Pamela Tran

A Refugee Experience: Legacy and Community

Profilers: Queenique Dinh, Mindy Diep, Cristofer Tzoc

Aftermath of the War and Coming to the United States

Q: Could you describe your childhood after the war?

I came United States when I- 1992 and… Before that, I in Vietnam, for my childhood. I think, you know, I live in the Communist [inaudible] but I didn’t know because they change. They went and brainwash all of us already. In the school, they taught us that American people are the- A lot of people outside the Vietnam, to come here, try to steal the Vietnam. They are evil. They teach us that, you know, the people – the American people – are evil. And yeah, and we learn how- It’s a different world history that I see from Vietnam to here. So when I came to United States, I question, when I in Vietnam, I question myself, “Why my parents have to escape Vietnam?” I know my parents, my family, poor. That’s why, and only my family, why so many rich people from Vietnam escape Vietnam too? Right? Differently, I don’t like the Communists, because I live there, I have no, not many choice. Only the Communist people, parent, whoever, whoever support, work in the Communists, they have freedom. For us, we have no freedom.

Q: How did you and your family come to the United States?

My mom and my dad- I think my dad in the American soldier before [presumably a Vietnamese soldier fighting with the American troops]. For two years. And then we love- they- My parents loved Americans so my parents worked for the government – the soldiers, the American soldiers. But then after the war, because we are… My parents believed that because we don’t speak English, we cannot escape Vietnam. At that time, only people very poor, they escaped Vietnam with American people. But my parents… had a lot of kids, so they worried that if we escape Vietnam with Americans at that time, at the year 1975, then the kids, they will be die in the ocean, you know. They don’t believe that they leaving the Vietnam; they think they survive okay in Vietnam. So that’s why they stay, but 1975 is the freedom of choice to leave Vietnam, but after 1975 – 1978 that’s the year I born – it’s very bad.

After the war, after Americans leave Vietnam, it’s very bad. No food. Lot of Communists they come and they took all- if you relationship with the American people, you are very bad shape. My whole family took all- They come in, they take everything related, all material, everything from my family. Like refrigerator, electronic, everything from American they, that we have at that time, they took away. So 1980, two year after my- Actually before, 1978, my dad got into the jail because a lot of- Some people they fake. They try to wear the clothes like Communists. They force my brother and my dad drive them to the- from some other city to Cam Ranh. From North to South, right. They try to escape Vietnam, but they pretend to wear the clothes like Communists, so we are scared. So we have to do whatever they say. But after that, after we- after they go to that place already and someone talk to Communists that my dad and my brother is the one that relate- try to give the- push the people away, yeah. Let the people escape Vietnam.

So my brother and my dad get into the jail. But my dad- my brother underage, so they let stay in the jail only two months. But my dad have to stay there two years. So at that my mom have pregnant me and then after I born is 19- Two years, when I was two year old that my dad outside of the jail. But then at that time my family very poor, so and, the war almost come- They force all the men go to the war, but my family we have four men plus my dad is five. So they- my mom forced all the men escape, but my sister want to go with them too. So we cannot go, escape at one time because we poor. If we cannot escape Vietnam, we still have a place to stay. But if we escape at that time, whole family, then what if we not- We cannot escape. You know we get stuck. Then the government they will take whole family, they took all the land and the house and all, everything belonging to you, right. So we scared, so we have to do- Let the boy go first and the girl, like me, very little, so the little one stay home.

And we, after that, actually after my dad escape to America with all the brother and sister: one sister and all brother, four brother. My whole family have- I think my mom, my dad have nine, nine kids, totally. But all the boy go first, then me and my other sister, young, we young, we stay back in the country. And then later on, like 1980, 1985, my sister and my other brother escape. My mom tried to push all of us go to America as much as we can. We rather to die in the ocean to die in the country. So yeah, at that time, my sister, they both escape to Japan and then my dad in America sponsor them into- A few year after they stay in Japan, they came United States. But for myself and my other sister, we escape Vietnam twice. But I cannot- I get stuck all the time, yeah. And that’s why- After, I think I was third-grade, nine year old, my dad think about- At that time have the freedom of responsibility, sponsoring us from Vietnam to here. But it take forever until I was fourteen, and I able to come to meet my dad.

Q: How did your family find success in the United States?

I was lucky to, my whole family, my dad, my parents didn’t have a chance to go to school and my older sister, brother they didn’t have chance to go to school in Vietnam. But and after my dad escaped to America so they he worked whatever he tried to work everything to earn the money so he can support us while we in Vietnam, so I am able to have a choice, a chance to go to school, me and my other sister, to go to school. But when I came to the United States the difference between from Vietnam to here, I’m very excited I thought it is a heaven here but then my dad have very struggling in America because he saved so much money for us to survive in Vietnam he didn’t care about him and the other people in United States so they didn’t buy a house. They lived very, sort of like an apartment, very poor place but when we came here my dad bought a house for us. I’m very appreciate that for my dad to put a lot of effort to support us and came to the United States. I think about success, if you to you or to other people they don’t think my dad is success because he didn’t succeed anything but to me he is a hero in the United States because he know how to learn, how to read, how to write in Vietnam, right. But then he learned, he learned from himself, he learned from friends how to read, how to do math, how to do American English as well by himself and he able to do the business, he create his own business, as a, before he do the movie so try to make as much money as he can ,and later he have some other business that’s why he start to have money and to buy a house, yeah. And talk about success I don’t, it’s not very success but to me at least accomplish something you know, better than in my country, he have no choice, nowhere to go you know.

