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Paths + Profiles: Vinh Duong & Quynh-Anh Kibler on AAPI Heritage Month

Morgan sits down with Waller partner and member of the board of Directors, Vinh Duong, and Waller attorney Quynh-Anh Kibler to discuss Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

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Vinh Duong
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Quynh-Anh Kibler
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Morgan Ribeiro
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  • Transcript

    Announcer: Welcome to Paths + Profiles, conversations and stories capturing the personal journeys of our attorneys, colleagues, and friends.

    Morgan: Welcome to Paths + Profiles. This is Morgan Ribeiro Waller's Chief Business Development Officer and the host of the podcast. 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 here at Waller, Vinh Duong and Quynh-Anh Kibler. Vinh is a partner and member of our board of directors and Quynh-Anh is an associate in our litigation and dispute resolution practice.

    Welcome to both of you. Vinh I'll start with you. Do you want to elaborate a bit more on what you do at Waller?

    Vinh: Sure. So I am an immigration attorney and a partner at Waller. I lead our immigration practice, which currently consists of four full-time attorneys, two full-time paralegals with a third one joining us in June.

    QA: I'm an associate attorney with Waller's litigation department. In my role, I help the partners do the job for the clients in whatever capacity I'm needed. Whether it's researching or preparing documents to be filed with the court or arguing or helping make settlement demands.

    Morgan: Thank you. So 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: So my decision to practice law was really heavily influenced by my parent's and grandmother's, just my family and generals experiences, as immigrants coming to the US.

    So we fled Vietnam in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. We were part of the exodus of a million people fleeing Vietnam to the US. And we're part of the first wave of what we call "boat people" to the US.

    QA: 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, 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: My dad felt the same way.

    Like he wanted me to become a doctor, but I knew going into college at that was not what I wanted to do. I had a very clear focus on becoming an attorney even before I went to college though.

    QA: 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: Yeah. And it's funny to this day, my entire extended family, which is large, I am the only attorney everybody else is doing something in the sciences.

    Really interesting.

    QA: That's funny. I think I am the only attorney in my family too.

    Morgan: 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's 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: Yeah. 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 struggles with the people in the present, and 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 custom, the culture but being able to assimilate and reinvent themselves in a way.

    QA: Yeah. I feel like it's important. Growing up in schools or at my previous jobs.

    no one really mentioned 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: 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: Yeah, I've always been inspired by my dad. He was a physician in Vietnam. When he came to the US, 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 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 try to find a way to make it happen in the U S for him and his family.

    QA: 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 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 and because of them my siblings and I have these opportunities that they never did to go to school, go to college, become professionals.

    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: Wow. That's great. It's so interesting. We talk about Asian Pacific heritage month and you celebrate 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. also really important to do as well, cause I have the same experience as you. My mom worked two jobs. My dad had to go to school. He had to work jobs while he was in training. It's like that kind of ownership mentality, that entrepreneurial spirit.

    I see that in you, by the way, 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 in a position where you are today. And I think that's fantastic.

    QA: Yeah. 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: Yeah. We had similar experience. We came to the US, and, to pay for food we used food stamps. And I remember walking with my grandmother at least twice a year to a local church where we would pick up like government issue blocks of cheese and butter, and they would give you powdered milk in a carton. And I remember that vividly, we would do that at least twice a year every year because it was free and it was stuff that we would otherwise have to buy.

    QA: For birthdays and Christmases we go to Dollar Tree and instead of one item we could get two or three items. And that was fantastic.

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

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

    Vinh: I feel like I've had the same haircut from my entire life.

    Morgan: 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: If I give any advice to any young attorney it's, understand that you have to also have that ownership, mentality, that 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.

    QA: 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. That's funny as a lawyer, but I overcome that by preparing and just practicing and I guess that 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: really great advice. Thank you both. 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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