What My Parents Saw
Profilers: Andrew Herrera, Difan Feng, Iliana Lopez
Q: Could you tell us your name?
ST: My name is Stephanie Truong, my real name is Thy, I am a Vietnamese.
Q: So what year did your parents come here? Did they immigrant?
ST: Yeah, they immigrated to America, I am not sure the exact year, because they came a couple years apart, but my mother came when she was 14 years old, and my dad came here a little bit older when he was 16 or 17…in early 70s, right after the war started.
Q: What part of Vietnam did your parents live?
ST: My mom was from the city and my dad was from a village, but they were both in the southern Vietnam.
Q: How about the environments? Have they told you the environment they lived in?
ST: My dad lived in this really rural village near the coast. There were couple hundred people. He lived in a really poor neighborhood that only has one school. He was the best in his class, which is why he was selected to go the college in Saigon, the university there. He was always pretty smart so when he got to America, it was easy for him to work and go to school. And my mom was… My grandparents were the local principal and teacher at school. You know, being a teacher has benefits. They are pretty well off: they had their own sizable piece of land; my mom has 5 brothers and sisters, and they all each have their own maid; they would have a bunch of dogs and they had a farm with chickens, pigs, ducks, and stuff like that. So my dad was in a pretty poor part of Vietnam, while my mom was in a richer area.
Q: Do they still have families over there?
ST: I know that my father does, he has a lot of family in Vietnam, actually. His mom is still there, his dad was also there, but he passed away several years ago. Some of his brothers still live there, but I would say most of them come here. He had 10 brothers and sisters, and 6 or 7 are over here now. And all of my mom’s family is in America.
Q: Have they gone back to visit?
ST: My mom? No. She doesn’t. She doesn’t have good experience with it. But my dad, since he has family, he has visited, but he hasn’t in a really long time.
Parents’ Experiences In Vietnam
Q: In previous talk you mentioned your mother is involved in the communist party? How was that?
ST: Yeah… They weren’t involved more than they were affected by it. My mother had pretty bad experience with them. The regime wanted everybody to be equal, so they definitely tinkered with the economy and the value of the dollar. So my mom’s side of the family, they have to interact with the Communist Party since they are well off. There was one incident that they came in to their house, and they were walking around, basically just to threaten them, show them they were in charge. They kind of just went in and interrogated them for no reason. The only reason why I know this because I was looking through a photo album that my mother had, and there was a note on the side, it was like, “I hope you grow up in a good environment.” I asked who wrote this. My mom said that was when the Communist Party came in and going through all of our stuff and they wrote that to be sarcastic. It wasn’t a good experience. My mom doesn’t like to talk about it, but that was the one thing that I know.
Q: So did they have a raid?
ST: I don’t know. I think they would just go around, and they would go into people’s houses and try to impose their power over them, even though they wouldn’t really do anything. They were just trying to [intimidate them]… yeah.
Q: How about your dad? You said your dad is in the village part. Did he experience anything?
ST: For the communist party, I think no, I think they stuck more to the city side. He told me he had pleasant experiences with the US soldiers who would march around there. One of his few memories is that all the kids would go up to them and the soldiers would give them M&M’s.
Q: You said your dad had to be careful with troops. What kind of troops?
ST: It was the Communist Party. Just like any kind of the political parties, in terms of involvement, people are trying to stay under the radar—trying to act out is going to be bad news for you anyway. So just try not to get caught. If they were caught sneaking out at night, because in the daytime you don’t want to, they would interrogate them and there was going to be a punishment, because the Communist Party didn’t want to leave the impression that people don’t want to stay in their country. If they were caught, they would have their consequences. It would be more like making them go back and telling them they couldn’t go, and maybe a little stricter about the consequences if you were caught again.
The Boat Journey
Q: How about your parents when they get out of Vietnam? What was their experience?
ST: For my mom: my grandmother was pretty smart so she invested a lot of money into gold, which wouldn’t inflate or deflate, so she took all their money and invested. With that much money, she was able to sent two out of five her kids overseas, and she chose her older son and my mom. My mom was 14 and her brother is a couple years older. They went on a more official way out. They did it more legally. They went on a larger ship—it was a ship—and they ended up in, I would say, Thailand. It was close to Thailand. They sailed to Thailand and she was at a camp there, a refugee camp. She was there for 6 months. She studied German for 6 month, and somebody sponsored her to come to America.
