Interview with Chi Nguyen, October 26, 2018

Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans
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00:00:00 - Interview Introduction 00:00:22 - Father put in reeducation camp after Fall of Saigon/Mother raised seven children alone

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Can you tell me a little bit about your life in Vietnam before you came to Texas?

NGUYEN: Yes. So we—I came from a big family. So we had about seven of us. So after ’75, the Fall of Saigon in 1975—so, my father was put in the, you know, reeducation camp. So my mom said—so we had to move from, you know, Danang. That’s where we grew up, and we moved to Saigon, you know, before the Fall. Then after my dad gets in the camp, my mom is single, by herself, raised seven of us.


NGUYEN: So we all head to, you know, she worked all by herself, all she wanted us to do, you know, go to school and try to learn and work hard on the learning.

BRODY: Yes. Had you dad been involved in the military?

NGUYEN: Yes, he was in the army, and he was a captain, you know, he vowed to promote up, but you know with the Fall of Saigon, so we had to—think about the future, you know, I mean, you cannot stay in Danang. It’s a smaller city, it’s a lot more under control. If you’re in the bigger city, so that’s the (unintelligible), you know, they want to move to Saigon.

BRODY: Yes. So you got to the city and your mom worked really hard to raise you guys.

NGUYEN: Yep. She worked all by herself. Looking back, I can’t imagine, you know, that she can raise all six of us—six—seven of us all by herself.

BRODY: Strong lady, strong lady.

NGUYEN: Yes, yes.

Keywords: Danang; Fall of Saigon; Saigon; education; family; military; prison; reeducation camp; single mom

00:02:19 - Nguyen's mother's efforts to make a living in Saigon

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So she emphasized education. How old were you at this time?

NGUYEN: So, in ’75 I was about seven years old.

BRODY: Seven. So you were in grade school?

NGUYEN: Yes. So I was in first grade. We all had to go to school every day. Going home, you know, my older sister and brother helped the younger ones with the homework, all of that, we all have to do that by ourself, you know? And we helped mom a little bit, but you know the main thing, you know, she’s the worker in the family.

BRODY: Yeah. What did she do?

NGUYEN: Everything. Whatever that she can make money; you know, sell stuff. So when we moved to Saigon, you know, they wanted move(??) to us. A neighbor that was
selling stuff via the markets in our neighborhood, so she can sell different things. You know, she’d make anything to sell, from cookies to bún thịt nướng cha gio, bún riêu, you know, those stuff like that. So she’d make anything just to make a daily living.

BRODY: That’s amazing, and she must have been a very strong lady to handle all that.

Keywords: Saigon; cooking; employment; food; markets; survival; work

00:03:28 - Decision to leave Vietnam for safety reasons/Brother's immigration to the United States

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So then the Fall of Saigon happened, you guys were—what precipitated you leaving Vietnam?

NGUYEN: So, we went to school and you know, back then, Vietnam and China had some kind of war, you know? So everybody had to be enlisted in the military. So when you come of age, you know, like seventeen, eighteen, you had to go to the military. And when you go there, the chance for you to die is very high because they’re sending you to Cambodia, at the front end of the war. So my mom thought about this—we had to go. So me and my brother, you know, eventually that’s—you know, we had to leave.

BRODY: So you were—I’m sorry—you were seventeen?

NGUYEN: Seventeen.

BRODY: Okay. And so you and your brother, she decided that it was safer for you to—

NGUYEN: Yes, and have better future, that we had to go. Because, you know, if you’re under the former military, you don’t get a lot of chance, you know?

BRODY: How did you feel about the decision? Were you a part of the decision-making process?

NGUYEN: No, not really. (both laugh) But, you know, I knew that she wanted us to go, and we had brothers who came here first.

BRODY: Oh, okay. When did your brothers, your older—

NGUYEN: He came in ’78.

BRODY: Okay.

NGUYEN: Yeah. So he came all by himself. My uncle and my—so on my mom’s side, you know, most of them came in ’75. So my brother came first, and he went to school, same thing, you know? The focus, you had to go get your school and get a degree and find a job. So he came first.

BRODY: Where was he? Did he go to a resettlement?

NGUYEN: No, he came—so he came in ’78. So he stayed with my uncle in Arkansas. It’s a small city, you know. It’s not a lot of—you want to be something, you want to move to a bigger city. So that’s why he decided to move by himself to Dallas. Yeah, and went to school in Dallas after high school.

BRODY: Okay. Where did he go to school?

NGUYEN: He went to DeVry.

BRODY: Okay. To DeVry, yes. And so then afterwards he got a job, and—

NGUYEN: Yeah. He got an engineering job, then we came right afterward.

