The Ao Dai Festival Origin Story
Developed and led by Jenny Do, an attorney by trade with a passion for the arts and adamant belief in social change, the Ao Dai Festival brought together a group of artists and social activists that firmly believe in the concept of humanity through arts. That means we produce art and utilize it to change our society in positive ways. It also means that we intend to make direct social impact through forwarding Vietnamese culture and the arts for generations to come.
Jenny Do founded the Greenrice Art Gallery where she invited artists to share the belief that art can serve as a vehicle to raise awareness on prevalent social concerns such as human trafficking, women’s rights, and child abuse. The Gallery’s “Human for Sale” exhibition is a typical example. “Human for Sale” was a photo documentary that has travelled throughout the U.S. for the purpose of raising the public’s awareness on the issue of human trafficking in Southeast Asia. From this experience, the Ao Dai Festival was conceived. One of the principal social themes of the first Ao Dai Festival was the restoration of the dignity of women who were victims of human traffickers.
What motivates Ao Dai Festival’s organizers to engage in this endeavor, however, is a children shelter in Central Vietnam. Established by the Friends of Hue Foundation (FHF), a California non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), the shelter has been the home of many children who were once neglected, abandoned, and abused. Many of them now have become productive members of the society and are taking initiatives in not only in transforming their own lives but also the lives of the needy youth that come after them. As a result, FHF has become an exemplary US-led NGO in Vietnam, particularly in the region around the ancient capital of Hue. It should be noted that FHF also operates other humanitarian programs such as natural disaster relief, microloans for the poor, and mobile medical clinics. The Ao Dai Festival is the principal fund raising vehicle for FHF’s children shelter.
We are proud to say that the Ao Dai Festival has successfully achieved its dual goal: to promote culture and the arts while continuing to help those in need. For example, while the event has been recognized as one of the most significant contributors, with respect to art and culture by Vietnamese Americans in San Jose, it has also inspired donors to provide financial support to FHF’s children shelter. One remarkable achievement by the shelter is that the Ao Dai Festival has brought a sense of pride to FHF’s children, such that half of the current shelter staffs now consist of youths who once were children placed under our care. These youths represent the future leaders and in turn are training the next generation to give back to their communities.
The Ao Dai Festival also serves as a cultural site that has attracted some of the most talented artists and designers and showcased some of our best Vietnamese performers internationally. Moreover, we have young people from local cities to across the nation participating in the festival on a purely voluntary basis. Many have expressed their pride after seeing their culture depicted through the arts and performances at the Ao Dai Festival.
In addition to servicing the Vietnamese ethnic communities, the Ao Dai Festival has generated among the mainstream community a deeper appreciation of the richness of Vietnamese history, which is often reduced through common perception to America’s participation in the country’s bloody civil war. We highlight the best aspects of the Vietnamese culture, which generally remains unknown to those of non-Vietnamese background, not only to express our pride but also to contribute to the multi-cultural fabric of the U.S.
Because of the overwhelming reception garnered from the previous Ao Dai Festivals, both nationally and internationally, we envision the festival will grow with each year and spawn similar enterprises. Expanding the values behind humanity through arts will undoubtedly help expose the wonders of the Vietnamese culture and assist its people globally as well. We are grateful for all those that support our work.