May 30, 2023

Celebrating the Lives of Everyday Asians with Vinh Duong and Quynh-Anh Kibler

Holland & Knight Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month Spotlight Series

Holland & Knight's Diversity Council and Asian/Pacific Islander (API) Affinity Group is proud to celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month and pay tribute to the generations of Asians and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history and continue to play a role in its future success. Here at H&K, we take time to reflect on how we could better support our API colleagues by sitting down with attorneys and staff to have important conversations about racial justice and allyship. This year, we are repurposing Waller's APAHM video series to share the stories of those who have recently joined us. We hope that the stories conveyed in these videos help advance dialogue around API Heritage Month as well as lead to further discussions of how we can be better allies to our API friends, family and colleagues.

In this episode, attorneys Vinh Duong and Quynh-Anh Kibler reflect on their families' experiences coming to the U.S. after the Vietnam War and being able to assimilate and reinvent themselves. Vinh and Quynh-Anh spoke about being the first lawyers in their family and working their way from the ground up. In this video, they highlight the importance of celebrating this month and honoring the everyday Asian lives.

More Videos in this Series

Episode 1: A Series Introduction from Asian/Pacific Islander Affinity Group Chair Stacey Wang

Episode 2: Witnessing API Discrimination: A Shared Experience

Episode 3: Kristin Asai Shares Her Family History in the U.S. Japanese Internment Camps

Episode 4: Highlighting API Contributions to the U.S. Military

Episode 5: A Brief History of Discrimination Against Asian and Pacific Islander Americans

Episode 6: Becoming an Ally with Jennifer A. Mansfield

Episode 7: Perspectives from a Second Generation Samoan American

Episode 8: Reflecting on the Importance of Professional Mentors

Episode 9: Explaining the Model Minority Myth

Episode 10: Holly Camisa Shares her Experience with being Multiracial

Episode 11: Celebrating the Everyday Asian Lives with Vinh Duong and Quynh-Anh Kibler (You are currently viewing Episode 11)

Episode 12: Remembering to Have Roots and Wings with Shannon Goff Kukulka

Morgan Ribeiro: May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and in honor of that, I will be sitting down with two of our Asian-American attorneys, Vinh Duong and Quynh-Anh Kibler.

Vinh Duong: So, I am an immigration attorney and a partner.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: I'm an associate attorney. In my role, I help the partners do the job for the client in whatever capacity I'm needed.

Morgan Ribeiro: Thank you. To start us off, I want to ask you guys about your journey to law. Were there any specific influences or experiences that made you decide that you wanted to pursue law?

Vinh Duong: My decision to practice law was really heavily influenced by my parents and grandmothers or just my family in general. Their experiences immigrants coming to the U.S. So, we fled Vietnam in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. We were part of the Exodus, 2 million people fleeing Vietnam to the U.S. and were part of the first wave of what we call boat people to the U.S.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: So, growing up, my parents wanted me to become a doctor, but over time, I realized that was not for me. Around that same time, I talked to a friend of mine who was an attorney, and he had encouraged me to go to law school because of my knack for following the rules, I guess. And when I told my parents about my decision to apply to law school, they tried to discourage me from going because they were afraid that I would not be able to find a job. They didn't know any successful female immigrant attorneys in Memphis, and that fear was real for them. But I decided to go anyway, and I believe that decision was correct.

Vinh Duong: My dad felt the same way that he wanted me to become a doctor. I knew going into college that was not what I wanted to do. I had a very clear focus on becoming an attorney even before I went to college.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: Yeah, it's a new experience for sure, because no one we knew who is an Asian-American was a lawyer, and so I had no one to talk to about what that's like. So, it's new territory. I decided to just go and see for myself, and sure enough, I was the only Asian-American in my class.

Vinh Duong: And to this day, my entire extended family, which is large, I'm the only attorney and everybody else is doing something in the sciences. Really interesting.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: That's funny. I think I am the only attorney in my family, too.

Morgan Ribeiro: It's interesting having these conversations with folks. And it does seem like oftentimes, particularly when we're celebrating some of these diversity initiatives, that you are the first one in your family who has gone on to pursue a degree. So, my next question is, why do you think it's important to celebrate and recognize AAPI Heritage Month?