BRODY: So, you were in communication with him and knew where he was—

Keywords: Arkansas; Cambodia; China; Dallas; Devry; Vietnam War; conscription; education; family; immigration; military; refugees; war

00:06:15 - Escaping Vietnam by boat in 1986/Arriving in Pulau Bidong, Malaysia refugee camp

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So you and your brother, tell me the story of how you got here.

NGUYEN: So, it’s—the new year, from 1986, you know, I think it’s January fifth—so me and my brother went to our uncle’s house, you know, where we stayed for the night. Then the day after, you know, all of us went together, came—you know, escaped together. So my uncle had—I think he had—let me try to remember, he had three children. They were all very young. You know, like one, two, or three years old, yeah. And his wife. So early in the morning, we went to the small sea city where you can escape by boat. So we went to the smaller city and stayed there. And you’re kept stay in
the safe house until the time is right, then they send you to the boat.

BRODY: So you had already made arrangements, your uncle had already made arrangements with someone, and paid?

NGUYEN: Yes. So you had to pay, I think it cost—I don’t know how much it cost, but you pay by gold. You don’t pay by money.

BRODY: Right, gold.

NGUYEN: Yeah. So we went to the small city, you know, it’s a seaside city. I don’t remember the name now, (laughs) you know?

BRODY: That’s okay.

NGUYEN: But, you know, somewhere in the south of the seaside. So we escaped early in the morning, we went to the small boat. Then from the smaller boat, you know, they take you to the bigger boat. Then—

BRODY: And this was all prearranged, the bigger boat was already prearranged?

NGUYEN: Yes. So that’s about a hundred—I think 101 people on the boat, small boat. It’s about maybe—I don’t know how long, but it’s not that long, the body about the size of that fence right there.

BRODY: Okay. So not a very big boat at all.

NGUYEN: Yeah. People were packed together, we had no room to move, just like you see on TV now when people are trying to move from Cuba. People pack in the boat. That’s how we are, like tuna, all packed together.

BRODY: Wow. So that must have been pretty scary.

NGUYEN: Eh, actually, I guess—I was so young and back then, you know, we didn’t think much. We just wanted to get out, and that’s all I thought about, you know? So I didn’t think much, wasn’t scared; scare was not a factor at all.

BRODY: Oh, okay. So you were just doing it.

NGUYEN: You just said you had to go, you had to go, you know? You had to make the difference, you know, we had to go first and we can have the family later. So that’s why we just—you had to do it. So yeah, we were on the boat in the ocean for about five days. Most of the time we had no water, you know, because the main thing you can bring with you—

BRODY: The clothes on your back.

NGUYEN: Actually, just nothing at all, just one set of clothes. Whatever you wear, that’s all. My mom gave me a little bit of gold, so we put it in the pocket, you know? So we’re on the boat for about five days. Lucky that we did not get robbed by the pirates or anything at all.

BRODY: Yeah, that is lucky.

NGUYEN: Very lucky. I mean, a lot of people died. You know, you heard the stories of a lot of people dying on the sea. Yeah. So you’re on the boat for five days, and I think we went to—we came to Malaysia, we stayed there for a few months, you know, go through the screening process—no, we came to Pulau Bidong, then we stayed there for about three or four months with the screening process, since, you know, the US had our paperwork already, since my brother came first and my father’s in the military so we get the—they had the number to look up everything, match. So we got a fast track, you know, since we had the record already. So after four months, me and my brother went first. So me and my brother moved to Philippines, you know, for six months, learning period. Then after almost a year I came to the US.

Keywords: Malaysia; Phillippines; Pulau Bidong; United States; boat; escape; family; gold; leaving Vietnam; pirates; refugee camps; sponsors; tuna

00:10:52 - Arriving in Irving, Texas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Okay, and so was the first place that you came Texas?

NGUYEN: Yes, Irving! Irving, and we stayed in Irving the whole time. Didn’t move at all. (laughs)

BRODY: That’s amazing.

NGUYEN: So my uncle had to stay since he didn’t have the—you know, they had the screen for political purpose or economic purpose. So he got screening, he didn’t pass, even though his uncle and the rest of the family here.

BRODY: Oh boy.

NGUYEN: Yeah. So he had to provide some kind of documentation. So luckily, my mom got some kind of documentation to send it to him, and he’d be able to—came to the US much later.

BRODY: So how much later?

NGUYEN: He came in—I think at least five months or six months after, yeah.

BRODY: Okay. And he joined you in Irving?

NGUYEN: No, he joined his brother in Arkansas.

BRODY: Oh, in Arkansas, okay.

NGUYEN: He came to—they came to Arkansas, then after a few months he moved to Dallas, then moved to California.

BRODY: Oh, okay, so he ended up in California. Tell me about your first days in Irving.

