Interview with Walter Nguyen

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Walter Nguyen

Date

2018-08-23

Format

audio

Identifier

2018oh003_btba_001

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Betsy Brody

Interviewee

Walter Nguyen

OHMS Object Text

5.4 Interview with Walter Nguyen, August 23, 2018 2018oh003_btba_001 1:43:44 ohbtba Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans btba001 Vietnamese in North Texas Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans Dr. Walter Nguyen Betsy Brody mp3 oh-audio-dig-nguyewh20180823.mp3 1:|13(14)|19(10)|26(6)|34(13)|44(9)|53(9)|60(8)|69(4)|78(11)|87(4)|95(13)|103(2)|111(1)|119(2)|130(11)|138(5)|148(10)|156(7)|166(5)|177(2)|185(1)|193(4)|202(10)|211(5)|221(6)|229(3)|238(14)|248(1)|257(14)|266(10)|274(10)|283(11)|292(7)|300(7)|309(4)|314(9)|323(12)|330(15)|339(5)|348(11)|360(1)|369(9)|376(8)|384(10)|395(1)|404(14)|415(3)|422(5)|431(11)|438(9)|447(5)|455(4)|461(6)|468(3)|473(9)|479(10)|487(11)|495(4)|503(13)|514(3)|524(6)|534(8)|542(10)|546(14)|553(8)|560(2)|567(5)|574(3)|584(3)|592(9)|602(1)|607(6)|617(6)|627(5)|637(6)|647(1)|653(14)|663(12)|673(11)|683(11)|692(8)|700(2)|707(8)|717(6)|725(11)|732(3)|740(11)|747(3)|757(1)|764(4)|770(7)|777(3)|785(5)|793(10)|800(15)|809(13)|818(12)|827(11)|836(12)|842(12)|851(11)|860(11)|870(4) 0 https://betsybrody.aviaryplatform.com/embed/media/114081 Aviary audio 3 Introduction 30 Life in Vietnam after 1975 BRODY: Just to start out, can you tell me a little bit about your life in Vietnam? NGUYEN: My life in Vietnam before I arrived in America was not good. It’s—you know, it was post-1975, I was still there and lived under the new government’s communist system for roughly seven to eight years or so, and I completely did not have any job. I was constantly under watch and spied on, mainly because I, before the Fall of Saigon, after my graduation from the University of Saigon, I worked for the South Vietnamese government as a press officer. That’s why they highly suspected my whereabouts, my background, and would not allow me to apply for any job with the new—whether it’s government or private entity, because they always frowned upon or look with a suspicious eye on anyone who had any tie with the former regime as well as the government, or even the American government then. So yes, so life was very rough. Food was scarce and no jobs, no transportation, even places to live, you know, had—this is rough, there is no place, permanent residence or anything. I lived with a relative who—my entirely family did, so it’s been very hard under that kind of condition, yeah. |00:02:51| BRODY: How old were you at the time of the Fall of Saigon? NGUYEN: I was twenty-four, going on to twenty-five years old. Fall of Saigon;post-war Vietnam;surveillance;University of Saigon 230 Finding an English teaching job BRODY: Okay. So then, life was hard and it was hard to—no food, no job, it was difficult. What happened to you after the Fall of Saigon? What did you do next? NGUYEN: I’d—for almost two or three years or so, you know, I kept searching for a job. It hadn’t been that easy. Like I said earlier, with all the—with the background in the way they look at who they should have employed and so forth, very hard. There was a short period in 1979, starting in 1979, I was able to find a teaching job, English teaching. Mostly it’s just kind of a private tutoring with families, with young people and rich families who wanted their kids to learn English because a lot of people wanted to get out, and they thought that English would be something that—a language that most people need to learn, and because I graduated as an English major, so I was able to find a short-time teaching job. But that didn’t last long, mainly because it didn’t really make—I couldn’t make a living out of it, but then also my desire at the time was to find a way to get out. employment;English;jobs;teaching English 283 Failed attempts to leave Vietnam/Arrest and Jail BRODY: So you had your eyes on leaving Vietnam the whole time. So how did it come to pass that you were able to leave? NGUYEN: Yeah, actually, my first attempt to leave Vietnam was in 1979, was only like four years after the Fall of Saigon. But it was unsuccessful, poorly planned, and I actually got arrested and was put in jail for about three months with no official charge of anything besides the fact that they said, you know, “If you’re trying to escape Vietnam, you’re committing treason. And our punishment could be anywhere from imprisonment to capital punishment, which could mean that we can kill you if we want to.” That’s all they said. So I was jailed for the three months, but then I was released. After the release, I virtually became homeless because I couldn’t go back to where I used to live, because then the local authority would be very hard on me, so I joined a group that made another attempt—make a big attempt to escape, but this one is actually more organized and have more money to buy a better boat. And during 1979, especially after my failed attempt, there was this big push by the Vietnamese authority for the Chinese to get out of Vietnam, because they had some dispute with China. And so what they were trying to do was they organized actually a legal deportation, in a way, but they allowed a lot of ethnic Chinese, you know, Vietnamese of Chinese descent, to leave legally on those boats, as long as they pay. So we were—I was one of those who got on one of these boats, but registered, we paid all the money we have, but never get to leave, because that whole thing only lasted for, like, two years or so and then they cancelled everything. So I didn’t ever get to leave. I continued to live on that little boat anyway, because I have no home, and then from that point I make, you know, under the owner of the boat’s organization—they’re trying to help a lot of people to get out on a little boat instead of his big one—and so I try another three attempts, and out of the three attempts, one failed, but I was able to get away and not be arrested. The other two I got arrested again, so I was put in jail for another two times over a period of about five or six months, two different jails. arrest;boat;Chinese;escape;ethnic Chinese;jail;legal deportation;Vietnamese of CHinese descent 543 Successful Escape from Vietnam-November 1982 NGUYEN: And so anyway, the last time that I made the trip that was successful is November of 2018—I’m sorry, of 1992 [Brody note: meant to say “1982”], November, and that was more well-organized by the owner of that big ship (unintelligible), and we actually bought—he actually bought a fishing boat and took some of us, mostly just guys, to go out there and work as fishermen in a little town on the coastline of South Vietnam. And then one day, and I remember it was November—I think it’s October thirtieth—it was very dark, it’s a dark night—October the thirtieth, thirty-first or so, of 1982, we all gather, families and friends, thirty-six altogether, we got on that boat and we sailed out as though we’re going fishing. And it was dark. At night when we chose to leave was very dark, you know, it’s not a full moon night or anything, it’s very dark, and that’s how we were able to escape successfully without being caught without anybody chasing after us. After three days and three nights on the high sea, we were aiming to go toward the Philippines, because this is in the southern part of Vietnam, but it’s more or less we get out of the boat with—there was a—there’s not a lot of equipment. There’s a compass, that’s the only thing, and so we’re just going to steer east, yes, but it’s sort of a—it’s going south as well, somehow we were drifting south. And then on the night of November—about three nights or so after we left, we were spotted by a French vessel. BRODY: Spotted by the French— NGUYEN: Yeah, yeah, it’s called the Le Goelo. And Le Goelo is—and I think it was a miracle, because Le Goelo was a ship that was chartered by a group of French doctors, who during the early eighties and the late seventies, because of the boat peoples’ situation, they wanted to go out on the south Asian—yeah, South Asian Sea to pick up and rescue refugees. And this was a miracle because it was very dark, 8 p.m. at night, they—we were near something that we thought it may be an island or what, but we didn’t know what it was. I think we almost ran out of fuel. There was some trouble with the engine, and all of a sudden we hear some loud noise, an approaching ship, and then they ran very fast and somebody from up there on that ship asked us to stop. We were scared, we thought it just might be just the Vietnamese communists’ boat or maybe Russian, very friendly to them, maybe they just found us and tow us back or what. But anyway, that was a miraculous night because as soon as we stopped, they shined lights on our boat and somebody on that boat spoke English. And the question they asked us was, “Does anyone on this boat speak English?” So I immediately ran up to the upper deck and I said, “Yes, I do.” Then the second question was—and I will never forget this—the question was, “Are you good people?” Because I think the question was asked because they didn’t know if we were actually refugees, fishermen, or even pirates. You know? It’s very hard to tell, it was (unintelligible) of dark and all that. BRODY: Right. They wanted to know, too. NGUYEN: Fortunately, we actually have children and women. So everybody go up, and I said, “Yes, we are. We are refugees, we’re trying to escape Vietnam.” And this is the word that I remember and I tell a lot of people when I was doing talking about that day, I said this is the word I hear from the captain. He said, “Then come on board.” And they immediately operated a rescue mission, a rescue task—and just unforgettable. They put a big net over to us, to our boat, and then some of their sailors went out, they started carrying the women, children. And they said, “Any belongings, anyone wanting to come, just go.” And so we all, men, just climbed up there on the net, and they took it over, everything. After everything was done, they said, “Well, come over here, take a last look at your boat, because by law, we have to sink it.” BRODY: Oh boy. NGUYEN: Yes. Because if there’s a floating boat on the sea they—you know, international law or something about they have to—if they see something like that, people have to find out what’s going on there. So now that they already rescued the people, so they’ve got to sink that boat. So they sunk the boat, and we saw it slowly— boat people;Communists;compass;English;escape;fishing boat;French doctors;Le Goelo;miracle;Phillippines;pirates;refugees;rescue;South Asia Sea 925 Reflections on watching fishing boat sink/Reflections on being rescued NGUYEN: Yes. Because if there’s a floating boat on the sea they—you know, international law or something about they have to—if they see something like that, people have to find out what’s going on there. So now that they already rescued the people, so they’ve got to sink that boat. So they sunk the boat, and we saw it slowly— BRODY: How did you feel as you were watching that sinking? NGUYEN: Yeah, it’s a mixed emotion because, you know, that boat is the ticket, is the ticket for us to get to freedom, and now we are leaving something that’s so dear to us. Although, you know, we had some very rough days on the boat, because, you know, without water and food and a lot of people get sick, but really, without that boat, we’d never see freedom. We’d never seen a better day. Anyway, they got us. We found out that this boat was on the last mission—last day of the mission because they’re returning back to their port of origin, which is Singapore. BRODY: So you were probably one of their last groups of people that they rescued. NGUYEN: Yes. Actually, when we were rescued we went up there and I found out the crew of that boat, the ship, was international. Most of them were from France, from Germany, and some of them, like, Swedens, and you know, all of these are part of the Doctors of the World’s association or group. And they told us, “You know, we have rescued a lot of people, and what we do after we rescue the refugees, we would bring them to Palawan in the Philippines where there’s Vietnamese refugees there. However, we actually were just from there, we’re on our way back because we’re out of fuel and this is our –we’ve been doing it for a month already on the high sea and we’re on our way back home. We’re turning back. But as soon as we saw you guys, we cannot just neglect—we cannot just let go. We had to stop, because this is our mission. So what happens is we will have to take every one of you going back—going to Singapore, and then we will refuel and then we will ask the French government to accept everybody here for resettlement in France,” because there was an agreement about the country then was that any ship from any country that got these boat people and rescued them, the government of that country will resettle them. So that’s kind of the rule. BRODY: That was the rule. boat;escape;freedom;hunger;international law;sickness;SIngapore;sinking 1098 Arrival in the Philippines NGUYEN: So from living in hell, we’re now living in paradise, because these boats are designed to have at least two hundred to three hundred people; it only has thirty-six. And so we were treated to some very good cuisine, very nice food, and have a place to sleep, but more important than anything, we breathe freedom. We know we got it, you know what I mean? We no longer have to fear about the communists, we no longer have to worry about being chased after, being spied on, or lack of food and all kinds of things. So that’s the greatest feeling ever. When we got to Singapore, we were not allowed in there, because we are stateless. We having nothing of worth, of anything, no document or what. They radioed to the French government and the French government says, “Yeah, we’ll accept all of these to resettle in France.” Then they refuel and then sail back to the Philippines. So we spent another ten days— BRODY: On the sea? NGUYEN: —on the sea. And this time it’s a cruising ship. It’s not an escape boat. This is a cruising ship. It’s unbelievable. So we’re up on the deck. We’ll see beautiful landscape and sky and see all kinds of places. We got to the Philippines, and I believe it was November sixth when we got there—no, I think—yeah, November sixth or November tenth, probably November tenth, I remember, of ’82, and so all thirty-six of us, safe and sound, men and women and children, and we were there. Welcomed by the committees of Vietnamese refugees of Palawan, and we are immediately assigned someplace to stay, to sleep and eat and then start a new life as a refugee there for a few months. Now you might wonder, well, if the French government agreed to resettle everybody, why are we—you know, get a chance to go to America instead of going to France? Well, during my college year, I actually worked for the US government as well as a Vietnamese instructor to the American advisors, because many of the advisors to the Vietnam war during those days, they wanted to learn Vietnamese so that they could talk to people, and so being an English major, I was able to work part time and teach them—taught them Vietnamese. There was a curriculum that was designed by the state department so it’s not just like whatever as a teach—but based on a curriculum language institute. It was called Armed Forces Language Institute curriculum. So anyway, because of that background—and it was verified during my interview for resettlement with the US delegation at the refugee camp—that they were able to verify that I had worked for the US government agency overseas in Vietnam. So in a way, I was foreign employee of the US government. And with that status, it will take precedent over any country resettlement— BRODY: The French. NGUYEN: French, yeah. And so that’s how I and my brother—actually, two of us, me and my brother, escaped together—were able to go to America. BRODY: Okay. And everyone else went to France? NGUYEN: Yeah. The rest went to France, and—actually, a few of them—a few actually went to Australia. Australia, you know, because they had some brotherly connections, so they can go to Australia. But the two of us—and maybe there’s another family I remember, because the wife in that family was also an employee with the US government as well, so there’s like two families went to America, a total of about eight people or so. The rest, about thirty-six, went to France, with a few going to Australia, yeah. America;Australia;English;food;France;freedom;French government;language;Palawan;resettlement;resettlement in America;Singapore;teaching English;U.S. government 1384 Sponsorship in the US/Living in Wisconsin and North Dakota BRODY: So did you come first to Texas, or you were sent somewhere else in the United States? NGUYEN: I went to—first when I got to the United States I would resettle and came to a family of the sponsor in Wisconsin, in a little town called Ashland, Wisconsin. There was some connection there, because in 1996—I’m sorry, 1967—long time ago—I was a foreign exchange student from Vietnam, and I was like eleventh grade. So I got to come and live with that family in Wisconsin and went to school for one year and then came back. BRODY: So that same family sponsored you? NGUYEN: Yeah. BRODY: So you were in the Philippines, had been accepted to come resettle in the United States. NGUYEN: Right. BRODY: And did you make contact with them? NGUYEN: Yeah, as soon as I got there I made the contact with them, and they were very excited and happy to find out that I had got out safely and they were willing to sign the paperwork to sponsor me in Wisconsin, yeah. BRODY: Did they sponsor your brother also? NGUYEN: Yeah. The two of us went to Wisconsin. We stayed there for about three months. I found a job working in North Dakota for a factory in a little town called Wahpeton for like a year or so. The owner of that company had sponsored a lot of refugees from all kinds of places, working for his company, making canvas. BRODY: Canvas. NGUYEN: Yeah, canvas. You know, I just worked for a short time, for a year or so, and then I found this job working for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota in Fargo—that was in 1984—as a bilingual case worker, because there’s a lot of unaccompanied minors from Vietnam who escape and who are placed through Lutheran Immigration Services with foster homes. And North Dakota has the program, resettle all those minors, and they need a bilingual worker who can communicate with the kids and the family, you know? So that’s why I found— Ashland;canvas;case worker;employment;Fargp;foreign exchange;foster care;foster homes;Lutheran Immigration Services of North Dakota;minors;North Dakota;refugees;resettlement;sponsorship;Wisconisn 1557 Attending and working for University of Minnesota/Becoming a naturalized US citizen NGUYEN: Yeah. So I worked there for like, two years until ’86. And then my brother, during the meantime, decided that he wanted to go back to school. He was in the pharmacy school back in Vietnam when he escaped with me, but he hasn’t finished that. So he decided to go back to school, but not in pharmacy, but engineer—electrical engineering at University of Minnesota. So he got there, like—he went there in 1985 already. 