Story from a Refugee Family's Daughter
Profilers: Paul Mun, Andrew Falkenberg, Jakellene Palacios
Angela is one of two girls in her family. She was born January 1st 1995. To her surprise, when she was little, she found out her grandfather was a veteran of the Vietnam War and her father was a refugee. Throughout her childhood, she heard many stories from her father about the war and the refugee experience. As she grew older, she started to comprehend why her parents always wanted her to get an education and find a job. They were set on her living the ideal “American Dream” with education. However, she chose a different path: arts and music. One of the hardships, she faced as a result of the Vietnam war were her parents instilling the idea that the purpose in life is to survive, not to follow your dreams. Dreams were seen as nothing more than what they were.
The Origin of the Ho Family Immigration
Q: Could you do a quick introduction about yourself?
My name is Angela Ho, I go to USC, I’m a third year doing Fine Arts.
Q: What role did your mom, dad and grandfather play in the war?
My grandfather was actually a soldier in the war. He kind of played every role in the war, I think during war that’s just what happens. He was a cook, he did medical, he fought.
My mom, she was a little younger than my dad. She wanted to have a college education, it didn’t happen because she was a communist. Eventually, her whole family was able to immigrate to America because one of her brothers was half American, so that was the way out.
My grandfather was involved in the war the whole time, that’s truly a miracle. I look at him and I was just like, “I don’t even believe you are a person.” He has all these scars from the war and I am just amazed how he is still alive, how he managed to do all those things. He is such a skilled, smart man. He definitely still remembers everything very clearly and he talks about it all the time, and how bitter he is about Vietnam, and how he never wants to go back. Which is still crazy to me, because that’s where he grew up.
Q: Has your parents/grandparents ever experienced flashbacks? If so, have you ever been in the same room when it happened?
My sister, still remembers the flashbacks he(grandfather) had. He would kind of freak out on occasion for no reason at the time. Sometimes he will wake up in the middle of the night screaming, thinking that there was a grenade somewhere in the house. He had to go through a lot of therapy to get out of the PTSD.
Q: How are your parents now?
My dad is just the most positive human being ever. He’s always grateful even when things go wrong. He had the toughest life I ever heard of. His dad was a communist, he left his family while they weren’t, his mom passed when he was 18. He grew up very fast, I think he too is a miracle. My mom is a miracle. Whatever they did, they did it perfectly.
Q: How was your father able to immigrate to the United States?
My dad he got on a fisherman’s boat, it’s really crazy. All of his siblings were in prison for five years. He went on a boat, not knowing he could survive. There were pirate invasions and all these crazy things and he survived them. His step-sister attempted it, but she actually committed suicide during the journey. Because the pirates raided her boat and she just gave up on it. My dad was able to travel and get to America.
The Influence Growing Up
Q: How were you directly affected by the war in terms of childhood and education?
Because my parents were involved in the war, my upbringing was different. There was a lot of value put into education. Just working really hard, just in anything you do, not just education. Everything you do, you have to do it your best, give it your all. Even if it’s not perfect, as long as you put your all into it. I see my parents working and just them being themselves. I’m just like, “I wish to be at least half of that.”
So I stay up all the nights. Even though it’s hard, I’m just like, “My parents have done that for me.” It just puts everything into perspective. Sometimes I’ll complain about my homework to my mom. But from her perspective that’s ridiculous. She’s like, “You know in Vietnam; people don’t have the freedom to have whatever education they want. If you were in Vietnam, you would have to be selling lottery tickets and you wouldn’t even have enough for a meal.” And I’m just like, “Wow mom way to make me feel horrible.” But it teaches me a lot.
Sometimes it’s really hard for us to understand each other. Because I’m going into arts, I’m doing music. Because in Vietnam that’s not really a thing. You don’t really make a living out of that. Even here it’s pretty hard. All they want from me is to survive. They have a very strong survival mentality. And in a sense, our family is kind of crazy. We, I mean, they had a very crazy history. We just worked to unreasonable extent. That’s how it affected my life.
Q: How has the war affected your parents?
It’s very difficult for my parents to understand, “following your dreams” is a thing, they really have a survival mentality. So it’s like, “Get a job,” “Get a great family,” “Feed your kids.” It’s exactly what they did for me, so they expect me to do those same things. Except this time, I’ll have more opportunity. But growing up in America, I’ll have this horrible advantage.
In a sense to them it’s kind of spoiled, where I’m just like “I want to follow my dreams and this is what I’m good at and I feel like this is what god has called me to do.” It’s very hard for them to understand that I don’t have to choose between music and stability. I could do both.