NGUYEN: Oh, wow.

BRODY: So your brother was here. What do you remember from that time?

NGUYEN: It’s beautiful, you know? We came—it’s cold, you know, November cold. So we landed in Seattle, then from Seattle we landed to Dallas. So I think we came here around eleven o’clock, midnight? Eleven at night? Yeah. The city was beautiful with the lights and the bridge, the one thing that amazed me about—the way that the road and the structure is so amazing, you know? You can go in and out, up and down, go everywhere.

So easy to go, not like Vietnam. So it’s beautiful. It’s cold, you know, it’s about Thanksgiving, you know, with the holiday. You see a lot of holiday spirit, and my brother took us to the mall, and it’s beautiful. It’s so scary though. (laughs)

BRODY: Which mall, do you remember which mall?

NGUYEN: We went to Irving Mall.

BRODY: Irving Mall, okay. So it was big. (laughs)

NGUYEN: Big. Huge, you know? I think the first night we came we had pho, which is totally different from the way we ate it in Vietnam. (laughs)

BRODY: That’s really interesting. What was different about it?

NGUYEN: It had to do with the—so in Vietnam you eat, you know, not ready-to-cook pho. You know, pho, you boil—

BRODY: It takes all day.

NGUYEN: Yeah. But in Vietnam, you had pho too, you know, like they make it the right way. The noodles, they make it—not the instant noodles.

BRODY: Right, so that was different.

NGUYEN: Yeah, very different than, you know—but it tastes good. You know, I remember, it tastes good. So, my brother stayed at the apartment by himself, so we stayed

at the apartment for—I think almost a year. Then my brother saved enough money, he bought the house. He bought the first house.

BRODY: Wow. So what was his job?

NGUYEN: He was an engineer.

BRODY: Engineer. So he’d gone to DeVry, become an engineer. So he was—

NGUYEN: You know, back then he’d got a good job, compared to—salary, you know? So he got a good job. So he’s saved enough money, so he bought the house in Irving. So we moved to that house and we went to school. My brother—so I finished high school, then I went to college. My brothers go to high school.

Keywords: Arkansas; California; Christmas; Dallas; Irving; Irving Mall; Texas; apratments; cooking; employment; food; holidays; housing; jobs; lights; malls; noodles; pho; roads; screening; weather

00:14:21 - Attending MacArthur High School and University of Dallas in Irving Texas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So when you got here, you were already finished with high school. Or you just finished it out here?

NGUYEN: No. So when we came—so when we came my brother wanted me to go— even though I’m eighteen already, he said, you know, I need to go to high school at least a year so that way I can learn English. So he wanted me to go there, and so I went to MacArthur High School with my brother. My mom sent us some documentation, like we’d been in school, and these are the credits that we learned in school. So, yeah. So it took me one year to finish the high school here.

BRODY: Yeah. Tell me about going to high school at MacArthur High School. So obviously, you didn’t know anybody when you got there.

NGUYEN: No, we still don’t. I still don’t have any friends, we didn’t have any friends back then. (laughs)

BRODY: (laughs) That’s really funny.

NGUYEN: So, the main thing you learn, you know, in high school and the goal is to learn English, so I was in the ESL class. The teacher was very nice, she was very nice. I don’t remember her name now. I can picture her face, you know, yeah. My English wasn’t that good, so I don’t even remember the teacher’s name. (laughs)

BRODY: That’s okay, but she taught you English and she was a good teacher.

NGUYEN: Yes. She taught me English, good teacher, I took all the classes, like the other American student class. So we had to learn more, you know, at night. You had to go to a dictionary, try to read and—

BRODY: Right. Because you were taking the regular classes in English, but having to learn—

NGUYEN: Yes. So we took math, history and government, and all of that class, yeah. And so I took about—yeah, so—then when I finished high school I took the SAT, then I applied for—I went to University of Dallas.

BRODY: University of Dallas, okay. Fantastic.

NGUYEN: Yeah. So then after that, four years, I got my BS. I always wanted to be a doctor, but with the English, you know, I didn’t do good on my MCAT. I got the interview but, you know, I guess I didn’t do well in the interview either. Yeah, so I ended up—then I thought about—so for two years I thought about what should I do with my life, you know? I tried getting in medical school, I didn’t get in. Then I said, “Okay, I need to do something else, I cannot do this.” You know? Working minimum hours, you know? So I decided to—I went to pharmacy school.

Keywords: ESL; English; English language; MCAT; MacArthur High School; SAT; University of Dallas; education; friendships; high school; language learning; medical school; pharmacy school; schools

00:17:01 - Memories of bullying in high school/Challenges with communication

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So tell me about—just to go back a little bit, during that period where you’re living with your brother and your other brother was also living with you and you were in high school, did you interact very much with other people, neighbors, or the community?

