Orphan in Vietnam
Profilers: Patricia Lee, Nicholas Marano
Us: How old were you when the war started?
Susan: I was 8 years old, I was born in Monte Carlo, and then my parents died, so my uncle, he took me, he took me to Vietnam, and I stayed there with him until I was adopted. I was there from ’63 up to about ’73, that’s when I left.
Us:Did you have any extended family?
Susan: I didn’t know them at all, I remember my mother telling me, she was half Chinese and half French, my father was half Chinese and half Vietnamese. My grandparents, who were probably somewhere in Taiwan, I don’t know them. My mother was disowned by her parents, because she got pregnant with my dad, and that was me. I guess in Chinese culture, you have to be a virgin to get married, and if you’re gonna get pregnant the parents are usually gonna disown you. So my mother took off and went to Monte Carlo with my dad, and that’s where I was born.
Us: How did your parents pass away?
Susan: Mother, I think was really sick, and my father remarried and didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
Us: What was it like coming to Vietnam for the first time with your Uncle?
Susan: It’s been a long time, and the only thing I remember I miss my mom I wish she was there, it was another family I lived with.
Us: How different was it from the French Colony?
Susan: Different because I used to go to boarding school, I had a housekeeper, and I had a nanny and I had a good life over there. When I went to Vietnam, I lived with just family and they didn’t have much, the electricity, and everything was just different.
Us: Did you have to work as a child?
Susan: The couple that I lived with, the Uncle that brought me to Vietnam, and then later his wife got pregnant, and they didn’t want me anymore so they put me in an orphanage. I ran away a lot—
Us: And they kept trying to come get you?
Susan: Yeah. No it’s just because the orphanages in Vietnam are not like the United States. The older child, they work and take care of the younger ones, so you don’t just go to school or something like that. They teach you school, but you had to take care of the younger ones. So mostly, you’re working!
Coming to America Part I
Us: I want to talk about getting adopted and coming to America…
Susan: I was sitting in a corner, they had this lady, she’s uh, drove by and she ask me ‘What’s wrong with me’, and I say ‘I’m sick, I don’t feel good’. She said ‘Are you ok?’ and I said ‘No I’m not’ and she said ‘Well come with me’. And so I get in her car, and she said ‘Well you can come into my house and stay with me, if you wanna help and babysit my kids’. And so I came with her, she’s in a studio and she’s got two small children, one of them is half American and half Vietnamese, the other one is half Korean and half Vietnamese, ‘cause at that time the Korean troops were there in Vietnam also. One of her husbands got killed, the one American got killed, but they weren’t married they just lived together, and her other child was half Korean and half Vietnamese, I guess he was married when he was in Korea but he was a soldier. And so I stayed with her, they had an American gentleman named Ricky who is my brother now, he was a really good friend of hers. He always came to the house and things like that. I hadn’t spoke a word of English at that time, but he spoke Vietnamese. So he would come over and we would become very good friends, and then one day he told me, he say ‘You wanna come to the United States?’ and I say ‘Well I can’t marry you, you’re too old’, and he’s like ‘I don’t want to marry you, my mom and dad are old couple and I have a brother who live in the United States. He’s in college, and my mom wants daughter but she doesn’t want to go through diapers and bottles at night, if you wanna come to the United States I will take you there to meet my parents’. I thought he was just kidding me? Then one day I get a letter from my—from his parents, with picture and everything like that, and then he says ‘I’m gonna go back to the United States and I’ll be back in a couple months’, and I thought he’d never come back. So I never thought anything of that. He left for about 3, 4 months, and then he came back! That’s the first time I met them. He’s a retired Commander in the Navy, my mother was a pediatrician doctor, and they said they wanted to adopt me. They couldn’t get the paperwork done because I lived in so many places, and I mean I was an orphan during this time, and the Vietnamese government was very corrupted, they wanted money. I didn’t have the proper paperwork, like Birth Certificate and things like that, so they wanted money from my parents but my parents refused to pay them. They went back to the States and said ‘Don’t worry, I will come back for you, and I will take you home with me’. So it took them two years to get the paperwork done and everything, and I left Vietnam in 1974.
Us: How did you assimilate to the United States?
Susan: I remember this funny story, I had never seen a washing machine before, never in my whole life and I still do it the old fashioned way by hand, and he said ‘Honey, you can put the dishes in the washing machine’, and I say OK and I look at him and he put everything in the dishwashing machine and he turned it on. I couldn’t figure out how it washed it! So I kept opening it up and up to see and he said ‘You can’t do that, if you do that it won’t wash them’, but how does it wash them? And he’s like ‘That’s how it works, and I said I wished it had like a window so I could see what’s going on in it cause I had never seen that. The first time I had American food, I had American food and my dad took me to Bob’s Big Boy, I had a burger and a milkshake!
Us: How was school?
Susan: I remember my high school had only like 200 kids, and I was the only Asian in that school.
