Difficulties of Talking about the War
Profilers: David Lowenstein, Marty Juco, Jennifer Stiefel, Tsz Chan
Growing up in Post-War Vietnam
Can you state for us your full name, date of birth, and where you were born?
My name is An. My first name is An, last name is Lam, and my middle name is Hoang. My full name is An Hoang Lam. I was born in 1985 February 12 and I was born in Da Nang City, one of the cities right in the middle of Vietnam.
Okay, so our first question is can you please tell us about any memories you have of growing up in Da Nang and do you see any lasting impressions of the war in the city?
For the memory, when I was born – actually like 10 years when the war was actually passed and I don’t think the war is not much in the time I was growing up; is not actually you can feel oh that the war was going on, nothing. We people are trying to normally ignore it.
My memory growing up – the people around is kind of not like, nothing related to war. Like I don’t have any problems with the war. Even my family is on the other side.
Can you tell us about what it was like being a child, what was school like in Vietnam, what did you do in your free time outside of school?
Actually, in Vietnam after school, after free time we went together, go play around. We had a lot of games, nothing forbidden or nothing, but we get together and gather up plenty of people and play some Ping- like sports like taking side and that kind of fun.
What was the education system like in Vietnam and how was the American War talked about in school?
In school, the system is very different from America. When you went to school, you didn’t have to go around from class to class, you had to stay in one room. The teachers just come and teach different class, different teacher coming. When the teachers come in, all the students had to stand up and bow to the teacher and then wait for the teacher to allow them to sit down; otherwise they have to stand the whole day.
And how did they talk about the American War?
They talked on the other way. The way they teach, when you look at the book, they make all of the Vietnamese, they make them like a hero. They look to them as heroes; when they grow up they want to be one of them. How to like, they cut their arm to like injury and they are unable to fight so they had to cut off their arm to keep fighting. That kind of thing. We think that they are heroes; we want to be one of them when we grow up.
And how was that like knowing that your family fought for the American side and the education system was talking about how the other side was the heroes; did you ever feel conflicted?
My whole family is from American side so I kind of know ahead of them. And in school sometimes, they talk about Uncle Ho. Everything he like. I know that every human had a – no one is perfect, but when we look at the history, look at like what he is doing, and it’s like he is the perfect person. So sometimes we had to question, “Wow really?” But we cannot ask.
What side of the war did your family and friends fight on?
Most, like 100% of my family, they worked for the American. Yeah, for the American’s side.
And did they ever talk about the – ?
Yes, some of them talked about it. Some of them, yeah.
And what are some of the things they’ve told you about fighting on the American side?
Like when the Americans withdrew – some of them got scared, some of them tried to take their family from Da Nang to Saigon. There were a lot of problems; they were scared people were missing.
Are there any other memories that your family told you about when the war was actually going on, any memories from the actual fighting, whether the soldiers fight?
[Shakes head] They, I don’t think they want to tell about it. If I ask, they’re like ,”Oh, that the war is over…” They kind of keep in the memories they don’t want to tell.
And why do you think that they don’t want to share it?
Maybe because the memory is something they don’t want to see it again or sometimes it is something they don’t want to remember. Something like that.
How do you feel when you left Vietnam; what was that experience like?
When I left Vietnam, it was nothing compared to the war because of my aunt. She sponsored my family here. Took me sixteen years to get here and then we wanted to find a better life in America.
And how did friends and family that stayed back in Vietnam; how did they react to you guys coming – ?
Oh they definitely… Like their own, like somebody have to go for another country before long; never come back. So kind of this.
And have you ever gone back to Vietnam since you – ?
[Shakes head] Nothing.
And do you want to go back at all?
Maybe just for a visit. Just go around; look at what is different.
And how do you think people would react if you were to come back?
I think they still welcome but the life is different so I don’t think I will be able to. Many of my friends, they’ve been here for five or six years and they want to go back and they expect to have, like back to normal, like in Vietnam they had a lot of fun but no.
Do you stay in contact with a lot of your family and friends back in Vietnam?
[Shakes head] Just a little; very little.
And do they talk about any kind of changes that are going on in Vietnam?
The city has grown up; it is actually changing a lot. They, especially the American, many countries, they come and build up the cities. So it looks very nice and a lot of difference.
Did your opinion on the War change at all when you came to the United States?
Yeah, a lot.
And how did it change?
Before I’m more, like I grow up and went to education, even my family taught me the war is that that that [gesture toward left to middle to right]. Back then I was still confused. Now when I live in here in America, I have more details of the war. I stay more on the side of the Americans.
And why do you feel that? Why do you feel like you’re more on the side of the Americans?
Because in Vietnam, when people fought for war, they fought, more of them like the farmers don’t have enough education to understand what the other people are telling them. They just hear they have to go to do it; to get freedom. But they don’t actually understand what they do after that.
So do you think it was right for America to have gone into Vietnam?
Has anybody else, anybody in your family visited Vietnam since you guys have moved here?
And what has their experience been like?
Yeah, they went and visited family and go back there. They don’t do anything with political…
Are they kind of welcome with open arms when they come back [to Vietnam] or is there some kind of tension when they come back?
