My mother was a Vietnamese boat refugee. She taught me that I can survive anything

My mother grew up in a war-torn country and escaped her homeland via a fishing boat in the middle of the night. She left with no extra clothes, no money, and no destination in mind. The small boat she and dozens of others were crammed in ran out of fuel after a week and floated aimlessly in the Pacific Ocean for three days. All they could hope for was a miracle. By happenstance, a large English freighter hit my mother’s boat, causing it to start sinking. The crew of the freighter rescued my mother and everyone else on her boat, and took them all to a refugee camp in Japan. Within a few years, she was able to immigrate to the United States, met and married my father, and had me as her first-born. My mother was one of the lucky few “Vietnamese Boat People” who survived. The odds were terrifyingly against her, but she made it. Her resilience and unfaltering perseverance had a tremendous impact on me and gave me perspective on the hardships that I face.

At times, it can be challenging to be a diverse woman in a male-dominated profession such as the legal industry, especially when someone mistakes me for the court reporter, or I am told “I do not look like a lawyer” when compared to my male colleagues. When these incidents occur, however, I remind myself that if my mother was able to survive her very real life-or-death ordeal, I too can overcome these hurdles. In fact, her journey gives me motivation to continue defying the odds, just like she did, and make my way up the ranks at both my firm and in the legal profession. Rather than accept the status quo, I have actively sought out, worked with, and advocated for female lawyers both at my own firm and at other companies.

I am also fortunate enough to have met other strong female trailblazers, who were able to successfully navigate the obstacles women face in the legal world and become highly regarded attorneys and leaders at their respective firms/companies. Despite their busy schedules, they each took the time to invest in me and give me guidance on how to work through adversities I face at the workplace. I know and appreciate that their efforts to help me with my career aligned with their hopes to make the workplace more inclusive, especially for women of color. Based on both my mother’s and my own experiences, I strive to connect with junior female attorneys and am driven to empower the next generation of female attorneys.