Vietnamese Catholic Community Maintains Heritage Through Scouting
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Meet The Community of La Vang. Approximately 100 Vietnamese-American girls who belong to Our Lady of La Vang Catholic Church gather every month under the Girl Scouts of the USA, U.S. and Vietnamese flags. The scouting community has called Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council (GSSJC) home for 32 years.
The Community of La Vang has strived to use GSSJC as a means of community building since they first assembled under the name Truong Son, in 1984. Members are the legacy of founder Nam Luong, who out of war brought La Vang to the Houston community in 1986. Today, after generations of growth, a once displaced group of refugees is now building their youth into community leaders they hope will carry on the traditions they’ve carried so far.
Kim La, the leader of Cadette Troop 3005, was a first generation Girl Scout in La Vang. She can tell you about her escape from Vietnam and how her family’s search for community and understanding ended with the founding of La Vang.
“We had to leave that night,” said La, as she reflects on April 30, 1975, also known as the “Fall of Saigon” or the end of the Vietnam War. “My family with about 50 other refugees got on a raft and floated for somewhere between 10 and 15 days. After landing in the Philippines, we stayed in a refugee camp for 18 months before being sponsored by an American family who brought us to Pensacola, Florida.”
La and her family moved to Houston eight years later. Katlyn Tang, a Cadette in Troop 3005, shares a similar story.
“My father floated on a raft for days before boats came and found him. “She said. “They took him and others to the Philippines, where he lived in a refugee camp for a long, long time.”
Tang, whose family is Buddhist joined her troop for the cultural community. She wears a blue lapel pinned with a fleur-de-lis crest over a pale blue shirt with her Girl Scout sash. Her generation doesn’t have to worry about finding community in a new country like the first generation of troop members. Now, they worry about fitting in with their peers and making new friends. Currently, Troop 3005 is working on the Girl Scout Science of Happiness badge, which requires girls to complete a series of different lessons that help them find what makes them happy or grateful.
“Some of the girls said they were grateful for their family, their friends and having a safe environment to live in,” La said. “But when they talk about being safe, they aren’t thinking about war like I may. They are grateful to have friends, and to be in an environment where others won't bully them.”
Forty-one years after the Fall of Saigon, La Vang is just one of many Vietnamese Girl Scout communities scattered across the country.
“People took Vietnamese scouting with them to the refugee camps,” said Tang. “They had no furniture, so my dad had to chop wood and make his chair to sit on at meetings. But he liked meetings. I guess they gave him something else to think about.”
Every four years, those descended from the refugees of the Vietnam War gather from across the country for the cultural continuance of Vietnamese Scouting. The week-long camp is called “Thẳng Tiến”, a Vietnamese name meaning “Foraging Ahead”. There, La Vang and other scouting communities can reflect on their past and the hopeful future before them.