Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Keely Nguyen was interviewed in 2020 while enrolled at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Nguyen has designed her own major in Public Health and Policies, studying social determinants of health and collective approaches to improving and sustaining community health within and beyond health care systems. Growing up in SE Portland’s Lents neighborhood, Nguyen attended Harrison Park K-8 and Franklin High School. Both of Nguyen’s parents immigrated to the United States in the 1990s.

In this interview, Nguyen recounts her experiences growing up in Portland. She begins with the story of her parents, describing their family home in Lents and the additions of her eldest sister, Kathleen, and herself to the family. Nguyen describes the beauty of her neighborhood, Lents, as being very diverse with a larger immigrant and low-income population, along with the issues that her community faced. She and her family would also attend different Buddhist temples in southeast Portland. Growing up, Nguyen was very involved in her mother’s nail salon. In her interview, she describes the history of the Vietnamese nail salon industry and her mother’s personal experiences of working in a hair and nail salon. Nguyen goes on to talk about her time at Harrison School and Franklin High School. She explains that her experiences in the Portland Public Schools were heavily impacted by social mobility ideals and colorblind politics. Nguyen ends with describing her time applying to and attending Pitzer College. She explains how her current research in college is based on her experiences growing up in her mother’s salon, and describes her work with the Claremont Colleges Vietnamese Student Association.