A Family of Hope
Profilers: Lindsey Berg, Ben Irinaga, Roxy Striar, Atticus Wong
~ The Beginning ~
Hannah: My full name is Hannah An. Last name is An, yes.
Lindsey: Where are you originally from?
H: Actually, originally from Vietnam. Saigon, Vietnam. I was born in Saigon, but my family was originally from the North. North Vietnam. I was born in the south.
L: What is your full name?
Danny: My full name is Danny Nhat Van An
L: Where are you from?
D: I am from Vietnam
L: Where in Vietnam?
D: I grew up in North Vietnam, but later on, I move to the South. Yes from north to south
L: When did you move from north to south?
D: I moved from north to south in maybe 1952. I move from the north to the south and move to Saigon.
L: How old were you during the time of the Vietnam War?
H: Let’s see, I was 19… When the war was over it was 1975, so I was about little older, like 10 years old. Was 10 years old in 1975, but the war started in 1968. I don’t know that would make me 7 years old. Yeah.
~ Involvement in the War ~
L: What did your father and other family members do during the war?
H: My dad was in the air force. He was one of the colonels in the air force. My grandfather was a businessman. We had a lot of banks and business. He was in commerce. We were involved in a lot things. Yeah my family was involved in many things.
D: After 1956, you know, Vietnam get the independence of France. Then after that I moved from France to Vietnam. Then later on, I join the air force. So I became the Vietnamese air force officer in South Vietnam
Roxy: If you had not moved from the north to the south, you would have fought for the north, correct?
D: You never know, because sometimes, you know, when you stay in the north and you go to the south, sometimes you get stuck. Sometimes you need to fly or even walk. Because sometimes you can make the decision by yourself, right?. Sometimes you have to join this party or the other. And you got to know during the Cold War after the second war, they’ve been fighting a little bit about ideologies, between the communism and nationalism like the communists or socialists, or you know freedom country. So when you stuck in East Europe, you have to fight for east Europe right? You have no choice, right? You have no choice. But you know, if I had a choice, I have to find the side that supports the people and freedom right? Which one has more freedom? I will be on that side.
H: Of course we support the south, because we believe. Our belief is in freedom and capitalism. And, I’ve always believed that with communists the theory is excellent, but in reality it would never work. In order to grow economy, it has to be a combination. I think capitalism gives people the ability to excel and make your dreams come true. That’s one of the reasons why that United States economy has been successful, even though we are a very young country.
R: If you were fighting for freedom, how did you feel your freedom was being restricted by civil war?
H: Basically, because what ever you do is very controlled. Everything you do is controlled. Beside that, as a woman, you don’t have that freedom. It’s a combination. Of course, back then, third world country, women did not have the ability to grow as much. Even as a capitalist economy as well. But it was even worse. Because everything you do was so controlled. People just relied and in theory they say “oh you know you share wealth among all” but that’s not true. I hate to say this, but the people that control the party, makes more corruption than anything. Now it’s more hidden, you don’t know about it. They keep you silent. At least in capitalism, there is more of a voice for you. Of course, in Vietnam, the south we don’t have much of a voice, like United states. At least we can a little voice. But in communism there is shushing, if you go against the party, you disappear, right?
~ Family ~
L: Where were you living? Was your whole family living in Saigon?
H: Yes. I mean, we have a very large family. My mother had 7 children. On her side was a lot. My dad was an only child, but there was a lot of relatives. My immediate family lived in Saigon, Vietnam. Kind of throughout the whole country, we had relatives everywhere. Part of my mom’s family got stuck in the north too. Some of her relatives, her brothers and sister, was got stuck in the north side, the communist side. They weren’t able to escape to the south?
R: When they got stuck in the north, were you able to see them again?
H: No oh no. The whole section with the war, you can’t go over. Actually I didn’t get to see them until the war was over. And until very recently like the late nineties, when we came back were we able to see them.
L: What was is like being a young child during the war? I’m sure it was difficult to understand what was going on fully.
H: I think it was very different from everyone. For myself and my sister, I think we fall in the class of very… In the third world countries there different classes, I think we were on the top class. We were very well off. We lived a very, I hate to say this… but a very sheltered life. Therefore, we were very protected from the whole war itself. So, we do not experience poverty. We do know that you know we see people fighting, dying everywhere but you see bombing, all that. But we were still protected.
R: Did you have friends that were less privileged who had a harder time?
H: Yes, um… The society was very separate. The wealthy peoples were not a lot. It was very different. My family, my friends we go to the really top best schools. It was very different. But as you travel around the country you get to experience that, you do get to see a lot of that.
~ Fear and Excitement ~
L: What was it like experiencing like a lot of the bombings and fighting?
