Thuhuong Tran, March 20, 2022
March 20, 2022
Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Vietnam War Oral History Project
BRANDON ROTONDO: Hello, I'm Brandon ROTONDO . Interviewing Thuhuoung TRAN, March
20th, 2022. This interview is being recorded via zoom. This interview is for a
Vietnam oral history project conducted by students at West Chester University.
First, we will delve into Thuhuoung TRAN family life and upbringing. Second, we
will discuss how Thuhuoung TRAN perception of the war change with age and the
years before she fled Vietnam. And finally, we will examine her departure from
Vietnam and her settlement in the United States. So, you were born in Sa Dec?
Can you describe what the city is like?
THUHUONG TRAN: 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, as he didn't know
00:01:00her due date, you know, back then people's it gas, and somehow I came out, and
then that's what during the New Year, so the Vietnamese New Year. So back then
that no transportation because people want to celebrate the New Year by they
stopped doing anything physically. They did focus more on celebrating the new
year. So my mom had me. And then people said, no, you had to wait a couple of
days before you can go back. So she wait. But being born in Sadat, it's like,
she was there. There you go on the trip. And then somehow, oh, my god, the
baby's coming. And then she brought me back to Saigon, that where we stay in
Saigon, but because of the, you know, Sa Dec, it's more like west of Saigon. And
00:02:00my father said, Well, if anything that if I need a document, I had to go back
and forth. When my eyes was, say, on the paper, you were born in Saigon. But
people nicknamed me Sa Dec, because I'm the only one from Sa Dec in more light
southern people from the South, you know, like South United States, like
Arkansas, Missouri. But we weren't my parents from North Vietnam. So, if you
read about the history of why that's North Vietnam, and South Vietnam, is
similar to Korea, that South Korea and North Korea. So, in 1955, when they
signed a treaty, say we'll let the North people decide where they want to go, if
00:03:00they want to go to the south, we'll let them go freely. Okay? But later, I found
out that, you know, it's only on paper, they try to stop you from going. It's
just like, now people are trying to stop the people from Ukraine to leave the
country. So, my, my parents, my father was, he was born in 1929. So, in 1955,
you figure out his age. So, he and his mom just got married, decided, well, I
might as well take an adventure. You know, you young so. So, they moved to South Vietnam.
TRAN: My uncle, his older brother decided to stay, you know, you always be to be
to have assurance if something happened. So, my father can have a play to stay
if they decide to go back. You know, you don't want to do everything. So, my
00:04:00uncle stay in North Vietnam, and my father and my mom would South Vietnam. 1955.
ROTONDO: Oh, I didn't mean to interrupt. But um, well, that being said, so your
parents go down Saigon. They start a family. So, Vietnam and Saigon they start
this family, right. What was your neighborhood like? What do you remember about
TRAN: Um, I remember that. I, you know, when I was young, I remember we were
Roman Catholic. So, wherever we go, we make sure that we live by the church. So,
I remember, you know, every morning about 5am When the bell, the church bell
rang, and then we had to get up and get ready to go to church at 5am as a
normal, daily routine. For a Catholic family, so my older brother and my older
00:05:00sister, get up and get ready to go to church. And I remember back then that, for
my house, walking to church is a long way. Very long way. That's what my
bringing. So, we, I went to Catholic schools, by the church, of course, the
Catholic church always have school. So, I go to school there with a nun. Yeah,
that's what I remember about the neighborhood. And, of course, in Vietnam, for
some reason, the days pretty long, then you go to go school half day, and then
you go home. And then the day until 9pm, you can do a lot of things. And I
remember unlike, the US, you know, everything you had to condense, and you're
00:06:00always the hurry. But in Vietnam, the time more relaxed, and I have time to walk
to my neighbors. And back then, if you have a TV set, is the luxury, of family
didn't have TV. So I went to the neighbor. But it's like a cousin, a long
distant cousin, and what TV there until this, I had to go home. So I go home.
And then you know, the day pretty long, I do a lot of things. But back then we
play outside a lot. We own, my father worked for several US company, if I
remember right, but the one that he that gave him a chance to move to the US
00:07:00with the US Embassy, you will as a driver. But back then, my family has a very
small, I don't want to say factory, but we make fabric. And then we sell to the
merchant, where they turn into, you know, clothing, how they do that. But with a
metal fabric. So, we'd run it by machine. So this is like a second job for my
family. So, between the financial stable.
ROTONDO: Ok, financial stable, and so let's step back a bit, can you describe
the members of your family? So, what was your mother and father like? And yeah,
how many siblings do you have? And what were they like?
TRAN: At that time? Before that I didn't remember much. But I remember we had
like, see, I had six sister, maybe be seven, and two brothers. And I don't
00:08:00remember much about them. But I remember the neighborhood, the people that I
hang out with. We like to take a shower in the rain. You know, when it's
raining, the children like to go outside and then and then you know, how do you
go outside and then I don't want to say to dance in the rain, but then I take a
shower in the rain. Because in Vietnam you could when you take a shower, you do
to use big container, and you pour water on top of you. Back then we didn't have
like a separate bathroom and shower like now. So, without kitchen. And as a top
that we collect rainwater, and then we do only one room. But I remember playing
with children in the neighborhood more than I remember playing with my siblings.
00:09:00Yeah, that's live in Vietnam. So, I had to go outside when it rains. It's okay.
And take a shower in the rain.
ROTONDO: So, this is yeah, you have a big Roman Catholic family in Saigon. And
so were your siblings. Were you the youngest?
TRAN: Back then No, I was at third I have a brother, sister and I'm at third.
TRAN: And then younger sister. Another one. We have to remember. But yeah, we
all in the family. My father goes to work. And my mom stay and I help our
family. Like babysitting my youngest siblings. The Vietnam back then you never
heard a babysitter's or childcare or daycare. They're all the neighborhood. If
you have kids and your kids can play outside. And other kids can watch your
00:10:00kids. And all the family can watch our kids. They're all like, the whole neighborhood.
ROTONDO : Sure.
TRAN: I never heard of, Oh, can you watch my job? They just get up in the
children to go to school. They can go, they can buy outside. And then normally,
we I don't have grandparents, but other people do. They all live in the same
family, like three generation. So, the owner watched younger guests, and they
watch other children too. We all neighborhood.
ROTONDO: And so, I want to go back to your father worked for the US or US companies?
TRAN: Yeah, I don't remember exactly. But several companies. And then I remember
the one that gave him a chance to go to the US with the US Embassy.
TRAN: Yeah, it was a driver to ride a diplomat around the city.
ROTONDO: Oh, wow.
TRAN: Yeah. Back then they have something similar to CB where they can call in
second you go there and pick someone up? Can you drop someone there? They also
had TRANslator, my father understand some, but he doesn't. Back then he didn't
speak English. But they do have something on the phone with them. And so, he can
communicate. And they tell them where to go. Pick so and so up and then drops on
so and then. So, he learned how to drive a car back then.
ROTONDO: So, would you say your father was a very educated man as you you lived
in this kind of middle-class lifestyle? Did he have like a long education? Or
was he just you know, gifted?
TRAN: No, my father didn't have, my knowledge, my father never talked about his education.
ROTONDO: Oh, he didn't talk about it.
TRAN: He's an educated man. But to me, my father was a hard worker. He had to
put more effort in than normal people. I never heard him mention about his
education, or his background.
TRAN: But he told us about, you know, you have to put a lot of effort into but
you do in order to you know, get along or get a hat. Sure. He never said that he
was smart. But hard working is nature. So I see my my my father. But I didn't
have any much memory about. But it's normal for me to go outside and play and go
home to eat lunch. And then I'll go to school, and then to go home. But but we
00:13:00play outside a lot. You know Vietnam is a tropical country. It's not unlike
Michigan to stay inside because the weather, we always play outside. And then I
always had to watch my younger siblings. So my mom had babies every two years.
TRAN: Every two years. So total, like 11 of us. And then I heard that the two
owners die because of complication. No back then. But yeah, what else you want
to know? So, I can go on.
ROTONDO: Yeah. So, I'm curious with your so your dad doesn't talk a lot about
his education. But yeah, he was hardworking had these jobs. What about your
mother? Was your mother just a housewife and raise the kids? Did she go to
school? Or did you have an actual job besides being a mom?
TRAN: No, my my mom was a homemaker or housewife.
TRAN: She had baby every two years. so busy. But we have this small business
that we manufacturers of fabric. Yeah, I didn't remember much about but I
remember that, you know, helping out.
TRAN: With a family. But my main job to watch my younger siblings.
ROTONDO: That was your job. Sure, sure.
TRAN: And then they go to school and then go home. And then I learned how to
cook to help out. Yep.