NGUYEN: Not at all. So the neighbor, later on I interacted with the neighbor when I went to university, then I learned more English, then we interacted with the neighbor, she was very nice, yeah. She’s passed away now. She was a retiree, teaching piano every day. She went to church and was teaching piano. In high school we didn’t know any friends. You know, we had a few Vietnamese friends. But I didn’t hang out with any students at all; you know, went to school—we walked to school, and we walked home every day. You know. We got bullying by other student, one time.

BRODY: Really? What did—like, what kind of bullying?

NGUYEN: So, I guess me and my brother were just walking home, and minding our own business, and people just come and say—I don’t remember what they said, but they wanted to fight us and pushed us around and all of that stuff. And me and my brother keep walking and we just mind our business and go home.

BRODY: That must have been scary. Did it happen often?

NGUYEN: No, just one time. Yeah. But, you know, we just mind your business and go home.

BRODY: Were they kids from the school?

NGUYEN: I think they came from school.

BRODY: Yeah, but they just were messing around with you? Wow. So it sounds like learning English was the biggest initial hurdle, right? So had you—

NGUYEN: Yes. I think it’s very difficult, you know, every word that you learn—you know, I took French in Vietnam in high school, so when I came—my brother and my mom helped get us to learn English at home, you know, with a tutor, but you know, it’s not much what you learn. And you learn mainly how to read—

BRODY: Yes, speaking—

NGUYEN: —but we don’t learn how to speak at all. So very difficult to communicate. Even though you’d read it, you can’t understand sometimes. But we cannot say it, you know? It’s hard to say.

BRODY: Yeah, it is difficult.

NGUYEN: It’s a different practice, yeah.

BRODY: So what was the most helpful thing to you in building your confidence in English?

NGUYEN: I think, you know—so I guess my brother kept saying, “You’re going to have to go to school. That’s the only way that you can make it here. If you don’t go to school, you cannot make it here.” So that’s why we had to, every day, we just had to study and try to learn the vocabulary, you know, read and do good in school. So even though it took longer for us to finish the homework, but you know, think about the family that you still have in Vietnam and you know what my brother went through already, so he knew the system that, you know, we had to go to school, and that’s why we had to do it.

Keywords: English; bullying; education; friendships; isolation; language learning; learning English; reading; school; speaking; sucess

00:20:28 - Pharmacy School at the University of Texas at Austin

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Partial Transcript: So pharmacy school at UT; did you know other people down in Austin when you went there?

NGUYEN: Still, (laughs) you know, I didn’t hang out with a lot of Americans, so I did hang out with my Vietnamese friend. So I knew Dai back in UT, but I didn’t say much with her. You know, she didn’t speak Vietnamese, so I did hang out with the other students who spoke Vietnamese.

BRODY: So that’s interesting, yeah. So you had a level of comfort that was higher with other students who spoke Vietnamese, so the language is really key to the—

NGUYEN: Yes, yes. So I only hang out with the Vietnamese. Sometimes I don’t feel— we don’t share the same thing, that’s why—with the background, you know? So it’s hard to talk about, and back then people—I don’t know. I just hang out with the Vietnamese students.

BRODY: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s— NGUYEN: More comfort.
BRODY: —comfortable and easy to communicate, and, you know, so much of friendship is communication, right? So that makes sense. What was Austin like?


NGUYEN: Austin is beautiful, you know? So the—so when I went to Austin, you know, we stayed with—I stayed with others. First I went, I stayed with a friend’s family for the first semester. Then after that, I find a few more friends, so we all move out to the apartment. So there’s seven of us in a two bedroom apartment, you know, close to school, and we all had the same, you know, goal is go to school. And we had fun together but, you know, they all learn different subjects; some of them are engineering students, some of them are medical students, premed.

BRODY: Right. And pharmacy, of course, in your case.


Keywords: Austin; English language; Vietnamese language; apartment; communication; culture; friendships; graduate school; housing; language; pharmacy school; values

00:22:22 - Working at Parkland Hospital in Dallas/Observations about Vietnamese community in Dallas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So, school—after pharmacy school, what happened?

NGUYEN: So after pharmacy school I did my rotation here in Dallas, then I did my rotation at Parkland and I got the job at Parkland.

BRODY: Great!

NGUYEN: I’ve worked at Parkland since then.

BRODY: Oh, wow. So you have been at Parkland for a very long time. (laughs) NGUYEN: For a long time. (laughs)

BRODY: Being in the workforce, so now you’re a professional, you’re a pharmacist, and you’re back in the community that you initially settled in, what are some changes that you’ve noticed, as you’ve been here for such a long time, in that community?

