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Daily Inspiration: Meet Ysa Le

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ysa Le.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I’m currently the Executive Director of the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA). This is actually a volunteering position. My daytime job is a pharmacist. I graduated from USC Pharmacy School in 1994 and have been practicing pharmacy since then.

My dad, who co-founded VAALA, passed away due to cancer in 1999. In 2000, I decided to volunteer for VAALA as a tribute to my dad. I remember I told my mom that I’d just volunteer for two years. And here I am, 21 years later!

VAALA’s mission is to connect and enrich communities through Vietnamese art and culture. I find that arts can bring people together. We can share our stories through arts. I love to create artistic events like exhibitions, book signing, concerts, plays, and film festivals. I enjoy working with artists and people who have same passion. I’ve learned so much from them. A lot of them became my life-long friends.

In 2003, I co-founded Viet Film Fest which showcases films made by filmmakers of Vietnamese descent and films about Vietnamese people and culture made by filmmakers of any ethnicities from all over the world.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
In order to carry out the programs, we’d need to have funding. Fundraising has been challenging, especially we are still in the time of the pandemic! We lost some sponsorships from corporates and private donors. Luckily, we have received more funding from the State such as the California Arts Council. VAALA s one of 61 organizations nationwide selected to receive a 2021-2022 NEA Big Read grant. A grant of $20,000 will support a community reading program focusing on “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui from September 2021 through June 2022. We were also awarded a $10,000 grant from the Sundance Institute to support BIPOC artists. Thus, we are able to develop and continue the artistic programs such as Viet Film Fest and Viet Book Fest for the community.

Another challenge we face is volunteer fatigue. We need to build a stronger infrastructure to support our staff and volunteers. For the first time in almost 30 years, we are able to hire a part-time Managing Director.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I’m most proud of my work in creating the artistic programs which bring people together. With these programs, we can also highlight the stories that would not been told by the mainstream media.

Also, I’m proud to see that these programs help connect different generations and bring family members closer to each other. Many young members told me that they love to bring their families to VAALA’s events.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
Collaboration. None of the work I did would happen without being able to collaborate with the artists, board members, staff, volunteers and community members.

My art activism is a long pathway. Along the way, I would need to create successful collaborations to achieve my goals.

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