ROTONDO: Okay. And so, I'm curious and maybe your parents didn't speak about
this. But did your family have any experiences with like the French and the
Japanese during the kind of the world war two era's that kind of occupation of
Japan of Vietnam and then the French was there any talk of that or did you notice?
TRAN: Yes. My father listen to BBC on the radio you're aligned. And then I heard
00:15:00you mentioned about how the Japanese how the French colonized our country. But I
didn't hear any. For the Japanese yes. And when negative things about the
Japanese destroys the rice fields, and you know wonder people to do certain
thing, but for the French, I didn't hear any, any negative things about a
French. The French brought Catholicism into our country. Okay, so I didn't know
that my ancestor religion. My father or my mom never mentioned about, you know,
if they get converted to Catholic but when I was born, and they always say we're
Catholics, and we are Roman Catholic, we are not Christian. We are Catholic.
TRAN: And, yeah, they mentioned about, you know, the French came, and my
father's can speak some French or can understand some. But I didn't hear any
negative things about French. Other than that they help out. And they advocate
for poor people that I heard about Catholic, you know, being Catholic, and we
talk about very important that we keep our faith. Yeah. But I never heard him
mentioned about any negative things or experience. But he mentioned about the
Japanese, yes. And the communist. That the reason that he left North Vietnam,
because of the communist
ROTONDO: The communist. Sure. 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, you
00:17:00know, were you did you feel this sense of devotion to your faith? Or was this
something that it was just an expectation like that This is mom and dad telling
me to go to church, I go to church, or is this something that's been kind of
central to your life?
TRAN: It's for Vietnamese. Back then, we are not like, focus on like an
individual, like itself center? You will. I was born into a Catholic family.
This is what you do. You go to church, you join the coop, you pray, and then
Thursday morning designated for youth and children. So very important. Then,
Thursday morning, 5am you go to church, and then it's normal for us. Like I can
00:18:00go to church and then fall asleep. Okay. And then let's say it's okay. You can
go to church, and then there's a lady will watch you, you fall asleep to go and
then like, she's using the fan to hit you and say wake up. No, that's a disrespectful.
TRAN: So, you're always have something. It's it's more like, how I say that a
model for you to follow. And then you then for Vietnamese, they never encouraged
to, for you to you know, speak up for you. This is this is a model that how they
been raised. So, you will follow and gone to church.
TRAN: Yeah. It's an is respect to elderly, the elderly always right. And you go
00:19:00to church, and you don't go to church. Sunday is very, very important. You got
to Church on Sunday. Then, yeah, and then you go through like, communion day and
you go to all of that. I forgot how to say that. When you five, and you get to
go to Bible study, and it all incorporate into the motto for the family, for the
children to follow. And then, and then the neighborhoods, they're also Catholic.
There was some Chinese live there, but I have never thought about, Do I go to
Catholic school? So they go to Catholic Church, and you hang out with the people
in the neighborhoods, they're also Catholic, and you don't see any other option
and say, oh, so and so didn't go to church. I might as well stay home and don't
want to Church. All I can say no, I don't want to go to, I want to stay home,
00:20:00like children now. But back then it's just just go with the flow?
ROTONDO: So that being said, you you're living with your family in this Catholic
neighborhood, right, following the model of your parents and the expectations.
Do you recall any of the Buddhist protests that were going on?
TRAN: Um, no, but later I heard my my father talk about it. I don't remember
seeing that. But later, my father, talk about the world, talk about a communist
and talk about propaganda and things is not what you see.
ROTONDO: Sure, do you recall his impression on the Buddhist protest, and like
the self-immolation that was occurring?
TRAN: My father he talked a lot about that. He said, that's, that's the
00:21:00undercover that the Communists were using Buddhist monk, to tell the world that
this is what happening. But this is not a true color. Because when you look at
that, and you see Oh, my God, in Vietnam, this is what going on. But people
don't know, people undermine the communists, they play the role in at the
assassination of the President. So that, that, that what my father point of
view, and he keeps telling us that what I heard a lot from him about, I said,
no, don't believe what you see on on, on TV, or newspaper. But later when I got
over here, when I go to school, and I can you know, I can read about it. And
00:22:00then they say, you know, my father always say, but this is not. This is the
Communist propaganda. And they wonder what to see it. But deep down inside, he,
my father did not believe it. Yeah.
ROTONDO: So, you so you got to this, you know, as a kid, you're, you're you're
taking care of your siblings, right? You're going to school? Did you enjoy your
education? Was that something that like, brought you joy?
TRAN: Because now I live in the US. I can have a comparison. But if I were in
Vietnam, that's how lies in Vietnam is. It never mentioned about all their options.
TRAN: Yeah. Okay. You know, how you raise your children always say, he has
00:23:00apples? Which one did you want? That's how children in the US was bringing up.
You always say, Okay, there's an option for me. Instead of, they see what you
have, they see how we lived. And my father say this is how we, as a Catholic,
they say, what do you do? So, I always, we never in our mind, say that, Oh, is
an option that other children, they like to slip into it and want to get up and
go to church? It never in my mind. Yeah. Like now, you know, with my children,
they always say, well, so and so didn't go to church, and they are fine.
ROTONDO: So as a little girl, then did you, was there any like goal for
yourself? And you feel like, oh, I want to you know, do this when I get older?
Wasn't there an expectation of just kind of following in your mother's footsteps?
TRAN: Well, for Vietnamese culture, back then, you can read more about that.
00:24:00They always favor boys over girls, if they have money to okay, if they have, for
instance, three boys and three girls. So it's, it's it's a culture for the
parents to say okay, they want to vote. They want to invest more to the boys
than girls. So I grew up had in that in my, my thought I always remember that.
TRAN: My brother is with a favor. So the more favoritism and back then for
Vietnamese culture you see around you is normal. Even now I can see a two for
00:25:00the A, for the Asian country, for modern Southeast Asia, they are like that,
because the culture is that the parents will, the boys will take care of the
parents, and a pan would live with them. That's a culture and for goods, you
will go to get married, and you belong to somebody else, outside of the family.
That's why it's common sense to invest more into boys. Because later, you know,
is it like an investment? Invest something that, you know, you think that you
know, in the future, you will have? You know, you will, you will have, you know,
just like you plant a tree that you like, and then you hope that some of you
TRAN: So that's normal Vietnamese culture, or for most countries in Asia.
ROTONDO: Sure. Sure. That so that the expectation being that you go off and get
married, and that was going to be raise your own children with your husband.
Okay, that that's Wow. So, I'm interested in especially being Catholic and
President Diem of South Vietnam, he was also Catholic. So, what was the
perception of him? Was he kind of by your family's view of him was he well
regarded this, you know, heroic president? What was your family's perception of him?
TRAN: My family love the President. Diem and then later, when I have a chance to
talk to more people, my parents age, they already have good things about our the
President said, Okay, he's fair. And he loved the Vietnamese people. He loved
the culture. He wants Vietnam to be independent. He did not want to rely on
foreigners, from other country. We want to be independent. And then, and then
00:27:00people remember the peaceful life that they had with him. Even now, when I when
I see elderly, I always ask them, you know about a ward about the first
president. They always have good thing about him. Yeah. And then the negatives,
outweighed by the communist.
ROTONDO: Okay, yeah. So that being said, right, like, Yeah, I'm in South
Vietnam, and Saigon is seen as this hero trying to bring peace to Vietnam. What
was your family's perception of Hồ Chí Minh?
TRAN: Hồ Chí Minh is a bad guy. For Catholic, if you think about the first
wave of Vietnamese, who left the country, and the first wave of boat people left
Vietnam, as refugee 90, more than 90% of them were Catholic. Because as a
00:28:00Catholic, they even know they even and I can say chain, but in the mindset,
that, you know, Catholics, being Catholics itself. If you say you're Catholic,
you will not embrace communism. Communism is like dictator. Okay, people don't
care about you. People don't care about the human beings or the human rights.
So, President Diem is the opposite of Hồ Chí Minh.
ROTONDO: Okay. Okay. So, I'm curious now, What's your earliest memory of the
American presence in Vietnam? Do you remember seeing more and more American
00:29:00either soldiers or diplomats coming into Saigon? Do you remember any of that?
TRAN: No, no, I remember the day that my father told us that. We go on, like a
vacation. Go somewhere as a family. I remembered as a kid growing up, we never
had a vacation. As a family. I never heard him say, Oh, are we going away for
vacation? Are we going somewhere because our family is a big family. And we
didn't have a car or my my father has a motorcycle. And then they he only be
able to get like two or three of us. So it's never like a whole family in a car.
So, if if you go to visit his granitic of friends you always take my brother.