NGUYEN: For the Vietnamese community, it’s gotten a lot bigger. You know, people— there’s a lot of stores that you see, the Vietnamese people. I see the Vietnamese people expanding to a different career path. So back then when my brother came, you know, all of them are engineers. You know, it’s quick, it’s fast, all the people that I know from his generation is an engineer. So fast, you go to school, the math and the physics, those are

easy with numbers, so you don’t need to know a lot of English, you know? I mean, you can do it. Now, I see the Vietnamese community expand to a lot of different—you have doctors, we have lawyers, we have all kinds of careers that I see that’s a Vietnamese.
There’s a big Vietnamese health professional in Dallas, you know. I was a member back then, so we did a lot of things for the community. We do a health fair for the community every year, twice a year.

BRODY: That’s great, that’s great. So it’s a community that is—it sounds like, still very focused on education.

Keywords: Dallas; Parkland Hospital; Vietnamese community; careers; education; engineering; health professionals

00:24:31 - Role of Catholic Church in settlement experience

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah, everybody has moved on to different places. So your first job was at Parkland, you’re still working at Parkland, and—let’s see, so we’ve already talked about that. When you came first, you said you were mostly with your family, with your brother. Did you—were members of a church or a temple at that time?

but in downtown Dallas. He was very nice. I don’t think it was the Guadalupe Church, but he was very nice, he helped us a lot.

BRODY: Were you Catholic?

NGUYEN: No, no. No, I was Buddhist, but, you know, there’s no temple back then. Now we have so many temples, but there’s only one temple initially then, now it’s so many.
Yeah, with the help of the Catholics, you know, so that’s why I went to the Catholic school.

BRODY: Yeah, at the University of Dallas. So it sounds like you went to the diocese, or was it Catholic Charities [USA]? And they gave you some clothes and maybe money as well.

NGUYEN: Yeah. So we got the help, I think six months you got some money. Then after that, you’re on your own.


BRODY: Yeah. Were they able to give you advice or guidance?

NGUYEN: No, mainly, you know, mainly my brother, you know? He encouraged us to remain in school and just focus.

BRODY: Fantastic. That’s good advice.

NGUYEN: Yeah. But my brother, eventually he moved to California. He just wanted to stay with the uncle.


NGUYEN: Yes. So when we came from—I think with the help of the Catholic diocese in Dallas. So that’s where we came every week to get the money, or every month—I don’t remember now. We’d get some benefits. So, some clothes. There’s a priest’s name—I think he’s at Dallas—stayed in one of the Dallas churches, I don’t remember the church,

Keywords: Buddhism; Catholic Charities; Catholic Church; University of Dallas; churches; religion; temples

00:26:35 - Reflections on social class

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So, back in Vietnam, your dad was involved with the military, and it sounds like your mom had resources to sort of make sure that you guys stayed in school. Did you feel like when you came—I mean, what were your experiences with social class when you came here? Did you feel like you were in the same sort of level that you had been in Vietnam, or was there a change?

NGUYEN: I mean, I didn’t pay much to the social class. I know that, you know, we were on the lower level, but, you know, it’s not that you think about it, you know? You think about the future. Regardless of where you’re at, there’s a future there that you—and you want to get to that future.

BRODY: And the key to that, sounds like for you, it was education, right?

NGUYEN: Yes. I mean, for all of us, all of my brothers and sisters, came much later, and they all went to school.

Keywords: education; family; social class; social mobility

00:27:33 - Arrival and education of the remainder of his siblings in 2004

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah. Tell me about the rest of your family coming. When did they come?

NGUYEN: So my brother came with us, then he went to California to stay with my uncle, then he went to University of San Jose, he’s an engineer.

BRODY: The brother that came with you?

NGUYEN: Yeah. All of my brothers and sisters came much later, and they’re much older than I was when I came, you know? They all had a job back in Vietnam already, so my

sister’s an engineer. The other brothers and sisters, you know, were teachers, and another sister just stayed at home. But when they came, they all went to school again. Like they went to community college, then they all went to university and got a job, yeah.

BRODY: So they came maybe in the eighties, then?

NGUYEN: So—no. I came in ’86, they came in 2004.

BRODY: Oh, okay. Yeah, recently. More recently.
NGUYEN: Yeah. They came in 2004. So most of them stayed in Dallas. My mom, after we came—so when we came, everybody stayed in Dallas. You know, the rest of them, my mom wanted to move to California with my uncle. So he moved. When they moved, my brother and sister moved with them, except—so two of my sisters moved. One brother and one sister stayed in Dallas with me, but they all went to school. So the brother and sister who stayed with me went to UTA. My brother—my two sisters in California went to Santa Cruz University.

BRODY: Okay, fantastic.

