Interview with Bang Dang, January 8, 2019

Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans
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00:00:01 - Interview Introduction 00:00:21 - Early childhood in Saigon

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Partial Transcript: Let’s—to start out, just tell me a little bit about your background and about
yourself and what you remember of your life in Vietnam.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Dang describes his family's Chinese-Vietnamese heritage and how his parents met at a Catholic school in Saigon.

Keywords: Atheism; Buddhism; Catholic school; Religion; Vietnamese countryside; Vietnamese-Chinese

Subjects: Sai Gon (Vietnam)--History.

GPS: Saigon, Vietnam
Map Coordinates: 10.8231, 106.6297
00:02:47 - Leaving Vietnam by boat

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Partial Transcript: So, during—do you remember much of what was going on in your family
during the war?

Keywords: Hong Kong; United States; Vietnam War; boat; escape; famiy; money; refugees

00:05:06 - Boat crashes on Hainan Island

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Partial Transcript: A side note is we—our boat crashed and landed near a little island in China called
Hainan, and that was—so our boat was—you know, water was coming into the boat, and
at night the tides rise. A lot of the people didn’t know how to swim, so we didn’t know
what to do. I remember these two soldiers at the time came to the boat, and they said, you
know, we couldn’t get on land. They would have to send the message to their supervisors,
which would take days, right, at the time. But luckily my dad, being Chinese, he was
from that province.

Keywords: Boats; China; Chinese language; Hainan Island; crash; gold

Subjects: Boat people; Refugees--Vietnam

GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 18.7594480, 109.46530220
00:08:12 - Leaving Hainan Island and traveling to Hong Kong

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Partial Transcript: DANG: Yeah. So in Hong Kong, I believe—I’m trying to remember chronologically—
then we were put in these refugee camps at first. So if you have family, then they do the
paperwork, and then they come—they can take you out of the camps and you go live with
them. So, of course, my uncle came. And then I believe my aunts and uncles on a
separate boat—so my grandmom had two boats. It was, you know, my immediate family
with my two uncles from my mom’s—

BRODY: On your mom’s side.

DANG: And then the other boat was, you know, all my other uncles and aunts and my
grandparents. And I believe somehow we got separated, of course, and I believe that my
grandmom and grandad and my aunts and uncles came later.

Keywords: Hong Kong; refugee camps

Subjects: Refugees--Vietnam

GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 114.109497, 22.396428
00:10:51 - Temporary stay in Hong Kong, sponsorship and arrival in Texas

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Partial Transcript: DANG: Well, it’s funny because starting kindergarten wasn’t a problem, because, you
know, we were pretty well-off when we were in Saigon, so I went to a preschool there
that taught English. So I could read, like, Dr. Seuss stuff by the time—

Keywords: Dallas; English; English language; housing; kindergarten; preschool; refugee camps; sponsors; sponsorship

Subjects: Refugees--Vietnam

GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 32.7767, 96.7970
00:12:44 - Early years in Dallas, adults' employment, and language challenges

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Partial Transcript: DANG: So, I think a lot of my aunts worked at this place called Handbag, and—I
mean, that was literally the name, and it was off of—as I remember, it stuck around for a
long time—it was off of basically [US Highway] 75 and Forest [Lane], right before you
turn—right before you can exit in the [Interstate] 635. So where all the medical buildings
are right now? There was a place called Handbag.

BRODY: Handbag. And what did they do?

DANG: So they—

BRODY: They were sewing.

DANG: You know, sewing, and it was like an assembly line, making handbags. And then
my uncles, they worked at, like, 7-Eleven. You know, convenience stores. So my dad did

BRODY: Was everyone as good at English as you were?

DANG: No. No, I think my parents were probably—my dad especially was probably the
best at it, but even he was—you know, it was pretty rough English, you know? And then
my—at the time my grandparents were still relatively young. They worked at Presby
[Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas??], you know, like, doing laundry or pushing
cart, you know, the stretchers and stuff. Yeah, that was about it. I think it was
convenience stores, Handbag, and Presby. And then, of course, by the time you get—you
know, you meet whatever other Chinese or Vietnamese really quickly because there
weren’t many at the time, and then wherever they worked, right, that’s where you’re
going to work.

Keywords: Dallas; English; Handbag; assembly lines; convenience stores; employment; hospitals; jobs; language learning; seamstresses

00:14:22 - Residential patterns and formation of of Vietnamese community in Dallas in the 1980s

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Partial Transcript: At the very beginning we all—everyone just lived separately. It was odd. Like, I
don’t know how that happened, like, if they placed people. And obviously, they were
usually the lower-income housing. But then as people started working—you know, for
instance, my parents had me, and then I have another aunt who had a husband and two
children at the time—they had to move out, right, at some point so that they get more
space. And then that’s the same thing because it’s such a small community, whoever
moved found the place, like an apartment complex that was, you know, affordable, and
that’s who—you know, that’s where you would move, so pretty soon—

BRODY: (speaking at same time) Right, the next move.