Passion Towards Art
Q: Do you think the music that you write is influenced at all by the Vietnam war or the experiences your parents faced? How about your art?
In high school, in my art class, we had to do a theme. And at that time, I was really experiencing the weight of my parents’ immigration. I was applying to college and that has to do a lot with money. And I felt all the weight of generations behind me. And I felt like I was responsible for all of them. How do I make their journey worth it, all of the pain and struggle? It was really heavy on me. I got a horrible SAT score and I was crying. “That’s it! I’m not going to end the cycle of poverty, I can’t do anything,” and because I was feeling that weight, and at the time our family moved 5 times within 3 years because our money situation was so difficult.
That struggle comes from the lack of opportunity. So I did a lot of pieces about freedom and my mom being a manicurist, how that’s a huge thing in the Vietnamese community, and my dad being a construction worker. That’s where they fall into. And I did a piece with my mom in it. Where there’s a piece of tape over her mouth and there’s the Vietnamese communist flag. On the other side, there’s the American flag and she’s free and there’s chains on the other side.
It’s just like really crazy, as I got older I began to understand it a lot more, when I was a kid I didn’t. I really wanted to understand after my art and I did a piece on my grandfather too. Honoring him as a veteran. He was going through all the war and now he’s here. He’s just living his life which is crazy. How do you get back to your normal state in your life? I think that’s why I do art and music, it’s to understand the human experience. Even though we are different there is this want to understand yourself and how that relates to other people and understanding other people.
Q: What does your parents think about your career choice?
My dad, it’s a struggle, it’s truly a struggle for my dad because he thinks that I’m “playing around,” he thinks I’m misbehaving. Even though I am at the best school out of my gigantic family. My dad thinks that I’m almost wasting my education. As much as it hurts, I really have to put it into perspective. It’s really hard for Vietnamese parents to express their support because they grew up in such a different time. There’s just a huge generation gap. I don’t live with my dad, so it’s harder for him to understand my lifestyle but he’s slowly getting around to it. I tell him, “This is what god wants from me and he is really proud of me and I hope you are too,” and he actually bought me a PA. Even though he’s never seen one show, ever heard of one song that I’ve ever written. That was his weird way of saying, “I don’t really support you but I’m going to do what I can do best as a dad.”
My mom came around because I came home with a lot of money. I played for tips, came home and dumped it all, counting my money. And she was like “Wow, you can do that?” I’m like, “wow, thanks mom” she started driving me to my shows. She started seeing that people were coming. One time they filled up the whole venue and all these things were happening. She got to witness my life, experience my life. One time she shadowed my whole day. She got so exhausted, she’s like, “I don’t know how you do this.” She really appreciated my hard work. I just think it’s amazing that someone who grew up in such a different context could understand where I’m coming from. She supports it although it gives her absolute anxiety because she’s a mom. No one’s excused from that anxiety who cares about it, because I’m anxious about it.
Q: Why do you feel inspired to express this specific type of art?
I write a lot about really following the impossible. To my parents that was freedom. To me it’s being able to do what I love, even though Me being Vietnamese American, that’s very difficult. I write a lot about that and even financial struggle. Where you begin does not define where you end.
Reality of a Refugee Family
Q: Does your parents still face the same struggles they did when they first immigrated?
Upward mobility is not a thing for us. Well for me yes. For them no. My grandfather just babysits sometimes. My dad, he did everything he could because he was the sole source of income for his whole family because he was sending money to them while they were in prison and all these things. All their belongs were burnt, the communist just burnt everything they had. So he was a Jeweler, he did a coffee shop, he was a butcher, he did nails for a little bit, he did construction work, he was a mechanic. He truly did everything he could get his hands on. He’s at a custodian job right now. He’s been there for a really long time. My mom just got into the manicurist thing. It was hard for them, because they couldn’t afford college and they had to survive. So they just had to go full time. They decided “Well, the future is now in our children.”
I think even to this day they still have issues with how people treat them. It’s kind of terrible. I worked with my mom for a little bit. She’s a manicurist in a very nice suburban area. People treat her like she’s here to serve them. They’re so rude, they don’t realize that she is a person. Behind that desk and that mask, she is a mom and she has gone through a lot. My dad, one time we went to a dealership to get a car but they didn’t believe that he had enough money to get the car just on what he was wearing. People just don’t understand that their past, they just think lowly of them. But they’re truly amazing people.