Legacy of the War

Q: How has your perspective changed since coming to the United States?

I thought about that when I in the school. I see my parents didn’t have a chance to go to school, and my mom always tell me: “Take advantage as much as you can to grow for yourself.” So I came United States when I was 14. At that time, in my country, my mom thought at that age is working, not to go to school. But then, I think I am very glad that I came here able to go to school. My thought, since my parents and my sister didn’t have a chance, I will take as much opportunity as I can. So I, my whole family, me is the one graduate from university with a bachelor’s degree in health science. My sister is in nursing, but my other- My other brother, they just electric, electrical engineer, but it’s not a bachelor or anything. They not finish the university, but I, fortunately, I have an option. So I, to me, money – before, I was young – so money to me, I don’t use it, but I plan in the future. So since my mom, my dad- Actually, my mom bring me to the United States, my dad sponsor us: me, my other two sisters, and my mom to the United States. Two years after that, my mom passed away and I always remember that my mom told me: “Take as much opportunity as you can.” So I took all my life to study. I just focus school. I just focused to reading as much as I can, school as much as I can, volunteer as much as I can, so my entire life is not wasting. I don’t think it’s waiting. I don’t have time to go to, out, like other kids right now. I don’t have time. All my time is working, school, volunteering, and church. And yeah. And now, even now, I very value the education. To me, I look at my parents, I look at my sisters, right. They don’t have a choice. They don’t have a chance. I took as much I can to do it; even I’m not good, at least I try, you know? My best. That’s why I always teach my kids: do the best you can.

Q: Have you talked to your kids about your experiences?

My, I did I did, I always tell them next time I talk to my kids they’ll, like my mom always talk to me at nighttime, always teach me to be the best who you are, you have to try the best you can, not just do it, just do it, but do with the heart. So you can explore yourself, if you don’t do the best how can you know who you are, right. So I always taught my kids like that, the same thing, you know, my grandparents, the grandparents didn’t have a choice, we have a choice, so do you want to take a choice, or no. Because in country, in the Vietnam, Communist, you have no choice, even you very smart, but you still have nothing, you cannot, I see a lot of people, smart people, but they poor, they cannot, they don’t have money, so they cannot continue education, continue to explore themselves, to the next level, they get stuck. I don’t want to be get stuck, that’s why we go escape Vietnam, and I see that I always, if I see the, even my kids, or my niece, nephew, or my friends or any kids. Even I remember one time I talk to the kids and I teach them you are the most lucky in the world that you born in United States and you here in United States, you have more options, more choice than any other kids in the whole world, right. Why you don’t happy, be blessed, be you know, just happy yourself, attitude give you, give yourself the best of the choice and always appreciate, always appreciate the people around you, right.

Q: Have you connected with others with similar experiences?

I start to learn- Because after I married my husband, I love the old people. Every time I see the old people, I always ask them stories about the Vietnam, country. And my- One of the interview, the one I have a chance to talk to, grandma, my husband’s grandma. She’s hundred something years old already, but she’s very clear, understanding, and she told me all about the- Her childhood, how the Vietnamese treat them. When the war come, they let the whole people poor, hungry, no food at all, but when- They want to kill them, slowly, by hungry. Hungry all the people, and they start to kill them, right. And some people- A lot of time, you, you, cannot stay at the- They put out some food and the people fighting for food. And you able to- Imagine that you see your own, your own brothers, sisters, die in front of you. Right. And get killed by the government in front of you. So it’s very painful for old generations. That’s the reason- I ask them: Why you escape at that time? Why? Why you have the, you know, why- I know that my parents stay back after 1975, right? They stay back Vietnam. That’s a mistake, big mistake, but I ask them: What help you, what make you to escape Vietnam before 1975? And because, in the back of the history, the government, the Communists they experience, they are very bad. Very bad. They don’t care, you know. They don’t care who are you. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about people. They care about themselves.

So, that’s why my husband’s grandparents took all the kids and all the whoever relatives- You know, all the children, to esc- in-laws, in-law kids, their children and in-law children, nieces, nephews. All the people to escape Vietnam before 1975. That very hero, from one woman, you know. No man, that step up to took all the kids to escape Vietnam is a big, big deal because they said they’d rather die in the ocean, rather to work for the Communists. I think they are very hero. And you know escape Vietnam is not easy. So many people died in the ocean. So many people… cannot, you know, make into the United States. And I know a lot of my neighborhood died. A lot of family died around my, my house, you know. A lot of my neighborhood children died, because escape Vietnam. I’m so fortunate my family, so luckily, I think God is the- We believe in God and we pray in God all the time, and God lead us to be here. We very poor, we don’t have much money, we don’t have much food, but we able to make it to United States, by our own boat. My dad is a fisherman so the boat is very small, so they escape by the small boat. And very… miracle.
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