DANG: Yeah. And then pretty soon everyone’s—it’s kind of a herd mentality, you
know? So then everyone moved. And then those communities really started to form.

Keywords: Vietnamese community; housing

GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: -96.6388833, 32.912624
00:17:15 - American customs

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Partial Transcript: And so she met some Americans that lived here all their—Texans who lived here all their lives, so sometimes we would hang out
with them. And I just would remember that—you know, my parents mentioning certain
things. Like, for instance, they said that, like, Americans seem to have this ability to
really relax and let loose and have fun, you know?

BRODY: And that felt different to them?

DANG: You know, like they have a good laugh, and they have a good smile. Like, they
seem to really enjoy life, you know? They’re not always serious all the time. I think that’s
changed since then.

Keywords: American customs; culture shock; shoes

Subjects: Immigrants--Cultural assimilation

00:19:51 - Attending elementary at L.L.Hotchkiss Elementary School in Dallas

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Partial Transcript: I don’t ever—you know, I mean, to be completely honest, I mean, I had never met an African American person till I came here, but it didn’t
shock me or anything, you know? Like, I wasn’t—you know, it wasn’t weird, I just hung out with whoever. You know, like, I remember my birthday parties. We had little birthday—we would get a little cake and I was allowed to invite eight people, and I would mostly invite kids from my apartment. It was mostly Hispanic children and African American children, and that was about it, you know?

Keywords: L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary; birthday parties; school; teasing

00:23:27 - Home ownership and the American Dream

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Partial Transcript: DANG: In Richardson. And then from there, we were still in the apartments that fed into
Liberty [Junior High School], and then that’s when my parents saved up enough money
and they bought a house in Garland. And so I finished eighth grade at Liberty and then
started high school, which was ninth through twelfth at North Garland [High School].

BRODY: Got it. So that was a big accomplishment for your parents—

DANG: Yeah, huge accomplishment.

BRODY: —to accomplish that goal of owning a house.

DANG: Yeah. It was truly for them, I mean, literally the American dream. That’s for
them, to own a house.

BRODY: Do they ever talk about that moment, that feeling?

DANG: I’m sure they were very proud, and I think my mom just wanted a house, you
know, that they owned, and it was bigger and you didn’t share walls with—you know,
that kind of stuff. But I think, you know, that generation, for me, they were never—it was
never outwardly celebratory, you know? It was always kept inside.

BRODY: Quiet accomplishment, I guess.

DANG: Yeah, that kind of stuff. So you didn’t notice it. Like, there wasn’t a party or
anything, but yeah, I’m sure they were happy.

BRODY: Absolutely. Well, just looking at it from the outside, having come as a refugee,
you know—

DANG: Absolutely. And it was such a big purchase—right?—for them. You know, for
anyone, but for them especially at the time. So it was—you know, it was exciting,
stressful, that kind of stuff.

Keywords: Garland; Richardson; apartments; busing; home ownership; middle school

Subjects: American Dream; Home ownership

00:25:58 - Growing up in Dallas and forming childhood friendships

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Partial Transcript: I think one reason I acclimated really well was because, you know,
one, I was an only child growing up, and my mom kept me pretty secluded because, you
know, she was one of those that worried a lot. I had friends when I was in Saigon but
very limited, you know. They would have to come over and I wasn’t allowed to go out on
my own. Obviously I was young. But also because I came so young. You know, like, I
know friends who came when they were in junior high or even high school, and I think
they had a harder time adjusting because, you know, by then you’ve left some good
friends, you don’t speak the language as well, you’re having—you’re probably too busy
trying to catch up in school and, you know—and then, you know, as you get older there’s
more of the cliques and all that kind of—so I didn’t have to deal with that. I was in
kindergarten, you know? Kids just—I don’t even know how kids get along. You know,
how they decide who to play with or who not to. They just played with everyone. So I
was lucky in that sense. But by the time—you know, I made friends pretty easily.

Keywords: Garland; acclimation; friendships

00:28:07 - Reflections on discrimination, racism, diversity, and social class

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Partial Transcript: DANG: I just think I understand people better. I really do, and it’s a great—it
really was—it’s a huge advantage because, you know, I can talk to anybody, and I just—I
just, within five minutes, I kind of understand where people are coming from a little
better, you know? Like if I was to use the extreme, what if I went to this very exclusive
private school, say, right, and I never worked, and I went to a private college and then I
just went straight to finance or something, you know, where it’s just—you know, you
don’t see—but I got the total opposite. You know, like when I went to UT [University of
Texas] architecture school, it was tiny, but it also had the highest SAT average in all of—
at the time, in ’93. And it seemed like when I went there—because North Garland wasn’t
that great of a school. I would’ve preferred to go to Berkner [High School], but you
know—you probably know, you go to Richardson, you get the same house and it’s like
$10,000 more, you know, because of the schools. And so when I got to UT, for instance,
in the architecture program, it was mostly Caucasian, a lot of them were from Houston
and really good private schools, and I remember they had all been to Europe. You know
what I mean? And then like, a couple of friends, their parents were in the oil business, but
they had a house in Malaysia, they had a house—and so they had been everywhere. And
when they talked about current events, like, their high school, they were writing about
very serious current events, and my high school we were just—you know, we were doing
the—you know, like reading To Kill A Mockingbird, that kind of stuff, just normal. But

BRODY: A different level.