1986, after two years of working I decided that, well, you know, I really liked this field even though it’s not what my prior education is all about. But I really liked, you know, social service and being a social worker, that kind of thing. So I also decided to go back to school and apply to graduate school at the University of Minnesota for my master’s in social work. Got in, graduated in two years or so. But during those two years I stayed connected with refugee programs everywhere. As a matter of fact, I was trained by—when I was a bilingual worker I was trained by a group in Colorado called the Spring Institute for International Studies. And the Spring Institute during those days, what they do is they provide a lot of cross-cultural mental health training for bilingual case workers and so forth. So I happened to attend two of their sessions, and I discovered that this is something I like to do, and they kind of liked—and really like what they see in me in terms of potential. So after I graduate from University of Minnesota, they invited me to be back to become one of their consultants. BRODY: Oh, wow. NGUYEN: So actually, I worked as a consultant for them, meaning I went back and did a lot of training for them. So I have done a lot of cross-cultural training in, you know, for case workers with them, traveled to several states and do a lot of those things. But after I graduated officially, you know, I worked for the county of Hennepin in Minnesota for, like, a year, over a year or so as a social worker. And it was ’86—actually, no, ’87 is when I—no, I’m sorry. I joined the school in ’86, graduated in ’88. In between—actually, when I graduated was on the same time I became a US citizen, which was like five years after my arrival. Arrival, ’83—so ’88 would be five years—applied, and became a US citizen. At the same time, I worked for the county of Hennepin County, so we celebrated the naturalization at the county. It was a great time, you know, everybody just loved that and celebrated with me. Then I traveled to Texas just to meet my—because my brother, after he graduated from the University of Minnesota as an engineer, he moved to Texas, got married, and he worked for GD, General Dynamics in Fort Worth. So I was the only one left there. So I decided, you know, to quit my job and move to Texas as well. But before that, I was introduced to my then fiancée, who is now my wife, who was also a refugee herself, and she was working for a refugee employment program in Dallas. And that was the year of 1989, the end of 1989, early ’90 when I moved to Dallas, Texas. BRODY: So that’s how you got to Dallas. (laughs) NGUYEN: Yeah, it’s quite a change. BRODY: Yes, I’m sure from both Vietnam and from Minnesota, and North Dakota. NGUYEN: Exactly, yeah. citizenship;cross-cultural training;graduate school;Hennepin;mental health;refugees;social work;Spring Institute for International Studies;training;University of Minnesota 1830 Impressions of Texas/Early Work with Rusk State Hospital BRODY: Well, what was Dallas like when you first came here? What do you remember about those times? NGUYEN: Yeah, you know, Dallas at that—during those—1989, early ’90 or so, there was a lot of refugees at that time. For every kid coming, especially south Asians; Laos, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Dallas was known to me—or Texas as a whole—as a southern state and there was discrimination the way that I was told and learned about. Because when I left Minnesota, which was known as very liberal, very friendly, very welcoming, I was told by somebody who used to be from Texas, who worked in Minnesota, she told me, “Why Texas?” (Brody laughs) You know? And she said, “Did you know that they speak with the Southern drawl there?” And secondly, “You know that people are not that friendly there,” you know? And I said, “Well, I don’t know if I have a choice. I’m alone now, my fiancée lives there, you know, and she has here entire family here, so it’s logical that I move there than she move north. So I will go and I’ll take the chance on all this thing.” But you know, back to your question, when I came to Dallas, I was surprised that it has already been very international, the city itself. And that I haven’t heard that Southern drawl a lot, and that there are a lot of friendly people, and that there’s huge refugee communities here as opposed to the one that I left in Minnesota, and there’s a lot of opportunity and school and all of that that opened up to me. As a matter of fact, when I first moved to Texas, I actually didn’t go directly to Dallas, because I had to find a job first before I moved. The first job that got me to Texas was in Palestine. So when I moved in the early—no, actually the end of 1989, in December—no, actually October—I found a job with a Texas state—a state hospital in Rusk. It’s called Rusk State Hospital, which is part of Texas Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, TDMHMR. That’s the name. And so I work for the state hospital as a social worker, lived in Palestine, rented an apartment there. So that’s the foot in the door to Texas. And as a matter of fact, there is when I witnessed discrimination and Southern drawl. So many of the people in east Texas, you know, speak with the accent that nobody that I have heard in Dallas would have spoken. But fortunately, my fiancée and her parents live in Dallas, so I just make that commute every weekend, come back and forth, you know. But then I was able to locate a position opening at Dallas Multicultural Community Center, which helped refugees, you know, with all kinds of services: employment, social services, mental health counseling (unintelligible). So I got that first job as a mental health— counseling;Dallas;Dallas Multicultural Community Center;discrimination;employment;jobs;mental health;Minnesota;Palestine, Texas;refugees;Rusk State Hospital;Southern drawl;TDMHMR;Texas;Texas Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation 2078 Working with the Multicultural Community Center and Dallas Challenge/Creation of East Dallas Counseling Center BRODY: Was that down in East Dallas? NGUYEN: No. Yeah, I mean, East Dallas, yeah, the center used to be on Munger. Yeah, it’s Munger—it’s called Munger Place. So yeah, I was there, I worked there for—interesting—for about six months—maybe less, even less. Then the organization in Dallas here, a nonprofit with the name called Dallas Challenge. They’re a nonprofit that works with youth doing substance abuse education prevention. They wanted to set up a program in East Dallas to provide substance abuse education prevention kind of thing for the Asian youth. And so they actually found me while I was working for the Multicultural Community Center, so I— BRODY: So they found you. So that sounds like there was a need in Dallas at that point. So by the mideighties, there was enough of a refugee population here and a young refugee population that there was a need for a special substance abuse and mental health. And so how did they find you? NGUYEN: Well you know, I was working at the Multicultural Community Center, and one day there was a guy, and he worked for that Dallas Challenge. And he was a social worker, Hispanic. He came to the center and looked around and then he met me, and he said, “Hey,” introduced himself and said, look, he’s looking for maybe an Asian person, you know, with a degree, maybe a social work degree or a counseling degree that can manage a new program they are going to establish here in Dallas. So after he left, you know, and he gave me his business card, I called back and said, “I want to tell you that I am the one you’re looking for.” BRODY: That’s amazing. NGUYEN: Yeah. So he said, “Is that true?” “Yeah.” And so I told him, you know, my background, my education, all that, then he said, “Great. Do you want to apply for this?” I said sure, and so I applied for the position. They interviewed me and then they offered me the position. And I found out that the idea for them is to find someone, they will train the person for three years, and then they will let the person—they will spin off that particular branch that they establish to become its own entity, which was perfect, because my—I just loved to be able to develop, create an agency, something like that, and now this is an opportunity to work for someone else, maybe in a field that’s not necessarily very prevalent in terms of substance abuse within the Asian population; however, this is a stepping stone, a beginning where—nowhere that you can get this, you know? So after three years or so, I got all the training that I needed to manage and know what an operation is like, and I formed a board and all of that. Then they official spin me off in ’93, in the fall of ’93. BRODY: And did you get a new name for the organization? NGUYEN: Yeah—well, the name is still the same name as the organization under them, which was East Dallas Counseling Center. So I continued that name until 2003 when we changed to Mosaic Family Services, yeah. BRODY: Which is where you are now. NGUYEN: Right, right, yeah. Asian youth;Dallas;Dallas Challenge;East Dallas;East Dallas Counseling Center;education;mental health;mental health programs;Mosaic Family Services;Multicultural Community Center;Munger Place;nonprofits;refugee;refugee mental health;social work;substance abuse 2353 Memories of Little Asia BRODY: So with the East Dallas community—Counseling Center, sorry—that was located in— NUGYEN: In East Dallas, right in the—right on—let’s see, Bryan Street, where there’s what they call Little Asia. BRODY: Yes, Little Asia, that’s what I was going to ask you about. In Little Asia, can you share with me any of your memories of sort of what the energy was like, what that felt like during the time period that you were working there and when the East Dallas Counseling Center was getting established in that area? Because it was a vibrant area. NGUYEN: Community, yeah. See, a lot of newly arrived refugees lived right there when they first came. As a matter of fact, all of the resettlement agencies, like Catholic Charities and Refugee Services of Texas and International Rescue Committee, they—when they brought the sponsor of those refugees, they noticed most of them were southeast Asian, Vietnamese predominantly. They just occupied a lot of the apartment complexes around that little area. BRODY: The voluntary agencies have those apartments. NGUYEN: Right, around there. So it’s just like a village of—a Vietnamese village, a Lao village, a Cambodian village outside of Southeast Asia. BRODY: Right. Did you live there, also, in that area? NGUYEN: No. I—well, actually, I lived in East Ellisberg, I lived off of White Rock Lane. So it’s not too far from there, but it’s also East Dallas. BRODY: But you were there in Little Asia working all the time? NGUYEN: Right, right, yeah. BRODY: So, I mean, what did it sound like? Were you just hearing different languages on the street? How about the food? NGUYEN: Yeah. You know, the fun thing was there are a lot of people from different communities, but they all get along very well, they all are clustered around an area, and then they started small restaurants, like that Vietnam restaurant that still is very—it’s still operational now and doing very well. When I came, back in the early 1990, they were already there. They continue to thrive, and you know there’s a Laos restaurant across the street, there’s a Thai food as well, there’s a Cambodian shop—restaurant on—let’s see, on Carroll Street, which is just a block away. And then down the road towards uptown, not downtown, but toward—on Bryan, there are two restaurants. One is Vietnamese, called Mai, M-a-i, Mai’s Vietnamese Restaurant, and then there’s a restaurant that’s still now is functioning, it’s—I can’t remember the name, but they sort of half Chinese, half Vietnamese. They’re doing fine. And there are little grocery stores sprung up too. There’s one—and I think the exciting part was that the Dallas Police Department started hiring the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian police officers, and there’s a group that they—because they found out that the best model of policing is to hire civilians who work for the police department, but become an outreach contact for the department, who go into communities and establish relationships with refugees who arrive there. Because historically, refugees don’t like police because, you know, in their own country, police are not their friend, not protecting them, they’re protecting the government or somebody else. The police is harassing them, you know, making their life—they’re more like not law enforcement, but they’re—you know, they’re harassing people, they make people’s life hard, they really persecute and all of that. So this model is working real well, because these are very friendly people, and they go into the community and see what people need, and that’s how to prevent crime. Because they found out that, Oh wow, sometimes they bring rice and they welcome anybody who arrives here with a bag of rice and some fish sauce or something— apartments;Asian food;Bryan Street;Carroll Street;Catholic Charities;East Dallas;East Dallas Counseling Center;food;grocery stores;housing;International Rescue Committee;Little Asia;Mai Vietnamese Restaurant;Refugee Services of Texas;refugees;resettlement agencies;restaurants;sponsors;Vietnam restaurant;voluntary agencies 2593 Dallas Police Department community outreach in Little Asia/Experience with Dallas Police Department NGUYEN:...I think the exciting part was that the Dallas Police Department started hiring the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian police officers, and there’s a group that they—because they found out that the best model of policing is to hire civilians who work for the police department, but become an outreach contact for the department, who go into communities and establish relationships with refugees who arrive there. Because historically, refugees don’t like police because, you know, in their own country, police are not their friend, not protecting them, they’re protecting the government or somebody else. The police is harassing them, you know, making their life—they’re more like not law enforcement, but they’re—you know, they’re harassing people, they make people’s life hard, they really persecute and all of that. So this model is working real well, because these are very friendly people, and they go into the community and see what people need, and that’s how to prevent crime. Because they found out that, Oh wow, sometimes they bring rice and they welcome anybody who arrives here with a bag of rice and some fish sauce or something— BRODY: The police? NGUYEN: Yes. They do that in conjunction with the resettlement and community center, but it works really well. And so—and I think they continued that model until very recently when refugees were no longer needed or live here, because after a few years, East Dallas, Little Asia was not so much Little Asia anymore because—there are still some restaurants, but the inhabitants and the residents of that community have moved out; moved out to the suburbs, moved out to other towns, after they have found jobs they have been able to (intercom noise sounds)—oh God (unintelligible). pause in recording BRODY: All right. Go ahead, carry on. NGUYEN: Okay, yeah. So I think again, that model worked really well and very friendly. So yeah, being there right in the middle of Little Asia, eating the food that I’m familiar with, parking, working with the folks that share my experience was very inspiring. BRODY: Yeah, and also probably—it sounds like made you feel more at home— NGUYEN: Exactly. BRODY: —and more a part of a community. I’d imagine that being a refugee or even moving from North Dakota, you could possibly feel isolated, but coming into a vibrant, welcoming community like that sounds like it’s (unintelligible) good. attitudes toward police;community;community outreach;crime prevention;Dallas Police Department;language;police;refugees;resetllement;rice 2787 Family Violence and Mental Health Programs/Police Storefronts and Community Outreach I’m glad you brought up the police, because the Dallas Police Department and the city of Dallas—I wonder if you have, you know, in the work that you did, if you had a lot of contact with the city or with the police department in working in the mental health