Us: You were the only one?
Susan: I was the only one.
Us: How was that, that must’ve been interesting?
Susan: It was very difficult because a lot of them had never seen an Asian kid before, they called me gee, they called me nam, and there was this boy, Rodney, he was very nice to me, he was very polite, and I remember he was my first boyfriend!
Coming to America Part II
Us: Coming to America and trying to take classes, was the school work difficult?
Susan: My father have to send me to English class 8 hours a day.
Us: 8 hours a day?
Susan: 5 days a week.
Susan: And then at night time he would sit on a table in the kitchen and he taught me English and thats how I learned my English and I was struggling in school because between go to school and English at the same time but my 8 hours English a day does really help a lot.
Susan: And um, but it’s fun because I have I made a lot of new friends and they usually taught me how to spend money because I don’t how to spend money either. Easy to spend a dollar but when it comes to like penny, ten cents or quarter I don’t know how to do it and I don’t know how to spend it.
Us: Do you keep a lot of traditional Vietnamese cuisine?
Susan: I know some of them but not all of them so when I came here I have some Vietnamese friends and I asked to teach me how to cook. But I’m not a very good cook in Vietnamese because a lot of Vietnamese food I don’t eat them.
Us: Is there anything that you could pass on about you experiences in Vietnam and then coming to America? Do you have any final thoughts?
Susan: I love this, I love this country because I think in the United States you have so many opportunities. And you come, and you live in third world country and come to the United States its completely different environment. And other countries you don’t have an opportunity to do a lot of things for yourself. You need to come from a wealthy family, be handed to you, or you have money then you can buy things, you can do things for yourself. In this country you have a lot of opportunities because you have freedom of speech, you have a lot of opportunities for education, and um if you have a dream, I mean you can go a long way all you have to do is take advantage of the situation and use, use it to do the right thing but if you don’t want to then…
Memory of the War
Us: When you ran away North what did you experience, especially when you were on your own?
Susan: I don’t know, I lived on the streets and I remember that and I just kinda hang out on the street with some other people.
Us: Some other runaways or?
Us: Where there a lot, where there a lot of orphan children in the streets?
Susan: Yup. Also some of them half American [unclear] half American too because they have at the end of the war was going on a lot of American GIs were there so they do have some children half American and half Vietnamese. And a lot of Vietnamese people don’t like them so they don’t take care of them so a lot of children are orphans for that. So they live on the streets.
Us: Did you have any direct experience with communists?
Susan: Sometimes we sit there at the restaurant or something and all of a sudden you saw a lady walk by the next thing the whole place is explode and body parts all over the place.
Us: Did that happen often where there..
Susan: This happened often yes.
Us: Very often?
Susan: It happened in the market, and you could go to market and the next thing you know everything explode. Or movie theater. It always happened like that all the time just like what you see right now in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s just normal what we have over there.
Us: How were you feeling at this time?
Susan: I guess you just get scared but then you get used to it because it’s just life and it’s just the way it is. I mean you can’t change anything it’s just the way it is. So you get scared but you learn how to accept it.
Us: Can you go into the Chinese side of your family? I know there has been a lot of conflict between Vietnam and China.
Susan: Well I don’t know a lot about the history between Chinese and Vietnamese but I know that the Chinese were there like many thousand years ago and the Vietnamese people kind of blended with them. And when they, the French come over, it’s one thing about Ho Chi Min he, a lot of people think he’s a bad guy but he’s not in my opinion he’s not a bad guy. He only want to kick the [unclear] out of his country so he can unite it between the North and the South. And only thing that I don’t agree that I see American go over there in war with them and so many young American go there and they die for nothing because I don’t think they that war would have American serve in war.
Susan: And so that is the thing that I feel sad when I see so many young Americans come to Vietnam and then they die for nothing and when you come back to the United States people call them a baby killer and women killer but they have no choice because you can’t trust them you cant, when you’re in Vietnam and you’re at war you can’t trust nobody. And when a kid come up to you and you give them a candy and they, they hang out with you and you have a good time with them and the next thing in five minutes they’re gunna kill you. So what choice do you have? You need to kill them or you be killed. And when they come back to the United States the people don’t understand and they call them baby killer and women killer, things like that. And they treat them really bad and that makes me sad because I, I was in Vietnam and I see what’s going on over there and the people here in America don’t see what’s going on over there so they only think the GIs are the ones that was the bad people but they’re not.
Susan: And it’s, war is really bad because nobody can trust nobody. And its just, and then the communists of course they’re gunna teach kid have a gun and they teach to kill and because the way that they tell them okay we don’t want a foreigner here, we need to kick them out, we need to tell them to leave and they don’t leave and we don’t kill them they’re going to kill us so a lot of the young vietnamese kids don’t understand that. I never, I never have been pro to that situation but I see what happened over there.
Susan: It’s really sad when it comes to war.