Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Thuhuong Tran, March 20, 2022

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Hello, I am Brandon Rotondo interviewing Thuhuong Tran, March 20th, 2022.

Segment Synopsis: Rotondo introduces the interview, and goes over the formatting of the interview with Tran.

00:00:42 - Birth in Sa Dec and early life in Saigon

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, I was born in Sa Dec, because my mom when there for personal or business, and then she was pregnant at that time.

Segment Synopsis: Tran shares the surprise of her birth during Tet in Sa Dec when her mother was visiting there and was unclear on the due date. As a result she earned the nickname “Sa Dec.” She explains the way Vietnam was divided at the time of her birth and the challenges her parents faced moving freely from North to South. She grew up in Saigon in South Vietnam where her parents had migrated.

Keywords: North Vietnam; Sa Dec; Saigon; South Vietnam; Tet (lunar new year)

Subjects: Family; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Sa Đéc (Vietnam); Vietnam; Vietnamese New Year

GPS: City of Sa Dec, where Thuhuong Tran was born.
Map Coordinates: 10.290170, 105.751751
GPS: Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), where Thuhuong Tran grew up.
Map Coordinates: 10.823156, 106.629607
00:04:16 - Catholicism, Family, and Neighborhood Life

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Partial Transcript: Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. With that being said, your parents go down to South Vietnam to start this family, what was your neighborhood like?

Segment Synopsis: Tran recalls life in her neighborhood in Saigon. She discusses her family’s Roman Catholicism, as well as her time in Catholic School. She remembers that the days felt longer in Vietnam, as time was more relaxed. Tran’s father had a job as a driver at the US Embassy which enabled her family to eventually move to the United States. Her family also had a textile business. She remembers taking a shower in the rain as a child. She was the 3rd youngest of 4 children.

Keywords: Catholicism; Saigon; South Vietnam; United States Embassy in Saigon

Subjects: Catholic schools; Emigration and immigration.; Family; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Religion; Vietnam

GPS: Former location of the US Embassy in Saigon.
Map Coordinates: 10.7833, 106.7004
00:10:41 - Father's job working for U.S. embassy and mother's role as homemaker

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Partial Transcript: And so, I just wanna go back, so your father, worked for the US?

Segment Synopsis: Tran discusses her father's job as a driver at the US Embassy, where he drove diplomats around the city. She recalls him as a hard worker. Her mother stayed busy raising the children. She also remembers learning about Japan’s role in colonizing Vietnam, but recalls that the French were looked at positively in part because they brought Catholicism to Vietnam.

Keywords: British Broadcasting Company (BBC); Catholicism; French; French Indochina; French colonialism; Saigon; United States Embassy in Saigon

Subjects: Fathers; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Imperialism; Indochina; Japan

00:16:55 - Practicing Catholicism and learning about Buddhist protests.

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Partial Transcript: And so I'm curious, you've talked a lot so far about your faith and your family's faith as Roman Catholics, so growing up, did you feel a sense of devotion to your faith or was this just an expectation?

Segment Synopsis: Tran discusses her faith and experience with Catholicism in Vietnam. She does not recall the Buddhist protests of her childhood, including self-immolation, but she remembers her father discussing how he viewed it as communist propaganda.

Keywords: British Broadcasting Company (BBC); Buddhist Protests; Catholicism

Subjects: BBC Radio; Buddhism; Communism; Propaganda

00:22:24 - Siblings and experiences with Vietnamese culture

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Partial Transcript: So, you go to this, you know as a kid, you're taking care of your siblings, you're going to school, did you enjoy your education?

Segment Synopsis: Tran discusses her relationship with her siblings and her experience with Vietnamese favoritism of male children. She also discusses her experiences with Vietnamese culture and social expectations.

Keywords: Favoritism; Siblings; Vietnamese Culture

Subjects: Education; Sex discrimination.; Vietnam

00:26:10 - Perceptions of Ngo Minh Diem and Ho Chi Minh

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Partial Transcript: So, I'm interested, especially being Catholic, and President Diem of South Vietnam, he was also Catholic. So what was the perception of him?

Segment Synopsis: Thuhuong Tran discusses her positive perception, and her family's positive perception, of President Ngo Dinh Diem. She liked Diem because he was Catholic. She also discusses both her own and her family's negative perception of Ho Chi Minh.

