Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Mingchu Pearl Huynh, March 16, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:38 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Alright, hello. My name is Mikaila Barba and I am interviewing Mingchu Pearl Huynh...

Segment Synopsis: Mikaila introduces the interview process and the project to Pearl Huynh. The pair share a greeting before diving into the questions.

00:01:13 - Growing up during the conflict of the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: So tell me a little bit about your childhood and where you grew up.

Segment Synopsis: At an early age, Huynh's family lost their wealth and they were forced to move frequently due to the fighting in the Vietnam War, including to Pleiku during the Tet Offensive. During the Tet Offensive, her family's home burned down. Her family members each prepared bags daily in case they needed to run in response to the fighting. She recalls receiving a Chinese education at the school where her grandfather was a scholar and principal. Despite her young age, Huynh contributed financially to her family by starting her own business sewing applique to sell at the market.

Keywords: Appliques; Chinese schools; Pleiku (Vietnam); Pleiku, Vietnam; Saigon (Vietnam); Saigon, Vietnam; Tea industry; Tet Offensive; Vietcong; Vietnam War

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: Pleiku, Vietnam, where Huynh spent some of her childhood.
Map Coordinates: 13.971752, 108.009090
00:07:00 - Developing an interest in Buddhism

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Partial Transcript: At that time like I cannot go to school and I cannot go to the night market to sell stuff...

Segment Synopsis: Huynh discusses how she developed an interest in Buddhism when accompanying her grandmother to a Buddhist temple and reading Buddhist writings. Referring to the hierarchy of needs, she describes that after having her financial needs met by her small business and her psychosocial needs met by school, she started to look towards spiritual things.

Keywords: Buddhism; Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Subjects: Religion

00:10:23 - Huynh's family fleeing Vietnam to the Kuku Island refugee camp

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Partial Transcript: Then in 1979, um, at that time Viet--Vietnam was, um, they start to get rid of the Chinese.

Segment Synopsis: As conflict grew in Vietnam with the Chinese, Huynh's family merchandise was confiscated by the government and they were forced to pay large sums of money to flee the country. Unfortunately, there were only enough funds to allow seven of the children to leave. Circumventing the government, Huynh's family found a way to get the rest of the children out of South Vietnam via boat, where they shortly arrived in the refugee camp of Kuku Island in 1979.

Keywords: Buddha; Buddhism; Kuku Island (Singapore); Malaysia; Navy; Refugee camps; Singapore; Spirituality

GPS: Kuku Island, Singapore, where Huynh stayed in a refugee camp.
Map Coordinates: 1.223520, 103.861140
00:17:07 - Coming to America / Following the Buddha

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Partial Transcript: We stay in Singapore, um, for one day and then we take the airplane and then, um, to the United States.

Segment Synopsis: After decades of moving, Huynh reunited with her family when she came to Philadelphia. Huynh talks with appreciation about her sister who sponsored her arrival to the United States, showing the interviewer her refugee status I-94 form. She recalls that her sister died of liver disease in Philadelphia. She shares about how the Buddha continues to work in her life and led her to a different path, noting that she left Philadelphia to live in a Buddhist temple in New York.

Keywords: Australia; Buddhism; Buddhist temples; Family; I-94 Form; Liver disease; New York; Philadelphia (Pa.); Refugee status

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Refugees; Religion

00:20:34 - Transition from refugee to American teen

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Partial Transcript: So when we left off you were talking about how Buddhism is really important to you...

Segment Synopsis: Huynh talks about arriving in the United States in 1980 with almost nothing, but getting settled with the help of the Nationalities Services Center (NSC). She took a non-traditional route by leaving her family in Philadelphia, and going to New York where she then attended high school. She recalls the challenges of living with a foster family (her first foster father was her Buddhist master, then she was sent to live with a Seventh Day Adventist pastor), learning English, and attending American school.

Keywords: Buddhist masters; Buddhist monk; Buddhist monks; Covina (Calif.); Covina, California; Foster family; Government benefits; Language acquisition; Nationalities Service Center; Refugee status; Seventh Day Adventists; Taiwan

Subjects: Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Refugees; Religion

GPS: Covina, California, where Huynh finished high school.
Map Coordinates: 34.089833, -117.889844
00:25:55 - Leaving Buddhism to experience life / Meeting the Dalai Lama

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Partial Transcript: So in the meantime, my master in New York...

Segment Synopsis: Huynh recalls that from 1983-86 she lived at a Buddhist temple. As Pearl became educated, she strayed from her Buddhist upbringing. She remembers living with a significant other, then later being single, before striving to be financially successfully by studying financial advice through books on tape. Once out on her own, she started her career in information technology and rose to many levels of success, working in software development and related fields. After gaining career success, Huynh had a transformative experience when meeting the Dalai Lama while traveling in Australia. His message encouraged her to re-commit her life to service. She also describes meeting her husband.

Keywords: Australia; Books on tape; Buddhist temples; Chase Bank; Dalai Lama; Graduate schools; Information technology (IT); Kalachakra; New York City Retirement System; Software development; The City Foundation; Wall Street; Y2K

Subjects: Education; Employment; Occupations; Religion

00:32:22 - Returning to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: What drew you back to Philadelphia from New York?