00:30:00So, my brother were the first choice that I had to go sometime. But in my
memory, I never, never, ever we had Oh, we have to go somewhere. We have a
vacation. No. We more like middle class, you're not at the high class, but we're
not poor. But I do remember more about my father mentioned about you know. I
remember now that during 1968. Yeah, the Moulton the date. Yeah, I remember when
running with my father, then I never pieced together why I would run in with
him. That is, it's like something bad is about to happen.
ROTONDO: Sure. And you're-
TRAN: Yeah, but later, I found out that it was during the 1968 update. The new
year? Yeah. Was everything was quiet. And I was gonna put my father, but I never
pieced together that. How did that happen?
TRAN: They wouldn't. My sibling wasn't around. I don't know, where were they? I
didn't ask. But I remember at that time. Now. It came to my mind that it was
around that year, I think 68.
ROTONDO: Gotcha. And you say you're running for cover? For like-
TRAN: Yeah, we were hiding in the neighbor's house. And we were hiding under
their bed with a pillow in front of us. You know, just like we tried to protect
ourselves. And then everything was fine.
ROTONDO: Sure, so well, in that moment, like what's going through your mind?
TRAN: I didn't know. I just say my father say run with me. So, I ran with him.
ROTONDO: And you just use went with it?
TRAN: I just say okay, well let him but I remember there's no one on the
streets. You know, it's the was everything. Everywhere I look at quiet. Yeah,
it's not like a normal day. You running around, playing.
TRAN: But I never asked my father. But later I found out. Yeah.
ROTONDO: Yeah. Um, so in your experience to you know, the, the people, your
neighbors in the area in which you live? Did they respect like American soldiers
who were coming in to support the South Vietnamese?
TRAN: Yes. My I remember that. You know, one day when I was young, I saw a
mother pass out. You know how someone die. And then they sent people to give the
bad news to the family, letter I found out. I said, how come so and so pass out?
00:33:00When the guys come into town, something and see pass out? And later, I learned
that that her son? You know we want to inform you that your son die for the
country. Yeah, yeah. That that my memory about a lady pass out on to her bad
news. Yeah, her son will not return.
ROTONDO: Yeah. Do you remember like a time where you realize the country was at
war? Like, is there a time you're like, Oh, this is like a wars happening right now?
TRAN: No, I did not realize that. But I remember that my father said, we have to
go away as a family.
ROTONDO: So, you remember that moment of like, it's no longer safe here?
TRAN: Yes. But we live in. We live far away from the US Embassy. But my father
00:34:00say in order if something happened, we need to get to the embassy as soon as
possible. So, we need to move to one of his some cousin near who lives near the
US Embassy. So, if things happen, his boss can tell him say go get your family.
Okay? Because I think that his boss, give him a chance. If you want to let your
family go first. And you stay to work, you know, until the end, and then you'll
go and I think my father refused or declared an option. But he said that we need
to move to live with his cousin. So, it can happen with like a very short
00:35:00distance from the US Embassy. So that so I remember that. So, we moved there.
ROTONDO: Okay. And so, your parents, your parents didn't really speak openly
about the conflict in front of you until it was time to like move.
TRAN: No, I didn't add in my, in my mind. I, I never remember because now you
have the internet, you can read, you can watch TV, you can hear on the news. But
back then my family did not have a TV. And then I did not watch or hear any news
or watch any TV like now my children can say what's going on in the country. But
back then I just play outside with my neighbors, with other kids were my
friends. But I remember he said, No, we have to move. And then we might have a
chance to leave the country.
ROTONDO: Sure, now at that. At that point, does it feel like your world is
00:36:00falling apart then because it you know, you didn't really know what was going on
until you had to leave. And you're living this, you know, normal life playing
outside and going to school. So, do you have a sense of like, my world is
falling apart right now or again is it back to that?
TRAN: No, I was happy. You know, I was happy. I said, okay, because I you know,
never in my mind. I don't get to go away. Go on a trip. And I say oh, yeah. So,
we start packing and say, okay, but we don't. He said no, I don't want to sell
the house, we will give it to his audit cousin, the long distant cousin. If
something happened, that we had to return, we still have the house. Now, so I
00:37:00remember he decided no, which was quietly live, and then leave the house to his
cousin to take care of it. If something happened that he had to return? Or if
not, you can have the house so that no verbal agreement is not inside. No
document. So, I feel unhappy that oh, this is the first time that I can actually
go on a trip. Okay. So, I never regret or never say, Oh, I'm missing my friend.
That but I think that okay, we have a chance to go. We may come back
ROTONDO: May come back one day. So, you leave this at this time when you're
leaving your 15?
TRAN: Yes, I was born in 1960 on January that my birth certificates. So that-
ROTONDO: So, you're in school at this time? Did they? Did they teach you about
the war in school? Did they ever mention I know you're not getting it from
television or from news or your parents? But even teachers wouldn't talk about
TRAN: No, no, no. I mentioned about politics, or anything going on. And I
00:38:00remember that because of the ward. I think it's called. I stopped going to
school. And I didn't know why. Yeah, yeah. Because of things were changing day
TRAN: So, it's not a normal life for us, like, you know, to get up to go to
school, go to church, because I can feel that something is changing. Yeah.
ROTONDO: And so, who breaks the news to you that you can't go to school anymore?
TRAN: I did not remember that.
ROTONDO : You don't remember that?
TRAN: I do remember that my father said, well, we need to leave here. And then
we might have a chance to go somewhere.
TRAN: He is that his boss did not say go into the US or go into America said
we're going somewhere. And then I remember my father say if you have a chance to
00:39:00another option, okay. You have a chance to go live somewhere. But that's no
communist. Do take that chance. Because for his friends, a few of them, of
course, they would live south on they're not from North Vietnam. They didn't
know anything about communists. They told him that well, I'm not going anywhere.
This is my country; this is my house. I don't care who's leading who will
control but you know, you have a house. You have a garden. You have a job. It
does. It doesn't matter to them. But later, they regret it. Yeah, but I remember
that listen into the conversation with him with the neighbor, the neighbors, who
00:40:00also got Catholics from North Vietnam did not have that chance. They said, well,
they told him that I would rather die, then, you know, and then stay and live
with the communists. But my father, because he worked for the US Embassy, he had
that option, the opportunity, and then he said, he take it in a heartbeat.
ROTONDO: Sure. Yeah. And do you think he was there any fear in him that, you
know, he was working for the US, therefore, he was associated with that. So, if
the Vietcong did come into your area, your family would be targeted?
TRAN: Yeah, I think, he knew that. He knew in his mind that the Vietcong and the
American, there, they, they were enemies.
TRAN: And of course, he knew that anybody on the enemy side will get total
00:41:00overkill. So that that why leaving the country is the best option that like, you
know, you have children, you have to survive. And then that's, you took that
option, and then move on to his cousin house, near the US Embassy.
ROTONDO: And so, when you're with your cousin's house, are there any family
disagreements like your, between your father and this cousin that you're now
living with of like, you should stay? Or was everyone likes, go go go, that's
your ticket out of here.
TRAN: Everybody wish that they had a chance like us.
ROTONDO: So, you will consider yourself one of the lucky ones?
TRAN: Yes, you know, the whole neighborhood, I remember that with our own
family, that have that opportunity, because my father in the neighborhoods
00:42:00working for US. So, we would live in the day or look at us and say, you know, I
wish that, you know, we can have that chance like your family and that they,
they wish us luck. And then we were happy. So, within our family, then never any
disagreement or conflict sign. Oh, I want to stay oh, I want to go, the all want
to leave a chance to go on a trip. And I don't know where.
ROTONDO: You don't know where but you're going.
TRAN: Yeah, but my father say anywhere. It doesn't matter if you have to do
anything to survive. As long as not communist. Any country, anywhere in the
world. It's not communists, and you will survive.
ROTONDO: So that was your father's biggest fear was the fear of living under a
TRAN: Yeah, that his mentality is not. We don't share that same. We always say
00:43:00that, okay. He and the communists, we that they don't share anything in common.
ROTONDO : Gotcha.
TRAN: No religion. No family value is all about communists, communism.
ROTONDO: Now, did any of your family decide to maybe cousins or even neighbors
decide to join the South Vietnamese Army and fight the unit? Did you know anyone?
TRAN: Oh yes. Yes. I told you. I saw the lady that pass out. And later people
told me that though, okay. The someone in the army came and told her that just
son already sacrificed for the country.
TRAN: She passed out. And then later, I asked, and people told me that that's
why- Yeah. In the neighborhood.
ROTONDO: Did you know him personally?
TRAN: No, no, no, just no play in and then so and so. You know, when you have
stranger? You know, what I do the neighborhoods that now when now would you see
the ambulance or police car in front of somebody's house? And you get curious.