Keywords: Ho Chi Minh; Ngo Dinh Diem; South Vietnam

Subjects: Catholics; Communism; Hồ, Chí Minh, 1890-1969.; Ngô, Đình Diệm, 1901-1963.; Vietnam

00:28:54 - Experience with Americans, the War, and 1968.

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Partial Transcript: I'm curious now, what's your earliest memory of the American presence in Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: Tran describes her experience with American soldiers during the time of the war. She explains that she does not recall much about American soldiers and diplomats. She also describes her experiences with Northern Vietnamese soldiers and citizens at this time. Additionally, she discusses her experiences with the Tet Offensive, including a story of hiding out from war in a neighbor's house.

Keywords: American soldiers; North Vietnam; South Vietnam; USA; Vietnam War

Subjects: Soldiers; Tet Offensive, 1968; United States; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:33:34 - Vietnam no longer safe / Relocation to cousin's house near the embassy

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember a time when you realized the country was at war?

Segment Synopsis: Tran recalls the growing danger of living in Vietnam, and the buildup to her family's decision to leave through her father's job at the U.S. Embassy. Tran explains that part of this buildup involved no longer attending school. She also discusses moving to her cousin's house, which was closer to the U.S. Embassy, in order to make a quick escape if necessary. Finally, she discusses participation in the war by people she knew. Her cousin married a man who was in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

Keywords: Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN); National Liberation Front for South Vietnam; Relocation; Saigon; United States Embassy in Saigon; Viet Cong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Communism; Emigration and immigration.; Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:45:20 - Leaving Vietnam via the U.S. Embassy

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Partial Transcript: So, before you leave as the war progresses and you got older, did you see, besides not being able to return to school, were there any other changes in your everyday life?

Segment Synopsis: Tran discusses her family's departure from Vietnam by the U.S. Embassy. She tells a dramatic story when they tried to get a plane from the U.S. Embassy, when her father told her it was not necessarily safe just because they were in the embassy. She also explains that she was excited to leave Vietnam. She was worried that her family would be unable to get a plane during this time. She discusses her family's escape, and their experience travelling on a plane for the first time.

Keywords: Operation Frequent Wind; Planes; Refugees; Saigon; United States Embassy in Saigon

Subjects: Airplanes; Emigration and immigration.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:57:55 - Family that stayed behind

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Partial Transcript: Before we move on to talk about you being on that plane and fleeing I do want to circle back a bit.

Segment Synopsis: Tran discusses her family that stayed behind in Saigon, their experience with Communist propaganda, and their lack of communication for twenty years.

Keywords: Saigon

Subjects: Communism; Family; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Propaganda; Vietnam

01:05:48 - Stops after escape from Vietnam and settling in the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: So, I just kind of wanna go back. So, you are on the plane, you're fleeing Vietnam, how many places did you go until you landed in the United States?

Segment Synopsis: Tran discusses her family's transitionary period following their flight from Vietnam. She first discusses their experiences on the SS American Challenger cargo ship, a cargo ship involved in transporting Vietnamese refugees. She then recalls their short time in Guam, then their arrival at Fort Chaffe in Arkansas, and their eventual settling in Lansing, Michigan with the help of the Church of the Resurrection.

Keywords: Church of the Resurrection; Guam; Resettlement; USS Challenger

Subjects: Arkansas; Fort Chaffee (Ark.); Guam; Lansing (Mich.); Michigan; Refugees; Vietnam

GPS: Lansing, Michigan, the city where Thuhuong and her family settled in America.
Map Coordinates: 42.73358, -84.55544
GPS: Guam, the island that Thuhuong and her family originally landed on.
Map Coordinates: 13.451863, 144.763153
GPS: Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where Tran and her family lived for three months.
Map Coordinates: 35.25452460556158, -94.13085172450978
GPS: Location of the Church of the Resurrection, Tran and her family's sponsoring church.
Map Coordinates: 42.73392054850293, -84.52866581564784
01:11:32 - Perspective on American handling of escape process / First experiences in America

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Partial Transcript: From your perspective, right, you are on this ship, you are essentially island hopping to different camps until you head to the camp in Arkansas for three months.

Segment Synopsis: Thuhuong Tran first discusses her perspective on American handling of escape from South Vietnam. She then discusses her first experiences in America. She concludes by discussing her first perceptions of American life and culture.

Keywords: ESL; English as second language; Refugees; South Vietnam

Subjects: American culture; Emigration and immigration.; English language; English language--Acquisition.; United States; Vietnam

01:23:05 - New life in Lansing and experiences with public education

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Partial Transcript: So, you and your family arrived in Lansing, Michigan, did you go straight to high school at this time? Are you going back and restarting your education?

