Sharing and Preserving Vietnamese Culture with Mai-Huong Hoang Nguyen of Thuyen May Productions
Updated: Nov 9
Central Florida is a beautiful melting pot of cultural diversity shaped by the stories of each individual’s journey that brought them to settle there. Mai-Huong Hoang Nguyen’s journey is shaped by war, opportunity, and her resilience. Her story is one of gratitude and giving back despite the hardships she may have endured along the way.
Under the cover of night, entire families were on the move being careful not to be spotted. It was mid-April of 1975 and war once again had arrived in Vietnam, the second war her family had witnessed. Ms. Mai, just 10 years old at the time, escaped with her family just before the fall of Saigon.
The United States military shuttled the family from Vietnam to the Philippines, then to Guam, and then across the Pacific Ocean to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Here they awaited sponsorship, which arrived about 4 months later, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Her family’s migration to the United States, as one might imagine, was a dramatic culture shock where even the most basic aspects of daily life were completely altered. Imagine having to drive 10 hours just to reach a grocery store that sells products from your home country; that’s exactly what Ms. Mai’s father did so that they could remain connected to their traditional foods.
Ms. Mai and her eight brothers and sisters all earned their place at North Carolina State University. Their parents would visit on the weekends, bringing with them their traditional foods as a way to ensure they remained connected with their culture. Living at the university’s international dorm also reinforced the importance of preserving and sharing one’s culture while also learning to appreciate the cultures of others.
It was in these dorms that her love for dance was forged. See, music is something that is internationally understood, even if the words are foreign - we can all connect over music. Ms. Mai began choreographing traditional dances, asking her parents to fill in the gaps in her cultural understanding, formed by the forced separation from their home country. Dance would soon become one of her primary instruments for sharing her culture with the world.
She arrived in Central Florida in 1996 when her husband received a job offer at Florida Hospital. The couple honeymooned in Florida several years prior and left wishing that they could live there in some future - and the time came sooner than they expected! With children of their own now and displaced once again, Ms. Mai found herself echoing the efforts of her parents when they first arrived in the United States. The family struggled to preserve their culture so Ms. Mai left her job as a middle school teacher to homeschool her children and supplement the required coursework with lessons of Vietnamese language and culture.
Ms. Mai is currently an active member of the Central Florida arts and culture community, fusing together her passions for music, dance, and teaching as a way to share and preserve her Vietnamese identity and culture. Her non-profit organization, Thuyen May Productions, shares Vietnamese and Asian cultures through an artful blend of education and entertainment.
Their logo, consisting of a boat with three sails, represents the unity between the three regions of Vietnam: Northern (where her parents and inlaws are from), Central, and Southern (where she and her siblings were born).
Additionally, Ms. Mai is a volunteer Vietnamese language teacher at St. Philip Phan Van Minh Catholic Church and teaches youth dance at the Phat An and Phap Lac Buddhist Temples. She formerly taught dance and culture at Phap Vu Buddhist Temple, where her late parents frequented.
“It is very important for me to stay connected with the community and to share my culture because of the younger generations and the welcoming of the diverse communities of Central Florida.”
Her love for the preservation and sharing of Asian and Vietnamese culture is loud even though Ms. Mai herself is soft-spoken. She’s forged wonderful partnerships with other organizations, including Asia Trend and Avalon Park Group, that allow Thuyen May Productions to reach even more people across a broader spectrum of ages, cultural backgrounds, and socioeconomic status.
“Central Florida’s diverse atmosphere allows me to share culture in ways that weren’t possible or available to me when growing up,” Ms. Mai explains. “I realize that I once was the ‘younger generation’ that learned and shared my culture in college.” Her current mission is to reciprocate this effect by teaching and sharing with the diverse youth of Central Florida. Looking forward, she hopes to also have the opportunity to serve the community’s elderly population. This is the way she tells America “thank you” for saving her family so many years ago.
This story is proudly brought to you in partnership with FusionFest. Together, FusionFest and Pedacitos believe in the power of storytelling as a way to celebrate and amplify the diverse voices within our communities. FusionFest is also the name of the incredible two-day multicultural event held in the heart of Downtown Orlando every Thanksgiving weekend.
This FREE event showcases some of the many ways culture can be displayed and shared, including through music, art, food, fashion, and more! Their mission extends beyond this once-a-year event with opportunities for the community to engage and learn through curated cultural events throughout the year.
FusionFest Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission to celebrate the people and the many different cultures that make Central Florida awesome by showcasing talents, sharing stories, driving innovation and building community based on respect and understanding. FusionFest is a project of the Orange County Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.