Yes, ten years ago there was a little tension when you get to a family house. You had to tell the neighbor. In Vietnam people live in like we neighbors; we know one another but we have to tell all of them. Now we okay since a lot of Vietnamese-Americans went back so it became normal now. So we don’t have to look like, when we visit, “Oh that one is from America!” But now it is more welcome.
Okay, do you consider yourself Vietnamese or American or both or neither?
I’m Vietnamese and I think of myself as Vietnamese because I was born in Vietnam, my skin is Viet. So I’m actually Vietnamese.
Do you think you will ever feel like you’re American or consider yourself American?
And why do you think that is?
Because for me, I look Chinese. So when I get here, I’m an Asian, Vietnamese and then yes I see in America, you have different language and everything and it makes me more challenged and I like it that way.
In your opinion, what are some of the strongest misconceptions about the War in Vietnam here in the United States?
About Americans thinking about the war or Vietnamese?
Both. So we can start with the Americans. What are some of the misconceptions about the Americans that we in the United States have?
About the war?
I don’t know much about that one.
Okay, so do you think we understand the war well here in the United States or do you think there are things that we don’t understand about the war here that we’re not talking about war here?
Uh, I don’t know about that one. Yeah, because I don’t have enough information for that.
Have you talked to other Americans about the Vietnam War?
Not at all.
Did you ever learn anything about the Vietnam War in American schools?
Yeah, a little.
And what was that experience like?
Most of the books here is wrote from the people, Vietnamese people who actually get here. So it, I would say seventy percent – eighty percent is true and twenty percent is misleading.
And what is a lot of the stuff that is in that twenty percent?
Sometimes, they’re overacting. Something that not really actually happened in Vietnam but they think it has happened.
Do you talk about the War in Vietnam with any of your friends from Vietnam here in the United States or is it something that is not discussed?
They think on the other side so they cannot tell you their life. If I say something on my ideas that I see over here, then over there they think, “No no no, it’s different!”
Life in America
Can you describe for us a little bit of what Vietnamese culture here is like in Orange County?
Vietnamese culture over here, we have a lot of, we celebrate a lot of [pause].
So Vietnamese culture over here, they try to do whatever they have in Vietnam. One of them, like Tet festival. Like in Vietnam they have a lot of accidents when we do the bonfire. So in Vietnam we don’t but like ten years ago we have it and now they banned it. But over here in America we still have it. So the tradition we’re still keeping.
Are there any other Vietnamese holidays that you know you guys celebrate or there’s a big celebration in Orange County for?
On the same day, on the thirty – after the war end, over here they do the memorial, things like that. But in Vietnam they celebrate it.
Have you traveled to other cities within the United States and noticed a strong Vietnamese culture in other cities?
I traveled to Louisiana, Dallas and I think only in Orange County, California the people here is more firm.
Have you ever talked to people in those cities about your past or about Vietnam?
If I try to talk something then they kind of misunderstand because the people, the way thinking different so I rarely talk about it.
Is for you, having a strong Vietnamese culture something that is important to where you live or is it something that why you like living in Orange County is because of the Vietnamese culture here?
Because actually my parents, they want to live with Vietnamese people. Like they want to get together with their group, that way when you come to a different country they want to be close to someone that they knows their culture so it is easier for them to adapt.
What signs of Vietnamese culture are there in Orange County here where you live in terms of supermarkets or things like that?
They’re all on the American side.
Do you guys visit Vietnamese supermarkets here?
Yeah, every weekend. We love the food so we go.
And to restaurants around – ?
And how do they compare to over in Vietnam?
Over here the food, when we eat, we feel more safely. In Vietnam they – we cannot tell what they put in there. In Vietnam the food – there are some people who just walk around with their food [gestures lugging food on shoulder] and the way they – if you don’t know what they’re doing, you have the food and you think it’s very tasty but you know what they do after you. Like for me, I go and eat the bowl of noodles and after I finish [gestures wiping bowl with a washcloth] and then get a new one for all the people but in Vietnam it’s normal but here you do the cleaning.
Is there anything in Vietnam that you wish was in the United States that you don’t have?
About friends: over here most people – they are so needy so if you want to get together to do something it’s very hard; you have to make an appointment like next week or so. In Vietnam we just call them on the phone.
Is there anything in the United States that you think would be good in Vietnam?
A lot of things.
What are some of those things?
First is the education. Over here you have a lot of – more opportunities to be successful if you want to be successful when you go to college and you know whatever you choose and you try your best you get a chance to get it. In Vietnam you have to know somebody to get in. Even if you have no education but you know somebody, they put you in.
Are there any other things besides education?
The traffic. In Vietnam, people – they kind of know where they want to go and they go wherever they want. Over here we have to follow the rules.
And in Vietnam, sometimes when you have problems with the police you can pay the police to get out of the problem and you don’t have to pay for insurance, nothing. You buy a motorcycle, you buy a car and -that’s it. Over here when you get a car you have to pay for insurance so when anything happens then the company takes over.