Adrienne Minh-Châu Lê, who is pursuing a PhD in history, is the recipient of a 2020 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, a merit-based graduate school program for immigrants and children of immigrants. Chosen from a pool of more than 2,000 applicants, the 30 new fellows will each receive up to $90,000 in funding over two years to support their graduate studies.
“At a time when all forms of immigration are under attack, it’s more important than ever to be celebrating the achievements and contributions of immigrants and refugees from across the world,” said Craig Harwood, who directs the Soros fellowship program. “Our country and universities are enriched by the ingenuity that comes from abroad.”
Minh-Châu Lê is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who fled Ho Chi Minh City in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. They eventually settled down in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina, where Minh-Châu Lê was born and raised. Growing up with the small but vibrant Vietnamese temple community in Raleigh, she came to understand her heritage and identity through Buddhism—a religious tradition that taught her to embrace the complex history of her family and identity.
War and Oppression, Survival and New Beginnings
Recognizing that her life was made possible not only by war and oppression, but also survival and new beginnings, Minh-Châu Lê’s PhD focuses on civil society during the Vietnam War, anti-colonial movements and global migration. She strives to defy the rigid, dualistic frameworks that have defined Vietnam War studies by writing history in a way that treats all sides as fully human. Her dissertation will tell a story of the Vietnamese Buddhist anti-war movement.
Minh-Châu Lê received a BA in history from Yale University, where she was awarded a department prize for her thesis on how Vietnamese women shaped and responded to changing ideas of femininity, morality and patriotism during the French colonial era. Before starting her doctoral studies, she worked for four years as a digital campaigner and nonprofit strategy consultant in New York City, collaborating with a range of organizations focused on refugee resettlement, women’s rights, gun reform, creative technology and civic participation. In addition to English and Vietnamese, she also speaks Mandarin and Spanish fluently and is now studying French.
“Answering and asking questions about the past has shown me that we should take nothing for granted,” said Minh-Châu Lê. “Nothing about our society is predetermined or set in stone; we can choose to see things differently, to do things differently now in order to create a better future. I want the next generations of Vietnamese Americans to be able to know our history, to reconnect with the pain and beauty of it, and to understand who we are and why we are here.”