NGUYEN: And even here, you know, my father and my mom worked hard and tell my sister and brother, you know, you guys need to go to school. So they still supported us, you know, after they came.

BRODY: Yeah. Tell me about the rest of your family coming. When did they come?

NGUYEN: So my brother came with us, then he went to California to stay with my uncle, then he went to University of San Jose, he’s an engineer.

BRODY: The brother that came with you?

NGUYEN: Yeah. All of my brothers and sisters came much later, and they’re much older than I was when I came, you know? They all had a job back in Vietnam already, so my
sister’s an engineer. The other brothers and sisters, you know, were teachers, and another sister just stayed at home. But when they came, they all went to school again. Like they went to community college, then they all went to university and got a job, yeah.

BRODY: So they came maybe in the eighties, then?

NGUYEN: So—no. I came in ’86, they came in 2004.

BRODY: Oh, okay. Yeah, recently. More recently.

NGUYEN: Yeah. They came in 2004. So most of them stayed in Dallas. My mom, after we came—so when we came, everybody stayed in Dallas. You know, the rest of them, my mom wanted to move to California with my uncle. So he moved. When they moved, my brother and sister moved with them, except—so two of my sisters moved. One brother and one sister stayed in Dallas with me, but they all went to school. So the brother and sister who stayed with me went to UTA. My brother—my two sisters in California went to Santa Cruz University.

BRODY: Okay, fantastic.

NGUYEN: And even here, you know, my father and my mom worked hard and tell my sister and brother, you know, you guys need to go to school. So they still supported us, you know, after they came.

Keywords: Arlington; California; Dallas; Santa Cruz; UTA; education; family; immigration; siblings; university

00:29:34 - Nguyen's parents' immigration to the U.S. through the Orderly Departure Program

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So your mom and dad both came too.


BRODY: Where are they?

NGUYEN: They’re in California. They work. My mom—my dad works for more like, you know, golf, you know, cleaning, minimum hour job. My mom works for some seafood packaging company.

BRODY: So now the whole family is in the US?

NGUYEN: Yes. So they work minimum hour job, and they save money and support us. My sister and brother didn’t have the work, they just had to go to school. Then after that they help out, you know, get a part-time job. But still, my parents’ goal is the same. You know, regardless of your age, you need to go to school. If you don’t get a job, don’t get a degree, you can’t find a job. So they all went to school, and they all get a degree and get a job.

BRODY: That’s a big accomplishment for your parents.

NGUYEN: Yes, even though they work minimum hours, they still can save money. That’s amazing. It’s a small house where they stay in California. It’s like, it has two rooms, this room and the other room. Maybe three rooms. It’s about four hundred square feet or something. So I remember, every year, I came to California to visit, we stay in one family room, we all lie on the floor. (laughs)

BRODY: Right. A lot of people.

NGUYEN: A lot of people. Yeah, but they manage. It’s amazing that, you know, my parents sacrifice for all of us.

BRODY: They really did. And your dad—since your mom had been raising all of you as a single mom, when did your dad return to the family?

NGUYEN: So he came—he returned after seven years, or seven and a half years, in the camp. Yeah. Then after that he couldn’t find a job, you know, with the background. Then they processed, my brother sponsored them—

BRODY: Your brother that came first? Okay, so then that’s—

NGUYEN: So that’s how they came with—and they came with their—what do you call the one if you work in the South government, you came under the ODP?

BRODY: Oh, the ODP program.

NGUYEN: Yeah, ODP program. And they were sponsored by I think Senator McCain. BRODY: Oh, by Senator McCain.

NGUYEN: And John Kerry.

BRODY: Oh, okay. Did they ever interact with Senator McCain and Kerry? NGUYEN: No, but you know, that program is sponsored by the—

BRODY: Oh I see, yes, that program was sponsored by them.

Keywords: California; ODP; Orderly Departure Program; education; employment; housing; minimum wage jobs; money; parents; prison; reeducation camp; sacrifice; sponsorship; work

00:32:05 - Attitudes about and engagement with American politics

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Partial Transcript: Yes. Okay, well that is— one of my other questions is, in terms of speaking of the Senators and the law, did your family or yourself have any engagement with politics once you came here? Are you interested or engaged?

NGUYEN: I mean, it’s very—the US government is very interesting. I love the government, I think it’s a very good government model. But at the same time, it has some flaws to it.

BRODY: Yes, what do you think some of those flaws are?

NGUYEN: I mean, that’s why we get ourselves in the current situation, you know? It’s a democratic society, it’s very hard to get things done, you know? It takes forever to get one thing done, because everybody wants to do this and that and too many voices, you know? In Saigon it had to do with, you know, the term limits, but there’s no term limit. So, it becomes their job, you know? So then they’re protecting themselves, so that’s what I don’t like.