area for refugees. NGUYEN: The mental health is not necessarily where the contact with the police department as much as later on when we created the Family Violence component or program, because a lot of victims or survivors were brought to us by the police department, or we worked closely with them so that we can inform them of what the needs are. And we also provide translation and interpretation. So that’s how we were, we’re constantly in contact and, you know, in our work with the police department. The mental health part which—it’s not so much the police that we make contact with or partnered with. It’s the community itself, especially community leaders and groups, or sometimes individuals who have received some help and feel that it’s benefit them to spread the word. That’s how we were able to reach out to a lot of people and do some education through outreach about what mental health is. “You can get help, and this is how, where, and you can get it.” In the early days, our mental health counseling program was very small, and we did mostly just a lot of case management and outreach because the funding is not there. Most of the funding from government that we receive, goes through providing case management, access to services for physical health and mental health for any refugee group. But later on, we found out that through Family Violence, we were able to access more funding and we were able to—yeah, it doesn’t have to be just refugees, it could be any other marginalized groups, immigrants as a whole that are survivors. So we primarily still target refugees, although the refugee population has changed over time. For example, after several years, we started seeing a lot of Bosnian, you know? And we see that, and so I hire Bosnian case workers and then later on you have, you know, during the same time, at that time we have the Kurdish refugees as well. So the police department is always very friendly. And, by the way, through the Little Asia community, the police department had created the storefront, the police storefronts. Yeah, which for many years were right across the street from us on Peak. And that was an excellent concept as well, because it’s more accessible. They don’t have to go—people have to go right downtown, and people are more scared of that, and they have civilian officers as well who work for the police department, who speak all of these languages, so, you know—and so people can access the police department just like a social service, and I think that model really worked out well. Bosnians;case management;City of Dallas;civiloian officers;community outreach;counseling;Dallas Police Department;domestic violence;Family Violence;immigrants;Kurds;mental health;outreach;Peak Street;police;police storefronts;refugees;translation;victims 3058 Observations on the Vietnamese Community in North Texas BRODY: Yeah, it really worked, especially for the community in Little Asia. That model seems like it led to such great success that, you know, as you said, many people moved out of Little Asia because they moved to the suburbs or whatever it was. What is your observation of the Vietnamese community from—I know you got here in the eighties, but, you know, as they grew from 1975 till the present, and what is—in your experience or your observation, what is the story of the Vietnamese community in north Texas? NGUYEN: It’s almost the same story everywhere you go. Earlier today on the way back here from lunch, I heard over NPR a refugee from Vietnam who came here when he was four years old, talked about some of the issues with immigration and refugees and so forth. And he completely reminded me of what I have seen over the years, what happened with the Vietnamese refugees everywhere we go. And that is—the story is almost similar, regardless—and you probably have known this—the refugees from Vietnam came in three different waves primarily. You have the “boat people” and the early evacuees after ’75, and then you have the Amerasians, you know, they’re Amerasian. And then you have the former political prisoners. So they are a different group, came because of a different reason, you know, but they all came to America at different times, always started out pretty rough in terms of very little resources they have when they came, but they only—they go through some gradual adjustment period. For some who have good education, they could adjust within a year or two years, some it’s longer. But it’s all about rebuilding their life and provide for their kids, opportunity to obtain a good education, and eventually these young kids are the ones that will make the dream come true for everyone. And their story has always been just like that. And they are very successful as businessmen, in all kinds of professions. Of course, some of the traditional values they bring with them such as, you know, strong family values and emphasis on education, they may have certain bias regarding which profession that you need to pursue that creates some pressure for younger people. And for me and my wife, and we were just like all these parents nowadays. Our kids were born here, so they grew up with different sets of values as compared to what their parents’ values were, but there’s got to be some compromise. But like that story was told earlier when I heard that the refugees, the Vietnamese refugees, has never been an issue, even though they came over a stretch of many years, especially ever since 1975, there’s a lot of opposition for welcoming the early wave of refugees from Vietnam after the end of the war, but like the man said, they are an invisible group of people. Nobody talks about them at all until they become a problem. Then they become so visible, just like nowadays with the border crossers and refugees that—with immigrants and people who cross the border, immigration becomes a huge problem and then refugees (unintelligible) it’s a difficult topic as well. So the stories of the Vietnamese refugees was said to be kind of invisible. It has never been visible, really. If it is visible, it’s all about success, it’s about oh, some, you know, unusual contribution and all of that. And fortunately it has not a story of troublemaking or for negative press coverage or anything like that. You know, occasionally they talk about like a gang group here and there, but the majority of the Vietnamese refugees have contributed so much to America and make their lives much better than where they came from and contribute so much to making America more diverse. They give back so much and make our country stronger. So I see—that’s really the kind of story I’ve seen in every group. adjustment;Amerasians;assimilation;boat people;contributions;diversity;gangs;identity;immigrants;integration;poltical prisoners;refugees;suburbs;success 3474 Amerasian children NGUYEN: You know, if I say that, you probably won’t be surprised. When I and my wife got married here in the—actually in 1990, that was a time when a lot of Amerasians arrived. And you’ve heard of Amerasians, right? We have adopted a few—not adopted in terms of legal adoption or anything, but for example, there are several Amerasian children—well, they’re sort of teens, and then when they came with their mother and their mother got so ill and passed away, before she passed away she said, you know, “Could I entrust you to take care of my children?” And we said, “Sure.” So we continue to help and watch after those kids. Now, none of those kids had any education. BRODY: They just came recently? NGUYEN: Yeah, yeah—no, no, these were back in the nineties. BRODY: In the nineties, okay. NGUYEN: The Amerasians was the second group of refugees that arrived. Like I said, three waves. The first wave, the “boat people,” that was my wave. And then you have Amerasian is the second wave, and then you have the political prisoners—former prisoners—the third wave. Which—Amerasians and former political prisoners came very close to each other, anywhere between around ’88 to around 1998, so about ten years or so of that. They—those children, no education, because that’s the reality of what they suffered back in the Vietnam. You know, very poor, were not accepted, they completely were discarded by society and considered by what people called “dust of life.” That’s the word they called these Amerasian children, “dust of life.” They considered them just like dirt. That’s really what it is. Anyway, when we sponsored these kids, you know, in a way like we say, “Okay, we’ll take care of you guys, come and visit us and if you need anything we’ll take care of them.” And I remember during the early years, I have bailed some of these guys out of jail a couple times because, you know, they didn’t know anything about law, so we start helping them, then—tell you what happened twenty-some years later. The children have grown up. They went to Ivy League schools, they graduated from UT–Austin. Some doctors, some joined even the US Army, some are engineers, and look at where they came from. BRODY: Yeah, those are some great success stories. NGUYEN: Yeah. And it’s not unusual either, because I’ve seen a rampant number of these families, always the same. I haven’t seen any of these children from the Amerasian group who have not been successful. You know, maybe some more dramatic than some others, but none of them that I’ve seen have become homeless or the children not going to school or doing something productive and contributing back. So regardless of the background, it’s just—what America gives them, the opportunity, they seize on it and make something—and make a great story for themselves. BRODY: It’s a great story for everyone, yes. NGUYEN: Yeah, exactly, yeah. Amerasian;Amerasians;boat people;dust of life;education;Ivy League;opportunity;political prisoners;poverty;sponsor;success;US Army;UT-Austin 3704 American identity/Attitudes about Vietnam today BRODY: That brings me to another area that we haven’t talked about yet, and that’s the question of becoming American and being American, or the idea of identity. Can you tell me a little bit about your thoughts, having been in not just two different countries but, you know, different parts of this country? What does it mean to you to say that you’re American, or to say that someone’s American? NGUYEN: I think just for my situation, half of my lifetime—actually, over half of my lifetime now, I’ve lived here. Less than half of my lifetime was back there, and so—but I was born there, and have spent many years there of my early years there. It’s very hard to forget that root, it’s very hard to forget that language and that connection to, you know, to the Vietnamese heritage. So for me, becoming American (cell phone rings)—let me see, I need to—how do I turn it off, here—becoming American is a necessary process to be successful because in this community, in the larger society, to gain a career, to have a place in this community, you have to be—you have to get a good education, that’s almost a sin qua non, you know, it’s a necessary thing. But you have to adopt certain values that are functioning that would keep you or put you in the same consideration when you go out there and compete for a job or to gain an opportunity for a new career or life in America. So that—if I go to work, I am only American. You know, that’s supposed to be that way, because what I do, the language that I use every day, the people I work with, you know, and the partners and the community, everything else and not just local, nationally and internationally too, it’s that American identity seems to take over. I would say a small part of that identity, more or less sort of invisible or hidden, is still there as a Vietnamese when I come home, when I celebrate certain traditional festivals or what, and because of that root that I said is there. You cannot just chop it off and say you don’t know anything about it. It’s still there. So I would say to be successful, you would adopt the identity and become part of the American identity, but you don’t necessarily have to forget who you are and where you came from, because that—sometimes, especially if you were not born here, somehow it’s hard to say you a hundred percent belong in here, you know, even though that’s what your life has always been now. Still, there’s little space there. So I have concluded that—and even with the staff working here, I’ve seen successful people are the ones who are able to navigate successful in both cultures without favoring one to another, and so adoption of an identity as an American doesn’t necessarily negate where you came from. As a matter of fact, with what happened in the country of origin in our day was very troublesome, because we—you know, and I don’t know if you have been aware of, because what recently have been happening back in Vietnam was that there is a lot of—the government itself has tried to become close to China, and recently they proposed certain laws where they would lease the land for ninety-nine years to communist China, and so there’s a lot of resistance from the people because if this is what they do, they’d basically be selling the country. Sold out. Sell it to China. And so what we are scared the most right now, and not just—well, the identity of whether you’re American and Vietnamese or not, we may not even have that Vietnamese identity any longer. BRODY: Right, so that’s troubling. NGUYEN: Yeah, it’s very troubling. And so many people who demonstrated and went out there were arrested now, and they basically—you know, the communists, they enforced the law, the way they interpret is very strongly, they will not allow any peaceful demonstrations, they arrest so many dissidents, so many who just express that, you know, we don’t want this to happen. They arrest a lot of people and putting in jail, but I think—and Vietnam nowadays already have seen so many Chinese businesses—actually, as a matter of fact, something really sad is that Chinese actually can go to Vietnam without a visa. And yet, Vietnamese who go to China, you have to apply for a visa. So they have free access to our country, but not the other way around. And the problem is the authority there, they’re communist, they owe so much to the Chinese during the war time, whatever that was. It seems like the way they would return the debt was by selling our land. And so yeah, that’s been more troublesome now than anything. So to us now, you know, I mean, when we talk about identity, I think definitely the American identity is almost there, it’s just always there, but the troublesome part is we may lose our root. alienation;American identity;assimilation;becoming American;belonging;career;China;Communism;communists;connection;culture;education;heritage;integration;language;roots;success;tradition;values;Vietnamese identity;Vietnamese politics 4208 Parenting and culture BRODY: On the question of identity, I was also interested, since you mentioned your kids were born here, you know, the pattern of first generation, second generation—what has your family story been in terms of having, you know, a set of kids who are born in the United States and have only lived here, but also trying to maintain connection to the culture of the family? How have you and your wife navigated it, how do your kids feel, and what do you see going forward in terms of the growth of that? NGUYEN: Right. You know, I consider our situation with our children somewhat fortunate, and that was—we acculturated as parents very quickly. We also obtained an education here as well. So we understand what it means to be born here and growing up here. So for our children, we taught them what our roots are, what the values are, and sometimes they actually watch how we interact with our old community and now our extended family, so they can see that. Our children grew up, and one thing we insisted, especially my wife, was for them to learn Vietnamese. Both of them were enrolled in Vietnamese school when they were young because we weren’t too worried about them not learning English, they were born here, but we worried about them not learning Vietnamese. BRODY: Right. And was it easy to find Vietnamese classes, Vietnamese school? NGUYEN: Yeah. Mostly it’s offered through churches and temples. BRODY: The churches, yeah. NGUYEN: You know, thirty-some years later, almost turning—no, maybe fifteen years or so later after they graduated from college, all of that, the oldest one—we have two—the oldest one retained his Vietnamese and is very good at it. And actually, he made—that really helped him with landing a job, as well as being promoted, because he offered better competitively—because he worked for the bank industry, banking industry—that he is a bilingual in Vietnamese. In the market where there’s a lot of Vietnamese customers, for example, he became— BRODY: So he’s a real asset. NGUYEN: Yeah, he’s an asset. So, you know, they—and we encouraged them to continue to participate in traditional events and festivals, and there are a few of those throughout the years. So they grew up appreciating where their roots are, but definitely their identity is American, and they keep telling us that, (Brody laughs) you know? But we haven’t had any conflict at all, and we do allow—and we do understand if they behave in a certain way, unless it’s an extreme behavior that’s not highly regarded, then we may correct them, but they—and they understand us too, but I think the fortunate part was that we also acculturated to this culture fast, and we also obtained the education like they were obtaining, even though we are much older when we had this education here, and so we understand. I think the struggle with intergenerational conflict occurs more with families where there is disparity between—within the education of the parents and the kids and especially, you know, you probably have heard so many of the stories when this kid goes to school and they communicate entirely