An Interview with Hai M. Truong by Angela Koh

 Hai M. Truong: BA English Literature, Minor in Education Studies, University of California Irvine. SAGE Scholars. UCLA Law Fellow. UC Berkeley Summer Fellow. Worked under Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Research on Education, Healthcare, Environmental legislation. Taught seminars in Anaheim, Santa Ana, Orange County. Enjoys public speaking and singing Sinatra. Contact HaiMTruong@gmail.com

[Angela Koh]: Something interesting that people don’t know is that you were offered tentative placement in the Peace Corps, but turned it down. After the long application and screening process, how did you come to this decision? What advice would you give to future Peace Corps applicants?

[Hai Truong]: At first, I wanted to experience my mother’s life before fleeing Vietnam – being worlds away from comfort and what I knew. I imagined myself attaining that abstract sense of becoming a better man.  But, I realized I’m a close-quarters-contact-kind-of-guy. There are people whom I’d rather learn from and serve right here. The process took since last July up until last month. I’d advise future Peace Corps hopefuls to consider if you’re willing to give up not only a lifestyle but also the moments, the physical connection with people in your life. I opted for another path.

[AK]: You are the one other professional with a few years’ stint in the competitive Hip-Hop dance community. For me, dance pushed my craft and person. How has your experience affected your social mobility, creative understanding? What advice do you give to young dancers that are also looking for business opportunities?

[HT]: The odd thing about physical expression: it’s oftentimes viewed as exclusive from other pursuits like writing or graphic arts. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ultimately, dancing equips you with confidence, especially if you spent a childhood with few friends and even less self-confidence.  If you are a dancer, then embrace it but don’t let that deter you from opportunities to develop the academic sides of yourself. You can channel what you learn about yourself in dance through different interests. See where it takes you. Give yourself a chance.

(National Standard for Comprehensive Immigration Reform)

[AK]: There’s the argument between whether it’s better to be a Jack of all trades or a Master of one. This comes up in our conversations quite a bit. What is your stance on this today? Where is the compromise and what experience helped shape this understanding?

[HT]: Being a Jack of all trades works well if you don’t feel a singular greatness right away. I’d be lost if I didn’t know how to Krump during my public policy fellowship. I’d be inept if I didn’t have spoken word when I worked for the Congress. The compromise is when I have to figure how my mix of skills creates something unique that’s valuable others. It’s terrifying to learn in a room of die-hard practitioners (it doesn’t matter if it’s politics, dancing, law). But people appreciate when you put yourself out there and take ownership of the bit of skill you do have.

 [AK]: Since this is somewhat of a writing blog, I do have to ask a question on the topic. You’ve been a staff writer for award-winning SAUCI Times and you enjoy dabbling in fiction and poetry. Can you share your creative process? Working with law, marketing, philanthropy, etc. where does creative writing fit in? Is it pertinent/ useful?

[HT]: My creative process was a byproduct of getting stuff out of me for which I had no voice for growing up. I spent most of elementary school a virtual mute. I got suspended for petty crimes against students, school property. I didn’t embrace writing until much later. My influences are Jazz, Hip-Hop, and the Rob Reiner romantic films of the 80’s and early 90’s. In my professional life, creative writing is invaluable. It allows me to read between the lines, empathize with those I work with, and with those I’m trying to appeal to. Introspection doesn’t fall from the sky.

 [AK]: You’re taking a giant leap – from California to Minneapolis in a few days’ time with only a carry-on. There is no prep or plan. Could you talk about how this trip came about and what it means to you on an external and internal level? What kind of person does it take, or circumstances demand sudden relocation?

[HT]: I’m going to Minneapolis to follow a friend whom I value immensely. The same night he told me he was leaving for Minneapolis for a better chance at recovery, I booked a plane ticket. I could’ve taken job opportunities here and helped him remotely, but I got the itch—the kind that supersedes rationale. It’s not really a type of person that can suddenly relocate, it’s the context. If you can answer the questions, What do I really believe in?”  “Do I believe in myself enough to give this a shot?” I think you’re ready.

 [AK]: Hai, you’ve been my oldest friend here in Southern California. Now we’re parting ways with you off to Minneapolis and I’ll be in New York. But it’s been an honor to interview you. Thank you for making the time. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with?

[HT]: I’d just like to say that I’m overjoyed to see the kind of personal journey you’ve taken. You are the most unexpected friendship that I’ve garnered. The rest is history. I want to leave readers with one thing: you can’t predict how life will turn out, but you can choose to either engage or detach from the opportunities that present themselves. I appreciate whoever reads this, and once again Angela for making a space where I can express myself before moving onto the next chapter in my life.

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3 comments

    • jaimeluz

      Hey Bethany,

      Glad that you enjoyed the reading. It’s been a long road to be able to articulate the answers I provided. I’m going to keep exploring where these choices take me.

      -Hai Truong

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