BRODY: Yeah. So are you politically engaged, or anybody in your family?

NGUYEN: I’m not. I vote, you know—

BRODY: Well, that’s engaged.

NGUYEN: I do my right, I exercise my right to vote, but I’m not engaged in, you know, in the (unintelligible).

Keywords: American government; democracy; government; politics; term limits; voting

00:33:42 - Differences between earlier and later arrivals from Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Okay. Now, you mentioned that you had two kids. How did you meet your wife? Is she also Vietnamese?

NGUYEN: Yes, she’s Vietnamese. I met my wife through another friend. So we just went to go out and just met at the, you know, at the restaurant and I get her number and talk to her.

BRODY: Did she grow up here as well?

NGUYEN: No. She grew up in Vietnam and they came much later. I think they came in—she came in 2004.

BRODY: Are there differences—I’m curious—in, you know, what we talked about earlier, how when you were in Austin at UT, you gravitated towards students who also had shared your kind of experience of being Vietnamese and coming to this country. Is there a different perspective from people who, like your wife, came later on, or is it kind of a shared experience still?

NGUYEN: I think it’s still shared. When she came, you know, I mean, English is the main thing, you know, communication. So she—by the time she came, you know, there’s a bigger Vietnamese community already, so she had a lot more friends than I did in college. When I went to University of Dallas, there were maybe three or four Vietnamese students, you know, at University of Dallas, and none of them speak Vietnamese. So I didn’t hang out with any of them, you know?

BRODY: Right. And you were focused on your studies, too.

NGUYEN: Yeah. And when my wife came, you know, there’s a bigger community and everybody speaks Vietnamese already.

BRODY: Yeah, there is a—it’s a different experience.

NGUYEN: And she has a lot more friends, yeah.

Keywords: Austin; English language; Universityof Dallas; Vietnamese community; Vietnamese language; friendship; marriage; wife

00:35:31 - Growth in the Vietnamese community

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: That’s interesting. That community really has grown, and you’ve been here with a front row seat for watching the growth of the community. There’s the restaurants and the temples and so on. Do you think that—if you could think of a few words to describe the Vietnamese community in this area, what words would choose?

NGUYEN: Strong, but they’re not unified.

BRODY: Not unified. What are some different sort of pieces of that community?

NGUYEN: I think it’s that there’s a gap between the old generation and the young generation leadership. I think the old generations still think with the memory back then, they’re not ready to let go.

BRODY: So they’re still thinking about Vietnam and about the war, the older generation.

NGUYEN: Yeah. So the new generation think differently, like, openness with Vietnam, all of that, you know? So there’s a difference. But we’re not unified, you know? We want the freedom of Vietnam, but so many things that you’re not unified to do the same thing.

Keywords: Vietnam; Vietnam War; Vietnamese community; generational differences; memories

00:36:58 - Relationship with Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah, what do you think about that, about a relationship with Vietnam for the United States?

NGUYEN: For me, it’s a good thing that you need to open up, you know, that’s how you can let the people know what it’s like to be free. If people don’t know what it means to be free, then how do you know to fight for their freedom? So it’s good that we need to open up and let them know. Now with the open internet, you know, Vietnamese don’t have— not like China. I think they have a lot more open communication, internet. So you see with all the protests in Vietnam nowadays, that people start to learn, people know there’s a freedom that you can fight for, you know? So it makes the difference.

BRODY: And so do you think that the Vietnamese Americans and especially the younger generation are a factor in helping open up that thinking about freedom in Vietnam?

NGUYEN: I think it has to do with Vietnam—I think they’ll open up first with the US and the Vietnam, I think they had the open relationship, you know, back in maybe 1986 or 1987. So with that openness, you know, it brings a lot more openness to Vietnam. And if people here start to share stories on the internet and when they went back to Vietnam and visit, you know, they share stories, so yeah.

BRODY: About their lives here in—

NGUYEN: Yeah, their life here and, you know, what it means to be free and all of that. Back then, you know, in Vietnam, you cannot say anything to the leadership, you know, if you say anything bad then, you know, you go to jail. People are more opened up now, they can say more things.

BRODY: Right. It’s less risky.


Keywords: China; Vietnam; Vietnamese politics; freedom; internet; openness; politics; protests

00:38:58 - Meaning of freedom

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Well, tell me, since you used that phrase—I’m interested—to you, what does it mean to be free?

NGUYEN: You know, free is a—free, you can do things that you want to do, you can say anything that you want to do, but at the same time, people here sometimes take it so lightly, they don’t take their responsibility. So free doesn’t mean you can do anything you want. You know, free has limitations to what you can do.

BRODY: Yeah, freedom and responsibility.