in English, and the school tries to communicate with the family, and the families say, “Oh my God, our kid is in trouble” or what, because in Vietnam, the school only communicates if the kid’s in trouble, it’s not about discussing or talking about a PTA meeting or about a grade report, anything, you know? That’s what happened in the early days when I was at the East Dallas Counseling Center. There’s a lot of cases of child abuses being reported because parents didn’t know how to control this kid. acculturation;American identity;banking;children;churches;community;conflict;culture;education;English;extended family;festivals;intergenerational conflict;language;parenting;roots;temples;tradition;values;Vietnamese language;Vietnamese school 4453 Intergenerational conflict and misunderstanding in the Vietnamese community NGUYEN: I think the struggle with intergenerational conflict occurs more with families where there is disparity between—within the education of the parents and the kids and especially, you know, you probably have heard so many of the stories when this kid goes to school and they communicate entirely in English, and the school tries to communicate with the family, and the families say, “Oh my God, our kid is in trouble” or what, because in Vietnam, the school only communicates if the kid’s in trouble, it’s not about discussing or talking about a PTA meeting or about a grade report, anything, you know? That’s what happened in the early days when I was at the East Dallas Counseling Center. There’s a lot of cases of child abuses being reported because parents didn’t know how to control this kid. BRODY: So that’s where the lack of communication—so you observed that in your work, that this was happening. So could you share, like, just generally what some of those cases looked like? NGUYEN: Yeah. There was a case back then when I was at the East Dallas Counseling Center early in the year, probably around ’91—yeah, 1991. There was a young kid, Vietnamese, male, who attended North Dallas High School. And his—I think his—it’s a single parent, the mother, Vietnamese, who didn’t speak English that much, nor had an education higher than maybe high school, even less. He went to school one day and the counselor and the teacher, the ESL teacher actually is the one that discovered that he had some bruises around his legs, and he was like—I think he was like tenth grade. So they immediately report him to the vice principal, and the vice principal interviewed him and said, “What happened?” And he said, “Well, my mom shackled me, chained me to the bed.” So of course he didn’t say why, because that “why” really matters, he just—nobody asked why. They just saw that and they immediately reported it to Child Protective Services and all of that. So they invited the mother for an interview, and then they called us. One of our case managers goes into school and finds out what’s going on. And so we had a chance to talk to the mother, and then this is what she told us. She said that—we were told that he skipped school a lot, but then the school said, well, you know if the kid skips school, the parent is responsible. You know, I mean the thing about truancy, you know—they have truancy court, if the kid is skipping school so many times, the parent could be fined or arrested. BRODY: So she was scared. NGUYEN: Yeah, she was scared. So she said that “In order for me to control and make sure that he would go to school the next day, because he typically would leave the house at night and having fun or going somewhere, he isn’t going to return home or he sleeps somewhere I didn’t know, I had to chain him against the bed so that the next day I make sure that he’s there to go to school. I don’t know that this is against the law.” BRODY: I see. NGUYEN: You see that? So that experience can make some parents really powerless and helpless because they really meant well, but they don’t know what else to do. Really, they don’t know. You know, how else are they going to keep this kid at home? BRODY: Right. And they can’t communicate directly. NGUYEN: Yeah. So that’s one story that I remember that just demonstrated that intergenerational communication conflict and, you know, not just between parents and children, but school as well because, see, the parent really didn’t know and don’t know what to do because they don’t understand why this law makes them responsible. In our country, when they send the kid to school, the kid is the parents’ substitute. I mean, the teacher is the parents’ substitute. We entrust the kid to your hands. You take care of them, don’t bother us. BRODY: So the parent is out of the picture. NGUYEN: Yes, yeah. So that’s where they’re coming from. So that’s why when the school communicates, “Oh my God, he might be in trouble, doing something bad.” BRODY: So how did the case turn out? NGUYEN: I think it turned out that we were able to intervene and explain to the Child Protective Services as well as the school, you know, what she did, she didn’t know that this is against the law, but she did this because she didn’t know what else to do in order to keep the kid at home. So we were willing to provide some education sessions to the mother and as well as to do some prevention counseling with the kid as well, and so I think they dismissed the case because they know that this is not intentionally. case managers;child abuse;Child Protective Service;communication;culture;East Dallas Counseling Center;English;ESL;intergenerational conflict;language;miscommunication;North Dallas High School;parenting;parents;schools;social work;truancy 4836 Reflections on social class and refugees Clearly, you were very educated already at the point that you were a refugee and came to the United States, and then you continued to do work that was in line with your level of education. Have you had any experiences with social class issues—either your own or just people you know are in the community—of refugees who perhaps were of one social class when they NGUYEN: I—actually, I would say the opposite of that, and what I mean is this: the class system, social class system exists in our country, and if they were still in the country of origin, those refugee kids, the Amerasians, and so forth, would never be able even to talk to anyone of a different higher class, whether they were educated or they have social status or higher ranking officers, officials of the government or what. But when they came here, it’s so interesting that there’s a reversal of that order, because a lot of the high-ranking, higher class of people, when they came to America, actually they’re losing that status, mostly. BRODY: How interesting. NGUYEN: Yeah. Except for the children, definitely, because everyone has the same opportunities, so all those kids would get—they can get a Pell Grant as well as anyone. As a matter of fact, the poor can have a better chance of getting a Pell Grant than the rich one. So they can afford education, so they can look up—I mean, they don’t have to look up, they can be very assertive in any situation, they don’t have to worry about, you know, “Oh, she used to be a doctor, I’ve got to respect her,” or what. You know, all of that may not matter anymore. However, you know, like I said, the one who used to be in a higher social class and were losing those status because they’re old, they couldn’t get a job, or whatever that is, became probably more depressed because they’re losing their status. But here’s not much of that, of the inequality kind of thing that you’ve seen how people have been treated back in the country of origin, just because of their social status. Amerasians;class system;cultural differences;education;Pell Grant;poverty;social class;social mobility;social status;status 5049 Reflections on religion/Engagement with Buddhist temple in Garland, Texas BRODY: That’s really interesting. Also, another question that I wanted to go back to, you mentioned that your kids took classes, Vietnamese language classes and that the churches and temples sort of ran that. What role did religion play in your experience, either back in Vietnam or coming here and becoming part of the community here in Dallas? NGUYEN: As a matter of fact, when I—back in my country, the religious community is not much a part of our life, mainly because we’d—we were of a faith called “ancestor worship,” meaning we prayed to our ancestors, we have an altar in the family and we have a picture of the deceased grandparent, parent or what, and we commemorate their death anniversary, we teach our kids the value that they imparted on us from years, years ago. Morally, it’s kind of close to Buddhism than anything. When we came here, as a matter of fact, we became more active in the Buddhist temple, with the Buddhist temple, and that has happened because we were invited by one of the largest Buddhist temples in Garland. The monk there heard about me and he actually came from the same region that I was born and came from, and he asked for my help to figure out the nonprofit status for his temple. So I became his legal advisor even though that’s not my profession, (Brody laughs) but you know, I mean, if I created a nonprofit status for Mosaic, then I could figure it out the same way. So I actually was able to help him with that, and then he appointed me to become his advisor, and then so we attend more of their events at the temple, and then he also came and did blessings to our family on all kinds of occasions and so forth. So yeah, that became more of a faith and religious connection that we have and celebrate as well as honor anytime appropriate. When my parents—my father passed away, like, six years ago and my father-in-law also passed away a year after that, both of them were—the memorial services were done through the Buddhist temple, and the monk had run out to the funeral home and did all the blessings and ceremonies there and all of that. So yeah, we became supporters and close to those faiths. And I think it’s important, because how children grew up and see and start reading and learning more about Buddhism and so forth, so they’d—they also live out their faith, even though they may not show up in church and temple as much, but both have them have been through some very serious illnesses a couple times. You know, they recovered from that very quickly, but the monk was a part of the healing. He came to pray and so the kids saw and witnessed those moments and they feel that there’s a holy leader in their lives, somebody like that really helps with what I call a “divine intervention,” (laughs) yeah, in their life. BRODY: Divine intervention, yes. And also a real tangible community to belong to here in town. NGUYEN: Yeah. It’s growing, it’s unbelievable in terms of the number of followers and, yeah, it’s growing. BRODY: It’s part of your story here in Dallas. NGUYEN: Right, yeah, exactly. altar;ancestor worship;ancestors;blessings;Buddhism;Buddhist;ceremonies;churches;death;faith;Garland;monk;nonprofit status;religion;temples;traditions 5340 Connections between refugee experience and his career in social services BRODY: And the last sort of area that I wanted to hear you talk about because you are such a leader in Dallas today with Mosaic being as active as it is, I wondered if you could share a little bit about what your life is now today, what your job is, and sort of the different work that you do and how it is informed by your own experience as a refugee. NGUYEN: My job—I kind of grew into it and continued to grow from it, almost like by accident, but it’s something that I had dreamt about when I landed in America and took that first job. Actually, it’s the second job with Lutheran Social Services. There’s an area that is not well-explored or highly regarded within my own community and culture, and that is the human service side of profession. You know, you probably heard this already, that Asian—Vietnamese, in my situation—patterns anyone would expect a kid—engineers, doctors, do something tangible. But behavioral sciences, human services, social work, psychology, people don’t see why we do it. First, we may not make a lot of money. Secondly, how does this really help? Because in the culture of origin, and when I did mental health for years and years, we talked about traditional healing versus western medicine, and the idea was, well, western psychology, psychiatrists, unless they prescribe a pill, it’s not as good as an herbalist, as an eastern medicine, because they really give you something that you can see or cook and pour and making something out of it. So going to the field that I went to in social work, specializing in mental health was something that I know—from my larger family, not highly regarded, because like, the younger brother that I came with, he became an engineer and then quit engineering and became a doctor. BRODY: Oh really? NGUYEN: Yeah. And he has a very highly successful practice in Dallas these days. So the only thing that actually my family really highly regarded about me was my language ability, and actually get a PhD, even though it’s in a field that people think, “Wow, he doesn’t make money,” but in the culture really, they like credentials. They also value credentials, you know? When I go out in the community many people still say, call me “Doctor,” right? I cannot prescribe prescriptions for people’s life. Like “professor,” they highly regard that. “Doctor”? Okay. You know? Great. Just a very educated thing, you know? So they regard that. So that’s good. But what I do may not be in the community understanding of it or of cultural value of it was highly regarded. But you know, I found—actually, I’ve found actually it worked out to my benefit in a different way, because when I first came and after I got all my degrees, I found out that, you know, you can find hundreds of doctors, but you couldn’t find a social worker or somebody with my experience to do a job that not a lot of people will do. A job that could benefit a lot of people— BRODY: That’s true. You’re helping a lot of people. NGUYEN: —that I feel enriching and satisfying as well. And so—and that’s why I think when I got my master’s and already worked for the county and moved down here and found that job with Challenge and so forth, I suddenly realized this. I said, “You know what? To be competitive or to be known as a newcomer here, I need more credentials.” And that’s why after I moved to Texas, you know, and initially get in working as executive director of East Dallas Counseling Center, I went back to school at UTA for my doctorate. And I proved myself right, because after I get my doctorate, in every application for grants or anything that I sent and I attached my credentials there, I become more believable. Because if people look at the name, they can almost immediately say, “Should I believe this guy?” Right? Especially since it’s a strange name, you know. I mean, that’s a fact. We live in a society that discrimination is there to some degree, and in order to be competitive, what do you have to offer that will take you over somebody else? In addition to doing something unique, that’s serving a population that nobody else is serving, that’s good maybe, or as much as we could do here. I also have that credential that I can convince people that you can trust in me. BRODY: Right. Credibility. NGUYEN: Yeah, credibility. That’s it. So yeah. So I think that’s why I found my education, what I do, is very satisfying. Satisfactory for myself, but I think it’s very meaningful and that my stress not—I don’t have the stress for many people that worry about, “Oh my God, I don’t know if I’ll even have a job next year or not because it looks like, you know, (unintelligible) for a certain company,” or even—for so many people up there, and they make decisions over your life, your income or what. But here, I’m responsible for a lot of lives, and a lot of employees as well. But then I’m responsible for myself too, that whether I am successful or not is up to me. So I have that freedom, the onus and the responsibility of me to do what I need to do to live up to my, you know, expectations and desires. BRODY: That’s great. Well, it’s a very inspiring story, so thank you so much for sharing. Is there anything else that you wanted to revisit, or anything that I might’ve missed in asking you? Or anything that you think people in the future might want to know about your experience? NGUYEN: You know, I think I covered a lot already. I think my very last point that you asked there, really, I cannot overemphasize, and I keep telling a lot of people. Because there are people in the community who actually went to me and asked this question: they say, “Hey, I’m creating this organization, I want to do exactly what you do. I love it.” You know, actually I—there was a professor from UTA, he’s Korean, and he came here a couple years ago. He taught research at graduate school, and he’s from Korea. And he just loved what I do here, and he asked me once, he said, “You know what, Walter? I want to do exactly what you’re doing.” But, he ended up didn’t do that, you know, and then he quit his job and he returned to his country. So what I’m saying here is this: for those who share the same experience as me, being from another country, arriving in America, not born here and want to explore a field that may be not popular in their country, in their cultural heritage or values or what, they have to find where their niche is going to be, and what is their asset, what they can offer that could be competitive for them to get a foot in the door for whatever they want to do. Now, my theory was this: in order to obtain certain things that you want, that somebody who are white, who are born here or with a credential that you have, you have to obtain a little higher one in order to be considered equal. So that’s just my— competition;credentials;credibility;discrimintation;Eastern