Tho Si Ho's Dream
Profilers: Tam Hoang, Ethan Soo, Timothy Duong
Growing Up in Vietnam
Tho Ho 0:00
Yes, my name is Tho Si Ho. Born August 12, 1962, in Ham Tan, Vietnam.
Tam Hoang 0:11
Thank you Uncle Tho for coming and talking with us today. First off, growing up in Vietnam, could you describe what it was like… What was your day-to-day life like?
Tho Ho 0:20
That was the childhood time. That time I’m still at school, but I want to be the priest because I growing up and I see the people need help like poor people, and unfortunate people, and they need help. Maybe God call me then I have a chance to give them help, you know, so that’s why that’s why I believe.
Tam Hoang 0:50
Were you able to focus on school, especially with everything going on?
Tho Ho 0:55
Of course, that’s my main goal is the school will be important. And that’s why I try to achieve my goal: finish school first.
Tam Hoang 1:06
Did you ever encounter soldiers either Vietnamese or American?
Tho Ho 1:12
During the Civil War I didn’t see American soldier die but I can see our country man died for both sides, everyday, looked like everyday, you know? So that time look like normal. Because everything you see, everyday like that, that look like the normal. It nothing wrong with that. And actually, when something happened like that, I want to see what’s going on anyway.
Tam Hoang 1:42
Did you know anything about why people were fighting around you or in your country?
Tho Ho 1:50 Yes, I believe it, because philosophy. One side is a communist. One side is democracy. My parent left for… because the communist in 1954, from North Vietnam. By the Dien Bien Phu, they divided Vietnam, north and south that time. Then, we was born in the south, but my dream is when I grow up, my childhood, if I could not success school, then I would join military and to fight for freedom. That’s because I don’t agree with the communists at all. That’s the big problem for us. Now, I could not continue school after that, because I believe in American side. And religion, we are Catholic. That’s why it’s very obstructive for the communist era. So that’s why I cannot enter in or continue for school after 1975.
The Refugee Camps
Ethan Soo 0:00
When the communists took over and you couldn’t continue school, what happened? Is that when you kind of left the country and fled to a refugee camp?
Tho Ho 0:07
Well I leave it after four year, when communists took over. That mean 1975, communists took over. Then until August 1979 then I have to leave the country. Our family doesn’t have money and not a way I can pay off. That mean we have to connect with the boat owner. I can carry hiding the oil or the rice or the food for the trip, but we don’t know how long the trip but we just take whatever we have. Only one day, two day, because we believe it after one day, two day on the sea maybe we have a chance another vessel can pick us. Pick up our boat or American boat will pick up our boat. That’s why we just collect whatever we have and then, you know, so we connect with other people and, you know, in the process and we have to waiting for the one place, and then, you know, we make an appointment what time the boat will come in to pick our rope so that’s why very critical, you know.
Ethan Soo 1:26
Yeah, so describe to me your experience on the boat.
Tho Ho 1:30
Our boat around… Let me see… 40… 50… I think 60 feet. 59 people. Children, lady, woman, and man. Different group. On the boat, if I can reach my hand out to the level sea, I can touch the sea, the water sea, water level. I can touch that. Very dangerous. The first day on the trip, we got a storm. The storm hit our boat, and then luckily, we have another boat… or another, you know, they try to escape too, but they try to pick up their family, but suddenly, you know, the communist know. The government knows they come to pick their family and then they ran away and they left behind their wife and children, you know, so… and then they follow us to the same travel, the same journey. After the storm stop and then we check out our supply. Our boat runs out food, the water, and the oil. And another boat follow us and then they pick us up to their boat. Because their boat very big. It took us three day we hit the Malaysia and then they… we saw that the refugee islands but they don’t let us to land it. And then the Malaysia Navy, they come to check us, because in their boat, they have the weapon because they heard about pirates from Thailand. That’s why they’re very scared. But when they close to the Malaysia border, they throw away the weapon, but when the Malaysian police asked them the weapon then, they saw some ammunition, and then, they stopped our boat, and then, they go out to where they threw away our weapon. They try to retrieve the weapon but they could not make it because under the sea and you know, so…
Tam Hoang 4:00
After that, what refugee camp did you end up going to?
Tho Ho 4:05
The refugee camp name is Palotanga Mershing.
Tam Hoang 4:11
And how was daily life like living in the refugee camp? Did you make any friends or…?
Tho Ho 4:16
Of course. That’s easy to make friend that time. You know why? Because we got a different… in Vietnam we live a different area, but we got the same fate, the same situation. Everybody escaped for some reason: economy, religion, political, some in jail, some, you know… so that’s the same environment. That’s why we are easy to make friends that time. So we got the same story, the same difficult time, the travel, you know, so it look like the same. That’s why it was easy to make friend and people very friendly, because we try to help each other during a difficult time, you know, so that’s a very, very good. But this one thing is, you know, you live with the family, suddenly, you broke the family. And then you got lonely on the island. On the islands, you don’t know what to do. You don’t know what country you go.
