Southern Mix will expand the Southern Oral History Project. Meet our founding interviewees.

 

Anna-Rhesa Versola
Pittsboro, NC
b. Manila, Philippines

"I feel so strongly that we don't have enough of the voices of Asians and Asian Americans as part of American history."

"I remember having a group of black girls pulling on one arm and a group of white girls pulling on the other arm, saying that I had to choose. 'Was I black, or was I white?' That's all they knew."

"Whenever there was a big [Filipino] party, we drove a good way into North Raleigh to get there. Everybody knew everybody. . .There was always somebody in the yard either doing nunchucks or talking about the tinikling dance with the bamboo poles."

Anna-Rhesa Versola was born in Manila, Philippines, in 1965. The Versola family has a long-standing connection to the United States. Her grandfather, Leonardo Rosario Versola, was a Filipino scout with the US Army during WWII. He survived the Bataan Death March and a Japanese prison camp only to bleed to death from a bullet wound at Fort McKinley during the waning days of the war.  He was awarded numerous medals, including the Bronze Star. His widow, Raymunda Bolante Versola, used the U.S. military benefits she received to help support two generations of the Versola family. Rhesa's father, Manuel Bolante Versola, went to medical school in the Philippines and, in 1968, continued his medical training in the United States. Rhesa was three years old when she and her younger brother, Jun, accompanied their mother, Mila, to join Manuel in Brooklyn, NY.  Dr. Versola's medical training took them to Portsmouth, VA in 1969 and then Raleigh, NC in 1970. Dr. Versola and his family lived in staff housing on the Dorothea Dix campus. Two years later, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines, making it impossible to return to Manila. Rhesa's parents committed themselves to making the U.S. their permanent home. At that time, only a handful of Filipino families were in Raleigh. Rhesa remembers how little people knew of the Philippines. When her family moved to Fuquay-Varina, Rhesa was even more acutely aware of the challenge of growing up neither black nor white in a small town in "Tobacco Road."

Rhesa went on to earn a BA in Journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1987 and has a multidisciplinary master’s from Duke. She is a former newspaper reporter, clinical development director, and published author.  Today, Rhesa is a photographer and lives in Chatham County with her husband and two daughters. She is founder of Southern Mix and an active member of the UNC Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.

 

Ngoc Nguyen
Raleigh, NC
b. Nha Trang, Vietnam

"We were the very first wave of refugees who came over. We lived close to campus and were somewhat isolated from the surrounding community."

"I remember my Dad talking about a slingshot [he had as a kid]. He felt bad about killing birds. So he put the slingshot away and he's a vegetarian now."

"Each younger generation is becoming more and more Americanized. The older generation still maintains their ways of thinking and a perspective on life that is very different."

Ngoc Nguyen was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam in 1972, and came to the United States at the age of three with her mother  and little sister one day before the Fall of Saigon (April 30, 1975). Her father, Phung Nguyen, had received a scholarship to study at Duke University and had just finished his Master’s degree when he learned that his wife and daughters escaped Vietnam safely. He chose to stay at Duke to pursue a PhD in political science. Ngoc’s earliest childhood memories of life in the US included riding her purple tricycle down the big grassy hill at their Durham apartment, and wheeling the metal laundry cart to the laundromat with her mother, Nhu Y Nguyen.  When her father received a teaching position at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, the family relocated to Guilford County.  Ngoc tagged along with her mother to English classes at Guilford Technical Community College, and took ESL classes of her own as a student at Vandalia Elementary School.  

She was one of the few Asian-American students in the area up until high school. As more Vietnamese moved to Greensboro, her family supported the community by founding the Vietnamese Association of Greensboro in 1980 and the Vietnamese Buddhist temple (Chua Quan Am) in 1982.  Her father served as President of the Vietnamese Association of Greensboro from 1980 to 1995 and helped organize the annual Tet celebration, among other cultural events. When 600 Montagnard refugees were resettled in Greensboro between 1986 and 1992, the Nguyens and other Vietnamese families assisted with their assimilation.
 
Today, Ngoc is employed as a Contract Specialist for the North Carolina Department of Revenue, and serves as a board member for the Vietnamese-American Association of Raleigh and the Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (ACRED) for the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

 

Help Southern Mix tip the scales.

Out of almost 6,000 oral histories, just 47 are tagged as "Asian American interviewee" in the SOHP archive. Browse their stories >