Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?
Hi! My name is Mary Nguyen and I am a Structural Engineer at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. On a day to day basis, I perform comprehensive stress analysis for NASA’s Ground Support Test Equipment to verify safety requirements prior to building the support and testing of rocket components. I am also a blogger, online business owner, health enthusiast, and foodie!
What is the story behind your family’s decision to immigrate to America?
Both of my parents immigrated to America from Vietnam due to political and economic problems. My mom talked about how life was so difficult after the Vietnam War and communist government takeover that it caused people to flee, risking their lives to travel overseas using small fishing boats in search of better opportunities. My mom said that she was one of the lucky ones who got to fly, but witnessing others struggle to escape, didn’t make the situation much more comforting.
What was the hardest part about leaving? What was the best part about coming?
My mom left her entire family at only 18 or 19 to travel to the Philippines by herself to gain her U.S. Citizenship and then officially arrived in the States in the 90’s. I imagine that abandoning everything you’re familiar and comfortable as a young adult to be greeted by a culture shock and language barrier is a tough transition for anyone. I can’t imagine what all was going through her mind during those times, and she never really talked about it in too much detail. I imagine that the best part about coming to America has to be that the living conditions here are more manageable and easier to rise from. In other words, life may be tough for a young immigrant here, but she’s more capable of molding the life that she wants.
How has being a child of an immigrant changed you as a person?
I think being a daughter of immigrants made me unique in many aspects. I know I’ve only talked about my mom thus far, but my dad experienced a similar journey in his adulthood. He’d always talk about how he became a fisherman to help make money and support his mom financially by the age or 13, or how my parents never made it to higher education because education was more of a “luxury” and their life revolved around working instead to help their family survive.
It’s kind of disheartening to think that their struggles never truly ended, even after being more established in America. Growing up, I witnessed my parents struggle with a language barrier, as well as lack of family support, proper mentorship, and necessary resources. Naturally, some of these things got passed right down to me. For instance, my parents didn’t have any insights on what college was like, so therefore, they weren’t able to help me the same way I witnessed many of my peers being supported by their parents. And although this was one of my biggest setbacks, it also became one of my biggest strengths. Because even though I had to work 10 x’s harder than the majority to become successful, it also taught me how to persevere and remain resilient. Plus seeing how strong my parents have always been, taught me to have the same “hustle” mentality. Some of my greatest life hurdles, then, turned into necessary wisdom at a very young age. This provided me with not only the power to survive and thrive, but also the compassion to share my learning experiences to help support others on similar paths. This is now where my blog and business as not only a daughter of immigrants come in, but also as a young professional thriving in a male dominated field.
Where do you find strength in difficult and uncertain times?
My faith has always been the biggest contributor in helping me overcome any adversity. It’s during the times when I fell rock bottom with minimal hope for any way out, that I turned to my faith to pull through. It’s times when I barely had any money and was worried I wasn’t going to be able to pay for a bill, or when I was kicked out of an ex boyfriend’s home and had no where to else to live, that I turned to prayers and the words of God. Somehow, I always made it, and that’s how I’m confident that some things really work out the way they should, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first.
How has your experience changed as time has passed and you have gotten older?
I’m not sure much has changed. I still hold my roots and background very dear to me. Through each and every new adversity, I know that my abilities to overcome challenges stem from who I am. I’m just a lot wiser and more mature now. I’ve also been more mindful of childhood and past trauma, and have taken the initiative to address and overcome them. This does not mean that I still don’t go through challenges just because I’m older and prospering. It just means that I’ve both succeeded and failed enough to know that I’m fully capable and worthy of constant evolvement.
How has being the child of an immigrant made you a stronger person?
I believe that I am such a more empathetic and loving person because of it. In society, these characteristics aren’t always deemed as “strong”. But it takes so much courage to be openly vulnerable and compassionate to strangers. I believe I am this way to every person I meet and “click” with in real life as well as online. I offer my social media platform, blog, and business as a tool for others, where I publicly talk about my struggles and failures to help others overcome whatever it is, they may be facing. At work, I am a mentor and leader. In my relationships/friendships, I pass forth knowledge and resources in ways that I believe is most beneficial to my loved one’s development. This is important to me, because it’s easy to appear well-put-together and live merely for yourself after you’ve already accomplished your goals, but my accomplishments mean very little to me if I’m not helping pull up the next person.
Do you think being the child of an immigrant made it easier for you to pursue your dreams or has it made it harder?
It’s always harder at first, but once you’ve gotten through the hardest of the hard, you know that it’s all achievable, that as long as you want something bad enough and you’re willing to put in the work, you can obtain it. Once you’ve achieved this mindset, it naturally becomes a little easier. In comparison, I’ve always said that it must be easier to achieve your dreams if you are privileged, but after much observation, I’ve realized that those who don’t have to work as hard, also don’t have to dream as big. In other words, our pressure will always be higher because we are fighting to change to the world, opportunities for our families, and so much more.
What is one piece of advice or encouragement you would share with other children of immigrants?
You don’t always have to carry the weight of the world and not every single burden belongs to you. I think as children of immigrants, we have this immense pressure to not only figure out our place within society, but to also please and take care of our family. Sometimes the best thing we can do, though, is learn how to take care of ourselves. You are stronger, more brave, and courageous than you may think. You’ve already overcame so much. Know that it’s not always going to feel easy because you’re in the midst of breaking generational curses and pioneering the way. It’s a very unique responsibility given to you, but you are doing it, and you can show others that it can be done.
Mary Nguyen is a Structural Engineer at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. On a day to day basis, she performs comprehensive stress analysis for NASA’s Ground Support Test Equipment to verify safety requirements prior to building the support and testing of rocket components. She is also a blogger, online business owner, health enthusiast, and foodie!