Ethan Soo 5:26
Did you ever see anyone that you knew from back in Vietnam at this refugee camp?
Tho Ho 5:31
Oh, well, we are lucky. I have one distant uncle. They escaped before me, about one week. But you know, they got the same camp and when I came up, the people know him and said, “Your uncle just left. Go to the United States.” And I just know he may go to the United States. That’s all I know. You know, so…
Ethan Soo 5:56
Like so… When you had gotten on the plane, what was that like?
Tho Ho 6:00
How do I feel? How do you feel? You know, this is the… I tell you in my life, I have three dream, because when I left the country, I have three dream. Okay. That mean first, when I left the country, I continue school. The second, I have to bring all my parents and all my brother and sister with me. The third one, I have to work. That mean three dream. But 18 months in a refugee camp look like in a prison. But it’s still better than under communist control. That mean I could not describe how happy I am. I tell you right now, I could not describe. Very heavy, you know, because 18 months in refugee camp I’m already so tired.
Coming to America
Tam Hoang 0:00
When did you come to America? And what were your first impressions of America? What was it like? And how did you feel seeing or being in America?
Tho Ho 0:10
For being in America? When my… my plan is, first stop at Washington State 21st, February 21, 1981. That’s winter time. The first time I saw snow. Very impressive. During school, during 1975, I study talking about snow, storm, volcano, earthquake. I never hit the reality. We just imagined it, how the thing is, but the first time very impressed me. It’s fun. That’s for the snow. And then the second thing, I say, this is the country. I have to live it. I have to continue my life forever. I don’t decide to go anything else. That’s why when I first landed to Washington State, this is the country. It helped me and I have to help the country, too.
Tam Hoang 1:24
Could you describe how it was like adjusting to new life in the country? Did you feel any pressure to help your family back in Vietnam?
Tho Ho 1:35
That was your obligation. For me. For I don’t know other people. Or because when I first left, in my mind, I will bring my family together. That my first… my first goal when I first came during school, then I have to do it. And then of course, lonely, because you have to deal with reality. You know, you live with the all Vietnamese community. And suddenly you have only one Vietnamese in the room. And around you is the foreign people like America, or you know, so of course the language is an obstacle, too, so you’re shy to talk to them, right? So you could not go out to make friends at all. Lock yourself in the room. If you… for my case, I have no car, nothing. Just took the bus and then you know, so go to school, took the bus or walk. Even I worked at night I worked for the Chinese restaurant. At night, one o’clock, I walked home. If I leave and I missed the bus, I walked home. So that’s very difficult for the beginning time.
Tam Hoang 2:52
When you were in America, and when you first came… Did you know where the rest of your family was in Vietnam? And how did you reconnect with them?
Tho Ho 3:04
Yes, that time, communication was very difficult. Okay, that mean when I want to mail the letter to my dad, I don’t tell exactly what I want. For example, if I want to send money to them, I have to tell them secretly, go there. Then, they will communicate. They connected that they know what’s going on. Even they… my dad write a letter for me. If any special he wants to let me know, he’d have to write in the edge of the letter. That mean very important thing. Because every time you send a letter to the communist, they open up, then they read it or my dad send it to me, they cut it, they read it before I got it. So that’s why very critical that time and then the way I… in my case 1981 we could not mail or send the money to my parents. But that time I can send goods. Like I buy favorites. I buy the thing they can sell back to get the money from that.
Tam Hoang 4:22
After living in America, how did you bring the rest of your family over?
Tho Ho 4:28
At first, 1981, when I first came here, that’s February. December 1981, I start file the petition for my family already. And that was very early. Supposed to be you have to have the US citizen before you can petition the family, but I ahead of it. In 1981, I already put application for all my brother and my parents. And then, you know, so the process went until ’86. ’86, I ready for US citizen and then I start put more the documentation for complete the petition. But it takes… my parents and my brother and sister came in 1992 and enlist 11 years after that.
Tam Hoang 5:30
Were you grateful to have come to America and have your whole family with you? Why or why not?
Tho Ho 5:37
First you have to dream happy. Everything you have to dream happy but in a happy what you have? That mean you have family. Then you set your goal. Then it come through. And that’s the dream come about, but during on the dream, you have the challenge, too. But now thinking back. Honestly, I’m almost retired anyway, you know? And thinking back is very accomplished. I accomplished my dream. I set my goal and I got it.
Ethan Soo 0:00
Have you returned to Vietnam since you had originally left and why or why not?
