Published: May 10, 2017
In 1978, Billy Truong was born into a family of four in Nha Trang, Vietnam. That year also marked three years since the North Vietnamese army had expelled the last U.S. troops and American civilians from Saigon, and the Communist Party of Vietnam was in complete control of the warravaged country’s government.
Despite tremendous and constant danger, Truong’s anti-Communist family supported U.S. involvement during the war and continued pointed criticism of the government following it.
“We were branded as traitors,” Truong says. “It was a choice between fleeing the country as refugees or facing the consequences, including possible death.”
Fearing their safety, the Truongs left their home and country, trading the fear of punishment for the uncertainty of being able to start over in a new land.
The Truongs stayed briefly in a Vietnamese refugee camp in Hong Kong before resettling in Los Angeles when Billy was just 2 years old.
Los Angeles was the largest destination for Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in the U.S. following the war. And still today, the metropolitan area boasts more people of Vietnamese descent than anywhere outside of Vietnam.
The family’s resettlement in Los Angeles, however, was initially difficult.
“My parents knew little to no English whatsoever,” he says. “They didn’t have anything but what they came over with. We were assisted by the government and the generosity of strangers to meet our needs and keep our family members together.”
It was the grace and generosity Truong and his family were greeted with that motivates his tireless advocacy for the community he grew up in. His passion for service and advocacy began with a specific sub-demographic of the homeless: children.
“I see these children as the boy that I was,” he says.
It wasn’t until Truong was 33 years old that he took his first classes at his local East Los Angeles College in childhood development. For 10 years prior to that, he had worked long, hectic hours as a promoter in Hollywood while volunteering in his spare time with organizations that serve at-risk children and families.
He never considered making his service to those children and families his full-time pursuit until he entered college and became fascinated by the human development research surrounding children.
“I was so absorbed in the data that I collected from these classes that it became an intrinsic curiosity to continue learning as much as I could about childhood development,” he says.
From East Los Angeles College, Truong took his ambitious full-time studies to Pacific Oaks College where he absorbed all the information available.
“I didn’t feel like I was going to class,” he says. “I felt like I was going to a place with the answers to all of my curiosities.”
Between 2013 and 2015, Truong— the youngest in his family to complete a college degree—completed four. He received two associate degrees from East Los Angeles College, then a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Pacific Oaks, concentrating in early childhood education and development, and in leadership in education and human services respectively.
“I had never been this articulate or this analytical until I received my bachelor’s degree at Pacific Oaks College,” Truong says. “I give Pacific Oaks 95 percent credit for the transformation I have gone through in the last few years.”
Following his graduation in 2015, Truong began working with LA on Cloud 9, a nonprofit serving homeless children, individuals, and families. He organizes a monthly event that provides donated food and other necessities (items and services such as clothes, pet food, and haircuts) the fourth Sunday of every month in MacArthur Park. The event has drawn so much attention from community members that the nonprofit now requires a permit.
And like the children of his community, Truong also sees himself in the bright-eyed, ambitious students at Pacific Oaks. In the fall of 2016, he taught his first course with the college as an adjunct faculty member, while continuing his work in the admissions department as the Cohort Development and Outreach Specialist.
“I really enjoy having Billy as a colleague,” Dr. ReGena Booze says of her pupil-turned-colleague.
Through the curricula of Pacific Oaks and the mentorship from its faculty, Truong was able to channel his long-held loyalty to his community— the commitment that began with their support of him and his family almost 40 years ago.
Yet Truong is not done being a student. He intends to pursue his doctorate this fall studying resiliency among homeless teenage students. The self-proclaimed life-long learner is happy to have found a home at Pacific Oaks.