Segment Synopsis: Huynh discusses how she helped The City Foundation become established, working there from 1998-2008. While volunteering alongside her husband William for The City Foundation, she realized how their different backgrounds led to challenges in their marriage. After the economic crash and becoming introspective from the suspected "end of the world" in 2012; Huynh decided to move back to Philadelphia to be close to family.

Keywords: 2012 Phenomenon; Chinatown, New York; Flipping houses; Health Center Ten; Tzu Chi Foundation; Volunteers

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Occupations; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:38:23 - A non-traditional view of family / Education in the United States

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Partial Transcript: How has the concept of family changed...

Segment Synopsis: Due to the many changes in Huynh's life, her view of family is non-traditional, having lived with a foster family and having a Buddhist master. Living in Philadelphia allows Huynh to feel a sense of closeness to her siblings. Huynh shares about her educational journey.

Keywords: Baruch College; Brooklyn College; City University of New York (CUNY); Family; Pell Grants

Subjects: Education; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:41:58 - First day in America

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember your first day here?

Segment Synopsis: Huynh recounts her first day in the United States, June 15, 1980, and talks about arriving in Philadelphia. She has stronger memories of living in California, and notes the challenges of eating vegetarian. Three months after arriving, Huynh left home on her own and moved to New York to be with her spiritual master, learning how to ride the subway and navigate the bus schedules.

Keywords: Greyhound buses; Language acquisition; New York City (N.Y.); Public transportation; Running away

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Religion

00:47:03 - Philadelphia versus New York

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Partial Transcript: How would you compare your experiences in New York with your experiences in Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: Huynh shares how she likes the slow pace of Philadelphia compared to the hustle-and-bustle of New York. After almost forty years, Pearl claims that Philadelphia has not changed. Huynh discusses the differences in her community in the United States versus Vietnam.

Keywords: Communism; Community; New York City (N.Y.); Vietnam; Wall Street

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:52:04 - Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association--Part I

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Partial Transcript: And, um, and since I have a job at the, the health center, um, it bring me to a different perspective.

Segment Synopsis: Huynh details the difficult process to bring services to her community. Along with Pennsylvania State Representative Jared Solomon, Huynh started the organization "Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association." She shares its mission and her role in the project.

Keywords: Andrew Dalzell; Interpreters; Jared Solomon; Merchant Fund; Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association (NEPCA); PASSE; Translations; WeChat; Youtube

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:59:25 - Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association--Part II

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Partial Transcript: We en--I encourage people to participate in civic organizations activity.

Segment Synopsis: Huynh works to get the Chinese community to participate in civic events. She notes the benefits to the individual and the recognition afforded to the Chinese people through their involvement in the community. Huynh shares about some of Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association's specific outreach efforts, such as street cleaning and decorating, and the seminar program.

Keywords: Castor Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Cottman Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association (NEPCA); Representation; Street cleaning; WeChat

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

01:03:34 - Treatment of immigrants by the U.S. government

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Partial Transcript: How has your, uh, interest in the government changed as the climate has changed?

Segment Synopsis: Huynh extends her appreciation to the United States government for giving her opportunities, including education. All these benefits have led her to want to give back to the community. In regards to the current immigration policy struggles in the U.S., Huynh chooses to believe in the good nature of the American people. Huynh talks about her transient views on the idea of home.

Keywords: Buddhism; Immigrants; Immigration policy

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Politics and government

01:09:09 - Efforts of Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association

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Partial Transcript: What are some unmet needs of the community?

Segment Synopsis: Huynh identifies the personal benefits given to her through her involvement in the Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association. She compares the impact of NEPCA as one candle lighting another, with each candle creating more light, which benefits the community.

Keywords: Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association (NEPCA); Selflessness

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

01:14:17 - The American dream

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Partial Transcript: What advice would you give to someone in your situation who's immigrating to the United States?

Segment Synopsis: Huynh struggles to think of advice for a new immigrant due to the challenges facing the United States today compared to the context when she came as a refugee. While Huynh believes that the "American Dream" is an idea of the past, she is fortunate enough to have achieved it.

Keywords: "American Dream"; Generosity

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

01:16:42 - Photo albums and memories--Part I

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Partial Transcript: Okay, when I was in the refugee camp, uh, me and my, my s--my older sister start a sewing school.

Segment Synopsis: Huynh goes through her photo albums and shares the accompanying memories. She details her many talents in sewing, painting, and acupuncture.

Keywords: Buddha; Painting

Subjects: Handicraft

01:23:08 - Photo albums and memories--Part II

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Partial Transcript: No, I have, I have several boyfriends.

Segment Synopsis: Huynh shows the interviewer more photographs and describes her memories. She describes her husband, her career, her life in the refugee camp, her volunteer work, Buddhism, her nieces, and her experiences during the September 11, 2001 attacks when her husband was working in one of the World Trade Center buildings.

Keywords: Buddhism; Carnegie Hall; Husbands; Jobs; Nieces; Photographs; Refugee camps; September 11, 2001; Taiwan; Training; Volunteering

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Occupations; Volunteers