Hai Anh Dinh, 24, moved to Nashville two years ago. Originally born in Germany, she moved to Franklin, Tennessee at the age of six.
Not able to speak any English when she first came to the United States made Hai Anh and her brother felt like aliens.
“I remember the first day of school. Everyone stood up to say the pledge of allegiance, and I just put my hand over my heart and pretended like I knew what I was doing. Those are things you don’t forget,” she said. “I was fortunate to go to school and have the extra resources I needed to learn the language.”
To learn the culture, Hai Anh admitted to watching a lot of MTV, reading books, and watching tons of movies with her brother.
a CULTURAL EXPERIENCE
Hai Anh is Vietnamese. When she was young, her parents moved to find work and support for their family in Czechoslovakia then in Germany where she and her brother were born.
She’s has been back to visit Vietnam four times at different ages in her life. She said she’s been fortunate to be able to see her family and get to know and understand her cultural heritage more.
“Now that we’re older, my brother and I have a better appreciation of the sacrifices made and why we are where we are,” she said. “My family overseas is proud to have grandchildren and nieces and nephews in the U.S.”
“We’re living the dream they always wanted and hoped for us.”
Hai Anh’s aunt and uncle live in Franklin and have been like second parents to her and her siblings.
“Franklin has always been such a special place for me,” she said. “It’s the foundation of why I am what I am today. My aunt and uncle helped my mom start out on her feet, and now she’s able to support my brother and I to be where we are.”
Hai Anh is the oldest of many siblings. Now, most of her immediate family live in Jackson, Tenn., where she moved after a few years in Franklin.
She said after graduating from a high school in Jackson, she had big plans for herself and wanted to go to college overseas. She realized she needed to stay close to her family, so she decided to go to UT Knoxville. Then her mom got pregnant. She was offered a full scholarship to MTSU and chose to stay closer to home to be a part of her sister’s life.
Hai Anh graduated with a degree in mass and visual communication in 2013.
“Knowing I was a first generation college student, I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity,” she said. “You learn a lot about yourself in school. Leaving Jackson, going to school, and being where I am now, I’ve evolved in a good way.”
a VOLUNTEER’S HEART
While attending MTSU, she volunteered with Read to Success, a family literacy night program.
“In college, I want to get involved with the youth, minorities and the weird ones because I was one of them,” she said. “To have a lot of things standing against you saying you can’t because of your gender, the color of your skin, where you’re from or because of your name is difficult. Those kinds of experiences have taught me to put myself in other people’s shoes.”
Each year Hai Anh also does a clothing drive in winter for Oasis Center and Youth Villages and a food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank.
“It’s so important for people my age to familiarize themselves with their community and what they’re surrounded by. It’s easy to be ignorant and naïve to the scary and challenging things going on in the world. It’s imperative for young people to understand what they come from and what they contribute to their future.”
Aside from aspiring to be Beyoncé’s backup dancer, Hai Anh said she wants to make an effort to be kinder to herself and said others should do the same.
She said this year her mentality is “why not me?” She said she admires people who are bold and put themselves out there while pursuing an art they’re passionate about it.
Hai Anh frequently attends creative events with friends to help motivate them and herself. One of her latest events was Heartbreak Happy Hour, a medley of poetry reading, stories, and songs by The Porch Writers Collective.
“You would think something called that would be somber and kind of cheesy, but it was amazing. I was listening to these people of all different ages and careers sharing their hearts. I realized heartbreak could mean so many different things to people.”
She said she wants to be mindful of her actions and what she says to others.
“Isn’t it funny? Isn’t it crazy to think how one thing you do could change so much for someone else and make them think?”
Now, Hai Anh works for a branding and advertising agency in Nashville. When she’s not working, she likes to read, visit family in Jackson, and go to concerts and take advantage of Tennessee’s outdoors.
Hai Anh called the economic boom of the city wonderful.
“There are people who fall in love with Nashville so they come here and stay,” she said. “Some people imagine starting over here and knowing they can be whoever and do whatever they want here, and that’s beautiful.”
“Nashville is the perfect combination between the charm of a small town and the mystery of a big city. That’s what I love most about it.”
She said she has one friend that’s starting a clothing line and another friend who’s opening up a brewery in Germantown.
“To see people you went to school with doing these amazing things and pursuing the things you heard them talk about finally coming through is incredible.”
Hai Anh said they could choose to do it anywhere, but she knows they see something special in Nashville that makes them want to stay and fulfill their dreams here.
COMMUNITY as DEFINED
“A community is one of those words you define not only through action but through experience. It’s ever changing. It’s utilizing the resources that you have and making the most of it and helping others along the way.”
Hai Anh said being a part of a community means getting out of comfort zones and learning about one’s self. She said she feels Nashville is one of the best places anyone could do that because everyone is welcoming and wants to know where you came from and why you’re here.
She said community is also about getting to know people, accepting people for who they are and even just striking up casual conversations.
“You never know where that could lead,” she said. “A ‘yes’ or a ‘why not’ could lead to so many opportunities in the future, and Nashville has so many options.”
Hai Anh said at the rate that it’s going, those living in and around the city are experiencing something special. She said so many ideas and dreams are being implemented providing opportunities for the community to get involved.
“I see and hope for good change for everyone here,” she said. “Regardless of why you’re here or what you’re doing here, the city holds opportunities for all.”
Over the last two years, she’s learned not to be so hesitant and learned how to get out of her own comfort zone, which for her includes asking questions and asking for help. She said she learned it’s not a sign of weakness but a sign that she is striving to do the best she can.
As the city moves forward with such excitement and growth, Hai Anh said it’s easy to forget about people who still need help. She said it’s important to remember those who don’t necessarily have a voice so the community has to hear them and be their voice.
Hai Anh said it’s not as problematic as in other cities, but said that there has to be a conscious effort to keep the people in mind in the midst of the high-rises and bright lights.
Thanks for reading Nashville!
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
It starts with community. It starts where you are.