medicine;education;language;mental health;Mosaic Family Services;satisfaction;social services;social work;status;success;traditional healing;Western medicine 6031 Expansion of East Dallas Counseling Center/Membership in United Way of Metropolitan Dallas I haven’t talked to you about what—East Dallas Counseling Center has expanded ten times compared to when it started, and much of the growth during the early years was because—and I’m as humble as an Asian person, I would never speak it in a bragging way—and that was: I helped create a lot of different things so that we can get our name out and be equal with other similar organizations, and one of the hardest things that I remember that took place, that really transformed Mosaic, and that was we became a member of the United Way. BRODY: That’s interesting. NGUYEN: And that happened in the year 1999. I wrote a letter to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and I asked them if they would ever consider accepting another member or not. No answer. And a year after that, that’s when they opened a new round, accepting some new agencies after almost ten years of freezing. So immediately I applied on behalf of East Dallas Counseling Center. Among two hundred agencies that applied, we went through a strenuous, very unbelievable, difficult process of vetting, including so many presentations and hearings. And I remember, I defended all the questions as though I’m defending my thesis. And I was able, along with the board that I created, navigated all of the vetting process and we successfully were accepted as one of the nine new agencies to the United Way out of two hundred. BRODY: Wow, that’s amazing. NGUYEN: And that opened the door for us, because that’s the first time after ten years they ever accepted a new agency, but because with the application United Way, they provided us the first unrestricted funding of $75,000 for me to hire a development director who was able to write grants. Whereas before that I’m the only one who wrote, and we were able to, within one year of receiving that money, open the first shelter for immigrants and refugee women. BRODY: Wow. Well that is an amazing accomplishment at the end of a long road. NGUYEN: Right. So I think that’s the one that I think really opened the door. BRODY: Yeah I think so, it sounds like it. Well thank you so much for your time and for sharing your story. It’s such an important story and you’re an inspiring person to interview, so thank you very much Dr. Nguyen. NGUYEN: Well, thank you for the opportunity, I love to share the story and hope that it gives some insight to the journey. BRODY: It absolutely did. Thank you so much. NGUYEN: Okay. end of interview East Dallas Counseling Center;funding;immigrants;Mosaic Family Services;refugees;shelter;social services;United Way of Metropolitan Dallas;women's shelter Baylor University Institute for Oral History Walter Hoan Nguyen Oral History Memoir Interview Number 1 Interviewed by Betsy T. Brody August 23, 2018 Mosaic Family Services Dallas, Texas Project -- Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans: The Making of the Vietnamese Community in North Texas BRODY: This is Betsy Brody. Today is August 23, 2018. I'm interviewing, for the first time, Dr. Walter Nguyen. This interview is taking place at Dr. Nguyen's office at Mosaic Family Services on Greenville Avenue in Dallas. This interview is sponsored by the Baylor University Institute for Oral History and is part of the Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans project. Thank you, Dr. Nguyen, for meeting me and for being part of this project. Just to start out, can you tell me a little bit about your life in Vietnam? |00:00:36| NGUYEN: My life in Vietnam before I arrived in America was not good. It's--you know, it was post-1975, I was still there and lived under the new government's communist system for roughly seven to eight years or so, and I completely did not have any job. I was constantly under watch and spied on, mainly because I, before the Fall of Saigon, after my graduation from the University of Saigon, I worked for the South Vietnamese government as a press officer. That's why they highly suspected my whereabouts, my background, and would not allow me to apply for any job with the new--whether it's government or private entity, because they always frowned upon or look with a suspicious eye on anyone who had any tie with the former regime as well as the government, or even the American government then. So yes, so life was very rough. Food was scarce and no jobs, no transportation, even places to live, you know, had--this is rough, there is no place, permanent residence or anything. I lived with a relative who-- my entirely family did, so it's been very hard under that kind of condition, yeah. |00:02:51| BRODY: How old were you at the time of the Fall of Saigon? NGUYEN: I was twenty-four, going on to twenty-five years old. BRODY: Were you married already, at that point? NGUYEN: No, not yet. BRODY: Okay. So then, life was hard and it was hard to--no food, no job, it was difficult. What happened to you after the Fall of Saigon? What did you do next? NGUYEN: I'd--for almost two or three years or so, you know, I kept searching for a job. It hadn't been that easy. Like I said earlier, with all the--with the background in the way they look at who they should have employed and so forth, very hard. There was a short period in 1979, starting in 1979, I was able to find a teaching job, English teaching. Mostly it's just kind of a private tutoring with families, with young people and rich families who wanted their kids to learn English because a lot of people wanted to get out, and they thought that English would be something that--a language that most people need to learn, and because I graduated as an English major, so I was able to find a short- time teaching job. But that didn't last long, mainly because it didn't really make--I couldn't make a living out of it, but then also my desire at the time was to find a way to get out. |00:04:39| BRODY: So you had your eyes on leaving Vietnam the whole time. So how did it come to pass that you were able to leave? NGUYEN: Yeah, actually, my first attempt to leave Vietnam was in 1979, was only like four years after the Fall of Saigon. But it was unsuccessful, poorly planned, and I actually got arrested and was put in jail for about three months with no official charge of anything besides the fact that they said, you know, "If you're trying to escape Vietnam, you're committing treason. And our punishment could be anywhere from imprisonment to capital punishment, which could mean that we can kill you if we want to." That's all they said. So I was jailed for the three months, but then I was released. After the release, I virtually became homeless because I couldn't go back to where I used to live, because then the local authority would be very hard on me, so I joined a group that made another attempt--make a big attempt to escape, but this one is actually more organized and have more money to buy a better boat. And during 1979, especially after my failed attempt, there was this big push by the Vietnamese authority for the Chinese to get out of Vietnam, because they had some dispute with China. And so what they were trying to do was they organized actually a legal deportation, in a way, but they allowed a lot of ethnic Chinese, you know, Vietnamese of Chinese descent, to leave legally on those boats, as long as they pay. So we were--I was one of those who got on one of these boats, but registered, we paid all the money we have, but never get to leave, because that whole thing only lasted for, like, two years or so and then they cancelled everything. So I didn't ever get to leave. I continued to live on that little boat anyway, because I have no home, and then from that point I make, you know, under the owner of the boat's organization-- they're trying to help a lot of people to get out on a little boat instead of his big one--and so I try another three attempts, and out of the three attempts, one failed, but I was able to get away and not be arrested. The other two I got arrested again, so I was put in jail for another two times over a period of about five or six months, two different jails. |00:08:00| BRODY: For trying to escape. NGUYEN: Trying to escape and failed, and they discovered the trip, including one that I thought I might consider lucky to be rescued, because I was already on the boat and out to the sea, not very far yet, but early in the morning I found out the boat was overly crowded and I could say, you know, it could capsize any time just because it's too crowded, too many people, and, you know, it's not seaworthy. But unfortunately, but then fortunately, we were captured by the Coast Guard. And they towed everybody back, and then I was jailed for like two and a half months with no official charge. I did a lot of labor work, and then released without even knowing why I was released, and when--all that. And so anyway, the last time that I made the trip that was successful is November of 2018--I'm sorry, of 1992 [Brody note: meant to say "1982"], November, and that was more well-organized by the owner of that big ship (unintelligible), and we actually bought--he actually bought a fishing boat and took some of us, mostly just guys, to go out there and work as fishermen in a little town on the coastline of South Vietnam. And then one day, and I remember it was November--I think it's October thirtieth--it was very dark, it's a dark night--October the thirtieth, thirty-first or so, of 1982, we all gather, families and friends, thirty-six altogether, we got on that boat and we sailed out as though we're going fishing. And it was dark. At night when we chose to leave was very dark, you know, it's not a full moon night or anything, it's very dark, and that's how we were able to escape successfully without being caught without anybody chasing after us. After three days and three nights on the high sea, we were aiming to go toward the Philippines, because this is in the southern part of Vietnam, but it's more or less we get out of the boat with--there was a--there's not a lot of equipment. There's a compass, that's the only thing, and so we're just going to steer east, yes, but it's sort of a--it's going south as well, somehow we were drifting south. And then on the night of November--about three nights or so after we left, we were spotted by a French vessel. BRODY: Spotted by the French-- |00:11:26| NGUYEN: Yeah, yeah, it's called the Le Goelo. And Le Goelo is--and I think it was a miracle, because Le Goelo was a ship that was chartered by a group of French doctors, who during the early eighties and the late seventies, because of the boat peoples' situation, they wanted to go out on the south Asian--yeah, South Asian Sea to pick up and rescue refugees. And this was a miracle because it was very dark, 8 p.m. at night, they--we were near something that we thought it may be an island or what, but we didn't know what it was. I think we almost ran out of fuel. There was some trouble with the engine, and all of a sudden we hear some loud noise, an approaching ship, and then they ran very fast and somebody from up there on that ship asked us to stop. We were scared, we thought it just might be just the Vietnamese communists' boat or maybe Russian, very friendly to them, maybe they just found us and tow us back or what. But anyway, that was a miraculous night because as soon as we stopped, they shined lights on our boat and somebody on that boat spoke English. And the question they asked us was, "Does anyone on this boat speak English?" So I immediately ran up to the upper deck and I said, "Yes, I do." Then the second question was--and I will never forget this--the question was, "Are you good people?" Because I think the question was asked because they didn't know if we were actually refugees, fishermen, or even pirates. You know? It's very hard to tell, it was (unintelligible) of dark and all that. BRODY: Right. They wanted to know, too. NGUYEN: Fortunately, we actually have children and women. So everybody go up, and I said, "Yes, we are. We are refugees, we're trying to escape Vietnam." And this is the word that I remember and I tell a lot of people when I was doing talking about that day, I said this is the word I hear from the captain. He said, "Then come on board." And they immediately operated a rescue mission, a rescue task--and just unforgettable. They put a big net over to us, to our boat, and then some of their sailors went out, they started carrying the women, children. And they said, "Any belongings, anyone wanting to come, just go." And so we all, men, just climbed up there on the net, and they took it over, everything. After everything was done, they said, "Well, come over here, take a last look at your boat, because by law, we have to sink it." BRODY: Oh boy. |00:14:51| NGUYEN: Yes. Because if there's a floating boat on the sea they--you know, international law or something about they have to--if they see something like that, people have to find out what's going on there. So now that they already rescued the people, so they've got to sink that boat. So they sunk the boat, and we saw it slowly-- BRODY: How did you feel as you were watching that sinking? NGUYEN: Yeah, it's a mixed emotion because, you know, that boat is the ticket, is the ticket for us to get to freedom, and now we are leaving something that's so dear to us. Although, you know, we had some very rough days on the boat, because, you know, without water and food and a lot of people get sick, but really, without that boat, we'd never see freedom. We'd never seen a better day. Anyway, they got us. We found out that this boat was on the last mission--last day of the mission because they're returning back to their port of origin, which is Singapore. BRODY: So you were probably one of their last groups of people that they rescued. |00:16:23| NGUYEN: Yes. Actually, when we were rescued we went up there and I found out the crew of that boat, the ship, was international. Most of them were from France, from Germany, and some of them, like, Swedens, and you know, all of these are part of the Doctors of the World's association or group. And they told us, "You know, we have rescued a lot of people, and what we do after we rescue the refugees, we would bring them to Palawan in the Philippines where there's Vietnamese refugees there. However, we actually were just from there, we're on our way back because we're out of fuel and this is our --we've been doing it for a month already on the high sea and we're on our way back home. We're turning back. But as soon as we saw you guys, we cannot just neglect--we cannot just let go. We had to stop, because this is our mission. So what happens is we will have to take every one of you going back--going to Singapore, and then we will refuel and then we will ask the French government to accept everybody here for resettlement in France," because there was an agreement about the country then was that any ship from any country that got these boat people and rescued them, the government of that country will resettle them. So that's kind of the rule. BRODY: That was the rule. |00:18:14| NGUYEN: So from living in hell, we're now living in paradise, because these boats are designed to have at least two hundred to three hundred people; it only has thirty-six. And so we were treated to some very good cuisine, very nice food, and have a place to sleep, but more important than anything, we breathe freedom. We know we got it, you know what I mean? We no longer have to fear about the communists, we no longer have to worry about being chased after, being spied on, or lack of food and all kinds of things. So that's the greatest feeling ever. When we got to Singapore, we were not allowed in there, because we are stateless. We having nothing of worth, of anything, no document or what. They radioed to the French government and the French government says, "Yeah, we'll accept all of these to resettle in France." Then they refuel and then sail back to the Philippines. So we spent another ten days-- BRODY: On the sea? |00:19:24| NGUYEN: --on the sea. And this time it's a cruising ship. It's not an escape boat. This is a cruising ship. It's unbelievable. So we're up on the deck. We'll see beautiful landscape and sky and see all kinds of places. We got to the Philippines, and I believe it was November sixth when we got there--no, I think--yeah, November sixth or November tenth, probably November tenth, I remember, of '82, and so all thirty-six of us, safe and sound, men and women and children, and we were there. Welcomed by the committees of Vietnamese refugees of Palawan, and we are immediately assigned someplace to stay, to sleep and eat and then start a new life as a refugee there for a few months. Now you might wonder, well, if the French government agreed to resettle everybody, why are we--you know, get a chance to go to America instead of going to France? Well, during my college year, I actually worked for the US government as well as a Vietnamese instructor to the American advisors, because many of the advisors to the Vietnam war during those days, they wanted to learn Vietnamese so that they could talk to people, and so being an English major, I was able to work part time and teach them--taught them Vietnamese. There was a curriculum that was designed by the state department so it's not just like whatever as a teach--but based on a curriculum language institute. It was called Armed Forces Language Institute curriculum. So anyway, because of that background-- and it was verified during my interview for resettlement with the US delegation at the refugee camp--that they were able to verify that I had worked for the US government agency overseas in Vietnam. So in a way, I was foreign employee of the US