Tho Ho 0:05
First, this is a very critical question. Actually, I don’t want to go back to Vietnam. Actually, I don’t want to go back. Because when I left country, I saw the communists in front of me with the weapon. They try to shoot. When I ready to escape on that evening, I saw them walk back and forth with the gun in their hand. I sit on the sea. On the shore, I sit right there. I saw them back and forth, they bring the gun. They know it. They know someone who escaped at night. They know it, then they walk back and forth. But I don’t lie. Like I told you, I don’t believe in communism. My mom got liver cancer, when I brought her here. And then during 1992, when she came here, I brought her to the specialist care. 1995, doctor find out the cancer is spread. Then, she left behind four family. That mean two daughters and two sons. They already have married. So that’s why she want to come back there to see their kid the last time, for their kids. But in our family, nobody can bring her there. So I’m the one. I’m the one to have to brought her to see the rest of the kids. In my mind, I don’t want to go back there. Because actually, I don’t scare communists, but I don’t agree with them. So that’s why I don’t want to. But finally I have to. I have to bring them back. So I take two months. The reason I take two months is, I say this is the one chance for my life, I don’t come back anymore. That’s why I take two months over there. And I will go to from north to south. I want to see my parents’ birthplace, because when I grow up, I never seen that. Then, I want to see how their life change. But before I came back there, I collect all the article they talking about Vietnam. They talking about they change political they change religion, or they change the society. I read all of them. I collect all of them. So I prepare for myself, just in case. And then I finally came back there. So my classmates during my high school time… Now they have the… they hold a higher position in the government and they want to recruit me to go back there to work with them. They say, “Come back, you know, I have a chance to work with the… offer the job for you came back work with us?” I told them no. When I left the country, you guys almost killed me. The second thing is, I don’t like the communists. Why I have to go back here to work with you guy? I have no hope that time. Now you guy want me to go back to work with you? You guys have to change and make the freedom for the people to make living better. So they told me you came back here. Don’t say anything against the government. Then I told them, I don’t care. If you want to call the police to handcuff me, go ahead. I’m ready. But I tell the truth. The truth when I see in America, and the truth when I left the country, until now, still the same. That mean I want to tell the truth. But you want to call the police come to rescue– handcuff me. Go ahead. I’m ready. So they changed the subject. They don’t want to talk about the politic anymore.
Tam Hoang 4:07
If you’re telling your story, what is one thing you want other people to learn from it?
Tho Ho 4:13
Well, when I came here, they asking me how I came here. I told them. Then they say why you don’t write a book and then get in a movie? I told them no. Because five… 5 million people escaped in refugee camp, they have a different story. You know, so each they have a different story and different thinking. So that’s not common sense. But the common sense is, you know, we are same refugee camp, then the same reason to come… same reason like political, religion, and economy. That’s why we ran the country… we escaped the country. If you ask any American want to learn from my story, that depends on how they believe. This is my story, my experience. I know a couple of people they travel a lot, but before they travel, they asking me… they asking me, if I go there, what should I do? And you know, so I told them you gotta go with the tour group and then you don’t have to worry anything. But you want to see the real life, real Vietnamese life, you have to go to by yourself with someone know their life miserable, then you understand more than, you know, the government want to show because you go to the tour group, the tourists will show you the good place, but they didn’t show you the dark side of the country.
Ethan Soo 6:00
Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you had never fled Vietnam and you had stayed with your family and had continued to work in the camps?
Tho Ho 6:09
Thanks for asking me that. So once a while, we are family together. Which if you’ve got a question… even Tam, I keep asking him: suppose we could not go to the United States and then we still in Vietnam, what happen to us? We get the same thing with the people over there, maybe worse. So we never know. But the thing we know it now, that mean we happy with what we have now. But imagine for thinking back, you know, if supposed to be we could not escape, we still stuck in Vietnam, what our life is? Is the same thing with other people.
Ethan Soo 6:48
Do you think, today, could you forgive someone who fought for the communists?
Tho Ho 6:55
Yeah, very interesting thing, you know, so, you asked… That’s a psychology problem. During the war, I see the dead all the time. Okay. Then I dream it. You know, I want to protect my freedom. I have to sacrifice for that, too. My friend, he died for the freedom. He got communists killed him. But that time, I’m very interested in it. To protect for freedom. I will join. I don’t care I die, you know, so I want to join them. But forgive them? Suddenly, right now I said… I told you is a psychology. I look back, 58,000 American soldiers die in Vietnam. North and South Vietnam… We die 5 million. North and south. Both sides. Totally died 5 million people in vain. For one reason: the power. But if the communist cannot run the country, why did they not change? So why they still, you know, hold the power and make people lives more miserable. So I forgave them, I forgive them. Yes. But for build a country. That’s the best way they have to. They have to open up for the democracy and then let the people, the good people… then to make the people life much better.