And then someone walk. And the lady was talking outside to her friends or
neighbors and then she's past out. Yeah. And then what I later found out and
people told that was suddenly no longer return.
ROTONDO: Sure, any older cousins? That thought-
TRAN: Oh, yes, yes. I had a cousin. She marry. Her husband was in the South
Vietnamese Army. And he brought a Jeep home and go what would take us the
children fall right for ice cream, and back that that have good memory, you
00:45:00know, somebody in the neighbors was a soldier had a Jeep, and then two hours of
ice cream and the best memory of me on that ship.
ROTONDO: Sure, sure. So, you know, before you leave, right, you know, as the war
progressed as you got older did you see and besides not being able to return to
school, were there any other changes in your day to day life? You know, was
there like a scarcity of food perhaps?
TRAN: Something very important that that I need to mention that when it's time
when the country is getting closer, without the Communist that keep getting
closer to Saigon. So, his boss told him, you know, he, he's, uh, you know, go to
work every morning, when we stay with his cousin. I didn't remember how many
00:46:00days. But one day, he said, It's time to go. You know, I remember he told me
that his boss gave him $2,000 cash. Yeah. Yeah, that is so, is it 2000 out cash.
And he said this case? So, he gets some to his cousin. But I remember that a
whole family, and one of his cousins. Going in the car, 10, 11 of us in one car,
I remember is a midsize sedan. Now I remember with a big door. But we all pile
up in that car. And he drove to the US Embassy. But he drove in. But we were
waiting outside. We couldn't get in. And he went inside. Because he has a bag.
00:47:00So, they let him in. But they did not let family and I didn't remember why. So,
he went inside to get his boss to get out to the gate. So, they can pick up
people. The American soldier where the gates with a gun. So, they will shoot if
anybody try to go in. Yeah. And I don't know how we walk around your embassy.
And somehow, we got lucky. And we found him. But his boss. So, his boss say last
family in. So, they left almost in, you know, the original plan because my
oldest brother was 18. He was born in 1955. So, he was 20. So so legally, he
00:48:00cannot leave the country. Anything, anybody, or any child over 18 can't live
with a family. That's legally, but during that time would chaos. So, my mom say
that's why he didn't sell out the house. So, if something happened, he could go
back. So, my mom says, well, we all go together anyway, until you have to stay
then you say, but we all pile up in a car. Now he could go inside the US
Embassy, once we're inside. So, I remember the food. There's a lot of, you know,
things that I have never seen before. And people would once they in there. They
thought they were safe. No, they will have to leave. But my father say no.
00:49:00You're not gonna don't you know, don't think that we're safe here. So, we wait
until our chance to get on a plane to leave. But in order to do that, you have
to be alert. And you have to be to go and jump on the plane. You don't want to
wait. You don't want to do don't want to things I while I'm in the US Embassy.
They had to take me out anyway. It did not happen that way. And my father
instant, you know, in his self intuition. So, he was right. So, people walk into
the kitchen, people in everywhere and they got thing they got cigarettes, they
got food, but we weren't way in there with I don't I don't remember eating
anything. But I remember feeling very sad. If I had to go back. I want to leave
00:50:00on the go on an adventure, to go on a journey. I remember I said, Man, if I had
to stay, that's very sad life for me. I remember that. Because my father would
feel like that they were entered his parents would turn around. And why did they
not say, okay, it's time to leave. So finally, you know, it's time for us to go
up into the deck, because the plane will land on the deck, and then you had to
get in line. And then, because there were like 11 of us at that time with the
whole family. So, we went up. And then in order to get our together, my father
and my older brother had to make sure that we all together. Otherwise, you know,
half will be on the plane, half would be on the ground. My father did not want
00:51:00that to happen. So, we somehow got on a plane, and his son, instance, was right.
A lot of people were laughed at the US Embassy. Because time we're running out.
And the communists told the American government that well, at certain time, they
will no more playing out.
ROTONDO : You are on one of the first planes out so your-
TRAN: I don't remember it the first or the last. I did not remember.
ROTONDO : Sure.
TRAN: But I when I lay down look up on the Internet, what the last one what,
what his name Colo was on the planes of the US Embassy. But I did not find out
if we would. We didn't we weren't the first. But we've had maybe like two the last.
ROTONDO : But you realized how dangerous it would be if you stayed if you didn't
00:52:00get on that plane?
TRAN: Well, I left, and I realized how the communists would, you know, treat the
people who, you know, didn't have a chance to leave. But I remember feeling very
sad for the first time in my life that, you know, I was waiting for them to call
say, okay, you can go up, the no pile people up onto the deck and wait. And I
was happy that no one deck and why we were that waiting. I feel very sad. If we
you know what stay and we didn't make it. And they say well, we are no more
plane. Because I want to go. I want to go on the journey. I want to take an
adventure. And I for the first time in my life at a teenager. I felt very sad.
And then when we got and then we jump on a plane. My brother makes sure to get
00:53:00everyone back. So, we aren't go on the same plane. And then once you're on a
plane, I don't feel a big relief.
ROTONDO : Yeah. sigh of relief there.
TRAN: Finally, on somewhere, but at least not you know. Doubt there out of people.
ROTONDO: Sure. So, you're in the embassy before you board the plane. Is this a
few hours? Are you in the embassy for a few days?
TRAN: Um, not a few hours. I remember. I remember. Probably because I felt sad.
So, it took longer, or but it's not a few hours.
ROTONDO: So, this was a long wait.
TRAN: But I don't want to say many days, maybe a day or two. But I had to ask
around, but I remember feeling very sad. So, when you wait for something to
happen, it takes longer than then. But I don't think that many days, a day or
00:54:00maybe a day into the night or next day.
ROTONDO: So, was there any sleeping did you get asleep or just like a 24 hours?
I'm mopping I'm just waiting. We're waiting.
TRAN: I was sitting with the wrong guy the whole family was sending I probably
fell asleep. But I right now. I don't remember I ever eat anything. Yeah, I
don't know. What food did I eat? While I was in the embassy. Of course. That's a
lot of food. People will well we're out into the kitchen to get food. I cannot
remember. You know what I ate at that time. But I what stood out in my mind that
I feel very sad for the first time.
ROTONDO: Wow. And so how many family members make it onto the plane?
TRAN: My family?
ROTONDO: How many?
TRAN: The whole family.
ROTONDO: The whole family.
TRAN: The whole family and my father and my brother so that we all stay in the
00:55:00circle. And even that time my youngest sibling, which was two, so my mom cared
two, four, six, you add two years. But we all make so to stay together.
ROTONDO: So, this is a big group.
TRAN: A big group. My brother, make sure that you know that other people out and
gonna go on the same plane. We did, we got on the same plane.
ROTONDO: What did you bring with you?
TRAN: I think cloths.
ROTONDO: Clothes. Is it just like a one suitcase per person?
TRAN: Not even the suitcase? I think bags. We don't have a suitcase like now. I
think we had like bags, I don't know. Plastic bag or some paper bags.
TRAN: But I didn't care what I bring. I just want to get out.
ROTONDO: It didn't matter to you.
TRAN: I didn't matter that I need to bring anything, but I remember clothes. But
at that time, I said, I don't care. I just want to leave here. I got on a plane
for the first time in my life. And I love to be in the plane.
ROTONDO: So, you're sitting there in the embassy before you board the plane,
you're feeling this sense of sadness. If you have to stay there's probably this
feeling of just the great unknown of what's gonna happen. As you're looking
around with family members. Do you see the same expression? Is everyone feeling
generally the same way?
TRAN: Yes. Everybody was anxious to leave. And then a few people stay to collect
all the good things, like cigarettes and stuff. I did not pay attention to them.
Because some my father like the country? No, I felt something is going on in the
country. He listened to BBC a lot.
TRAN: And he mentioned bad things about a communist. That's why in my mind, I
00:57:00said it was sad. If we no somehow had to stay. And then we, for some reason,
they say, while we didn't have time, we had no plane. Then you had to say I saw
because of what he put into my mind, my brain, my mind about a communist is
coming like over the country. Bad Thing guarantee will happen. Yeah, my father
had experience in North Vietnam, and all the thing that he learned, so he for
sure saying that, staying with a communist. It will be a very, very bad
situation that we had to deal with. So, we better leave.
ROTONDO: Yeah. And before we move on to talk about you being that plated flag, I
do want to circle back real quick. Because, I remember in the beginning, you
00:58:00talked about family still being in North Vietnam, while your family migrated to
Saigon. They were still family in North Vietnam. Is that correct?
ROTONDO: Did they all look to flee? Or did they? Did they stay in North Vietnam?
TRAN: They remember they will read the communist Soviet propaganda.
