What good does it do to have something to say if the people you want to hear can’t understand you? Tony Lâm, America’s first Vietnamese-born elected politician, spoke of his journey as an immigrant and how he learned to thrive in a foreign country while supporting a family of 11. When asked about the greatest challenges he faced when coming to America, he chose to focus on the positive and talked about not what held him down, but rather, what lifted him up. With no high school diploma and most of his wealth stripped of him when fleeing Vietnam, he had one thing they couldn’t take that he believes was key to his success — having taught himself English. He didn’t teach himself to have a voice; he taught himself how to use it and how to use it well. And he used his voice to advocate for and serve his fellow Americans, Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese, in his community in Little Saigon, California. He hoped to show the youth at the library in Hue’s Quang Dien District that if they can speak English, so many more people will hear them.
The living embodiment of the idea that there’s a lesson to be learned from everyone you meet, Tony Lâm is always excited and eager to learn about a person’s craft and passions. He genuinely and thoughtfully engaged in meaningful conversations with the young and old alike. To him, everyone deserved his attention, and received it too.