Faces of Asian America: Being A Roller Derby Rockstar | #APAHM2014

Faces-thu-vivaglam

Thu Ngo is a former roller derbyist who goes by the name Viva Glam. Since the writing of this post, she has retired from active skating due to a knee injury but still actively volunteers for her league.

What is Viva Glam?

My name is Thu, but when I strap on my skates, I’m known as Viva Glam. I’m a derby girl – I play women’s flat-track roller derby.

Unlike the roller derby of the 70’s, there is no elbowing, tripping, or fighting – modern-day roller derby is full-contact and it is the real deal; the women who play it are true athletes. It’s the fastest growing sport in the world right now, but derby is still considered underground/alt, and we constantly fight to be seen as a legitimate sport. We do everything ourselves: skaters not only train intensely to compete in bouts, but they also take care of the business of running their leagues, handling finances, publicity, sponsorship, and recruitment themselves, in addition to whatever their lives entail outside of the sport (school, career, children, etc). We don’t get paid for it either – everyone involved in derby, from the skaters to the referees to the non-skating officials, is there out of love for the sport and the community.

How do you see yourself as Viva Glam?

My derby name, Viva Glam, is taken from a line of lipsticks by MAC Cosmetics. I’m a huge makeup junkie, and for me, makeup and roller derby are hugely empowering.

In a way, I feel like it was inevitable that I would find my way to roller derby. I had never been an athlete growing up. I was a very stereotypical Asian-American “model minority” type who spent her time on schoolwork and student council and National Honor Society… except that I also played bass guitar in a punk band. That was something different.

I stopped playing music as I got older and started caring more about working out, and one day I heard about roller derby from some online friends and knew that I had to try it.

A bunch of fierce, strong women (of all backgrounds and body types, I might add) playing a full-contact sport on roller skates? I signed up immediately, even though I hadn’t skated since childhood. I fully admit that I was initially drawn to the rock-star aspect of derby (with all the tattoos, fishnets, and lipstick), but what made me stay was 1) the combined grace and brutality of the sport, and 2) the derby community.

Perhaps all athletes say this about their sport, but I really do think there is something special about the way derby girls band together, and maybe it’s because we’re still relatively small and still outside of mainstream sports, but there really is nothing like it. We spend almost as much time together as we do with our families and significant others, and we put our bodies on the line for each other every time we’re out there on the track. The bond that this creates is nothing short of amazing – I am eternally grateful to be in the company of such intelligent, strong, beautiful women who constantly lift me up and encourage me to be my best.

How has being an Asian American affected your life as a roller derbyist, or vice versa?

There aren’t a lot of Asians in derby.

For various reasons, roller derby remains a predominantly White sport, so I haven’t seen too many faces like mine. (Though of course, not everyone who is Asian looks Asian.) Roller derby isn’t remotely something one associates with Asians or Asian-American culture, and while I absolutely love my league and the derby community in general, there is a sense of belonging that I feel only when I’m around other Asians, and I wish I could feel it more often in roller derby.

About three years ago, the first time I went to Rollercon, THE major international roller derby convention in Las Vegas, I learned that there were various fun ad hoc teams, and that there was one called Team Yellow Fever, which is (obviously) the Asian team. Yellow Fever Derby is actually comprised of not only derby skaters (male and female), but also referees, photographers, etc., and I knew from the moment I first heard about it that I wanted to be good enough to skate for them someday, and it has pretty much become the big item on my derby bucket list.

After reaching out to Stefcon 1, the skater from the LA Derby Dolls who is in charge of organizing the team, I will hopefully have a chance this summer at Rollercon 2014. Even if I don’t actually get to skate and end up just being an alternate (since I’m positive there are more skilled/experienced skaters who will want to play), it would feel great just to be among other Asians who also love the same crazy sport that I do.

Contact Info/Shameless Plugs?

  • For more information about women’s flat-track roller derby, check out WFTDA.com.
  • For more information about Yellow Fever Derby, check out their Facebook page.
  • For more about me, check out my blog (Editions of Me) and my Twitter (@vivaglamr3d).
  • For more information about Donalee Eiri, the absolutely wonderful (Asian) derby photographer who took my picture featured here, please check out her Facebook and website.

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Tune in every day this month for Reappropriate’s daily “Faces of Asian America: Being X” series, which will profile an awesome Asian American in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month.

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