ROTONDO: So, they believe--
TRAN: So, they were told so later, in the latter day, they wrote to my family
when we were in Lansing, for 20 years that no communication.
ROTONDO: 20 years?
TRAN: Agenda. My mom's family. My mom would the only one that I'll be able to
laugh with my father. So, my uncle, say North Vietnam. Do you know if anything
happened, you don't have a place to go back to. So, for 20 years, my mom did not
00:59:00have any communication with her family. Something with my dad. So later they
told us that the communist is it's like it's like, the war between Russia and
Ukraine. So, it's propaganda. Propaganda.
TRAN: Yeah. brainwashing. So, they were told that people in South Vietnam need
our help. They will be in kills total or, like, genocide going on in South
Vietnam. So did you battle you know, say them, go in and fight for them and they
are very poor, and they are hungry. So, you gifts to the government. Like if you
01:00:00had this box of rice, you get 1/3 to the government. So, the government will
make sure that we'll send it to them in South Vietnam. Once you know, they take
over so that the family are safe, safe, safe, they say things say food. So
finally, when they heard that, oh, we want? No, we are now in South Vietnam. So,
my grandfather's later told us that he gathered everything. So he tried to, you
know, for the first time, you want to see his daughter, his only daughter. Okay,
so it moves to know, I don't know how we get here how we get to South Vietnam.
He didn't mention about he took the train or how, but he when he got to South
Vietnam, and he realized that for the whole time. The communists would lie into
01:01:00them. They can see the lie you see South Korea, with high rise building with see
the luxury, the cars and the things people are North Vietnam did not have.
TRAN: So, for the first time they realize that, you know, ominous.
ROTONDO: And were any of your family members on your mother's side who are in
North Vietnam right. They believe that you know what the Vietcong is telling
them? Do they did any of them any of the men fight for the Vietcong were soldiers?
TRAN: I did ask, probably not maybe doubt of some other cousin, but I didn't ask
or look into detail about it. But I always remember that my grandfather, and
01:02:00later, my uncle, that's the Communists were lying to them.
ROTONDO: Quite a culture shock for them-
TRAN: Culture shock to them once they get safe and understand Oh, my God. So, he
felt a bit relieved. When he got to, you know, how people in Vietnam, like, if
you want to find me, or you know, pinpoint to the area that are the Catholics
than, you know, live in one place, whatever, church, and then you ask about, did
you know so and so that belong to so and so? And that they don't tell you? So
when he heard that, oh, his daughter left Vietnam, he felt a bit relief.
TRAN: Yeah. Yeah. Then said I, oh, my God, I didn't see my daughter. It would
very sad. He was anxious. When he was told my now the communists, you know,
01:03:00better hurry to save his daughter and his grandchildren.
ROTONDO: But you are already gone.
TRAN: Yeah. And then he found out that the neighbor told him that, you know, the
family was live here. And then that now they gone to other country that they
don't know, but he works for the US Embassy.
TRAN: And so that he knew, and he said, he felt a big relief. And they were
happy that we laughed.
ROTONDO: And then wouldn't be 20 years later until-
TRAN: Now 20 years later, and when we got to the US, somehow, they got the
connection. through some people in France, they send them the ladder to Vietnam,
through France, and then to the US. And then, you know, and you know, they were
very careful what they write, no, you have to use some code. So other people can
01:04:00understand, okay, so like, they can tell the whole story. And then the only
person that read a ladder can understand if the govern what is essential that
ladder, could not understand. They have this secret code and say, okay, we live
a better life now. And when we were in South Vietnam, and then I remember my mom
told me what code that's used. So, her family or her, her siblings in North
Vietnam would understand that now. We live in the US. We have everything that
you could not imagine. If you wouldn't Vietnam. I'd have a car. They have a
house, bedrooms, a bathroom. Yeah, but they have the careful and they when they
01:05:00wrote a letter, and she told me that you would use in, mister. Okay. So and so
if you want to say it straight out that's one to live the Live is very
difficult, very poor, but you don't want to just say that you're good. If your
ladder get caught, you'll be in trouble. So let's say, remember you laughed. Mr.
So and So moves in with us that been the life begin harder for us. So Mr. So and
so that communist. Okay, so that how they communicate.
TRAN: Yeah, they are very smart.
ROTONDO: Yes. So, I just want to kind of go back to you, you're on the plane,
you fled Vietnam. How many places did you go until you landed in the United
States? Was it a one stop flight to the United States? Or did you stop anywhere
TRAN: It's, um, the original plan was for us to one island. But then President
later I found out the President Ford informed them that they need to get more
people out. So, they left us on a cargo ship, a big cargo ship [SS American
Challenger]. I don't remember the name of it. So, they dropped us off the land
on the deck of that ship. So, we got off that ship. And I thought that would
take a week for that ship to get to warm. But I found out that President forsake
that ship need to go back to Vung Tau is that is that city was a lot of
fishermen. What are fishing, or people who want to live can go there. Okay, so
01:07:00President false, and the player had to drop us off and go back to pick more
people for the US Embassy. And then the ship had to go back to Vung Tau to pick
more refugees, they are trying to escape. Yeah. So, I remember that ship gone
back. And then more people have to climb the rope to get into the ship because
it was small boats. And we had to pick them one by one on small boats. Anybody
who get out, will get picked up that cargo ship. So, it takes us longer. And the
life on the boat. I did not want to go on a cruise ever again. Never again.
Because you'd see that see, every day. You get up to see to see. Sun, sunrise
01:08:00and sunset. Honestly to see nothing out. You look out to see. You don't see any
horizon as I look out at the horizon, but I don't see anything. But slowly they
want to pick more people from that city.
ROTONDO: And so, the ship goes from the city in Vietnam and then goes to Guam or
is it going straight to that?
TRAN: And then go to Guam.
ROTONDO: You go to Guam.
TRAN: We go to somewhere. I remember the other island and we got on a plane. And
it took us to Guam. Yeah. To warm it's not at the level of the island like wake
if I remember right, yeah. And then to Guam. And when once we in Guam. I felt
safe, but the heat. The heat in Guam was horrible. You know was under the tent,
01:09:00and cots. You know how the heat there were not any fan. Okay. I don't remember.
But it's also cold at night. But it was hot. And I remember my mom had a
migraine. Now I knew it was migraine was had a big headache due to dehydration.
Yeah, I remember she complaining about big headache. And then I remember my
brothers and my dad would I'll get an Enlai to get food for us like milk and
sandwiches for us. But I can see all the Vietnamese family and woman making
friends. And then and then we will move to another island. And then there we
stay for a week. And then we move to a camp in August. Okay, so in Arkansas, we
01:10:00stayed there for three months [Fort Chaffee]. To learn about live in America and
to find a sponsor. To find someone who will sponsor you to help you with
resettlements. Yeah. So, because we have big family. So, they had to find a
church. And then we fill out the forms. They were Catholic. So if we can find a
Catholic church, that would be great, because we want to keep our faith.
TRAN: Yeah. So, they found a church in Lansing, our Resurrection Catholic Church
in Lansing, on Michigan Avenue in Lansing, Michigan. So, they sponsor us. And I
remember the day that we left Arkansas, they have to be dress up. And now I'll
send you the picture of how we landed on then in Lansing.
ROTONDO: Sure, sure.
TRAN: And now that will, reporters and priests from resurrection church came out
and then and then he carry one of my siblings. Yeah, and they were TV news and a
reporter. And remember, I did not speak English at that time. But we weren't
happy. We were very happy.
ROTONDO: Sure. So, from your perspective, right, you're on this ship, you're
essentially island hopping to different camps until you had to the camp in
Arkansas for three months. From your perspective, do you think the United States
government and the military did like an adequate job supporting the South
Vietnamese one way to leave the country? Do you think this was very rushed?
TRAN: Yes, yet, I really appreciate them, they did a good job helping us get an
out. And then organize, it's a big plan for them to organize how they move
01:12:00people from one stage to another. And remember that because we came as a whole
family, there are other families that have loved ones left behind from others
ship for another plane. And they would drop off a different island. Or, and
their families like the husband, or the father, every morning, go in there and
wait to see if they drop more people off and see if they can, you know, see
their wife or their children. And I remember that, you know, staying with a
broken family, that every day they go and say, Okay, today they drop more people
off, and see if they can find their loved ones.
ROTONDO: Sure. So, you just felt this sense of gratitude for everything that was
01:13:00done. Even if it was difficult, you didn't feel the sense of gratitude.
TRAN: Yeah. Because we were lucky, we get out of the whole family. And there
were people that they loved their loved ones behind in Vietnam, or there was
still in the US Embassy. Remember that there were people thinking that once you
get in the embassy, you are guaranteed that you had a ticket to go somewhere.