NGUYEN: And that always has to go together, and sometimes people here take it for granted, they don’t have that responsibility, you know?

Keywords: freedom; limits; responsibility

00:39:45 - Vietnamese American identity

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah, that makes sense. So, you’re kind of bridging—your experience bridges the—you know, you’re not really the old generation in that you’re not old, but you’re not a new arrival either, and, you know, you have kids of your own. How do you think of yourself, your identity as an American, as a Vietnamese American?

NGUYEN: I think of myself as Vietnamese American, you know? I still have a lot of culture since I grew up in Vietnam, I still have a lot of thinking like the Vietnamese. My kids are totally different now, you know, they don’t think like that already. (laughs)

BRODY: What are the differences that you’ve noticed?

NGUYEN: They’re telling me that, you know, Americans, they don’t need to learn Vietnamese.

BRODY: Oh, interesting. So did you want them to learn Vietnamese?

NGUYEN: Well yes, they go to school, they go to Vietnamese school.

BRODY: They do, okay. But they’re saying they’re—

NGUYEN: But for me, I think I still identify myself as more, like, Vietnamese American, you know, more Vietnamese than American, even though I’ve stayed here longer than I grew up in Vietnam, you know? I’m fifty years old now, yes, but I still have a lot of culture, you know, what you read and what you write, what you feel. I still feel like I’m Vietnamese.

BRODY: Yeah. Tell me about the pieces of the culture that are meaningful to you that still resonate.

NGUYEN: I think it’s family, you know? Family is the root of everything. Helping your family, helping each other, the love of your country, that feeling that you still feel, you know? When you feel warm, you feel right here that you’ll be at home.

Keywords: American identity; Vietnamese Americans; Vietnamese language; children; culture; family; language

00:41:35 - What it means to be American

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So, the United States has been your home for a long time now. What does it mean to you to be American? To not just yourself, but when people say, you know, “this is what it means to be American,” what does it mean to you?

NGUYEN: Okay. It means that, you know—to be American, you know, you have a lot of opportunity, you have the—you want to be productive in the society, to help the people. So that’s the—I lost my thought, let me see. (laughs)

BRODY: That’s okay.

NGUYEN: To make America strong, you know? Because I want America to be strong, there’s a lot of nations out there, the communist system, you know, to us is still the evil. So that’s why I want America to be—to be the star that people look at and see—to compare, you know, between the regime, the communists, and the free society, what it feels like, looks like, to be able to walk freely, talk freely, without being afraid. That’s really being an American, you know, you can say things that you feel you want to say.

BRODY: What things do you think make America strong?

NGUYEN: Diversity. I think we came all from different backgrounds. But when we came here, we really want to vote for America, you know? To make it strong, because wherever we came from, we know that, you know, you can make America strong because of your background. And we all want America to be strong, from maybe you talk to different people from different ethnic—they all from where they came, you know, this is their home now, even though they still have a lot of cultural background. But this is their home, you know, they want to make it strong.

Keywords: America; American; American identity; Communism; culture; diversity; ethnicity; freedom; opportunity; productivity; strength

00:44:15 - Nguyen's hopes and dreams for his children

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: That’s true. And just tying back to thinking about your kids and, you know, they’re growing up here in the United States as Americans without having the immigration experience. When you think about their future as Americans, as Vietnamese Americans, what are your hopes and dreams for their future?

NGUYEN: I want them to be successful. But, be what you want to be. The main thing, you know, I want you to be happy, you know? So I read a story to them every night, tried to teach them character, you know, like what it feels like to be courageous, like give them stories and tell them examples, what it is to be honest, what it is to be determination, what does it mean to be a failure, you know, so all of that stuff. And so I had the book that I read to them every night, it’s the book about the diary of the boy who goes to school, and different days he experiences different things, and he writes it down. So I read that to them every night and just tell them how you feel to be like this or like that.

BRODY: Right, that’s nice.

NGUYEN: But the main thing, you know, I want them to be happy. There’s a lot of opportunity here that you can be. You know, you can be from an entrepreneur to anything. You know? You want to be a lawyer, you can be a lawyer. You want to be a teacher, you can be a teacher. But you have to be happy.

BRODY: That’s good advice, that’s good advice. Well, is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to talk about? Or something that I forgot to ask you that—

NGUYEN: Not really.

BRODY: Not really. Well, thank you very much. This has been such a great conversation and I really appreciate your time and your willingness to share your story. Thank you.

NGUYEN: No problem. I mean, if you have more questions, I don’t mind to come back and answer your questions.

BRODY: Excellent. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.


Keywords: careers; character; courage; determination; employment; entrepreneurs; faliure; happiness; happy; honesty; jobs; opportunity; parenting; success