Dreaming big, working hard and staying true to herself has all made this week’s #ModernMuse Tammy Nguyen Lee the inspirational force she is today. As the Producer and Director of the award-winning documentary Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam and Co-Founder and President of Dallas-based nonprofit Against The Grain Productions, Tammy has dedicated her life’s work to telling others’ stories as well as providing a platform for Asian Americans to showcase theirs. She took an unconventional path following an unconventional journey and continues to show, by example, that through determination and, most importantly, the power of community, anything is possible.
What inspired you to do the work that you do/motivates you today?
“Many things have contributed to why I do what I do today. My parents are first generation refugees. My mom and I were Boat People. Being sponsored here to the U.S. by a church in Maryland and given a chance to have the opportunities in this country – I can’t take that for granted. My parents raised me to know the importance of community from a young age – how community service starts at home and that giving to others is just part of who you are and what you do.
“As an adult, I am constantly inspired by others who have chosen a life of service – educators, protectors, advocates and activists – those who are working to make our lives better. Whether in the classroom, in the pulpit, on the political platform, on a battlefield or in a home, I really get inspired when I see, hear and read about people making choices that are ‘Against The Grain’ – facing adversity, making brave and bold decisions, striving for something better, showing a daily commitment to go the distance when the odds are against them, not taking the easy way out, standing firm for a higher cause. We are all human beings, but when we show our humanity, that’s when I get really inspired.”
How did you get to where you are and what challenges did/do you face?
“I’m a first generation Vietnamese American female refugee who knew from an early age I wanted to be a storyteller. I became an actor/producer/filmmaker and am now a philanthropist and mom.
“None of that was prescribed. With that combination – there was never an easy path, because there was no path. Growing up, there wasn’t an example to follow, no one to show my worried parents that I could take this risk and it would pay off or explain why I wanted this journey. There were a lot of road blocks, many involving lack of opportunity and (mis)perception, both in my own family and in the industry itself.
“I was fortunate to have teachers, mentors and those who taught me and believed in me along the way when I knew in my heart what I wanted to do but sometimes didn’t know how or lost faith in myself. I dared to dream big, I worked hard, tried to make smart choices and I stayed true to myself and the course. I sought out people who would faithfully help me achieve my vision. Where I am today is not just because of my determination but in large credit due to this amazing tribe of family and friends who continue to invest in me and support my dreams. I could not do it alone.
“There are still challenges to face, but today, the landscape and number of Asian Americans pursuing unconventional occupations is changing. With a common struggle and goal, we provide a network of support for one another, because, ultimately, when one succeeds, we can all succeed. That’s the power of community.”
Who is your she-ro?
“She may not believe it, but my she-ro is my mom. She can be my greatest adversary and my greatest ally, but, ultimately, I am better for her. Good or bad, she taught me so much – to be strong, to persevere, to not accept ‘no,’ the importance of family, duty, responsibility and sacrifice, all the values that define the core spirit for ‘Against The Grain.’ I adapted and tailored the rest for myself, but she gave me the foundation for most everything I do, including the type of mom that I am today.”
What does the term”UGauGrrl” (“you go girl”) mean to you?
“This mantra is about cheering for female empowerment and encouragement in the best way possible, inspiring others around us of the potential that we all have and that we should just take it and RUN with it!”
What is the message that you would like to share with the world as a woman or girl?
“No one can forget that God made Adam first. But then he made Eve to correct his mistake. 🙂 But seriously, women are amazing creatures capable of so much. Our strengths are unique and needed and valuable. That’s why we were created. We need to remind ourselves of our gifts, our integrity, and ability when united and how we help can complete the world to make it better. #beCAUSE”
“You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however.” – Richard Bach, ILLUSIONS
Learn more about Tammy and Against The Grain:
Do you know a #ModernMuse who has an amazing story to tell? Send us her story to email@example.com. We’d love to know her: 1) Name, 2) Age, 3) Ethnicity, 4) Location, 5) Relationship to you, 6) Why you think she is a #ModernMuse (what is she doing or has she done to make Inspire, Empower, Impact the world or the community around her?). We’ll let you both know when we’d like to publish her story, send her a few more questions and will share it on our social media channels. Looking forward to your submissions!