Even though she spent half her life in Savannah, Ga., Du Thuy Diem-Phuong apparently never learned to say "y'all" or "y'hear."
And though her mother makes her speak Vietnamese at home, her accent, in English, could best be described as typical Los Angeles teen-ager--like, ya know?
But the Americanization of 16-year-old Du Thuy Diem-Phuong--"just call me Diem"--has its limits. That is why she wore her long, gray ao dai dress and the non la hat Sunday to perform in in the traditional "Vietnamese Roses" dance.
Diem was one of about 150 people gathered at the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple in the Mid-Wilshire District to celebrate the 11th anniversary of a group called Long Hoa. With about 36,000 members nationwide, including eight chapters in Los Angeles and Orange counties, Long Hoa is to the Vietnamese ethnic equivalent to the Boy Scouts of America, though it involves boys and girls.
Long Hoa, based on a similar youth group in Vietnam, provides a buffer against the "culture shock" of American life, said Qui Van Ngo, one of the group's founders. Long hoa refers to the "future day of peace" described in Buddhist teachings.
"We find a lot of kids will go on the street without guidance. Without guidance, they go the wrong way," Qui said. "We want our children to keep our culture, our language, our history."
Like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Long Hoa sponsors camping trips to aid in moral education. And just as the Boy Scouts have their pledge, Long Hoa provides moral education.
For the younger children, hoa (friendliness) , tin (trustworthiness) and vui (happiness and generosity) are principles to learn. For the teen-agers, bi (love), tri (intelligence) and dung (strength and courage) are the watchwords.
There are even merit badges of sorts. Ly Van Hung, 19, wore white, yellow, blue and brown ribbons on his shoulder, signifying his rise to a leadership position with the Long Hoa youth. He and other boys talked about plans for an upcoming "survival camp," how they would sleep under the stars and eat only the dry food they take with them.
The meeting of cultures was evident throughout the humble, two-hour celebration. The Stars and Stripes adorned one corner of the stage, and the old flag of South Vietnam adorned the other. A table was stacked with brightly wrapped gifts, and though a few said "Merry Christmas," the gift exchange was not to celebrate Christ's birthday, but the Long Hoa anniversary.
A Vietnamese dance band called L'Amour provided entertainment, mixing traditional folk songs with electrified, synthesized New Wave. During a lull in the program, they provided backup for a singer who crooned the Tony Bennett standard, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
But for the Buddhist monks who sat in the front row and for the weathered grandmothers who sat behind them, it was the traditional songs and dances that lighted up the smiles.
Although Diem and the other girls struggled with the small stage, grinning self-consciously as they bumped into one another, "Vietnamese Roses" generated long applause, as did the rhythmic "Drums Dance."
Cao Kim Hao, 17, performed in both dances. This is the third Long Hoa group she has been involved in. She first joined as a 5-year-old in Vietnam, then joined a group in a refugee camp in Malaysia, then the Los Angeles group six years ago.
Hao--pronounce "how," she explained, "like, 'How are you?"'--points to her friend Diem as a Long Hoa success story. "When I first met her, she didn't speak Vietnamese very well at all, but now she's learning," Hao said.
In Long Hoa meetings, members who speak English are fined 50 cents, Hao said.
If the group's application is accepted, Long Hoa soon may become a formal affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America, Qui said.
The Long Hoa in Vietnam, Qui said, was affiliated with the international Boy Scouts. Qui said he is not worried that the group will lose its identity. "We'll be a separate unit within the Boy Scouts," Qui said. "I don't think we're going to lose anything."