But you know, my father saying, you know, never, ever, you know, feel come to
football until you get to your destination, bigger thing can change. But he had
experienced with his job with his boss, saying that, you know, we had to get
out. Even other people didn't know about it. We can listen to the news that the
Vietcong is keep busy continue to go on from north to the central. And they
01:14:00invade other city, you watching things in Ukraine, is similar to what happened
in Vienna.So, it's a day by day thing with changing. So my father knew, you
know, you don't feel comfortable, or stay in the comfort zone saying now you
enter your US Embassy, you got protection. No. So he's always an alert. So, they
can say go, we are going to go. We don't need to carry anything. So that's the
mentality of being people know, about a communist from North Vietnam. Being a
Catholic, you know, you always have to look out for other things. You never feel
comfortable saying, Oh, I'm in here. That what he, he said he saw the family,
feeling comfortable, gone into the kitchen, get food, get cigarettes, get things
01:15:00that the American left behind. And some people even go for cars. Yeah. They say,
Wow, I can get a cars. Wow. And as I said, now I'm in the US Embassy. There's a
ticket to somewhere, guarantee. But a lot of people get left behind. I didn't
read into that. But I knew that they were left behind. Because the communists
told the US government that there's a corrupt time. The other way we should you down.
ROTONDO: Sure. So, I want to go back to the your time in the camp in Arkansas.
So, while you're there, beside the US helping you find a sponsor? And did they
01:16:00teach you English? Like what other assistance did they provide you?
TRAN: With there we stay in the Barack, you know, I don't know what happened is
soldiers. We occupied everything. And then their donation of the use clothes.
And it was like go in there and then fine. And I remember looking going through
the clothes that were huge. Okay. Yeah, and things that we manage to get
something and we get food. And they also sell it in. Because I remember my
father. My father had money. So, he bought something from the store. And then
there's food. That's the RB cook for us. Like scrambled eggs. We have breakfast,
01:17:00lunch and dinner. And then good thing that they had soy sauce, I think, we eat
fish sauce. So, I get soy sauce, a I don't know where they get soy sauce. And
they are roast pork. We don't eat fish. But we didn't care about fish. But I
remember pork. I remember by chicken, and I remember getting in line you know
how to go to the cafeteria. And then you hold your place. Let people put food
in, and if you want more you can tell them more or you can keep going. And I
remember that there are people because there's so many in our family. So there's
guys that that my mom asked them to, because you can carry two plates, you can
say you help other people, and then they will helping us. And then I have young
siblings, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10. So we will feed in them and now there was people
01:18:00around us Vietnamese, we play with them, we hang out with them, and then we
would teach in English, but I don't remember a formal class. But I remember my
father filling out paper and then submit an application. And then we go and then
they took pictures in the Gifford documents. I remember it was that I 94. Yeah,
within a week with I 94?.Because we will refugee. Yeah, they go in for
fingerprints. And they took pictures. Yeah, we were there for three months. But
every day we go you know how they were farmers. They got a big chalk of
watermelon. Okay, and the outside of the gate and that the let anybody to go up
01:19:00if you can carry it up, you can pick one and then but was so huge.
TRAN: But there was a lot of American would stop by and say hello and then give
TRAN: And I would curious to look into and see what is like what Vietnamese look
like. And I do remember learning some English like where are you going? Going
home and I remember a few but I wasn't that fluence. We will learn in English in
high school in Vietnam, but I wasn't that fluent. Did like you learned in
Spanish in high school. So, it's a similar situation. But it was I was happy you
and then I couldn't wait. Look at that. We were told that, you know, we're
01:20:00trying to find sponsor. And because we're big family is harder for them to find.
So, we knew that. And then we said, what we get anxious because we don't want to
live in the camp. Some people live there longer than us. We were three months.
So anything my father told them that anything come up, we would, you know, we
could take it, whoever sponsors, we will play anyway, we were lucky that we
chose Sure. sponsors.
ROTONDO: And so when you arrive at such a formative age at 15, to the US, did
your perceptions of the US change once you arrived? Or was it everything you
thought the US was gonna be?
TRAN: I never had any idea about what the US or American look like other than
looking at a soldier in Vietnam.
TRAN: But when I came, I were happy, you know, to leave a country and we're
01:21:00happy to go on a trip. So for me, they were all positive. And I felt happy. And
I remember that the first time in my life when I look in that white people.
Well, that's how Vietnamese were chosen to white people. They all look the same.
They're all men, you know, because they you know, they pick us up to go to
church, that man all dressed in you know, best Sunday suit. Amen. Are where
classes and women that are dressed in best Sunday dress, with hair. And I
remember when women I can tell the difference. But guys, you know, we're tall,
fat. They look the same. Now even though they introduce and say oh, my name is.
01:22:00Will never remember that like you don't remember Vietnamese name. We remember
American name but they found us a house. They raised a house. That's big enough
for us to stay and then I remember the first time get into that house with a big
long dining table with 11 chairs. Yeah, you know in Vietnam when we eat we we
eat on the floor. So, we're able to accommodate everybody. There no big table
and or chairs because that's take will take up space. So, when we eat we eat on
the floor. That's how traditional Vietnamese meal at dinner. We eat. We sit in a
circle when we have friends or relatives come over. Big bigger circle. Okay.
Yeah. But the first time I see the big, long dining table with 11 chairs. Yeah.
ROTONDO: So, you and your family a lot arrive in Lansing, Michigan. Do you go
straight to high school at this time? Are you going back and re starting up your education?
TRAN: I remember that. Some of my younger siblings attend our elementary school
Catholic school at the church resurrection. Because my sister the younger sister
next to me and my older sister and my brother, my brother in his 20s and I would
think that I took a grade lower and was in eight grade even at 15 because no
Vietnamese young and small and then go into night grades. And then 10s And then
01:24:0011 And then high school. Yeah.
ROTONDO: So, did you have any friends who immigrated with you to Michigan, or do
you have to make new friends?
TRAN: We had to make new friends The thing is that they had a ESL program
designed for for refugee for us. So, we'll just like I go in in the morning and
go to class. I remember going to the homeroom and they had a student accompany
me every day you know go there and see want to make sure that I stay in the room
even I didn't understand but somehow I can catch on. And see take me to the next
class. Um homeroom did the next class and then what to do so in class, or to the
cooking class and to the gym. Yeah, going to the gym was like, a big I would say
01:25:00big culture shock to me. Yeah, going to the gym. In Vietnam, we didn't have that
kind of, you know, pe that where you go in an average, everybody can take the
showers and you can feel comfortable get naked or the female, I did not feel
comfortable at all in that situation. But if people you know, go in and take a
shower, they go into the Lachelle level doing fine. And I say, how can we do
that this is a culture shock to me. I told them that I didn't like water. Okay.
They gave me a one piece swimsuit, and learn how to swim for the first time. Get
into the pool and swim. But that that's good, follow me. And then took me to the
01:26:00bus where the bus take me to vocational school, where I learned English as a
second language for two hours, where I can meet other Vietnamese classmates from
ROTONDO: So, you still felt you still felt connected to your Vietnamese roots by
being with other people?
TRAN: Yeah. And then there was Vietnamese that exchange students would couldn't
go home. And so they took that jobs. Tutor us. And then yeah, and they were
Vietnamese. So, I felt comfortable. That Okay, we have out Vietnamese, we are
the people been to the US for three years. When I say three years? That's a long
time. I've been here only few days. Okay. And then a few weeks, and then a few
01:27:00months. And then there are other Vietnamese, like Asian students or people were
there. And I asked, they always ask, how long have you been here? Three years I
said. Wow, that long. Five years. Wow, that's so long. You must be speak fluent
in English. And we were, I was speaking broken English. I learned, you know,
vocabulary, and then how to put it together. But I remember back then. And then
now when I meet new arrival from Vietnam, when they asked me, How long have you
been in the US? And I said, 46 years. Going on 47 years. That's 47 years, and I
stopped counting, you're gonna say, Wow, you don't look that old. Because I
01:28:00said, really? And I said, yeah, 46 years, as it 40 years. 40, 42, 43, 45, 46.
That's a very long time. So I would say that's, you know, how I used to ask
people to say three years. And I said, that's a long time.
ROTONDO: Was there any time you experience any prejudice being in the United
States for being a refugee from being Vietnam? Or do you feel like you weren't,
it was mostly an accepting transition?
TRAN: When I got to high school, and I remember people call me yellow people.
