At the height of the Stop Asian Hate movement last spring, Nguyen was unexpectedly inter- viewed on CNN, taking the moment to read aloud a racist letter that several of his colleagues in the beauty salon industry had received. “My mom and dad came here to give me and my sister a better life,” he said on camera. “And right now, it doesn’t feel that way.”
“I didn’t consider myself as an advocate pre-COVID-19, but I did consider myself a bridge- builder and someone who cares deeply for his communities.” Some of the communities Nguyen represents are tied to the professional roles he holds. He co-owns Advance Beauty College in Garden Grove and Laguna Hills, which he took over from his founder parents in 1999. He also serves as a board member for the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Orange County, Orange County United Way, Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Board, and the Orange County Transit Authority.
Nguyen’s journey in advocacy began close to home. While attending UC Irvine as an undergrad in the early 1990s, he loved showing off his Vietnamese culture to his college friends. “I often brought many of my UC Irvine friends to make treks with me to the Asian Garden Mall to enjoy the sugar cane drinks, foods, and snacks. I felt really proud to share a lot of my culture in foods and traditions with my friends that were not Vietnamese or had not been exposed to Vietnamese culture previously.”
A turning point for Nguyen came shortly after graduating. In 1996, the brother of one of Nguyen’s good friends was murdered in a hate crime while inline skating at Tustin High School. “They murdered him just for being Asian. The hatred ran so deep. I felt pain and hurt. I didn’t know what to do. At that point, I didn’t know how to start a rally. All I could be was a friend and someone (there) for the community. It was a hard point in time, but I know that planted the seed for me to do things in the future so that there would be less hate and more love in the world.”
This past Thanksgiving, Nguyen held a dinner for his neighbors and friends at his home. “In terms of Orange County, they couldn’t be more different politically, religiously, ethnically, yet they came together. I was so honored that my home and the food that my wife cooked created a safe space for human connection between people.”
A father of three, Nguyen takes pride in providing his children with a diverse view of the county. “My children are experiencing Orange County in a very different way than I did. Because of my professional roles, my children get to meet so many people other than Vietnamese—other Asians, Black people, Hispanics, and white people. We’re being very intentional and broad in terms of the diversity that our children have. My wife and I often say, we grew up Asian-centric and only knowing the Asian values and cultures. How beautiful is it that our children get to truly embrace being American? Asian is just one part of (that identity).”