She's an accomplished singer. She's released a music video. She's produced and starred in a film that will be released this Spring. She's the mother of two school-aged daughters. And she has promised to donate 100 percent of her future profits from her singing, acting and producing projects to help kids in need.
And it all started with one little girl's dreams of the stage and screen.
Vietnam born Ha Phuong grew up in Ho Chi Minh City and has always dreamed of being a performer despite the fact that, she says, she was quite shy and timid as a kid. “Having this personality made me cautious in interacting with new acquaintances. However, once I got to know people I would be friendly and sociable. Today my best friends are from my school days."
Her desire to be a performer came from her family, she explains. “When I was little, my brothers and sisters were all fascinated by Vietnamese Musical Broadway because those gorgeous actresses sang beautifully and they always got to dive deep into their love lives. After watching, it we would recreate the musicals at home. I was cast as the protagonist. That memory lives in me forever."
After graduating from high school, Phuong enrolled in dance and music classes at the College of Arts and Culture, District 10 Culture House, taking private vocal classes and studying Vietnamese Broadway Musical. When she first came to the U.S., she studied acting at TVI Actors Studio in New York and engaged a private acting coach and vocal teacher.
Before long, Phuong became a professional singer, performing nightly at entertainment venues. But it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, she explains. “In Vietnam, being a professional singer doesn't mean you're a star or a diva. Therefore, when I first started I had to wait to sing after big stars finished their performances. If no big stars were there, then it would be my turn.
Sometimes when I was ready for the stage a big star who sang the same style as me arrived and insisted to perform first. When she finished, another big star arrived. I waited for hours. The unbelievable thing was it happened almost every day, not at only one venue but also other venues! On my way home, I cried a lot and told myself to work hard to become a star so my words could be valued. I was determined. Once I performed and won over the audience those big singers who sang the same style as me didn't have any chance to bully me like before."
But when she finally did garner some level of fame, people began spreading rumors about her, gossiping presumably to undermine her. But it didn't work and it soon became clear that those rumors simply were not true. “Then and there I realized integrity, humanity, and talent have got me where I am today."
Photo Courtesy of Hoàng Hồ
As if being a success wasn't enough, Phuong is also the author of a book titled "Finding Julia," which is inspired by Phuong's own life. The book, she explains, “tells the story of Julia expressing love for her father in a way that later she recognizes is wrong."
Her book has since been made into a film scheduled for release on May 11 in New York, Houston, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Orange County, California. Phuong produced the feature film and stars in it with Andrew McCarthy and Richard Chamberlain. Her English language song from the film, “Lost in a Dream," has already been released in a music video.
The whole experience has been quite a ride for Phuong.
“It's been a journey to discover the treasures of technology and culture in this multinational country. Looking back, I do not know if I was a fool or brave. Imagine a foreigner who comes to the U.S. speaking little English but accepting challenges in different roles as an actor, singer, producer, screenwriter, and editor."
In fact, her biggest challenges along the way, she says, have been acclimating to American culture and mastering the English language. Plus, she adds, “I completely forgot the fact that this is not my Vietnam and nobody knows who I am. Not to mention all of the difficulties while shooting and writing the screenplay, but I had already gone too far to go back. Have you ever experienced the dilemma of making progress yet unable to go back? The feeling was that I was lost in the ocean. It was a truly horrifying nightmare! Ha Phuong and Julia in the movie both have nightmares. And we both tell ourselves 'Where there's a will there's a way and I won't give up.' My journey is still ongoing and it is a valuable experience in my life as an artist."
Despite it all, Phuong fondly recalls the moment she would call her big break more than twenty years ago. “Everyone in my country loves soccer. When the 1994 World Cup took place they played my song 'Hoa Cau Vuon Trau' during halftime and it was broadcast by Vietnam Television every day. The audience had discovered me and said, 'This singer is lovely and charming.' When they found out that I had relocated to the US, they were disappointed. Remembering that moment makes me feel like I am on cloud nine."
The notoriety is something Phuong is thrilled to have. But the money, for Phuong, is all about being able to give back. All profits from Phuong's work go to the Ha Phuong Foundation, paying for their housing, surgery, food, clothing, and education for underprivileged children. Musical instruments, vocational training, and career development are also provided for children who are blind.
Phuong's charity work goes back nearly a decade. In 2008, she founded the Ha Phuong Foundation in Huntington, California with a $1 M donation that helped to build a multi-media arts center in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove. She also sponsors the Ha Phuong Young Female Filmmakers Initiative.
In addition, she assists in the Vietnam Relief Effort, a non-profit organization created by her husband, Chinh Chu, and his sister. The Vietnam Relief Effort aids in school buildings; funding surgeries for war veterans and disabled people; and bringing Vietnamese doctors to the U.S. for training. She's done so much work that in 2016, Phuong was named a “top donor to UNICEF."
Photo Courtesy of Lý Võ Phú Hưng
Why Phuong does so much charity work, particularly with children, is simple. “When I was five-years-old. I was critically ill to the point that drove my family to bankruptcy. My parents had to sell our blankets to pay for my treatment.
When I grew up and we gathered for family dinner, my father would tell the story about when I was sick and how they could not pay for the hospital bills and had to borrow money, sell everything in the house, and leave behind only one black and white television. When the due date of the debt came they still could not pay and the television was collected by the creditor. When I heard that, I ran and hid in a dark corner to cry. I prayed that I would be blessed with good fortune in the future. I pledged to help people who were less fortunate than me."
At the very least, she hopes the money that she donates “will let underprivileged children know that they are not abandoned. They will receive love from other people, not only me. Therefore, they should always try and not give up."
Along with her charity work, movie projects, and plans in the music industry, Phuong is currently sponsoring a contest called “Lost in a Dream." She is inviting “amateur singers, professional singers, karaoke lovers, men, women and young people everywhere to send us a video of your version of the song 'Lost in a Dream' from the soundtrack of the soon-to-be-released movie 'Finding Julia' to win $20,000.
The contest ends March 15, 2018 with a live performance by the final five finalists. Judges are music producers Jay Messina and Jack Douglas; singer and voice coach Alissa Grimaldi; soundtrack composer Milosz Jeziorski; and myself. All out of state finalists will be flown to New York and hosted as they prepare for their live performance."
If you ask Phuong if this is how she imagined her life might one day be, she'll simply laugh. If you ask her what she imagines for her future, she'll simply tell you that she is not a prophet who can see the future. But if you ask her advice for finding your own success, she'll tell you to “Do what you won't regret in the future but is helpful to society."
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."