Second Generation, Born in the USA
Profilers: Lindsay Ladd, James Blakely, & Lily Turner
Hi, my name is Matthew Dinh, last name is Vietnamese. I’m Vietnamese and white, Italian and Irish. I’m from Philadelphia, born and raised in Philly. I transferred to USC for EE major. My mom is the person who is mixed in my family. She is half white and half Vietnamese. It’s from my grandfather who is white; he was an American soldier who fought in the Vietnam War. My father is full Vietnamese. He’s from North Vietnam, near Hanoi. I don’t know if you guys did your studies on Hanoi. My mom is actually from central Vietnam, around the Da Nang area. My grandmother grew up seeing two wars. She’s also from Central Vietnam. They have been migrating around all over the place, my father as well. They came over here to the U.S not right after the war ended, after when Vietnam had those refugee type of places for kids who are from American soldiers. From there, my family moved on all over to the U.S. and migrated all over the U.S. and settled in Philly for jobs and so on.
The daughter of an American serviceman, Matthew’s mother experienced adversity as an “Amerasian” child in post-war Vietnam
My mom believe it or not she is half Vietnamese and half white. Her and her sisters got affected by racism over there. They were like, “oh you mixed breed!” and stuff like that. She got bullied in school. Her sisters got bullied in school. My grandma was a single mom so it was pretty rough too. She was getting made fun of for walking down the street, “oh you married a white man, why don’t you go back with him to the U.S” and so on like that. A lot of that going on over there. My father lived in North Vietnam. It was really poor actually because it wasn’t as industrialized as South Vietnam was because of the American influence. So not a lot of jobs or opportunities going on, not even electricity actually. He had to study by a candle. That’s his only light resource going on. He lived growing up without a father, so did my mom, so they had something to relate with, you know? Both of my grandmothers lived through, like I mentioned earlier, two wars. So I mean seeing war was like a normal thing for them at that time. It was all about just trying to you know work, find the opportunity to go to America and so on at that time.
Matthew’s maternal grandfather was an American serviceman. He met Matthew’s grandmother during the war.
As the war was going on in North and South Vietnam, my grandmother was already going around South Vietnam trying to look for jobs and stuff like that. She got a hook up from one of her friends basically, to like clean up, being like a maid basically in the officers, where the military bases are at. She met my grandfather cleaning up this table and so on and she didn’t understand a word he said. I was like, “how did you guys communicate?” and then she just said, “we conversed at first by just saying “you do this and you do that”” and so on like that. She picked up a couple English words later on here and there. Yeah they met through there. And then right after the war ended he actually begged her, he actually told his parents that they were getting married and so on. His parents sent on over a ring. So my great grandmother sent a ring. Which is like their wedding ring over. My grandmother gave the ring right back to him. She was like, “oh no I’m going to stay here, I don’t know anybody over there.” She’s not the type of person to leave her comfort zone basically. When the Americans left she had to burn her papers of their marriage, and a lot of his pictures because if you got caught back then it was not too nice.
Matthew’s paternal grandfather fought for the North Vietnamese Army. He was killed during the war.
My father’s side of the family is from the North. They didn’t migrate to the South until after the war. My grandfather fought for the NVA, the North Vietnamese Army, from my dad’s side. We know that he died from the war because he was bombed. So yeah he was bombed and they found his body after the war. It was really hard for my grandmother because they were really in love. So yeah that was bad. I never got to see him but he looked like my dad.
The reason why they chose the sides they chose is really because the government in general. So like the US, when we go to the war we fight our people for our freedom, we go to another country to fight, yeah its good. But for them, they just came out of an occupation from the French. Especially the North Vietnamese, they’re the ones who just fought the French out of the war. The North Vietnamese mentality is like, “oh yeah the U.S is trying to do the same thing the French are trying to do, the French are just passing the torch to them.” They were like, “we’re going to fight you guys out of here so get out of our country.” That’s just the mentality he took as well, defending his country, defending his people. I guess that’s a big reason why a lot of them fought the war.
Each family member was involved in the war in some way.
Well besides my grandmother from my mom’s side, she assisted the U.S military base and cleaning up and stuff like that. Not really anything else besides that, I mean she was also influenced by the French war, the war against the French. Her village got attacked by the French. They had to hide in the mountains with the V.C’s. My grandmother from the North was busy trying to make money and take care of the kids, and avoid getting bombed. She was like, “oh that place is getting bombed, alright we’re going to migrate somewhere else.” If you have a family already either you’re taking care of the kids and he’s going to war, or if you’re single you’re going to war. But she had her things that she had to do for her kids.
Growing up, Matthew heard stories from his family about life during the war. While some were willing to share, others keep their memories private.
