The story I was seeking is a story of inspirations that get transformed into a vision and eventually manifested into a reality.
This brought me to one of the key figures of my sorority, Anh Ngoc Nguyen, one of seven founders of Delta Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. Her vision manifested into an organization that is now nineteen strong standing chapters spanning across the Southeast, Midwest, and Northeast. How did she manage to dream so big? As someone who has always been passionate about the things I do, I’ve always been intrigued by strong and intelligent women like her. So I’m starting this series with the inspirations of her vision and dream.
I called her at 9:30 PM on a Monday night; she was supposed to be driving home from work in Atlanta. I was so anxious before the call – what if she is strict? what if she doesn’t like the way I talk and blame my chapter for crossing an oddball? IDK!
The list went on as I entered her number into my phone; the ringing stopped, and so did my heart.
“Please say your name and we will connect you,” said the message.
“Linh,” I answered. Beep…Beep…Beep
“Hello Linh, how are you?” answered Founder Nguyen.
“..Hello Mrs. Nguyen, I’m doing great, I hope you are!” I answered hesitantly. Dang, why didn’t I just called her Founder Doc? I questioned.
I was taken aback by the smooth and soft tone in her voice; I was expecting it to be lower, but it was such a modulated voice.
“Are you on your way home?” I asked.
“No, I’m actually eating my sandwich while talking to you, I didn’t want to multitask too much,” she answered.
I applaud her for the attempt to multitask. I was surprised that she worked so late, especially on a Monday night. The interview was scheduled for 9:30 PM – 10:10 PM, and for us to have an interview meant that she was adding on another item to her day.
Anh Ngoc Nguyen’s professional career started as a data analyst. After years of hard work, she became a portfolio manager for a large bank in Atlanta. She has been in the banking industry for twelve years. Her work hour is sixty-five plus hours every week, getting into work early and leaving late. On top of her professional career, she is also a mother of four children. Despite her busy schedule, she sounded tireless and energetic at 9:30 PM on a Monday. I was instantly amazed by her energy and uplifting spirit.
After a few exchanges about her career and family life, I moved into interviewing her with my questions.
My parents were extremely hardworking, and they ingrained a strong work ethic into me at a young age.
What was your upbringing like?
I was born in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and my family was seeking refugee in Indonesia at a refugee camp. We were sponsored by a church from Atlanta, so we moved there since I was three years old, and we have been living here in Atlanta ever since.
It’s my first time talking to someone who came to the States at such a young age, especially as a refugee instead of an immigrant. So what was it like for your family after arriving in Atlanta? What was your role in the family?
Our family was very poor and we had nothing, similar to many other Vietnamese who lost everything after the war. My parents were extremely hardworking, and they ingrained a strong work ethic into me at a young age. My parents had a few businesses, starting with a shoe store, then a convenience store, and then a liquor store. So we were always working and operating as a family unit. I was the oldest of three, so I was responsible for things like translating important documents, I was responsible for things that were beyond my age.
My parents are in their seventies and they are still working. And they gave me a strong work ethic and taught me to be self-sufficient at a young age. Education and working hard was drilled into me since I was young.
How did your upbringing translate into how you are raising your children? Are they aware of your involvement with the sorority?
I want to instill into my children the same work ethic that my parents have given me. My children have to work for things they want; nothing is handed to them. I don’t bring up the sorority to my kids, and I don’t want to give them a false sense of expectations. I don’t want to pressure them or to feel entitled; I want them to be humble.
Did you expect our organization to blossom into what it is today?
I’m proud of the progress and the growth that we have made so far. But I am very competitive, and my vision is still very big, so I think we can always aspire to do more. I want Delta Phi Lambda to spread from coast to coast.
We were focused on staying grounded in pushing women to be a better version of themselves.
What was the climate like at the University of Georgia in Athens when you were trying to start Delta Phi Lambda?
It was such a difficult time to start an Asian sorority on the campus because the majority of the population was Caucasian; There were not a lot of Asians. There were other Asian-interest organizations that were targeting our chapter. At one point we only had five people while the other organization had over thirty, and they were trying to drive us off the campus. We lost one of our early classes, so it wasn’t until Epsilon class that I knew that we were going to be okay. There were organizations that were chartering at other schools, but we didn’t care about the quantity.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
Where did you draw courage to do these things?
I had to develop a thick skin and stay strong, grounded, and humble. We were focused on staying grounded in pushing women to be a better version of themselves. It’s about quality, not quantity. Had we cared about the quantity, we would not be here. And an example is Delta Phi Lambda is still at UGA and the other organizations are no longer there.
My brother was also members of an Asian-interest fraternity, and so they were there to support me, and so was the rest of my family. There was one occasion when we were approached by a fellow fraternity to be brother/sister organizations. But we decided against it because we wanted to maintain our independence, so shortcuts were not necessary. They thought they could push us around by pitting themselves against us, but we were not going to sit and be anyone’s puppet.
(In Asian-interest Greek organizations, we use the Greek alphabet to name our incoming classes rather than numbers. In this case, the Epsilon class was the fifth class that was crossed, approximately two and a half years after the founding of DPhiL).
How does it feel to have an entire generation of women looking up to you?
It is such an odd feeling. I see myself as Anh in my daily life, even during sorority events. And I always like to stay humble, so it is a strange feeling when I think about it. I try to stay grounded because I recognize that there is always more work to be done.
What is your favorite quote?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
You know that quote really suits your personality, I told her.
After getting off the phone, I sat still in silence for five minutes, taking in every detail of her story. More than anything, I was taken aback by the power of her voice. I couldn’t shake the feeling of inspiration, and I went to bed that night with a huge smile on my face. Her energy kept me up for hours on end, and I couldn’t wait to share her story with as many people as possible.
What doesn’t kill you make you stronger
Her favorite quote suits the person she is, driven, motivated, passionate, dedicate, and humble. But I will pray for those who ever crossed her or get into her way, my founder is a bad*ss.
Coming into college, I was determined to step out of my comfort zone and become a student leader on campus. I’ve always been passionate about making a big impact on my immediate community, and I realized that in order to make my voice heard, I needed a bigger platform. I started doing research and talking to friends about an Asian-interest sorority, and I became intrigued by their philanthropy and mission of empowering female leaders in the community.
It was a difficult decision at first, but joining Delta Phi Lambda turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And I am so thankful for the story of Anh Ngoc Nguyen because it was the vision of my founder that allowed me to dream bigger than I ever can.