, Christi Nguyen. We chatted with Christi to learn more about what she’s passionate about empowering young women.
IGNITE: Welcome, Christi! Why don’t we start by talking about why you applied to become an IGNITE Fellow?
CN: As a first-generation, low-income woman who was born and raised in the Vietnamese American community of Houston, I have experienced both a strong community and a great need. Growing up, I had very few political icons or civically engaged role models to look up to, and since learning about the power that can be garnered in my community by being that example, I yearn to be one and meet others who are looking to make that happen as well. Stepping into a predominantly-white institution for college for the first time taught me further about the importance of community-- how to build it, be engaged and immersed in it, and be informed by it. Being in college was the first time I got to see opportunities that existed beyond the community that I grew up in, and the resources that I want to bring back to them.
IGNITE: Speaking of community, what is one thing you want to change in your community and why?
CN: My biggest passion is ensuring equitable mental health access for all bilingual communities. I personally have witnessed a large generational gap in the understanding of mental healthcare in the Vietnamese community-- from the linguistic barriers to cultural and generational ones. I grew up watching my grandmother explain to my mom the “sự sầu nảo” or “sadness” she was experiencing when there were no words to communicate the depression and anxiety she was facing. I have personally experienced a great deal of processing through my traumas, while my family watched on, unable to support or understand.
I also know that despite everything, my ancestors come from a country where they were forced to survive, and this love that they have that they don't always understand, is everything that they have to give. I believe that every person deserves tailored and equitable access to information and care, but it takes time and resources to bridge the gap. Because of that, I’ve been working with my community to create The Understanding Initiative, an organization that creates resources, access, and awareness campaigns tailored specifically to the Vietnamese community to bridge that gap and hope to be able to recreate this model in other communities one day.
IGNITE: You seem to be very involved in your community. Can you tell us more about your political leadership experience?
CN: I came to Rice University, very intent on studying Social Policy Analysis and Sociology, or how I like to describe it: studying systems of inequality and varying ways to change it. I have used my time at Rice to center my political experiences on how they as systems and systems of influence, affect people, and thus communities. Through my experiences both as a Houston-Centered Policy Challenge winner and now coordinator, I have learned the importance of local policy and how to listen to, center and work with communities to create policy. As a public relations chair for the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association (VCSA), I learned how to successfully navigate the offices of the public servants that served me and my community-- how to communicate with them and bring attention to VCSA’s mission to create more Vietnamese-American leaders. In every system I am a part of, whether it be the United States Political System down to a small student organization, I intend to continue to center the community to continue to work towards improvement.
IGNITE: At IGNITE, we want to encourage more young women to become civically engaged. Why is civic engagement important to you?
CN: The Vietnamese American community and broader Asian American community in the United States have been known to be civically engaged. My work in much of my communication is translating the notion that votes equate to political power and community resources that voting can bring into the community. No matter what career or industry you go into, policy and community interests impact your work and the changes you would like to see and it's important to maintain awareness on how it can impact our lives. Quite literally, civic engagement means bringing change that you want to see in your community. To capitalize on that power in your community is a very influential power.
IGNITE: IGNITE Fellows mobilize young women in their communities to own their political power. How will you mobilize your community and get them excited about IGNITE?
CN: I believe strongly in two things that draw people’s commitment: strong community and shared values. Many Black, indigenous, students of color at my college had voiced an interest in diversity, so I focused on creating a community of associates that were more diverse and in the career-fields students indicated they are pursuing in a survey, in order to draw students into and maintain more meaningful connections in the program. I found that getting student feedback to readers was a great encouragement factor that excited and reinvigorated their commitment to editing. By being an IGNITE fellow, I will be intentional about the programming to build community and bring together other civically involved women leaders on campus with the resources and partnerships available to me.
IGNITE: Leadership can be defined in many ways. How do you personally define leadership and how do you exemplify it in your work?
CN: I define leadership as taking thoughtful, genuine initiative. As a leader, I have not always had all the right answers, but I have had a commitment to learning from others and working with the community, team members, resources, and partners to come up with viable, sustainable solutions. In my time as a leader, I’ve learned how to create programming, oversee team progress, and create growth. I use this knowledge to continue to push the project forward towards the solution to creating equitable mental health care in my community. Being a leader means continuing to work with and challenge my community to move forward doing the same.
IGNITE: Thank you for your time! We are so excited to see what you accomplish as an IGNITE Fellow.
More about Christi:
Christi Nguyen is IGNITE’s Houston Fellow. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Social Policy Analysis with a minor in Anthropology as well as a certificate in Civic Leadership at Rice University. Christi has long been a part of Houston’s Vietnamese community through the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association, Hope Clinic, BPSOS, and the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement. She is currently coordinating Rice’s Houston Policy Challenge on healthcare, president of Rice’s Asian Pacific American Student Alliance, part of Jone’s residential college’s student government, and a large Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion advocate across campus. Christi is currently starting a nonprofit to bridge the cultural, linguistic, and generational gap on mental health discourse in the Vietnamese American community, The Understanding Initiative. Christi aspires to travel to Southeast Asia to do research, continue her work in nonprofit and policy advocacy, and one day become a tenured professor running a sociological Asian American issues lab at a university. For Houston inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.