A recent MATC graduate, Dang plans to continue her own education while she helps others with theirs. She has already completed two degrees in computer science and liberal arts from  MATC and is set to start school at Edgewood College in the fall where she will major in bilingual education. Add to that the impending birth of her second child and Dang is a busy woman indeed. In fact, by now, Dang has most likely given birth to her second daughter.
      Dang credits MATC with being a supportive work environment that allows her to continue her schooling and encourages her dedication to a growing family.
      "I feel really lucky to be a part of MATC," she said. "I have a good supervisor who encourages me to go to school."
      She also credits her new country with allowing her opportunities she says she wouldn't  have had in her native Vietnam.
      "This country has really good opportunities for women," she said. "If I lived in my country,  honestly, once we become a wife we are expected to just stay in the kitchen  and raise the children."
      Born in Saigon, South Vietnam, Dang's young life was defined by hardship. When she was just two years old,  Dang's father joined the U.S. Army to fight in the Vietnam War. In the beginning, her family was somewhat removed from the atrocities that      defined the brutal war.
      "Because we lived in the city, we never saw  the war happen," she said.
       It wasn't until after the war that  life dramatically changed for the family of six. Dang's father died during the war and the family was later ostracized because of his allegiance to the United States.
      We didn't have a good life after the war," Dang said.  "[The government] wanted to remove the people that fought and their families from the city. They took our property and we had a lot of financial problems."
      Dang's mother did what she could to raise her five children. Despite their struggles, Dang continued her schooling and eventually became a kindergarten teacher. It was one of the few socially accepted careers for a  Vietnamese woman at the time. / Meanwhile, Dang's current husband was formulating a plan to woo her. Theirs was not love at first sight, but love by snapshot. Dang's husband saw a picture of her (sent to him by a relative) and fell in love. Already living in Madison, Wis., he traveled to      Vietnam to meet her. After three meetings, he proposed.
      Unable to get government approval for Dang to leave Vietnam, the couple fought long and hard to begin a life together in Madison.
      "My husband went back to Madison to file petitions to bring me here," she said.
      After two long years, Dang was finally allowed to leave her native country and begin a life in her new one. The couple was married in Madison in 1994.
      While Dang appreciated the new found opportunities in Madison, she found the necessary support she needed to make the transition a little lacking.  "It was a very difficult time," she said, recalling that after the Vietnam War, they (the Vietnamese) were barred from studying English. This would later work against Dang as she navigated a new culture.  "The language barrier was one of my biggest challenges." She also missed the support of her family. "We had no family here and no health insurance," she said. "It was very hard."
      Dang attended ESL classes and eventually pursued an education. As she grew more comfortable in Madison, she became passionate about helping others transition to a new country.
      "When I came to Madison, I  didn't get the help I needed," she said. "I didn't know where to go. My passion, now, is to help people."
      Aside from helping students at MATC (many of them Asian) she also serves as secretary for the Madison Vietnamese Community Association where she aids new arrivals to Madison, promotes the Vietnamese language and culture, and helps plan social events like the Vietnamese New Year celebration.
      In 2003, Dang was one of 12 recipients nationwide of the National Young Community Leaders Recognition Award from the National Alliance of  Vietnamese American Service Agencies (NAVASA). This prestigious award is given to "young Vietnamese Americans who have strongly demonstrated an indefinite commitment, passion and clear vision toward building and bridging the Vietnamese American communities across the country."
      As Dang and her husband welcome a new baby into the world, she will continue her education and service to the Vietnamese community in Madison. She has proven a valuable member to the community and her helping spirit has had a  profound effect on MATC students, new Vietnamese arrivals in Madison, and the community as a whole.
Thuha Dang
MATC's pride from Saigon
by Laura Salinger
Thuha Dang graduated recently from MATC.
     Thuha Dang spends her days advising students of color at Madison Area Technical College (MATC)'s multicultural services department. Whether they are determining a career path or creating a class plan, Dang, an education specialist,  is on hand to improve their experience. She sees around 150 of students per year. If a student  walks into her office, she said, she will not turn them away.
      "My job is to help them be successful as students," she said.  "We put the students first."
July 2006 Issue Preview