Duyen Nguyen is a junior at Washington High School. She's involved in varsity show choir, a leader in the Asian Pacific Islander Student Association (APISA), and she wants to pursue a business degree from the University of Minnesota.

  • We chatted with her about leading APISA and how the she's helping the group celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this month.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about your own heritage and why it’s important to you.

I am Vietnamese American.

  • Both my parents are Vietnamese, and they immigrated to the states in 1992. My dad came to the states thanks to my grandpa’s military sponsorship program and my mom thanks to the Amerasian Homecoming Act

Growing up in a place like Sioux Falls, I always felt there was a lack of diversity which made me feel more connected with my own heritage.

  • Vietnamese was my first language, and I remember celebrating all the cultural holidays such as Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

When I was younger, I remember I was always so hesitant talking about my own culture in public and always trying to fit in with the rest of the kids at school and in society.

  • It almost felt like living two separate lives. One where I could express myself and embrace myself in my own heritage at home and the other submerged in being the oddball in the crowd while still trying to fit in.

As I grow older, I’ve learned to simply embrace my heritage and appreciate how beautiful being a Vietnamese American is. I think that learning about your own heritage and embracing it is very important because you get to explore who you are and appreciate what makes you, you.

We’re all about simplicity here. Can you describe the AAPI heritage month in 10 words or less?

Rich culture, traditions, history that will never be forgotten.

What’s something you think people in Sioux Falls who don’t share your heritage might misunderstand about the experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islanders? What would you want to say to them?

That the Asian community are doing great things in our own city.

Growing up, I got to experience being around local Asian businesses that resemble what community should look like.

My family has close ties with the owner of the Asian market, Thanh Mai, on Rice Street. Her store, in a sense, resembles how welcoming and embracing the Asian community is.

  • You walk in and you’ll find everything that you might need. From something as simple as the music she’ll play that tell stories of the Vietnamese culture to the ingredients you’ll find to make our cultural food.

Tell us how you are celebrating this month.

I love this month because it’s a month where I can take so much pride in educating everyone on our rich culture.

With that, APISA is holding an event that is open to the public at Washington High School on May 15th, starting at 7 p.m. with tickets being $3 for students and $5 for adults to kick off our celebration for AAPI month.

  • We will be holding multiple talent acts and a fashion showcase that lets us students show everyone how proud we are of our heritage and culture. Refreshments are offered afterwards and it is going to be a great night of community and education.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to connect with Asian culture locally? Are there any AAPI-owned businesses they can support?

What I love about Sioux Falls is even though we are still quite a small city, we are fortunate to be surrounded by local businesses that provide us with culture.

Asian markets such as Thanh Mai, Dragon Asian Market and Mekong Market are great places to do your local shopping for food, and honestly I find something new there every time I visit.

  • I’m a foodie so I would definitely recommend my favorite places to grab fresh Asian bites such as sushi at Sushi Masa, ramen at Ramen Fuji and my all time favorite, a nice warm bowl of pho at Pho Quynh. These places give you a quick insight on the lovely features that our heritage brings!

Anything else you want the people of Sioux Falls to know about you, the upcoming event or AAPI heritage month in general?

I think it’s always smart and fun to get to know your community and the different demographics that you’ll see in your day-to-day life.

Being educated and opening up to new ideas is what I think helps us understand people better as well as connect with them better.

  • Learning our roots is probably one of the most important thing about self growth and I love that we get months like these to celebrate different culture and demographics.

I hope Sioux Falls enjoys this month and for my fellow Asians, I hope they walk everyday this month with pride and a deeper understanding of themselves.