Lawyer by Day, Children's Book Author by Night: How Susan Do Uses Her Voice and Vietnamese Culture in More Ways Than One
Susan Do wears many hats. At work, she is legal counsel for Pizza Hut Digital Ventures. At home, she is a wife and a mother to two Vietnamese-Honduran boys. And now, to the rest of the world, she is the author of “The Phở Team,” a children’s book Do authored, illustrated, and published in the summer of 2020 under the name Susan Do Zuniga.
“The Phở Team” follows Tân, a young boy on the hunt to cure his hunger. Along the way, he “meets” colorful personifications of all of the ingredients in his favorite traditional Vietnamese dish: phở. The chicken, noodles, onion and many more are the same ingredients of the phở recipe Do’s mother made when she was a child.
“Growing up in New Orleans in a large Vietnamese community, I had so many influences from my culture, I wanted to make sure my kids had that, too,” Do said. “It is very important to us that our boys know our family heritage. My husband is Honduran, so he speaks to our sons in Spanish, and I speak to them in Vietnamese.”
Do found there were not many options for children’s books about Vietnamese culture. After doing some research and coming up short, she decided to do it herself and write about one thing that is the focal point of so many family gatherings in her culture: food!
Not as confident with her drawing skills as she was in her writing, Do considered having an illustrator to do the drawings for the book. Ultimately, though, she decided to put her insecurities aside and do it herself to get what was in her head down on paper. After a year and a half that included some self-doubt, a pregnancy, a pandemic and lots of support and feedback from family and friends, Do became a published author. The book has gained more popularity than she expected … and from unexpected places.
“Every time I get an order from an American or non-Vietnamese name, I get so excited because it is awareness and representation for us,” Do said. “With everything going on in the Asian-American community, I couldn't be prouder of the effect that it has had. That's what I'm most excited about.”
The violent acts that have occurred in the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting #StopAsianHate movement, sparked a fire in Susan to begin speaking up more about her personal experiences, even as a child, being stereotyped.
“We endured a lot of racism growing up,” Do recalls. “I mean, I've been called racist names, told I need to stop eating dogs or to go back to China. This has been happening my whole life, and it's been happening for years in the Asian community.”
On the evening of the anti-Asian attacks that left eight people dead in Atlanta, Georgia, Do wrote an essay about her experience growing up Asian and the influence it had on her life. This was later published in her hometown paper, the Advocate.
“I realized there needs to be better representation of what's happening with the Asian-American plight,” Do said. “We can no longer just put our heads down, work hard and get a pat on the back. Where I would normally be silent on issues, I know I need to start using my voice and sharing my perspective as an Asian woman.”
At the end of “The Phở Team,” Tân sits down and shares the large pot of phở with his family for dinner, in a familial act all of us have experienced, regardless of our culture or heritage.
As Do says: “I hope people see ‘The Phở Team’ as a book about food that brings a family together. It is the same in many cultures … we all share food as a common bond. The only difference is the type of food we bring to the table, and that is what makes us unique, allows us to share our story and learn from each other.”
If you would like to share Vietnamese culture with your family or know someone who would, please go to ThePhoTeam.com and order your copy today!