Being a leader among the Asian American community did not come naturally for Colorado Dragon Boat Festival Operations Committee member Jen Nguyen. A volunteer since CDBF’s second year, Nguyen was part of the inaugural class of the festival’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Emerging Leadership Program (ELP) in 2012.
“Something I knew that was difficult for me was understanding what it meant to be an Asian American leader,” Nguyen said. “As Asian Americans, there are many different stereotypes that we lumped under and I just agreed with them even though I didn’t think many of them were true.
“By being in ELP, I was able to understand that being an Asian American leader was different,” she said. “This program taught me the importance of self-advocacy and not to represent being ‘the one Asian in the class,’ but to advocate for myself. It taught me that I do have a voice and that I have important things to contribute”
Working her way up from attendee and then volunteer ambassador, Nguyen has grown up with the Dragon Boat Festival and is currently chair of the Main Stage and Band Stage, working with performers to bring a taste of Asian American culture to the Denver area.
“CDBF allows for a sense of community and family,” Nguyen said. “I look forward to the festival (every year) because of the sense of community and the ability to teach that community traditions of so many different cultures. With so much chaos in the world with hate crimes, shootings and you name it, it is nice to know that people can celebrate each others’ differences.”
In addition to educating and spreading culture, Nguyen credits volunteering for the Dragon Boat Festival with providing invaluable experience beyond simply giving back to the community.
“The friendships you develop from volunteering are amazing and it’s fun to see them year after year,” Nguyen said. “The festival is one of a kind and you need to experience it at least once behind the scenes. It’s nice to see how the magic happens.
“CDBF is a beautiful thing,” she added. “With the chaos and the hustle and bustle of the world, it is nice to see so many different cultures coming together to share what is important to them.”