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Developing YOUth! Project

Measuring the long-term impact of a STEM-based out-of-school time program

april 23, 2021

Meet Cindy La Nguyen, Ph.D.

Posted by Cindy La Nguyen on April 23, 2021

Hello, I'm Cindy.

I'm the new researcher and project manager on MSI's Developing YOUth! Project. I joined the team in March and am making my way through the last five or so years of work and energy that has gone into this project. Going through the surveys and interviews, I think it's important that I introduce myself before I get too far in—I’m learning about each person who has participated in the study, whether as a researcher, an interviewee, a survey respondent, or other. I feel it's only right that as I learn about each of you, that you are able to learn about me.

I'm the child of Vietnamese refugees and everything about this is a part of my existence. I have a hard time when asked to talk about myself. Most people are probably just wondering where I’m from or if I’m a cat or dog person, but I always want to start with talking about my family history... I just don't feel like you can know anything about me without learning this first. I'm the third daughter out of four total children in my immediate family. We're super close and get along really well. My parents are quiet and caring people. My dad is an easy-going person who is a natural engineer. For someone who was not able to go to school past the 5th grade, he is very good at figuring out how to build and fix machines, engines, and structures. My mom is a conscientious person with what seems to be endless patience. She has a strategic mindset and is very socially aware. Despite her broken English and small stature, she is difficult to swindle or take advantage of, although many have tried.

Most of my mom’s side of the family is here in the US, so I grew up closer to them. My mom is the second oldest of 11 children, 12 depending on who you ask, 14 or 15 if you piece together bits of stories no one really talks about. All of my cousins were either born here in the US or immigrated here at a very young age. There are 30 of us now, ranging from 41 years-old to... I want to say 10 years old but to be honest, I can't remember—there are so many of us. My cousins, siblings, and I have a giant group text together, so I regularly have 30+ messages to read through. The group text is nuts on birthdays.

I've moved around a lot (like a lot, a lot), so my family has been the most consistent community I have had. I don't identify with any neighborhood, city, or state in particular. Whenever I have to participate in icebreakers, I absolutely dread the prompt "where are you from." There are a multitude of reasons why I dread this question—because I am from all over the place but also because of the history of the question for Asians and Asian Americans. I don't know if people give it much thought when they ask that question, "where are you from?" They assume that the question itself is straightforward and that the answer will be easy to understand. That’s not always the case.

I think about these things a lot—how a question that seems so simple and easy can actually be full of complicated histories, systems of oppression, conjurers of trauma, immense pride. I think this is why I ended up with a few degrees in sociology even though my Catholic aunts and uncles kept telling me, "No one is going to want to marry a woman who is smarter (i.e. has more education) than they are."

I am privileged that I am allowed to make my way through life thinking about these kinds of things. Even more so, as part of my research I get to ask these types of questions not as icebreakers but as real unearthing questions. Where are you from? What makes you who you are? Who has made you who you are? Moreover, I'm given the power to do something with these answers. The stories that people tell me about themselves, once out of their mouths, and in my hands, are now my responsibility. I'm hyper-aware of the power this gives me and constantly struggle with what that means.

Anyway, this is what I'm like. I have a hard time with simple introductions. I can't just tell you where I'm from, what I do in my spare time, or what my research interests are... I mean I can and I guess I can also see the use in being able to do so... so here it is:

I study race, ethnicity, gender, class, and citizenship through a sociological lens. A lot of my research interest centers on identity and identity-making. I am also very interested in the practical uses of research. I have contextualized my interests by studying the Sociology of Race, Black Feminist Thought, "Third-World" Feminism, Intersectionalities, Stand-Point Theory, and more broadly, Asian American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, Cultural Anthropology and of course, Sociology. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Sociology, a graduate certificate in Women & Gender Studies, and a Master of Science and a Doctorate in Sociology. Finally, in my spare time I like to take deep dives into random hobbies, such as plant care, aquascaping, true crime, digital design, and productivity methods.

So this is a glimpse into who I am. I look forward to learning more about the participants in this study and what makes each of you who you are.