Apprentice Story: Vivian
Vivian is one of the participants of our six-month apprenticeship! You can support her journey at techtonica.org/donate.
From playing flag football at the Boys & Girls Club around the block from her family’s apartment to witnessing the rise of the tech community in San Francisco, Vivian is someone with deep roots in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
“For me, it’s where I’ve always called home,” Vivian said. “By age 9, I had already become familiar with the different types of gangs that coexisted in the neighborhood as well as the different types of drugs that were being sold on the streets. At the time, I thought it was normal to live this way.”
The Tenderloin is an area of San Francisco where those who’ve benefited most from the tech boom are neighbors with those who are struggling the most with the city’s unrelenting cost of living increases. With San Francisco’s minimum wage at $13/hour, someone working full-time without taking any vacation makes just $2,253 a month before taxes. That’s about the going rate for a studio apartment where Vivian lives due to gentrification and tech companies moving into the neighborhood.
“The thing that’s missing is they don’t see that disparities are still there for people who live there, including my family and me,” she said. “I’m in the heart of the tech community and I never got the opportunity to be a part of it, mainly because of my background and education.”
In high school, Vivian worked incredibly hard to be a top student. But she also dealt with mild depression, which she said was the result of suppressing her sexual identity. She was hiding the fact that she was a lesbian because she was afraid of what that meant.
“Culturally, it was a stigma,” Vivian said, explaining that her parents — who immigrated from Vietnam as teenagers — have certain expectations for her as their daughter in a family with 3 sons. “To identify with an identity that tradition had not allowed room for is to reject the validity of that tradition and also the family whose foundation rests on that very tradition itself.”
Carrying that struggle with her sexuality into college made her depression much worse and affected her ability to do well in her classes and feel happy.
“I couldn’t be the very person that was at the core of my existence, and I felt alone,” she said.
After graduating, things didn’t get better.
“Simply getting myself to apply to jobs took every ounce of energy, and I was rejected by the ones I did apply to. It seemed I was getting nowhere,” Vivian said, explaining that she decided to spend some time working in the family business — wholesale for shops in Chinatown — while she figured out her next step. “It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. I was really lost.”
Vivian finally accepted what she needed to do for herself: tell some people close to her about her authentic identity. And it was a life-changing day for more than one reason.
“The day that I came out to my best friend — the first person I had ever told — was the same day I saw a Techtonica flyer,” she said. “I had nothing to lose, but potentially so much to gain. I participated in the first workshop, and have honestly never felt more welcomed, encouraged to be bold, and challenged. For those few hours, I got to be me. The feeling was almost euphoric, and I felt like I could do anything.”
It was exactly the push of confidence and optimism she needed, so she started taking online classes to learn more.
“I had more focus and motivation to learn something than ever before, and I genuinely felt happy. I couldn’t describe it, but I knew my life was going to change at that moment,” she said. “Beyond the job opportunities, flexibility and stability, having a career in tech means freedom for me — freedom to be independent, both personally and financially. I can be myself, and put forth everything that I know I can contribute, and try to make a difference in this world.”
If you or your company might be interested in supporting apprentices like Vivian, please donate at techtonica.org/donate or look at techtonica.org/sponsor.
To read about our other apprentices, please click on their names below: