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grades. It was too easy.

It never mattered to him much that there was little to do here. No bowling alley, no movie theatre. “To us, just sitting down with your friends is enough,” he says. “It’s fine here, we grew up in the hood. We don’t envy the wealthy. We’re fine with what we have now.”

Then, in 2006, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) asked him to join. Housed in a strip mall, with posters documenting community projects, the place seemed kind of lame to Nguyen at first. But before he knew it, he felt at home there. He helped organize the protest and defeat of a proposed city landfill in the area, a project that threatened to contaminate the waters that the Vietnamese elders use for the community vegetable gardens.

And discovering the mirrored studio in the back of the VAYLA offices, Nguyen took up dance. He formed a troupe called Visible Rhythm and began choreographing. There was never any zeal to compete. Dance was the great release he had been craving, and he says without question that “dancing saved my life.”

VAYLA continued to grow and last year Nguyen joined the staff as full-time project coordinator. In Versailles, dance has become a favorite afterschool activity. Through Nguyen’s vision, kids as young as six come to the center to practice.

His current project at VAYLA is organizing a youth-led recording of the stories of the older generation, the ones who survived war only to come and live in the country that ruined their own. “It’s a really good feeling when you drive around seeing old people gardening, but what happens when they pass away?”

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