My Dad snuck out in the middle of the night with a bunch of people. They were going through the vegetation and they were trying to sneak out because there are patrols, and they ended up on those fish boats. So he was on a fish boat with 14 other people, maybe even more than that. They were sailing on that boat for 2 weeks without food, water, and some people died. It was pretty intense. And they had to watch out for pirates. They also ended up in Thailand, a refugee camp. They took a stop at one of the islands. I remember, at certain points, these pirates raided their camp. They were raping and pillaging. My dad snuck on to their boat and took their supplies. And he was like, “oh yes, I know it’s a terrible timing, but thank God they are here, I would have died because I need food,” so he survived because of that. And then they ended up going again and ended up in a refugee camp near Thailand, and they got sponsored. Both of my parents got sponsored by these families in Minnesota. My dad was sponsored by a family, and he lived with them a little bit, and my mom was sponsored by a church. My mom went to high school and finished high school. My dad also went to high school and they ended up in the same college where they met.
Adapting To The New Life
Q: Was it hard for your parents to fit in when they came to the United States? Was it better for your mom since she had a better education compared to your dad?
ST: It was definitely hard for the both of them, it was a culture shock, and they didn’t really know the culture. My mom had no means to sustain, so she had to work two jobs and she had to do school at the same time. On top of that she had to learn English. But both of my parents are really hard workers, so in a couple of years they were OK. They managed to make enough money.
Q: So did they live with another family when they were here? Or did they have family here already?
ST: I’m not so sure about my mom’s side that side is a big blur. My dad lived with the family that sponsored him for a couple of months, maybe six months to a year, and after that he was going to college, so he had to work. Then he ended up paying cheap rent at this apartment with this other old lady.
Q: How did your parents feel about talking about the past in Vietnam?
ST: When my parents talk about it it’s all very personal experiences, small stories, because they didn’t really grasp what was going on. All they knew was that they had to get out and find a better life for themselves, so that was kind of the extent that they would talk about it. They would talk more about how they had to get on a boat and get here, and how they had to work. But I know my mother doesn’t really like to talk about it very much, because she knew that if the Communist Party hadn’t, she would have stayed in Vietnam because her family was doing well so they didn’t have a reason to leave. So they don’t really talk about it very much, because their knowledge of the political situation isn’t very extensive. Just personal stories.
As A Second Generation
Q: What does the war mean to you since you know all these stories about your parents?
ST: For me I think it was bad that they [her parents] had to go through that, but then again I’m very thankful, because just by coming here meant more opportunities. And especially with their work ethic they have done very well for themselves. Even after the war ended they had some family left, they were telling them that they would sponsor them to come over here because life is a lot better. There is a higher standard of living and they were doing well so they wanted their family to come here.
Q: How do you feel being raised in an American society?
ST: I’m very blessed I know that and I have a very extensive family in California so I have a very strong Vietnamese background. We do seek out Vietnamese communities in these days. Because a lot of my family lives in east side, I have a lot of friends and family there. In terms of living in American society, I feel really blessed that I have that side, and I also have a whole other background that I can actually go to, so I would say that I am blessed.
Q: Do you feel more American then Vietnamese?
ST: I definitely feel more American. My parents just try to make sure that I work hard, and that’s what they wanted for me to make a better life for myself, and kind of ignoring the culture. They never really try to shove anything down my throat, like on lunar New Year they would have fruit laid out on our mantel, but it was never forced upon us, it was never like “this is how it’s going to be”. My family is mostly Buddhist, they are very strongly Buddhist, and my mother would take me to the temples but she would never tell me that it was something that I had to do, there was always a choice.
Q: Did you say that memories that happened back then were preserved in these days in the second generation?
ST: I think there is definitely something to be said about the American perspective of the war. Personal experiences in terms of second generation, I think since there is such large population of them in California where my experience has been, we always have this shared history, like we knew that what happened was bad and coming here was good. I think in terms of stories, everybody is a little bit different but we all try to achieve the same thing: You have to work hard, and you have to do better than what your parents set up for you, because they did work hard and sacrifice for you—that’s kind of the narrative of the second generation. We have to work hard and do well in school.