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Wendell Relacion

Mr. Dam Nguyen: Biology teacher at OHS shares his life story and experiences to Magnet

Mr. Dam Nguyen: Biology teacher

Heritage: Vietnamese

On his childhood:

“I was born in Vietnam. I lived there until I was about 13. At around that age, my dad decided to get a group of us together to basically flee the country to try and make a better life in America.”

On his childhood in America:

“I was over in Missouri and I did not know any English whatsoever. I just jumped right in, soaked it all up. As a kid I was pretty oblivious to a lot of the stuff. I just tried my best to fit in, to be just like any teenager. For the most part, things went pretty well. I learned English pretty fast.”

On his teenage years:

“I spent most of my teenage years in Brainerd, Minnesota with my American parents. I lost my dad on the trip. The state took me in and  Americans took me in as foster parents. I went to Brainerd Senior High School. I was in sports. I enjoyed art. For the most part it wasn’t that bad. Every now and then I could tell that there were kids that kind of picked on me because of the way I looked or the way I talked. But I said, ‘You know what? I don’t really have time for that.’ I just ignored them the best I could.”

On life after high school:

“I went to St. Olaf College for four years. My senior year is when I met my wife. My American parents were teachers. My dad was a science teacher. He was a great mentor. I fell in love with science and teaching. I got my first teaching job in Jackson, Minnesota. Once I got hired there, I felt very accepted and I fit right in.”

On life in Owatonna:

“I was hired here in 1999. The reason was I got married to my wife and she wanted to settle in Northfield. Jackson is kind of far from Northfield. I was working my way back and Owatonna was only like 40 minutes. When this position opened up, I interviewed and I kind of liked the smaller town. I kind of like it. I’ve been here since then and my plan is to retire from here in a few years. I was the only Asian here at OHS. I knew that I was definitely in the very small minority and I just kept wondering when they would hire more people of color, whether it’s asian or hispanic or other ethnicities. There is work to be done there.”

On COVID-19:

“It is unfortunate that people are focusing on where COVID-19 originated and people making that as an excuse to do what they want. I do sometimes feel that sometimes when I’m outside my house I have to do an extra take. Sometimes I feel like I am going to get harassed or attack me. I probably won’t be but it is unfortunate that that has crept into my psyche. Before this year, I would never have felt that somebody would have the urge to hurt me just because of the way I look. The COVID-19 and Asian connection has definitely had an impact on how I walk around every now and then. It is not all the time but sometimes I just feel that I need to be more aware of my surroundings. Before this year, I have never had that kind of mentality.”

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