Vien Truong: Social & Environmental Warrior
She came from abject poverty, experienced social injustice, witnessed the ravaging of the environment, saw the connection of these issues maintained by a broken system, and became a voice for change.
Vietnam was torn and ravaged by war when the Truong family fled to the United States. This era in Vietnamese history was known as the “Rationized Period’,” when the free economy was abolished and private enterprise and property ownership, were forbidden. Vien Truong’s family escaped this dark chapter of the country.
The Pursuit to Freedom
Her mom was pregnant, carrying Vien in her belly, when she got on that boat to escape war-torn Vietnam. She got in a boat with her husband, 9 children, and grandma. They were to row 500 miles in treacherous waters to get to safety in Macau. The very waters where many had perished in similar attempts. Luckily, their family was rescued by the Red Cross and sent to a refugee camp in Hong Kong – where baby Vien was born and lived her first year of life. The family ultimately made their way to Oregon.
Two parents and eleven children took a risk to seek prosperity in a new country. In order to survive, Truong’s mom would work picking crops under the scorching sun in endless fields. When her grandma, however, started showing symptoms of dementia and they moved to Oakland where relatives could provide family support.
A Path to Betterment
In Oakland, the only work Truong’s parents could find was in a sweatshops in West Oakland – an area that is still considered extremely polluted and where families were often stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. These conditions were unacceptable and inhumane. This was Truong’s first introduction to the horrible connection between poverty and environmental toxicity.
This was her life until she did something that no one in her family had ever dreamed of — go to college. Truong attended UC Berkeley and found that life on campus was a world away from the life that her family lived just a few miles away. This juxtaposition woke her up to the unnatural conditions of Oakland – how political leaders have neglected residents, how the school system have tracked students into cycles of poverty, and how broken the economic system was for families like her own.
“I decided to dedicate my life to alleviating poverty and building the beloved communities that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned,” she vowed.
A Voice for Change
Truong has made good on her commitment. She’s dedicated her life to creating these beloved and sustainable communities. In the last decade, she has co-lead the coalition that have created the biggest fund for low income communities to green up, to passing laws supporting electric vehicles and transportation choice for working communities, shaped billions of dollars to supporting education and workforce development so that people that most needs jobs are trained for the jobs that most need to get done.
Under her leadership at the Dream Corps, the organization made historic wins in environmental policies, criminal justice reform, and created national workforce models for tech diversity and inclusion. Truong was given the White House Champion of Change Award due to her work in climate equity. This was followed by the California League of Conservation Voters Environmental Leadership Award, and Transform’s “Leadership, Innovation, Vision, Equity” Award.
Her firm Truong & Associates advises universities, governments, and companies on environmental policies and programs.
She has co-founded the East Bay Tech Hub to support East Bay youth who, like her, grew up in communities without access and a lot of promise. She is helping to build a bridge for them to gain skills and success in the tech sector.
A Legacy of Strength
Her mother toiled and sacrificed for her family and Truong lived through the hardships. It was part of her DNA and became her source of strength. That same strength that rowed with her father for so many miles in pursuit of freedom. A strength to share with others in one of Green For All’s campaigns, Moms Mobilize. Mothers are the first to see what the pollution and poverty does to the new generation. The campaign calls on mothers everywhere to petition, act, and drive legislation to bring about change.
Truong continues to live in the East Bay, never ceasing the battle for change and improvement. Her story is more than an inspiration, it is a relief. We can all sleep just a little better knowing that a voice like hers is heard and brings about change for the betterment of humanity.
“It’s time that this stops,” asserts Truong. “We have to make sure that people who are violating our communities, our human rights, are forced to make whole the communities that they have been hurting.”