government. And with that status, it will take precedent over any country resettlement-- BRODY: The French. NGUYEN: French, yeah. And so that's how I and my brother--actually, two of us, me and my brother, escaped together--were able to go to America. BRODY: Okay. And everyone else went to France? NGUYEN: Yeah. The rest went to France, and--actually, a few of them--a few actually went to Australia. Australia, you know, because they had some brotherly connections, so they can go to Australia. But the two of us--and maybe there's another family I remember, because the wife in that family was also an employee with the US government as well, so there's like two families went to America, a total of about eight people or so. The rest, about thirty-six, went to France, with a few going to Australia, yeah. |00:23:01| BRODY: So did you come first to Texas, or you were sent somewhere else in the United States? NGUYEN: I went to--first when I got to the United States I would resettle and came to a family of the sponsor in Wisconsin, in a little town called Ashland, Wisconsin. There was some connection there, because in 1996--I'm sorry, 1967--long time ago--I was a foreign exchange student from Vietnam, and I was like eleventh grade. So I got to come and live with that family in Wisconsin and went to school for one year and then came back. BRODY: So that same family sponsored you? NGUYEN: Yeah. |00:23:58| BRODY: So you were in the Philippines, had been accepted to come resettle in the United States. NGUYEN: Right. BRODY: And did you make contact with them? NGUYEN: Yeah, as soon as I got there I made the contact with them, and they were very excited and happy to find out that I had got out safely and they were willing to sign the paperwork to sponsor me in Wisconsin, yeah. BRODY: Did they sponsor your brother also? |00:24:23| NGUYEN: Yeah. The two of us went to Wisconsin. We stayed there for about three months. I found a job working in North Dakota for a factory in a little town called Wahpeton for like a year or so. The owner of that company had sponsored a lot of refugees from all kinds of places, working for his company, making canvas. BRODY: Canvas. NGUYEN: Yeah, canvas. You know, I just worked for a short time, for a year or so, and then I found this job working for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota in Fargo-- that was in 1984--as a bilingual case worker, because there's a lot of unaccompanied minors from Vietnam who escape and who are placed through Lutheran Immigration Services with foster homes. And North Dakota has the program, resettle all those minors, and they need a bilingual worker who can communicate with the kids and the family, you know? So that's why I found-- BRODY: You were perfect, you-- |00:25:53| NGUYEN: Yeah. So I worked there for like, two years until '86. And then my brother, during the meantime, decided that he wanted to go back to school. He was in the pharmacy school back in Vietnam when he escaped with me, but he hasn't finished that. So he decided to go back to school, but not in pharmacy, but engineer--electrical engineering at University of Minnesota. So he got there, like--he went there in 1985 already. 1986, after two years of working I decided that, well, you know, I really liked this field even though it's not what my prior education is all about. But I really liked, you know, social service and being a social worker, that kind of thing. So I also decided to go back to school and apply to graduate school at the University of Minnesota for my master's in social work. Got in, graduated in two years or so. But during those two years I stayed connected with refugee programs everywhere. As a matter of fact, I was trained by--when I was a bilingual worker I was trained by a group in Colorado called the Spring Institute for International Studies. And the Spring Institute during those days, what they do is they provide a lot of cross-cultural mental health training for bilingual case workers and so forth. So I happened to attend two of their sessions, and I discovered that this is something I like to do, and they kind of liked--and really like what they see in me in terms of potential. So after I graduate from University of Minnesota, they invited me to be back to become one of their consultants. BRODY: Oh, wow. |00:27:58| NGUYEN: So actually, I worked as a consultant for them, meaning I went back and did a lot of training for them. So I have done a lot of cross-cultural training in, you know, for case workers with them, traveled to several states and do a lot of those things. But after I graduated officially, you know, I worked for the county of Hennepin in Minnesota for, like, a year, over a year or so as a social worker. And it was '86--actually, no, '87 is when I--no, I'm sorry. I joined the school in '86, graduated in '88. In between--actually, when I graduated was on the same time I became a US citizen, which was like five years after my arrival. Arrival, '83--so '88 would be five years--applied, and became a US citizen. At the same time, I worked for the county of Hennepin County, so we celebrated the naturalization at the county. It was a great time, you know, everybody just loved that and celebrated with me. Then I traveled to Texas just to meet my--because my brother, after he graduated from the University of Minnesota as an engineer, he moved to Texas, got married, and he worked for GD, General Dynamics in Fort Worth. So I was the only one left there. So I decided, you know, to quit my job and move to Texas as well. But before that, I was introduced to my then fiancée, who is now my wife, who was also a refugee herself, and she was working for a refugee employment program in Dallas. And that was the year of 1989, the end of 1989, early '90 when I moved to Dallas, Texas. BRODY: So that's how you got to Dallas. (laughs) NUGYEN: Yeah, it's quite a change. BRODY: Yes, I'm sure from both Vietnam and from Minnesota, and North Dakota. NGUYEN: Exactly, yeah. |00:30:27| BRODY: Well, what was Dallas like when you first came here? What do you remember about those times? NGUYEN: Yeah, you know, Dallas at that--during those--1989, early '90 or so, there was a lot of refugees at that time. For every kid coming, especially south Asians; Laos, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Dallas was known to me--or Texas as a whole--as a southern state and there was discrimination the way that I was told and learned about. Because when I left Minnesota, which was known as very liberal, very friendly, very welcoming, I was told by somebody who used to be from Texas, who worked in Minnesota, she told me, "Why Texas?" (Brody laughs) You know? And she said, "Did you know that they speak with the Southern drawl there?" And secondly, "You know that people are not that friendly there," you know? And I said, "Well, I don't know if I have a choice. I'm alone now, my fiancée lives there, you know, and she has here entire family here, so it's logical that I move there than she move north. So I will go and I'll take the chance on all this thing." But you know, back to your question, when I came to Dallas, I was surprised that it has already been very international, the city itself. And that I haven't heard that Southern drawl a lot, and that there are a lot of friendly people, and that there's huge refugee communities here as opposed to the one that I left in Minnesota, and there's a lot of opportunity and school and all of that that opened up to me. As a matter of fact, when I first moved to Texas, I actually didn't go directly to Dallas, because I had to find a job first before I moved. The first job that got me to Texas was in Palestine. So when I moved in the early--no, actually the end of 1989, in December--no, actually October--I found a job with a Texas state--a state hospital in Rusk. It's called Rusk State Hospital, which is part of Texas Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, TDMHMR. That's the name. And so I work for the state hospital as a social worker, lived in Palestine, rented an apartment there. So that's the foot in the door to Texas. And as a matter of fact, there is when I witnessed discrimination and Southern drawl. So many of the people in east Texas, you know, speak with the accent that nobody that I have heard in Dallas would have spoken. But fortunately, my fiancée and her parents live in Dallas, so I just make that commute every weekend, come back and forth, you know. But then I was able to locate a position opening at Dallas Multicultural Community Center, which helped refugees, you know, with all kinds of services: employment, social services, mental health counseling (unintelligible). So I got that first job as a mental health-- |00:34:35| BRODY: Was that down in East Dallas? NGUYEN: No. Yeah, I mean, East Dallas, yeah, the center used to be on Munger. Yeah, it's Munger--it's called Munger Place. So yeah, I was there, I worked there for-- interesting--for about six months--maybe less, even less. Then the organization in Dallas here, a nonprofit with the name called Dallas Challenge. They're a nonprofit that works with youth doing substance abuse education prevention. They wanted to set up a program in East Dallas to provide substance abuse education prevention kind of thing for the Asian youth. And so they actually found me while I was working for the Multicultural Community Center, so I-- |00:35:57| BRODY: So they found you. So that sounds like there was a need in Dallas at that point. So by the mideighties, there was enough of a refugee population here and a young refugee population that there was a need for a special substance abuse and mental health. And so how did they find you? NGUYEN: Well you know, I was working at the Multicultural Community Center, and one day there was a guy, and he worked for that Dallas Challenge. And he was a social worker, Hispanic. He came to the center and looked around and then he met me, and he said, "Hey," introduced himself and said, look, he's looking for maybe an Asian person, you know, with a degree, maybe a social work degree or a counseling degree that can manage a new program they are going to establish here in Dallas. So after he left, you know, and he gave me his business card, I called back and said, "I want to tell you that I am the one you're looking for." BRODY: That's amazing. NGUYEN: Yeah. So he said, "Is that true?" "Yeah." And so I told him, you know, my background, my education, all that, then he said, "Great. Do you want to apply for this?" I said sure, and so I applied for the position. They interviewed me and then they offered me the position. And I found out that the idea for them is to find someone, they will train the person for three years, and then they will let the person--they will spin off that particular branch that they establish to become its own entity, which was perfect, because my--I just loved to be able to develop, create an agency, something like that, and now this is an opportunity to work for someone else, maybe in a field that's not necessarily very prevalent in terms of substance abuse within the Asian population; however, this is a stepping stone, a beginning where--nowhere that you can get this, you know? So after three years or so, I got all the training that I needed to manage and know what an operation is like, and I formed a board and all of that. Then they official spin me off in '93, in the fall of '93. BRODY: And did you get a new name for the organization? NGUYEN: Yeah--well, the name is still the same name as the organization under them, which was East Dallas Counseling Center. So I continued that name until 2003 when we changed to Mosaic Family Services, yeah. BRODY: Which is where you are now. NGUYEN: Right, right, yeah. BRODY: So with the East Dallas community--Counseling Center, sorry--that was located in-- NUGYEN: In East Dallas, right in the--right on--let's see, Bryan Street, where there's what they call Little Asia. |00:39:50| BRODY: Yes, Little Asia, that's what I was going to ask you about. In Little Asia, can you share with me any of your memories of sort of what the energy was like, what that felt like during the time period that you were working there and when the East Dallas Counseling Center was getting established in that area? Because it was a vibrant area. NGUYEN: Community, yeah. See, a lot of newly arrived refugees lived right there when they first came. As a matter of fact, all of the resettlement agencies, like Catholic Charities and Refugee Services of Texas and International Rescue Committee, they-- when they brought the sponsor of those refugees, they noticed most of them were southeast Asian, Vietnamese predominantly. They just occupied a lot of the apartment complexes around that little area. BRODY: The voluntary agencies have those apartments. NGUYEN: Right, around there. So it's just like a village of--a Vietnamese village, a Lao village, a Cambodian village outside of Southeast Asia. |00:41:04| BRODY: Right. Did you live there, also, in that area? NGUYEN: No. I--well, actually, I lived in East Ellisberg, I lived off of White Rock Lane. So it's not too far from there, but it's also East Dallas. BRODY: But you were there in Little Asia working all the time? NGUYEN: Right, right, yeah. |00:41:21| BRODY: So, I mean, what did it sound like? Were you just hearing different languages on the street? How about the food? NGUYEN: Yeah. You know, the fun thing was there are a lot of people from different communities, but they all get along very well, they all are clustered around an area, and then they started small restaurants, like that Vietnam restaurant that still is very--it's still operational now and doing very well. When I came, back in the early 1990, they were already there. They continue to thrive, and you know there's a Laos restaurant across the street, there's a Thai food as well, there's a Cambodian shop--restaurant on--let's see, on Carroll Street, which is just a block away. And then down the road towards uptown, not downtown, but toward--on Bryan, there are two restaurants. One is Vietnamese, called Mai, M-a-i, Mai's Vietnamese Restaurant, and then there's a restaurant that's still now is functioning, it's--I can't remember the name, but they sort of half Chinese, half Vietnamese. They're doing fine. And there are little grocery stores sprung up too. There's one--and I think the exciting part was that the Dallas Police Department started hiring the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian police officers, and there's a group that they-- because they found out that the best model of policing is to hire civilians who work for the police department, but become an outreach contact for the department, who go into communities and establish relationships with refugees who arrive there. Because historically, refugees don't like police because, you know, in their own country, police are not their friend, not protecting them, they're protecting the government or somebody else. The police is harassing them, you know, making their life--they're more like not law enforcement, but they're--you know, they're harassing people, they make people's life hard, they really persecute and all of that. So this model is working real well, because these are very friendly people, and they go into the community and see what people need, and that's how to prevent crime. Because they found out that, Oh wow, sometimes they bring rice and they welcome anybody who arrives here with a bag of rice and some fish sauce or something-- |00:44:47| BRODY: The police? NGUYEN: Yes. They do that in conjunction with the resettlement and community center, but it works really well. And so--and I think they continued that model until very recently when refugees were no longer needed or live here, because after a few years, East Dallas, Little Asia was not so much Little Asia anymore because--there are still some restaurants, but the inhabitants and the residents of that community have moved out; moved out to the suburbs, moved out to other towns, after they have found jobs they have been able to (intercom noise sounds)--oh God (unintelligible). pause in recording |00:45:35| BRODY: All right. Go ahead, carry on. NGUYEN: Okay, yeah. So I think again, that model worked really well and very friendly. So yeah, being there right in the middle of Little Asia, eating the food that I'm familiar with, parking, working with the folks that share my experience was very inspiring. BRODY: Yeah, and also probably--it sounds like made you feel more at home-- NGUYEN: Exactly. BRODY: --and more a part of a community. I'd imagine that being a refugee or even moving from North Dakota, you could possibly feel isolated, but coming into a vibrant, welcoming community like that sounds like it's (unintelligible) good. I'm glad you brought up the police, because the Dallas Police Department and the city of Dallas--I wonder if you have, you know, in the work that you did, if you had a lot of contact with the city or with the police department in working in the mental health area for refugees. |00:46:40| NGUYEN: The mental health is not necessarily where the contact with the police department as much as later on when we created the Family Violence component or program, because a lot of victims or survivors were brought to us by the police department, or we worked closely with them so that we can inform them of what the needs are. And we also provide translation and interpretation. So that's how we were, we're constantly in contact and, you know, in our work with the police department. The mental health part which--it's not so much the police that we make contact with or partnered with. It's the community itself, especially community leaders and groups, or sometimes individuals who have received some help and feel that it's benefit them to spread the word. That's how we were able to reach out to a lot of people and