Vinh Duong: It's important to me. I think I always look at APA Heritage Month as a time to look back and reflect on the past accomplishments of people that I know look to the present to see the accomplishments and struggle that the people in the present. When I think of API month, I think a lot of my parents experience my grandmother's experience. Coming to the U.S. as immigrants, not knowing the language, the customs, the culture, but being able to assimilate and reinvent themselves in ways.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: I feel like it's important growing up in schools or at my previous jobs. No one really mentions Asian-American Pacific Islander month, and it's important these days to celebrate that in light of the increase in Asian hate crimes in the past year. And it's so important to uplift Asian Americans who are going through the same experiences.

Morgan Ribeiro: I totally agree. Vinh, I know you mentioned your family and their experiences coming to the U.S. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

Vinh Duong: I've always been inspired by my dad. He was a physician in Vietnam when he came to the U.S. after we fled Vietnam after the war. He had to learn to speak English, he had to go back to school, redo his medical training in the U.S. And when I think about that, I think it's an extraordinary feat because I think about putting myself in a foreign country, not being able to speak a language and having to go back to law school again or finding another professional career for myself. I'm just awed by his resilience and his determination and trying to find a way to make it happen in the U.S. For him and his family.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: Similarly, my dad served in the Vietnam War, and because of that, his immediate family were allowed to immigrate to the United States. And my parents, they were not college educated. And so, when we came to the United States, they had to take low paying jobs just to take care of me and my two siblings and then later another sibling who was born here in the United States. So four kids they had to take care of, and while my dad worked, my mom stayed at home. And when we were old enough to go to school, she then went to work. Because of them, my siblings and I have these opportunities that they never did. To go to school, go to college, become professional. I wrote a poem about my dad in middle school about my hero, and my teacher got that published. I don't know where it is right now, but I found it a few months ago.

Vinh Duong: Oh, that's great. It's so interesting that we talk about Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. A lot of times we think of these events, we celebrate people in the news and famous people. But I think if you celebrate just the everyday Asian like your dad and my dad, so really important to you as well. I have similar experiences. You. My mom worked two jobs. My dad had to go to school. He had to work. John was in training. And so like that kind of ownership mentality, that entrepreneurial spirit, I see that in you and it's obvious where you get that from. You get that from your parents. Seeing how hard they work to get where they are today. You were in a position where you are today, and I think that's fantastic.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: I think growing up poor and having nothing makes you appreciate the things that you have now. We came over with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I remember going to a church and just trying to find clothes that people donated that would fit me.

Vinh Duong: We had similar experiences. We came to the U.S. and to pay for food, we use food stamps. I remember walking with my grandmother at least twice a year to a local church where we would pick up like government issued blocks of cheese and butter and they would give you powdered milk in a carton. I remember vividly we would do that at least twice a year because it was free, and it was the stuff that we would otherwise have to buy.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: For birthdays and Christmas as we go a dollar tree and instead of one item, we can get two or three items and that was fantastic.

Vinh Duong: Yeah, it's funny. My dad used to give us our own haircuts. He would always pull out a stool and place it right in front of the house in the driveway. Everybody drove by and they would see this strange Asian family getting haircuts in their front yard. Always made me laugh.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: Yeah, my dad always cuts my hair right before picture day. I've had really bad haircuts on picture days,

Vinh Duong: Feel like I've had the same haircut through my entire life.

Morgan Ribeiro: Thank you both so much for sharing these stories. For my final question, I wanted to ask if you all had any advice for young attorneys, especially young Asian-American attorneys, who are just beginning their careers.

Vinh Duong: If I give any advice to any young attorney, it's to understand that you have to also have that ownership mentality, the entrepreneurial spirit, because you are the one that has to pioneer your career path and your future. And there are not a lot of Asian-American attorneys here in Tennessee. It's a very small group. And so, when we have those opportunities to recruit Asian-American attorneys.

Quynh-Anh Kibler: For a challenge of mine is speaking to other people. So, growing up, English was my second language, and I was just afraid of talking to other people because I was very self-conscious of the way I spoke. And my parents, they didn't encourage any social activities after school. So, after school we had to go straight home. And so, I didn't get that experience socializing with other people, if that makes any sense. So speaking is pretty hard for me sometimes. And that's funny as a lawyer, but I overcome that by preparing and just practicing. And I guess advice for young attorneys is to not be afraid of new experiences. I wish I had known that the world is not such a scary place.

Morgan Ribeiro: Really great advice. Thank you both. I thank you for sitting down with me and having this conversation and look forward to continuing to celebrate these months where we recognize the folks that really contribute to the unique fabric of our firm.

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