Yeah, my mom always talked about when she heard bombings, and I was like “oh but you’re from the South?” and she was like “but you still hear shootings and gunfire and so on.” My grandma always tried to talk about the good side of the war when we were little. Like how my grandfather would take her out to go dancing to a club or something like that late at night. And she was like “I don’t know how to dance go away,” and he would force her, “just come!” And he taught her how to dance and so on and she was like yeah. That time she got experienced to American style dancing because Asian style dancing is different. My father always talked about how he always had to step up as the man and try to be the man of the house and look for jobs. He was doing a bunch of jobs, good and bad jobs. My grandmother talked about the previous war and how that affected her and her childhood. She was little in her village and the village was suspected to have V.C’s. And when they heard that people were invading they were going up the mountain to the V.C’s for protection from the French. My great-grandmother was like, “oh I left something” and she went down there and she apparently rubbed blood on her face because she was afraid. It was chicken blood though. She was like “oh I have to be smart about this.” And then she rubbed chicken blood on her face and she was walking around and the soldiers saw her and freaked out and almost pulled the trigger on her. She was like “no, no, no, no!” They just left after that and ruined the village, that’s what she told me about that war.
Matthew’s family stayed in a refugee camp in the Philippines after leaving Vietnam
Before going to the U.S. their first stop was the Philippines. So they stayed in the Philippines for a while. It was pretty rough actually, staying in the Philippines. There was no food offered. There was food offered if you had money. So they sold a lot of things. They sold nearly her necklace; they sold nearly everything they had. They sold it for food. They kept everyone sort of like in a camp, in a refugee camp. Everyone knew each other, so everyone was helping everybody out whether you were family or not. You were coming from the same country, from the same people so. There were so many programs at that time. Not just the mixed kids. There were programs where they had to get on a boat too, my parents were lucky enough to go on a plane, some people went on a boat and they got attacked by pirates, some Thai pirates. I had an uncle, my dad told me, that actually died from one of those invasions. Hong Kong was another spot that a lot of refugees stopped at. My cousin-in-law was born in Hong Kong, she has a British visa.
Matthew’s family arrived in the United States in the late 1980s, where they faced economic hardship.
When they first got to the U.S, they first landed in LAX actually. They were like “oh we’re going to settle in California…oh wait there’s no jobs,” so then they migrated to Seattle, Washington and they were like, “oh wait there’s no jobs here too.” So then they decided to go to Philly, and we lived in a really rough neighborhood at that time. Even when I was born we lived in North Philly, so. My mom was pregnant and she was working. It was pretty rough. They didn’t have a lot of money so they got apartments from a small Vietnamese community. They hook you up with apartments for this long for not that much money.
As refugees from Asia, Matthew’s family faced racial discrimination.
There was also a lot of racism that we experienced too, just like every other immigrant that comes over from another country. Even Europeans, like Irish, Germans, or whatever experiences a type of racism. And they experience it in Philly, by blacks, whites, any type of race. They’re like, “hey gook go back to your land.” My uncle got into a fight once with another black dude because he just didn’t give a cigarette and he just called him a “gook.”
Matthew and his family have returned to Vietnam since the war ended
I’ve been to Vietnam I think three times. Yeah three times. I don’t remember the first two trips because I was like really little so I don’t remember much about that. I know the recent trip right before I started college. That was pretty cool. I got to go back. Seeing photos of the Vietnam War, of how Vietnam War looked like compared to know I’m like, “whoa, there’s roads!” It’s not just soil anymore; just ground you’re walking on barefoot, now everyone has shoes and everything. It’s really modernized. It’s different. People are pretty cool over there they want to be Americans. They listen to hip-hop and so on. They are influenced by American fashion and things like that.
Some members of Matthew’s family remained in Vietnam.
I mean we send money back to them. So they’re like, “oh a lot of money, we’re fine!” My father promised my family over that once he gets to America he’s going to work hard and try to make a lot of money and send money over the money. But by the time he started sending money over they were already pretty set in Vietnam. His sister sells pigs. And she made so much money off of it. So she basically lives pretty set now for everything. Except for my younger aunt, she’s trying to get her son to come over and all to the U.S. But he failed a lot of the tests, the educational tests.
Matthew discusses how his view of the war differs from other Americans
I actually did a lot of research into it. I mean I thought about it too, as an American you’re like, “oh fuck the communists, screw them.” But then I was like wait let me look into this real quick. Cause my grandfather’s from the north, why would he be fighting for the North if they were bad people? You know. My view on the war I meant is a bit different. I don’t really pick sides I just inform people, like this happened, this happened too. You got to look at both sides to judge. So yeah I don’t know what to judge, what to do about it.