And I remember exactly, but I know, yellow because I had yellow skin. And I
know, I understand that, but back when I was in 10th grade, yeah. Because, you
know, back in the, in the 70s, you don't see many Asian, you see, many Chinese,
01:29:00especially in Lansing. You may see Chinese in New York or California, but you
don't see many in Michigan. Of course, I there are action students that are
Vietnamese or Chinese but not many. So, I was in high school. And I don't
remember that Eastern high school that many Vietnamese, but I remember I did not
have many friends because of a language barrier. I had Vietnamese fun. But they
they remember the say so so say Are they yellow people in the how people do look
different from them. They were I remember High School. Now I say high school but
01:30:00betterness say, Boy high schooler they were old, they look all day. They were
tall. And compared to me, I looked like you probably thought like, Nick [Nick
Holton]. And you probably met my daughter. Skinny and short. And now looking, I
always had to look up to them. Okay? I remember when people asked me, What's up?
And I didn't know that what's up, mean I say, what's up? I look up, what's up. I
thought there's a what's up there. But now then then that they laugh and they
tell what's up, say, you know, how are you, you know what's going on. And that's
how my had experience learning the language. We try to speak formal English, and
01:31:00how we learn in school that how you phrase it formally. And when we were in high
school people speak and they say this is a different language that I hear every
day and yeah, it's a lot of good things. And never anything about discrimination
or prejudice? I did not know those two words. back then. But they people were
helpful. I remember when I walked from high school, to the house we used to live
is not very far with a lot of cars stopped by offer me a ride back then. So, I
later found out that that the people from church recognize me, you know, in that
01:32:00area will come home and they offer a ride. I remember that. I say, should I
arrive or I don't. And they say come on. Come on to the car. So I did. I did.
And they took and he took me home. But I remember that it was very cold. Very
cold. And I did not listen to the news. Like now when they have snow day, when
they have lists of school clothes. So, I remember that every morning. I will
dress up, put a coat on. And then we'll go to the Pennsylvania. We live on Main
Street. So, we're to Pennsylvania, and I can look at that school and say, how
come it's dark. So, I understand that snow day. So, we went back home. But it
never occurred to me. I don't think that had back then that have a list of
01:33:00school that close on a snow day. But we had to still work to Pennsylvania and
look over there and see. It's quiet and dark and go back home.
ROTONDO: So, there was just a few things to adjust to when I came to American culture.
TRAN: Yes. And I didn't have any problem with the food with American food at in
my mind my mom or my father, but I remember that they took us to a supermarket.
And what we say is it good thing and then the lady say good bye. It's good to
buy. So, we we put in a cart. And I remember we eat a lot of potatoes. Okay, I
learn how to cook with a weak diced potato and then with hamburger there with so
in potato and then we had this whole the Chinese grocery store where we bought
01:34:00rice noodle and rice. And there are fish sauce from Thailand. Yeah. So, we
quickly get out. We can not adjust. And remember that my siblings were young.
They didn't have any problem.
ROTONDO: Yeah, so they adjusted very easily?
TRAN: Yeah, I got my parent has two more. Two more children in united states.
So, I had my youngest brother. His name is Danny. And my youngest sister her
name is Mary Ann. Yeah. So, there's it started at how my father picked the name
then but I forgot and then there were Mary Ann and yeah, so.
ROTONDO: And so, for you what happens after high school?
TRAN: After high school, I attend Lansing Community College, and I finished
there. And then I've been where I've found a job. Working, I will work in a few
jobs, I work in at a Chinese restaurant, running tables, I did not speak English
well enough to work at the waitress, because people like to know to ask how to
explain food, or what's in it, I didn't know what's in it. So, 20 months, I help
clean the table and, and I learn how to sow and learn how to cook. And I work in
the Office for Human Development. And I finished college at Lansing community.
01:36:00And then I remember back then I live in Lansing. And there were Vietnamese
refugee in Grand Rapids. A small community in Grand Rapids came during that
time. And it was a few families in Detroit area, and how we get connected by
faith, you know, and then we found a Vietnamese priests. We remember on that
cargo ship, we pick up the whole pick up a few seminarians from that area that
came on the boats. And they help cooks modify modified the food for us. So, so
they were priests. And so they came to Grand purpose to Lansing into the joy.
01:37:00And when we celebrate Vietnam, Vietnamese New Year, we celebrate the big holiday
like Christmas. We all come together. Detroit, Lansing and Grampus. Yeah,
community. Yeah, that's how I met my husband in 1983. Yeah. Because we always
say together, going to church, we would rent church, or the lessons in Church,
and we celebrate in Vietnamese.
ROTONDO: Wow. That's beautiful. So, from your perspective, is it easy to build a
life in the United States?
TRAN: Yes, yes. There are in the United States, I learned that you will never go
hungry. You will not go say okay, what should I buy tomorrow? Because there are
opportunities. The Church that sponsor us for job for my father to work as the
01:38:00mission states as a janitor, and he will happy there. And he the advantage that
you get gotta discount tuition for my siblings. So I think most of my siblings
go to Michigan State. Yeah, I set my older brothers and my older sister than
most of them go there. What else that? And then we had help from the government.
Because we have so many children. Because a big family. So we were into the low
income bracket. So the famine, the government help out. And then they will never
01:39:00a day that in my mind that what happened if we don't have food? Yeah, it's
always there. Yeah, they did it always opportunities for me, and then I learned
how to drive when they go to college. Yeah. And I pass the written test, I pass
a road test. My father was helping me and then he taught me how to drive. Yeah,
learning all that. And I said, Well, have you had the experience, you love the
country and then I don't think anything in the US is it's it's a challenge
because of the language. But the people around you, they're patient, and they
they repeat, and they listen to you, but I didn't feel any prejudice or any
01:40:00discrimination. I do not feel that. And I will add, I found out later that there
are programs for refugee, because I remember I learned a lot of stuff and get
paid. I remember that too. Yeah.
ROTONDO: So, when did you go back to Vietnam after being in the United States?
Like, when was the first time you went back? And what was that experience like
Um, what happened is that when I had a family, and I, you know, I'm fluent in
Vietnamese, and I learn English, and I became a medical interpreter by choice,
and you don't remember that I when I speak enough English, I helping people by
taking them to doctor appointments. You know, when you speak in, like, when you
01:41:00fluent in Spanish, alleged you can help somebody. So, I did that. So, I learned
that. And then somehow people say, you can become a TRANslator. And I said,
Yeah, so I study, and I apply with a local agency to become a medical
interpreter. So, when I have a lot of people, I got more experience. And I like
the medical side than the legal side. I added go to court. And I learned dance,
the language barrier, the cultural shock. At that time, I learned that people
get I didn't say that discrimination, or they get mistreated is the culture that
they didn't know that I get into, for example, when I worked as a court
01:42:00interpreter for an agency, they call me and that there, there's a man that they
put in jail because he hit his wife. Because the, the legal system, the
government, the police did not know about the Vietnamese culture. Okay? The
Vietnamese culture for men to slap his wife. That's a normal thing. No, now it's
different. But back then is normal. It's a normal for you. When you get mad at
your children, you spank them. How do, that's how do you learn how to
discipline? They didn't know about the culture. So, when he hits wife, that's a
normal react when things didn't go his way. He did not learn how to add other
way. Like my father never hit my mom. That's that, you know, that's him. But
01:43:00there's other people that normal to them. So, he the neighbor called police. So,
because he's like, a danger to his family. So, they took him to jail. And
because of language barrier, back then they're no phone. So, they call me in.
So, an eye interpret, or just a chance that I interpret because verbally it I
interpret. So, the police told him, you know why you're in jail? And then he and
he said he's sorry, he will never do that again. Because a day in jail to him a
like a life sentence. You know, why? The man in Vietnam, Vietnamese fan, they
get serve at dinner. You know, you sit down, and why we'll bring you a rice
01:44:00bowl, and the food in front of you. That's how men in Vietnam. That's how the
culture is. But when you are in jail, they serve you. I don't know what it's
serve you. Okay, can food. He cannot eat out. Now, he cannot eat that. I did not
add into detail. And he said, he's so sorry. And he told me that, no, we're
good, horrible. I'm hungry. I miss home. I miss my family. And then when they
explain to them, and later, somehow, people in the government learn about a
culture. And then you teach them about a culture rather than you know, you can
do it. See, that doesn't mean that he's a bad guy. But he needs to learn. You
know, this is America. That's how you do with, as a lot if you read an internet
around that town is a lot of people, my mom and dad, you know, get separated
01:45:00from the children because of the culture.
TRAN: Yeah. Because back then they believe in you know, slam you in the face.
But the American your neighborhood saw that they say child abuse. And the thing
that stood out the most is, have you heard about coining or coin rubbing?
ROTONDO: No, I've never heard of that.