H: We experienced that towards the end. Then that’s when you see. The fall of Saigon happened so fast. All I see is when you travel out in the countryside. Like I said when I was so protected and sheltered, you don’t see as much. Just what you see on TV when you read about it… When you travel the countryside you see people being maimed and everything. You see all of that. Toward the end, it happened so quickly. For me it was kind of scary. At the same time, my personal feeling was I thought it was kind of exciting. Living such a privileged life, you don’t really get to see much. And everything was coming to Saigon, the capital. I thought it was kind of exciting. I had the ability to kind of like go. Everyone was so busy, they don’t pay attention to us. So we, me and my sister. We get to do whatever we want, in a way. Because during that chaos, we don’t have to walk a certain way, talk. We were very proper, but we could be whatever we wanted to be.
R: so it was a feeling of excitement, but were you ever really scared for your life?
H: I was scared, I can see people die. It was a combination of feelings, you know? And then at all the same time, the way my family left because who we are and our relations. My dad was in the air force and who my grandfather was. We were brought out the country by the CIA. The excitement of going to the United States was really exciting. I was looking forward to it, because you hear so much about America. What we can do. Because you know, as much as we lived a privileged life, but as a girl, you don’t get a lot of ability to do a lot of things. Freedom to do a lot of things. So I said yeah I go to the United States. Even right before the war, I always wanted to go to boarding school and go to East Coast and I heard about all of these great boarding schools, I was planning to go. It was all the excitement. Yeah it was really scary. In the end, there was all this fighting, shooting. In the end, I was so sheltered that they moved me away. Ok get on a plane and leave. Because of who my family was.
~ Relocation ~
R: Can you explain more about the whole process of the CIA relocation?
H: Actually it was very simple process. Like at that time, my father and grandfather was not both in the country, so in a way it was very scary. My dad was on a mission, my grandfather was also out the country, on some sort of a mission. Unfortunately, when it happened, one of my dad’s friend in the CIA. He came in and knocked on the door and said to my mom, “look you got to leave right now.” And my mom said, “wait it’s the middle of the night, I’m going to wait for my husband comes back and my father in law, I’m not going anywhere.” They said, “no, it’s too late, the fall of Vietnam is going to be over very soon.” My mom said, “we hardly hear anything, it’s just once in a while bombing, but it’s still outside and happened before, they came close and never made it through so I’m not going anywhere.” They said, “my suggestion is that you take the girls out of the country, cause the last thing you want is to have three girls get stuck, okay? And you need to take and leave like that.” I remember my younger sister was drinking her bottle of milk. She was carrying her bottle of milk. I understand because I speak French and a little English. Oh where are we going “we need to leave right now”, I thought it was fun. Cause you know nine or ten years old. You have this imagination! Great! We are leaving?! Let’s go! So excited to leave. Middle of the night they take us out and we carried nothing with us. Nothing. So that was scary.
R: so you carried absolutely nothing? didn’t grab anything?
H: nothing. For my mom, it was the middle of the night. What do you grab to start with? In her mind she was thinking, let’s just go to the Philippines, because we know a lot of influential people in the Philippines. Because of who my family was. Let’s go to the Philippines, leave us there. She would fly back and meet my dad. Let’s just do something like that. Let’s just get out. So we left everything. So we pretty much lost everything.
H: There were a lot of people who got very rich from the fall of Vietnam too. Cause like in every country there was some sort of corruption. Some people became very, very wealthy. Because they know in advance. Everything was transferred with money. But for us, my family, yes we were very well off, but because we didn’t believe in leaving, we wanted to fight. And so therefore, we end up losing a lot. We didn’t’ take anything with us. We left penniless, with nothing. We really have to start over here. We went from air force base, where the refugees came. At the beginning it was really fun for myself and my sister because you know, it’s like in a camp, you know. I have never seen people and I could talk to any kid, right? Before it was like oh, we don’t hang out with everybody. During that time, everyone was in like a camp. It was a lot of excitement. Then after that we get transferred over to Guam. We stayed at Guam for a little bit. And then from Guam we went to camp Pendleton, which is very close by here. Then first after that we were able, long story, we were able to get out and that’s where my family start over. But then the reality hit in. Then it’s no longer fun.
~ Emotions ~
L: Where were your emotions over the war? Angry, sad, confused? Reactions?
D: Of course, you know why. Sometimes, you know, people like to fight… European peoples are people too, they have different ideologies. Sometimes they don’t want to fight, but sometimes we are forced to fight. But sometimes, you feel a bit sorry for them. Between women and women. Sometimes very bad.
L: Is there any particular day that sticks out to you?