do some education through outreach about what mental health is. "You can get help, and this is how, where, and you can get it." In the early days, our mental health counseling program was very small, and we did mostly just a lot of case management and outreach because the funding is not there. Most of the funding from government that we receive, goes through providing case management, access to services for physical health and mental health for any refugee group. But later on, we found out that through Family Violence, we were able to access more funding and we were able to--yeah, it doesn't have to be just refugees, it could be any other marginalized groups, immigrants as a whole that are survivors. So we primarily still target refugees, although the refugee population has changed over time. For example, after several years, we started seeing a lot of Bosnian, you know? And we see that, and so I hire Bosnian case workers and then later on you have, you know, during the same time, at that time we have the Kurdish refugees as well. So the police department is always very friendly. And, by the way, through the Little Asia community, the police department had created the storefront, the police storefronts. Yeah, which for many years were right across the street from us on Peak. And that was an excellent concept as well, because it's more accessible. They don't have to go-- people have to go right downtown, and people are more scared of that, and they have civilian officers as well who work for the police department, who speak all of these languages, so, you know--and so people can access the police department just like a social service, and I think that model really worked out well. |00:50:48| BRODY: Yeah, it really worked, especially for the community in Little Asia. That model seems like it led to such great success that, you know, as you said, many people moved out of Little Asia because they moved to the suburbs or whatever it was. What is your observation of the Vietnamese community from--I know you got here in the eighties, but, you know, as they grew from 1975 till the present, and what is--in your experience or your observation, what is the story of the Vietnamese community in north Texas? NGUYEN: It's almost the same story everywhere you go. Earlier today on the way back here from lunch, I heard over NPR a refugee from Vietnam who came here when he was four years old, talked about some of the issues with immigration and refugees and so forth. And he completely reminded me of what I have seen over the years, what happened with the Vietnamese refugees everywhere we go. And that is--the story is almost similar, regardless--and you probably have known this--the refugees from Vietnam came in three different waves primarily. You have the "boat people" and the early evacuees after '75, and then you have the Amerasians, you know, they're Amerasian. And then you have the former political prisoners. So they are a different group, came because of a different reason, you know, but they all came to America at different times, always started out pretty rough in terms of very little resources they have when they came, but they only--they go through some gradual adjustment period. For some who have good education, they could adjust within a year or two years, some it's longer. But it's all about rebuilding their life and provide for their kids, opportunity to obtain a good education, and eventually these young kids are the ones that will make the dream come true for everyone. And their story has always been just like that. And they are very successful as businessmen, in all kinds of professions. Of course, some of the traditional values they bring with them such as, you know, strong family values and emphasis on education, they may have certain bias regarding which profession that you need to pursue that creates some pressure for younger people. And for me and my wife, and we were just like all these parents nowadays. Our kids were born here, so they grew up with different sets of values as compared to what their parents' values were, but there's got to be some compromise. But like that story was told earlier when I heard that the refugees, the Vietnamese refugees, has never been an issue, even though they came over a stretch of many years, especially ever since 1975, there's a lot of opposition for welcoming the early wave of refugees from Vietnam after the end of the war, but like the man said, they are an invisible group of people. Nobody talks about them at all until they become a problem. Then they become so visible, just like nowadays with the border crossers and refugees that--with immigrants and people who cross the border, immigration becomes a huge problem and then refugees (unintelligible) it's a difficult topic as well. So the stories of the Vietnamese refugees was said to be kind of invisible. It has never been visible, really. If it is visible, it's all about success, it's about oh, some, you know, unusual contribution and all of that. And fortunately it has not a story of troublemaking or for negative press coverage or anything like that. You know, occasionally they talk about like a gang group here and there, but the majority of the Vietnamese refugees have contributed so much to America and make their lives much better than where they came from and contribute so much to making America more diverse. They give back so much and make our country stronger. So I see--that's really the kind of story I've seen in every group. You know, if I say that, you probably won't be surprised. When I and my wife got married here in the--actually in 1990, that was a time when a lot of Amerasians arrived. And you've heard of Amerasians, right? We have adopted a few--not adopted in terms of legal adoption or anything, but for example, there are several Amerasian children-- well, they're sort of teens, and then when they came with their mother and their mother got so ill and passed away, before she passed away she said, you know, "Could I entrust you to take care of my children?" And we said, "Sure." So we continue to help and watch after those kids. Now, none of those kids had any education. |00:58:49| BRODY: They just came recently? NGUYEN: Yeah, yeah--no, no, these were back in the nineties. BRODY: In the nineties, okay. |00:58:55| NGUYEN: The Amerasians was the second group of refugees that arrived. Like I said, three waves. The first wave, the "boat people," that was my wave. And then you have Amerasian is the second wave, and then you have the political prisoners--former prisoners--the third wave. Which--Amerasians and former political prisoners came very close to each other, anywhere between around '88 to around 1998, so about ten years or so of that. They--those children, no education, because that's the reality of what they suffered back in the Vietnam. You know, very poor, were not accepted, they completely were discarded by society and considered by what people called "dust of life." That's the word they called these Amerasian children, "dust of life." They considered them just like dirt. That's really what it is. Anyway, when we sponsored these kids, you know, in a way like we say, "Okay, we'll take care of you guys, come and visit us and if you need anything we'll take care of them." And I remember during the early years, I have bailed some of these guys out of jail a couple times because, you know, they didn't know anything about law, so we start helping them, then--tell you what happened twenty-some years later. The children have grown up. They went to Ivy League schools, they graduated from UT--Austin. Some doctors, some joined even the US Army, some are engineers, and look at where they came from. BRODY: Yeah, those are some great success stories. |01:00:49| NGUYEN: Yeah. And it's not unusual either, because I've seen a rampant number of these families, always the same. I haven't seen any of these children from the Amerasian group who have not been successful. You know, maybe some more dramatic than some others, but none of them that I've seen have become homeless or the children not going to school or doing something productive and contributing back. So regardless of the background, it's just--what America gives them, the opportunity, they seize on it and make something--and make a great story for themselves. BRODY: It's a great story for everyone, yes. NGUYEN: Yeah, exactly, yeah. |01:01:41| BRODY: That brings me to another area that we haven't talked about yet, and that's the question of becoming American and being American, or the idea of identity. Can you tell me a little bit about your thoughts, having been in not just two different countries but, you know, different parts of this country? What does it mean to you to say that you're American, or to say that someone's American? NGUYEN: I think just for my situation, half of my lifetime--actually, over half of my lifetime now, I've lived here. Less than half of my lifetime was back there, and so--but I was born there, and have spent many years there of my early years there. It's very hard to forget that root, it's very hard to forget that language and that connection to, you know, to the Vietnamese heritage. So for me, becoming American (cell phone rings)--let me see, I need to--how do I turn it off, here--becoming American is a necessary process to be successful because in this community, in the larger society, to gain a career, to have a place in this community, you have to be--you have to get a good education, that's almost a sin qua non, you know, it's a necessary thing. But you have to adopt certain values that are functioning that would keep you or put you in the same consideration when you go out there and compete for a job or to gain an opportunity for a new career or life in America. So that--if I go to work, I am only American. You know, that's supposed to be that way, because what I do, the language that I use every day, the people I work with, you know, and the partners and the community, everything else and not just local, nationally and internationally too, it's that American identity seems to take over. I would say a small part of that identity, more or less sort of invisible or hidden, is still there as a Vietnamese when I come home, when I celebrate certain traditional festivals or what, and because of that root that I said is there. You cannot just chop it off and say you don't know anything about it. It's still there. So I would say to be successful, you would adopt the identity and become part of the American identity, but you don't necessarily have to forget who you are and where you came from, because that--sometimes, especially if you were not born here, somehow it's hard to say you a hundred percent belong in here, you know, even though that's what your life has always been now. Still, there's little space there. So I have concluded that--and even with the staff working here, I've seen successful people are the ones who are able to navigate successful in both cultures without favoring one to another, and so adoption of an identity as an American doesn't necessarily negate where you came from. As a matter of fact, with what happened in the country of origin in our day was very troublesome, because we--you know, and I don't know if you have been aware of, because what recently have been happening back in Vietnam was that there is a lot of--the government itself has tried to become close to China, and recently they proposed certain laws where they would lease the land for ninety-nine years to communist China, and so there's a lot of resistance from the people because if this is what they do, they'd basically be selling the country. Sold out. Sell it to China. And so what we are scared the most right now, and not just--well, the identity of whether you're American and Vietnamese or not, we may not even have that Vietnamese identity any longer. BRODY: Right, so that's troubling. |01:08:11| NGUYEN: Yeah, it's very troubling. And so many people who demonstrated and went out there were arrested now, and they basically--you know, the communists, they enforced the law, the way they interpret is very strongly, they will not allow any peaceful demonstrations, they arrest so many dissidents, so many who just express that, you know, we don't want this to happen. They arrest a lot of people and putting in jail, but I think-- and Vietnam nowadays already have seen so many Chinese businesses--actually, as a matter of fact, something really sad is that Chinese actually can go to Vietnam without a visa. And yet, Vietnamese who go to China, you have to apply for a visa. So they have free access to our country, but not the other way around. And the problem is the authority there, they're communist, they owe so much to the Chinese during the war time, whatever that was. It seems like the way they would return the debt was by selling our land. And so yeah, that's been more troublesome now than anything. So to us now, you know, I mean, when we talk about identity, I think definitely the American identity is almost there, it's just always there, but the troublesome part is we may lose our root. |01:10:02| BRODY: That is very sad. On the question of identity, I was also interested, since you mentioned your kids were born here, you know, the pattern of first generation, second generation--what has your family story been in terms of having, you know, a set of kids who are born in the United States and have only lived here, but also trying to maintain connection to the culture of the family? How have you and your wife navigated it, how do your kids feel, and what do you see going forward in terms of the growth of that? NGUYEN: Right. You know, I consider our situation with our children somewhat fortunate, and that was--we acculturated as parents very quickly. We also obtained an education here as well. So we understand what it means to be born here and growing up here. So for our children, we taught them what our roots are, what the values are, and sometimes they actually watch how we interact with our old community and now our extended family, so they can see that. Our children grew up, and one thing we insisted, especially my wife, was for them to learn Vietnamese. Both of them were enrolled in Vietnamese school when they were young because we weren't too worried about them not learning English, they were born here, but we worried about them not learning Vietnamese. |01:12:03| BRODY: Right. And was it easy to find Vietnamese classes, Vietnamese school? NGUYEN: Yeah. Mostly it's offered through churches and temples. BRODY: The churches, yeah. NGUYEN: You know, thirty-some years later, almost turning--no, maybe fifteen years or so later after they graduated from college, all of that, the oldest one--we have two-- the oldest one retained his Vietnamese and is very good at it. And actually, he made-- that really helped him with landing a job, as well as being promoted, because he offered better competitively--because he worked for the bank industry, banking industry--that he is a bilingual in Vietnamese. In the market where there's a lot of Vietnamese customers, for example, he became-- BRODY: So he's a real asset. |01:13:01| NGUYEN: Yeah, he's an asset. So, you know, they--and we encouraged them to continue to participate in traditional events and festivals, and there are a few of those throughout the years. So they grew up appreciating where their roots are, but definitely their identity is American, and they keep telling us that, (Brody laughs) you know? But we haven't had any conflict at all, and we do allow--and we do understand if they behave in a certain way, unless it's an extreme behavior that's not highly regarded, then we may correct them, but they--and they understand us too, but I think the fortunate part was that we also acculturated to this culture fast, and we also obtained the education like they were obtaining, even though we are much older when we had this education here, and so we understand. I think the struggle with intergenerational conflict occurs more with families where there is disparity between--within the education of the parents and the kids and especially, you know, you probably have heard so many of the stories when this kid goes to school and they communicate entirely in English, and the school tries to communicate with the family, and the families say, "Oh my God, our kid is in trouble" or what, because in Vietnam, the school only communicates if the kid's in trouble, it's not about discussing or talking about a PTA meeting or about a grade report, anything, you know? That's what happened in the early days when I was at the East Dallas Counseling Center. There's a lot of cases of child abuses being reported because parents didn't know how to control this kid. |01:15:03| BRODY: So that's where the lack of communication--so you observed that in your work, that this was happening. So could you share, like, just generally what some of those cases looked like? NGUYEN: Yeah. There was a case back then when I was at the East Dallas Counseling Center early in the year, probably around '91--yeah, 1991. There was a young kid, Vietnamese, male, who attended North Dallas High School. And his--I think his--it's a single parent, the mother, Vietnamese, who didn't speak English that much, nor had an education higher than maybe high school, even less. He went to school one day and the counselor and the teacher, the ESL teacher actually is the one that discovered that he had some bruises around his legs, and he was like--I think he was like tenth grade. So they immediately report him to the vice principal, and the vice principal interviewed him and said, "What happened?" And he said, "Well, my mom shackled me, chained me to the bed." So of course he didn't say why, because that "why" really matters, he just--nobody asked why. They just saw that and they immediately reported it to