Members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison community are working to honor student and First Wave scholar John “Vietnam” Nguyen by continuing his activism efforts after his death.
Nguyen was pronounced dead Thursday after divers found his body in Lake Mendota near the Memorial Union. He was swimming with friends when he drowned.
Nguyen was a member of the Vietnamese Students Association, Asian American Student Union and First Wave Spoken Word and Hip Hop Arts Learning Community on campus.
Nguyen was an active and incredibly talented member of the fifth cohort of First Wave according to member Cydney Edwards. Edwards was also involved with Nguyen in Kuumba Lynx, a theatre ensemble out of Chicago.
“John did it all, he was so multifaceted, and so he was a shoo-in for First Wave,” Edwards said. “He was an all-around artist, so it was perfect that he would join the First Wave family.”
Edwards also said Nguyen was consistently pursuing further knowledge and success in his work.
“The way he led his life was an example,” Edwards said. “He was constantly determined to make this world a better place.”
In addition to his involvement in First Wave, Nguyen was an active and passionate member in the Vietnamese Students Association according to VSA member Jessica Phan. He consistently performed at events, as well as helping to raise funds for the group.
“He played such a huge role in our organization and not just by the work that he did physically like volunteering and fundraising and performing,” Phan said. “He made people feel good in the organization and that’s what completed us.”
According to Phan, Nguyen centered his life around his spoken word and hip hop work, which often focused on his heritage and fighting for civil rights and social justice.
“For people who didn’t know him, he was very out there, very loud and outgoing,” Phan said. “And he would take any opportunity to go up to someone and talk about his pride in his culture and the things that he is passionate about and his work.”
A funeral was held Tuesday for Nguyen in his home city of Chicago.