H: I remember the excitement of the day and sad too, now that I look bad. My friend, my relative, it was like the last time we see them. The scariest part was when the plane was taking off. You could see the chaos. All these people try get on the plane. But for us because of who we are, was just like nicely taken into the plane and were looking out the window we see all of this. I didn’t understand what’s going on. We’re just on a trip. To me, it was like traveling, but why is there all this chaos. So that was one of the things that I’ll always remember. People trying to run in into the plane. And then like, I never get to see. Before I was very close to my nanny, I never see her again. The loved ones, you don’t see them anymore. Of course, unfortunately, with bombs, and a lot of my friends get hurt or die. This combination, I feel that I’m very lucky, because I mean one of my dear friends, that I grew up with…her father was a general, very good friend of my dad, but was in the marines. He believed in it, even when people abandon him and the country. He still wanted to fight. People needed to control their troops. So she got stuck, so it was very unfortunate for her. And she did made it to United States eventually, through the boat people. So, you know, it was really sad story and she’s very different and now I see she is very different. Very dramatic for her cause of what happened to her, I mean I don’t know if you remember all the stories of all the boat people or not? But it’s a horrible story. She happened to be one of the boat people, it’s hard for everybody, but for her being who she is, because she is a couple years older than me. It was hard for a child to be badly abused like that, on a boat, by the pirates. So it was really rough for her and then her older sister. To observe all that and her mother, you know. And then, people got thrown off the boat and she was a survivor. So, it was really hard, you lose a lot of friends… you know.
L: Did you ever feel scared at all of fighting?
D: Of course, you know. Of course, you’d be scared too right? Sometimes you fly, before you fly, you think. The enemy has the anti-air craft. You fly over there, you take the picture over there. They fire at you, you can’t avoid it, right? You need to fly over and you never if you can be hit, right? You’d be scare too! I had to do what I had to do right? At the Tet offensive right , I had to land to the way, to the way to evacuate some people from the community right? My airplane and I start to shoot them, in very bad weather. The clouds is very low. Right? So I just take of with the full load of the evacuate people. I just take off about 100 feet in the air and I get shot in the back but I picked up, I smelled you know the fuel right? That mean my airplane can caught fire anytime you know right? So you know, so you know whatever by the ten thousand acres the gallons of fuel ready to break out that should be like hell right? So you know so I had to veer my airplane to the sea right then ok it caught fire I had to dive into the water you know, ya, but after that you know, its ok. You build a campfire then I climb up and campfire back to my airplane I land safely. And that’s so I can save a lot of people in my airplane. Sometimes I pray God, you know, that I could be there right?
~ Life in America ~
D: You know, when you move from one country to another country, we have a different culture, different tradition, but we had to adapt, right? Like if you go to the center of New York, move to the Florida, different regulations, different tax, so you need to add it up
L: We also talked to your daughter, how do you think the war affected your children?
D: I think it affected a little bit, because like Hannah, at age 10 she had to move to Vietnam to United States, so it is a different culture. The others moved from Vietnam to United States at 8 year old and year later, 5 year old. Affect is sometimes good for them, you know right?
R: what do you mean it’s good for them?
D: they have a open mind, different culture, different tradition, some traditions is good, some is not good, you know. But at least you have a try, open your mind and see differences and compare.
H: My privileges that I used to have in Vietnam is gone. Our big home. Our you know, our many multiple homes. The beach. There’s nothing! So now you go into public school, it is a totally different experience. Now go to public school. You actually have to clean up after yourself. There’s a whole adjustment. From my family to my father. We lived a very, very privileged life. Like I have a driver. Nothing! Even you get to a point where up to before I leave Vietnam, people brushed my hair, brushed my teeth, up that to that age. So it was like very different. Totally changed for us, when we came here.
R: Can you describe how people were treating you during this time when you came here?
H: We were one of the first, because of our family, we were able to…some people stay in the camp for a long, long time. For us, we only stayed for I think 2 weeks. You know. Some people got stuck there and we got out because of connections of family. So I was one of the first few that, I remember we left Vietnam in April. As soon as I arrived to United States, I think it was May. And right away my family believed in education. So I was like going to public school right away. And maybe for a month, it was important for us to go in there and learn how to speak English. At the time people knew about the war. Some were nice, but a lot of the kids was kind of like they pick on you. So I have like my first week or second week, I got into a fight right away. It was crazy! But you know, I mean I think that’s a part of it. You’re different; you don’t speak the language as well. I speak more French because I went to all girls school, French school. I went to Couvonne de Suazo. I understand what they say, but I can’t speak it. It was kind of challenging. And you know, first they don’t know you, and we went to San Francisco, the kids kind of like didn’t understand the war. Some loved the war, some hated the war. Some people feel that the war had caused a lot of pain for you know, united states. As well for the people. A lot lose their life to, in Vietnam,. So some people really nice. A lot kids were really nice to me. A lot of them kind of pick on you. And I think you know, you just kind of learn that.
R: How did you feel your family dynamic was affected by Vietnam and the war?