TRAN: Okay, coin rubbing, if you look on the internet, is that when you had a
cold, so you're my mom, or up until now when my husband that we coin with
something similar to bengay, you know, and then we you basically, rub the coin
01:46:00on your back, that lift a red mark did like someone whip you with a rope on the
back. So, when children show up in school with drag mark on the back and neck
to, back to and then when the teacher saw that they call Child Protective
Services. Okay. And it's got a big problem. Yeah.
ROTONDO: And so, you go as the Translator to-
TRAN: And I also learned to be a culture broker. Yeah. So later, I go into
medicals, and I also help train new doctors, as now I'm a trainer, to train new
interpreters. That you know, you're not just a voice. You're also an advocate,
01:47:00you're also a coach, a broker. For the people that you help interpret for, it
doesn't matter what language when you can speak fluent in both languages, your
role to be an advocate to be a culture broker. And also, because before that,
they will change when you interpret you just a voice, the likes and your voice.
But later things that thing will change in. And as a trainer, we train them that
you need to advocate for that. Because the culture for Vietnamese, we don't
speak up. Because it's normal for a doctor, for a teacher to ask the parents.
Okay, tell me, what would you like? The culture, we don't tell you what we like,
01:48:00like American parents. When you go to teacher conference, we go there. And we
want the teacher to tell the parents what they would like that their child to
be, did that any missed behavioral or it's never the other way around.
TRAN: They didn't what I want. Same thing on the medical side. So later, we were
changing from being just a voice to be an advocate or cultural broker, that you
educate you, the teacher, or the government. So, a lot of people would like
probably when I asked you what is title six, and nobody would know. Title six
would pass in 1964. That's you never discriminated against the language of
01:49:00origin. Okay, so not many people know about that. So, when I train people, I
said, remember that? That's is a law that called Title six would pass in 1964.
ROTONDO: Okay. And indeed, how many times have you visited and gone back to
Vietnam since you've been in the United States?
TRAN: Okay, so the reason I get back because when I got fluent, become a
Translator, well written. I Translated a few documents in English to Vietnamese,
like diabetes and how to a lot of things, I get to work at a voice over or
dumbling when they have a video. And then when I they have a script for me to do
read it, and then they put it voice over. I did a few of them. I'm gonna get
01:50:00fluent. And somehow I got on the internet in 2010. And how I met students from
Vietnam. High school students, were college students. They want to learn
English. So I help them learn English. And because I want to help them, I want
to know about the Vietnamese culture. I want to be sure about that. Now I know
about American culture, I want to help them because someday they go to the US.
So at least I can help them to be prepared. So, in 2010, my sister and I went to
Vietnam. At that time, my parents to my parents had gone to Vietnam a few time.
But it never occurred in my mind that I that I want to go back. I don't know
why. Maybe some we went on butches. Maybe I have children. So, I never have
01:51:00anything that I have money for it. To me that's always go as a family, but the
family with six children. That's, that's too much to handle. So somehow, when I
met them on the internet, I said, I want to go back. And so I want to learn what
Vietnam like now. 2010. But my parents had gone a few times to meet their, their
their relatives in North Vietnam. So I went with my sister. And I met a few of
that student in Vietnam. And I learned about Vietnam. The memory that I had when
I left Vietnam, nothing. So they show me this is your house. Is it a church? I
said, that's not how come the church is so close to my house. But as a bigger
01:52:00back then when you're young you look, I look like you're far away. I can see the
job was way far away. But now is it like, I don't know, the next block. And then
the people. Everything's had changed. I've been chained for a battle. When I
left the population was 45 million. And now is it 90 something.
TRAN: Yeah. So, 2010 was the first time and I stayed there for like 10 days. So,
after that, I have gone back, like 2015. With my husband, and 2017 with my
daughter, and my nieces and nephews and I, and they were born in the US. They
01:53:00were American born, and they want to know about Vietnam. And then my children,
they also asked me to tell them, I want to tell them that you know why your
grandparents, your parents came to the United States. You know, why did you pick
Michigan? Why? So now my children want to know that. So there's a lot of thing I
I've been touted down and gone back to Vietnam in one way that, you know, I
learned about the culture and the people. Things were different now. Number one
is that back then 1975, the communists and the US were like enemies. Okay? Now
they don't call enemies they call opponents. Okay? They call opponents. And then
now it says, We will friend. You know, now, I remember helping people learn how
01:54:00to pass the citizenship test. So, when you 50 or over, and you've been in the US
for at least 15 years, you can take the tests in Vietnamese, that means that you
can bring with you an interpreter.
TRAN: Says so they, when you say it, how many states are there in the US? And
they say 50, let's say 50? And are you, you know, all the question I had to
interpret for them. And then that one guy, that's why we're in the army in
Vietnam, and that the official that give him the past would also Vietnam that,
01:55:00so he, when he saw him, he stood up. And he bow and his say, we are so sorry.
Remember that that the American that's the Vietnam that stood up. And when he
read about his application and his profile, he stood up and say, We're so sorry,
for awards. And do you still hate us? And the guy said, Oh, no, no, no, we love
the American. We never, you know by, you know, thing will happen, because of
that time, you know, but not because of you. Not because of the American.
TRAN: But that thing, how people see the pictures up, mung bean burns, children
01:56:00get kills, like they will tell children in Ukraine get kills, and people against
that, but deepen down the philosophy of the war. You know, anytime there, the
war happening, some people will get hurts.
TRAN: But also, you learn to you learn the lesson from it. Okay. You learn to
tell your children, or later on generation, like what you're doing now, to their
books, read in English. There's a video tape. And they are also people who
escape Vietnam. They wrote about it. Journey, that why they escaped Vietnam
during that time. Yeah.
ROTONDO: And so, my final question for you is, you know, 47 years after the end
01:57:00of the Vietnam War, what's your kind of final takeaway from it?
TRAN: My final takeaway down some, we feel blessed that we thank God every day,
that our family, we're here, and our thinking that we try to give back to the
country, like, like, the sponsor, the American, you know, took us in with no
current condition, you know, they embrace us from the airport, you know, took us
from the US embassy, and two other people from which see, and then help us get
through the lie, and settle in the US and become a good citizen. So, when I see
new arrivals, and I tell them that, you know, you have the opportunity to live
01:58:00in America, you can do anything you want, you can be wherever you want, but be a
good citizen. So, my family, I always tell them, it's just an example. Yeah,
just, you know, how the American you know, embrace us with no condition, you and
I will not be related. And how come the whole church, you know, step in and then
took us and show us around and then signed us up for schools and helping my
siblings and, you know, the whole time, and I felt blessed and had now that's
why I want to get back by helping other people, when they come to the US or when
they still in Vietnam. The good things about that when I go back to Vietnam,
people in Vietnam, when I say they asked where you from, what country? I say I'm
01:59:00from the US, and they happy. They said, Oh, I love President Obama. And I love
President Trump. And I love everything about America. So, with my connection,
I'm also the community navigator. Obamacare navigator. So, I learned the
healthcare system. So, I help new arrival to learn about how to navigate the
healthcare system. And every time I go back, I bring over the counter medicine.
I bring stuff entered in from the US, they don't care. They say to them, it's
like a treasure when I give them you know, cosmetic items or coat. North Vietnam
02:00:00is cold, or anything they change. Yeah. They said they said they love the
president. They love our American people is the opposite from 1975. Yeah, yeah.
So they always say that if you go back, and you tell the people go visit
Vietnam, Vietnam now, it's not like in 1975. I said, I know because I've been
back a few times, what I see are people and they are human beings. And
everything else that that. That doesn't matter to me.
ROTONDO: Okay. Well, thank you so much for sitting for this interview.
TRAN: Yeah. You're welcome. I've been doing a lot of the interview. But the good
thing is that every time I I asked the people, what do they know, I want to ask
02:01:00you, before you talk to me, when you hear about Vietnam, what first thing that
came to your mind, about the people about the country.
ROTONDO: Or do you mean me personally?
TRAN: Yeah, yeah.
ROTONDO: The first thing I think about is the war. I mean, that as a historian,
the first thing I think about is, you know, the US and the Viennese conflict.
That was the first thing, and this is what this project in class is all about is
listening to people who experienced the war and in their perspective of it.
TRAN: There's also out of Vietnamese people that belong to the South Vietnamese
army, they want to rewrite the history they want they want the education US
system to know more about the Vietnam War, then then what you know, on the
02:02:00internet, do you want to hear from people that know what you see back then? Is
not what really about the Vietnam War. We are fighting for freedom. We will
fighting remember that Vietnamese not in the South they were cousin fighting and
cousin member died because I have cousin my parent Vietnam. So, we will fight in
that and nobody, nobody wants that to happen. So now with the Ukraine is same
thing is the happening in the people, you know, what hurts is that the people,
ROTONDO: Absolutely. Well again, thank you so much.