Segment Synopsis: Tran recalls her family's experience living in Lansing, MI. She explains her experiences in American public school. Tran describes an English as a Second Language (ESL) program at her school that was designed for refugees. However, Tran says she had a hard time transitioning to the American school system and culture. Tran explains that gym class was "culture shock," as American students had no problems showering before and after class. Physical education was an uncomfortable experience for her, but she learned how to swim at this time. She explains how she met other Vietnamese students through her ESL program, and also describes the racism faced by Vietnamese and other Asian people in public school. She concludes by discussing her family's adaptation to American culture.

Keywords: ESL; English Language acqusiton; English as second language

Subjects: American culture; Catholic schools; Culture shock; Education; High school; Lansing (Mich.); Public schools.; Racism.; Swimming

01:35:00 - Life after high school

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Partial Transcript: And so for you, what happens after high school?

Segment Synopsis: Following high school, Tran attended Lansing Community College and working at a Chinese restaurant. Tran explains the Michigan Vietnamese community which included people from Grand Rapids, MI and Detroit, MI. She recalls that she met her husband through this community. She then discusses her both her own and her family's further professional experiences, including activism in the church, her father's career as a janitor at Michigan State University, and her siblings' time as students at Michigan State University. She also introduces her career as a medical interpreter, in which she helped Vietnamese people by taking them to doctor's appointments and translating.

Keywords: Activism; Catholicism; Medical interpreters

Subjects: Detroit (Mich.); Grand Rapids (Mich.); Lansing Community College (Mich.); Marriage.; Michigan; Michigan State University; Professions.; Universities and colleges.

GPS: Location of Lansing Community College.
Map Coordinates: 42.73975187455925, -84.55146103283477
GPS: Location of Michigan State University.
Map Coordinates: 42.70195442040985, -84.4821504444841
01:41:58 - Cultural differences regarding domestic abuse

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Partial Transcript: For example, when I worked as a court interpreter for an agency, they called me in. There was a man that they put in jail because he hit his wife.

Segment Synopsis: Tran discusses a court case she witnessed in which a Vietnamese man faced prosecution as punishment for hitting his wife. She discusses the peculiarity of this American legal situation in comparison to Vietnamese culture. She also discusses her commitment to being a culture broker, by which she helped those she interpreted for to understand American culture. She concludes in discussing the significance of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Keywords: CPS; Child Protective Services; Coin rubbing; Court cases; Domestic abuse; Interpreters; Title Six; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

Subjects: Child abuse.; Child welfare; Culture shock

01:50:43 - Revisiting Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: So, in 2010, my sister and I went to Vietnam. At that time my parents had gone to Vietnam a few times, but it never occurred in my mind that I wanted to go back.

Segment Synopsis: Tran recalls her trips back to Vietnam in 2010 with her sister, 2015 with her husband, and 2017 with her daughter, nieces, and nephews. She says that she met with family in Vietnam during the trip in 2010. They brought Tran to her old house and neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City. She explains the differences from her original upbringing in Vietnam to the more recent Vietnam. Tran says that Americans and Vietnamese communists were enemies in the 1970s, but now they are very civil. She describes a peculiar meeting she witnessed between a Vietnamese National Liberation Front veteran and an American Vietnam veteran, in which each veteran apologized to the other and had a conversation about the war.

Keywords: Interpreters; Revisitation; Saigon; United States Citizenship Test

Subjects: Communism; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Michigan; Refugees; Translators.; Travel; Veterans; Vietnam

01:57:00 - Final takeaways

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Partial Transcript: My final question for you is, forty-seven years after the end of the Vietnam War, what's your final takeaway from it?

Segment Synopsis: Tran explains her final takeaways from the Vietnam war. She is thankful for her faith, her family, and the help of the Americans. Tran likes to help people coming into the U.S. from Vietnam. She asks Rotondo what he thinks about Vietnam, and he explains that he thinks most about the Vietnam War. She concludes by relating the war to the Russo-Ukrainian War. She believes that the Russo-Ukrainian War is going down a similar path as the Vietnam War, with "cousin fighting cousin."

Keywords: Community navigators; Russo-Ukrainian War

Subjects: Obama, Barack.; Russia; Trump, Donald, 1946-; Ukraine; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975