H: Well, I think for us, my father and my grandfather, it was really difficult for them, because of you know, their position. They believe first they fighting, against the communism. Believe that that’s not good for the country and for Vietnam to really grow. They took it very hard when they came to the United States. It was very hard for them to adjust to. So it was really the women in the family that kind of hold everybody together, you know, like my grandmother, my mom were kind of like, “okay, what do we do?” So you know, that’s why we started our restaurant. There’s a side story to how we started the restaurant too, I don’t know if you want to hear that too. Well back then even before the war, my grandma was very entrepreneur. Even in that time in Vietnam, for a women to travel, that’s big. My grandmother loved that. She was tired of being a great social housewife, because she was part of a royalty family. She told my grandfather, “you enjoy life, you stay here.” You know, my grandfather was a marine, but a Casanova at the same time. Then she went find that a lot of liberals in San Francisco. She loved it. She find that there’s a lot of liberals. You know San Francisco in the 60s and early 70s, very liberal and women. My grandmother loved that because she lived such a constrained life. So then she wanted to stay in United States. And the way to stay in the United States, you need to have a business, so she invested in herself. She talked to an Italian man who owned a deli. After she bought that, she called my grandfather and said, “you know, I’m leaving. You just enjoy life, I’m just going to stay here. I’m not going back to Vietnam for a while. I have a business here.” She love it. She wanted to travel. Of course my grandfather let her. So four years go by and nothing happened and she went back to Vietnam, back and forth. But when we lost the war we went to camp Pendleton. What do we do now? When we get out of the camp, what we had left was a little business that she got four years ago, she left her maid to run it for her to go back and forth. So that is where we began. From there we started.
H: This is my belief. I think that whatever decision was made by the United Nations, Our country, I think Vietnam should have been abandoned. That’s just my belief I think we should continue to fight. I think we couldn’t win, I think its more like it’s already been decided. I really believe that. I think the economy definitely benefit the United States as well, if Vietnam was not communist. Because actually if you look at Vietnam history. For 1000’s of years, where we’re at is very strategically important for everything. That’s why all the countries want to fight us and take over. First it was the Chinese, for 1000 years we were under Chinese domination. The Chinese then the French, and then the Japanese. So, I wish that economically, strategically, for the United States, if we have supported Vietnam, it would be very great for us. This is my belief, but who knows?
R: How do you feel that being raised in a time of war has impacted how you raise your children?
H: Definitely, I think seeing that, I realized that you can be born into wealthy family, you know, but you cannot take life for granted because you can have things like this, but the next moment, god knows what happened, you can lose it all. We have property, we have bank, we have so much, but in the war, we lost everything. So whatever people can’t take from you, is what you learn up here. And what you believe in yourself. So you got to work very hard, so I do teach them that. I don’t know if they got all those values or not, but I do see it first hand, I see that I never thought that I would have to work. You just see all of it. I never thought that I would take over my family business, or just have this property. Why worry about working? I can travel anywhere I want, you know. Never think of that. So that’s why I will teach my children that you got to learn. People cannot take away your integrity, and your humility. You have to be very persevering. Cannot give up and work really hard.
L: Do you miss living in Vietnam?
D: Sometimes, I get a little homesick, but I’m happy here because I live here and make a lot of new friends from the United States and my old friends from Vietnam, my relatives too. But sometimes, in Vietnam I still have some relatives, right? Some friends. So sometimes I have to be homesick. But that’s okay.
R: Do you go back to visit?
D: oh about three years ago I went back to visit.
L: What was it like going back? Did it bring up any feelings?
D: uh, When I left Vietnam, it was about 35 years ago. So the city and the people are different. The mentality is different. When you go out there, over 15 years you see a difference. You don’t have the same feeling like before, like the years before.
~ If there was no war… ~
D: Uh, if we had no war, maybe I am retired, like everyone else retired. I still live in Vietnam. Not too much different.
H: If there was no war, I think that I may be this spoiled brat. Because I truly at that time, if there was no war, we’re still Vietnam, maybe going back and forth. Then I think I look at life a little differently. I don’t think I would appreciate it as much. It’s hard to describe unless you really go through it. You see what you lost and you see all the people, that’s kind of like getting hurt in front of you and how you so lucky. Why people panicking, crying. Here you are, it’s like you don’t appreciate that, until you’re actually in it, you know? And I think we learned you can lose everything, anything can happen to you. I mean you think about what happened in Japan right now. You may have this beautiful home and business success and a tsunami hits. The what happens?! I think you got to live it to really feel it. There can be stories, just like the story I told you about my friend and me. I can feel it, but its never been the same, what she go through. Buy glucovance I think that I am very fortunate. I think I am one of the millions that was in the middle of what happened in Vietnam. We are very, very lucky and one of the few. A lot of people have had it a lot worst, so we are lucky. We may lost everything, but we are very, very lucky. That’s what my dad and my mom say. You know look, I say that too. Very lucky. I told my kids, you know, you are very, very lucky.