John Hovanesian, M.D.
“In Orange County the Vietnamese Do Scouting Right”
April 14, 2014
Recently I attended the New Year’s celebration of the Vietnamese scouting community in Orange County at Huntington Beach Central Park. It was an amazing display of Scouting, second in size only to Scout-O-Rama and involving Tiger Cubs and Cub Scouts, Webelos, Boy Scouts, and all manner of Girl Scout Troops! Over 1,000 people attended in a display of community unity that would be heart-warming to anyone, Vietnamese or not.
Scouting for this unique community originated back in Vietnam, where Scouting was popular well before the revolution. The founders of Vietnamese Scouting in Orange County immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and began what has become a cornerstone of their ethnic community.
From a religious standpoint, OC’s Vietnamese population is about 85% Buddhist, 10% Roman Catholic, and 5% a mix of other religions, according to Nicholas Nguyen, a board member of the Orange County Council. Sponsored by non-sectarian Vietnamese non-profits, these units span all religions as a perfect place for a non-denominational movement of youth development.
But what makes Vietnamese Scouting most unique is that the whole family is involved. On a Sunday afternoon, “meetings” happen at a local park and last most of the day. Starting in late morning to allow churchgoers to attend an early mass, the entire family gathers – girls in Girl Scout uniform, boys in Boy Scout uniform, and parents in the uniform of whichever movement they are most closely associated with. There are separate activities for boys and girls, but sometimes they mix when the programs align—always with plentiful adult supervision. There are programs to keep younger children busy, while young adult children become volunteers, showing the way for the youngest members of the community. There are general interest adult seminars and activities, like how to navigate immigration law, set up a business, and help your children grow up strong. Credible leaders of the Vietnamese community lead these sessions.
And of course, the whole day ends with a giant meal as would any gathering of any tribe.
In Vietnamese Scouting, there’s simply no excuse for any part of the family not to participate in some way. Because the families are together so often, they become close friends, and Scouting units swell to triple digit numbers before they sometimes spawn new units.
And it all happens in a context of respecting their cultural origins while learning to be model citizens of the United States.
It makes me wonder whether other Scouting communities, ethnic or not, might want to practice Scouting the way the Vietnamese do – with the whole family gathering for an afternoon of fun and learning. We all treasure our free time and our families so much, why not combine them in an activity that promotes family values and everything Scouting stands for.
I heartily congratulate the Vietnamese scouting community of Orange County on their outstanding program. These are truly lovely people.