Child Protective Services and all of that. So they invited the mother for an interview, and then they called us. One of our case managers goes into school and finds out what's going on. And so we had a chance to talk to the mother, and then this is what she told us. She said that--we were told that he skipped school a lot, but then the school said, well, you know if the kid skips school, the parent is responsible. You know, I mean the thing about truancy, you know--they have truancy court, if the kid is skipping school so many times, the parent could be fined or arrested. |01:17:44| BRODY: So she was scared. NGUYEN: Yeah, she was scared. So she said that "In order for me to control and make sure that he would go to school the next day, because he typically would leave the house at night and having fun or going somewhere, he isn't going to return home or he sleeps somewhere I didn't know, I had to chain him against the bed so that the next day I make sure that he's there to go to school. I don't know that this is against the law." BRODY: I see. NGUYEN: You see that? So that experience can make some parents really powerless and helpless because they really meant well, but they don't know what else to do. Really, they don't know. You know, how else are they going to keep this kid at home? BRODY: Right. And they can't communicate directly. |01:18:39| NGUYEN: Yeah. So that's one story that I remember that just demonstrated that intergenerational communication conflict and, you know, not just between parents and children, but school as well because, see, the parent really didn't know and don't know what to do because they don't understand why this law makes them responsible. In our country, when they send the kid to school, the kid is the parents' substitute. I mean, the teacher is the parents' substitute. We entrust the kid to your hands. You take care of them, don't bother us. BRODY: So the parent is out of the picture. NGUYEN: Yes, yeah. So that's where they're coming from. So that's why when the school communicates, "Oh my God, he might be in trouble, doing something bad." |01:19:37| BRODY: So how did the case turn out? NGUYEN: I think it turned out that we were able to intervene and explain to the Child Protective Services as well as the school, you know, what she did, she didn't know that this is against the law, but she did this because she didn't know what else to do in order to keep the kid at home. So we were willing to provide some education sessions to the mother and as well as to do some prevention counseling with the kid as well, and so I think they dismissed the case because they know that this is not intentionally. BRODY: Not a pattern either. That's interesting, and that ties into one of the other areas that I wanted to ask you what your experience and what you thought. Clearly, you were very educated already at the point that you were a refugee and came to the United States, and then you continued to do work that was in line with your level of education. Have you had any experiences with social class issues--either your own or just people you know are in the community--of refugees who perhaps were of one social class when they were in Vietnam and then came here and either moved up or down, I think more typically to a lower, you know, sort of situation because of language or education differences? |01:21:21| NGUYEN: I--actually, I would say the opposite of that, and what I mean is this: the class system, social class system exists in our country, and if they were still in the country of origin, those refugee kids, the Amerasians, and so forth, would never be able even to talk to anyone of a different higher class, whether they were educated or they have social status or higher ranking officers, officials of the government or what. But when they came here, it's so interesting that there's a reversal of that order, because a lot of the high-ranking, higher class of people, when they came to America, actually they're losing that status, mostly. BRODY: How interesting. NGUYEN: Yeah. Except for the children, definitely, because everyone has the same opportunities, so all those kids would get--they can get a Pell Grant as well as anyone. As a matter of fact, the poor can have a better chance of getting a Pell Grant than the rich one. So they can afford education, so they can look up--I mean, they don't have to look up, they can be very assertive in any situation, they don't have to worry about, you know, "Oh, she used to be a doctor, I've got to respect her," or what. You know, all of that may not matter anymore. However, you know, like I said, the one who used to be in a higher social class and were losing those status because they're old, they couldn't get a job, or whatever that is, became probably more depressed because they're losing their status. But there's not much of that, of the inequality kind of thing that you've seen how people have been treated back in the country of origin, just because of their social status. |01:24:01| BRODY: That's really interesting. Also, another question that I wanted to go back to, you mentioned that your kids took classes, Vietnamese language classes and that the churches and temples sort of ran that. What role did religion play in your experience, either back in Vietnam or coming here and becoming part of the community here in Dallas? NGUYEN: As a matter of fact, when I--back in my country, the religious community is not much a part of our life, mainly because we'd--we were of a faith called "ancestor worship," meaning we prayed to our ancestors, we have an altar in the family and we have a picture of the deceased grandparent, parent or what, and we commemorate their death anniversary, we teach our kids the value that they imparted on us from years, years ago. Morally, it's kind of close to Buddhism than anything. When we came here, as a matter of fact, we became more active in the Buddhist temple, with the Buddhist temple, and that has happened because we were invited by one of the largest Buddhist temples in Garland. The monk there heard about me and he actually came from the same region that I was born and came from, and he asked for my help to figure out the nonprofit status for his temple. So I became his legal advisor even though that's not my profession, (Brody laughs) but you know, I mean, if I created a nonprofit status for Mosaic, then I could figure it out the same way. So I actually was able to help him with that, and then he appointed me to become his advisor, and then so we attend more of their events at the temple, and then he also came and did blessings to our family on all kinds of occasions and so forth. So yeah, that became more of a faith and religious connection that we have and celebrate as well as honor anytime appropriate. When my parents--my father passed away, like, six years ago and my father-in-law also passed away a year after that, both of them were--the memorial services were done through the Buddhist temple, and the monk had run out to the funeral home and did all the blessings and ceremonies there and all of that. So yeah, we became supporters and close to those faiths. And I think it's important, because how children grew up and see and start reading and learning more about Buddhism and so forth, so they'd--they also live out their faith, even though they may not show up in church and temple as much, but both have them have been through some very serious illnesses a couple times. You know, they recovered from that very quickly, but the monk was a part of the healing. He came to pray and so the kids saw and witnessed those moments and they feel that there's a holy leader in their lives, somebody like that really helps with what I call a "divine intervention," (laughs) yeah, in their life. BRODY: Divine intervention, yes. And also a real tangible community to belong to here in town. |01:28:45| NGUYEN: Yeah. It's growing, it's unbelievable in terms of the number of followers and, yeah, it's growing. BRODY: It's part of your story here in Dallas. NGUYEN: Right, yeah, exactly. |01:28:58| BRODY: And the last sort of area that I wanted to hear you talk about because you are such a leader in Dallas today with Mosaic being as active as it is, I wondered if you could share a little bit about what your life is now today, what your job is, and sort of the different work that you do and how it is informed by your own experience as a refugee. NGUYEN: My job--I kind of grew into it and continued to grow from it, almost like by accident, but it's something that I had dreamt about when I landed in America and took that first job. Actually, it's the second job with Lutheran Social Services. There's an area that is not well-explored or highly regarded within my own community and culture, and that is the human service side of profession. You know, you probably heard this already, that Asian--Vietnamese, in my situation--patterns anyone would expect a kid-- engineers, doctors, do something tangible. But behavioral sciences, human services, social work, psychology, people don't see why we do it. First, we may not make a lot of money. Secondly, how does this really help? Because in the culture of origin, and when I did mental health for years and years, we talked about traditional healing versus western medicine, and the idea was, well, western psychology, psychiatrists, unless they prescribe a pill, it's not as good as an herbalist, as an eastern medicine, because they really give you something that you can see or cook and pour and making something out of it. So going to the field that I went to in social work, specializing in mental health was something that I know--from my larger family, not highly regarded, because like, the younger brother that I came with, he became an engineer and then quit engineering and became a doctor. BRODY: Oh really? |01:32:22| NGUYEN: Yeah. And he has a very highly successful practice in Dallas these days. So the only thing that actually my family really highly regarded about me was my language ability, and actually get a PhD, even though it's in a field that people think, "Wow, he doesn't make money," but in the culture really, they like credentials. They also value credentials, you know? When I go out in the community many people still say, call me "Doctor," right? I cannot prescribe prescriptions for people's life. Like "professor," they highly regard that. "Doctor"? Okay. You know? Great. Just a very educated thing, you know? So they regard that. So that's good. But what I do may not be in the community understanding of it or of cultural value of it was highly regarded. But you know, I found--actually, I've found actually it worked out to my benefit in a different way, because when I first came and after I got all my degrees, I found out that, you know, you can find hundreds of doctors, but you couldn't find a social worker or somebody with my experience to do a job that not a lot of people will do. A job that could benefit a lot of people-- BRODY: That's true. You're helping a lot of people. NGUYEN: --that I feel enriching and satisfying as well. And so--and that's why I think when I got my master's and already worked for the county and moved down here and found that job with Challenge and so forth, I suddenly realized this. I said, "You know what? To be competitive or to be known as a newcomer here, I need more credentials." And that's why after I moved to Texas, you know, and initially get in working as executive director of East Dallas Counseling Center, I went back to school at UTA for my doctorate. And I proved myself right, because after I get my doctorate, in every application for grants or anything that I sent and I attached my credentials there, I become more believable. Because if people look at the name, they can almost immediately say, "Should I believe this guy?" Right? Especially since it's a strange name, you know. I mean, that's a fact. We live in a society that discrimination is there to some degree, and in order to be competitive, what do you have to offer that will take you over somebody else? In addition to doing something unique, that's serving a population that nobody else is serving, that's good maybe, or as much as we could do here. I also have that credential that I can convince people that you can trust in me. BRODY: Right. Credibility. |01:36:10| NGUYEN: Yeah, credibility. That's it. So yeah. So I think that's why I found my education, what I do, is very satisfying. Satisfactory for myself, but I think it's very meaningful and that my stress not--I don't have the stress for many people that worry about, "Oh my God, I don't know if I'll even have a job next year or not because it looks like, you know, (unintelligible) for a certain company," or even--for so many people up there, and they make decisions over your life, your income or what. But here, I'm responsible for a lot of lives, and a lot of employees as well. But then I'm responsible for myself too, that whether I am successful or not is up to me. So I have that freedom, the onus and the responsibility of me to do what I need to do to live up to my, you know, expectations and desires. |01:37:33| BRODY: That's great. Well, it's a very inspiring story, so thank you so much for sharing. Is there anything else that you wanted to revisit, or anything that I might've missed in asking you? Or anything that you think people in the future might want to know about your experience? NGUYEN: You know, I think I covered a lot already. I think my very last point that you asked there, really, I cannot overemphasize, and I keep telling a lot of people. Because there are people in the community who actually went to me and asked this question: they say, "Hey, I'm creating this organization, I want to do exactly what you do. I love it." You know, actually I--there was a professor from UTA, he's Korean, and he came here a couple years ago. He taught research at graduate school, and he's from Korea. And he just loved what I do here, and he asked me once, he said, "You know what, Walter? I want to do exactly what you're doing." But, he ended up didn't do that, you know, and then he quit his job and he returned to his country. So what I'm saying here is this: for those who share the same experience as me, being from another country, arriving in America, not born here and want to explore a field that may be not popular in their country, in their cultural heritage or values or what, they have to find where their niche is going to be, and what is their asset, what they can offer that could be competitive for them to get a foot in the door for whatever they want to do. Now, my theory was this: in order to obtain certain things that you want, that somebody who are white, who are born here or with a credential that you have, you have to obtain a little higher one in order to be considered equal. So that's just my-- BRODY: Your observation. NGUYEN: --yeah, my observation. And I think--I don't know if it'll work with other people, you know, but in my situation I think it works. It is meaningful, because you know, I haven't talked to you about what--East Dallas Counseling Center has expanded ten times compared to when it started, and much of the growth during the early years was because--and I'm as humble as an Asian person, I would never speak it in a bragging way--and that was: I helped create a lot of different things so that we can get our name out and be equal with other similar organizations, and one of the hardest things that I remember that took place, that really transformed Mosaic, and that was we became a member of the United Way. BRODY: That's interesting. |01:41:14| NGUYEN: And that happened in the year 1999. I wrote a letter to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and I asked them if they would ever consider accepting another member or not. No answer. And a year after that, that's when they opened a new round, accepting some new agencies after almost ten years of freezing. So immediately I applied on behalf of East Dallas Counseling Center. Among two hundred agencies that applied, we went through a strenuous, very unbelievable, difficult process of vetting, including so many presentations and hearings. And I remember, I defended all the questions as though I'm defending my thesis. And I was able, along with the board that I created, navigated all of the vetting process and we successfully were accepted as one of the nine new agencies to the United Way out of two hundred. BRODY: Wow, that's amazing. NGUYEN: And that opened the door for us, because that's the first time after ten years they ever accepted a new agency, but because with the application United Way, they provided us the first unrestricted funding of $75,000 for me to hire a development director who was able to write grants. Whereas before that I'm the only one who wrote, and we were able to, within one year of receiving that money, open the first shelter for immigrants and refugee women. BRODY: Wow. Well that is an amazing accomplishment at the end of a long road. NGUYEN: Right. So I think that's the one that I think really opened the door. BRODY: Yeah I think so, it sounds like it. Well thank you so much for your time and for sharing your story. It's such an important story and you're an inspiring person to interview, so thank you very much Dr. Nguyen. NGUYEN: Well, thank you for the opportunity, I love to share the story and hope that it gives some insight to the journey. BRODY: It absolutely did. Thank you so much. NGUYEN: Okay. end of interview All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. audio Interviews may be reproduced with permission from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. 0

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“Interview with Walter Nguyen,” Becoming Texans Becoming Americans, accessed December 9, 2023, http://becomingtexansbecomingamericans.org/items/show/67.