DANG: —way ahead, yeah. But I still—I adapted well, so I was all over the place. Like,
I remember my first-grade teacher, she saw how well I drew and colored. So she
collected it all, and then she sent it off to this program—and I think it still exists—called
the Young Artists Program. It was a private art school that you went to after school on
weekends or in the summer, but it was in the YMCA at Highland Park and you had to
pay a lot of money. But she talked the director there into letting me go free. So when I
went there I met—I remember going to arts class and there was a kid named Jed. And I
went there all the way up to junior high.

BRODY: Oh, really?

DANG: Yeah. So my dad and my mom would take me there after school or on the
weekend, their summer camp. And he would always have, like, a limo driver drop him
off. So I went from—and we were still—you know, I started in first grade. So I was still
living in the apartments that have been torn down, you know? So I was hanging out with,
you know, just kids.

BRODY: The kids, yeah.

DANG: Yeah, kids that lived in apartments and low-income apartments, and then here I
am in Highland Park taking art class with—you know, I just remember the things they
talked about, you know? Like, we went to a movie like, two times a year, and that was a
huge deal. And I remember this kid saying, “Well, my mom’s off to Europe for two
weeks with her friends, so my dad said that every night he’s going to take me to a
different movie.” And then he would come in and tell us about all the movies that he saw,
you know?


DANG: Yeah, and then like one kid went to Disney[land] and somehow his parents
hooked it up where he got to meet Michael Jackson. Like, it was just ridiculous, right?

Keywords: YMCA; Young Artists Program; art; discrimination; racism; social class; stereotypes; teasing

00:35:41 - Impact of refugee experience on worldview and career as an architect

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Partial Transcript: You know, I think that—I think depending on what you want to focus on, I think a lot of refugees, you know, they risk their lives to
come here. And they come here because they usually want—usually, the primary reason is always a better life for their kids. That’s always their main goal, and I think that—and I think—so my mom has fourteen brothers and sisters, and my dad has three brothers and three sisters. So I have a lot of cousins. And I was the first to go to college, because I was the oldest. But it’s kind of funny if you compare the—if you purely look at—and it’s a
bad way to look at it, but for the sake of discussion—if you look at purely academics, what type of degrees you have and where you went to school and how you’re doing in your career, it’s me and the older cousins that have done the best, especially the ones that came over that were not born here. So it can’t be an accident, I think. I think it’s because—you know, I think when you’re a refugee, you understand how hard it is to even get here, you know?

BRODY: And you’ve lived it.

DANG: Yeah, and you’ve lived it. So sometimes, as hard as, like, running a business is,
the stress and liability and all that, I mean it doesn’t compare to getting on a little boat.

BRODY: And knowing that you already did that and survived.

DANG: Yeah, and trying to survive that and having your boat crash. You know what I mean? So I just think that it’s a shame that maybe people don’t look at that side of it, right?

Keywords: architecture; flexibility; worldview

00:38:54 - Impressions of the Vietnamese community in North Texas

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Partial Transcript: DANG: It’s a really tight community. It’s still the same kind of herd mentality. Like,
you’ll see—you know, like people joke about Koreans having donut shops or dry
cleaners, Vietnamese doing nails. It’s just because they trust that the success of their own
people in a certain field will mean success for them, you know? So that’s why they do
that. It’s very tight-knit, everyone knows everybody. I think they’re really good
entrepreneurs. You know, like if you think about the Korean community, for instance, it’s
rare to see—you know, in my parents’ type of work, which is non-white collar, it’s rare
to see a Korean person, because they either do white-collar work or they open their own
shop, whatever it happens to be. You rarely see them at Handbag or—you know.

Keywords: Koreans; Vietnamese; Vietnamese community; entrepreneurs; generational differences; herd mentality

00:42:07 - What it means to be American and what it means to be Vietnamese

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Partial Transcript: DANG: I think, you know, the house was a symbol, right? But I think it’s a symbol for,
“Hey, look, I can do whatever I want in my backyard now,” you know? And the
apartments you don’t really have a yard or you can’t just put whatever you want, you
know? So I think it’s the freedom to choose things and to do what you want, and I think
that’s ultimately for me, it’s the same, you know? To be able to open my own business.

Keywords: American Dream; assimlation; freedom; home ownership

00:50:16 - Differences in family attitudes toward visiting Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Have you been back to Vietnam?

DANG: No, I haven’t; nor China. I’d love to go to both and see. I’d love to. Yeah,
everyone who’s been back tell[s] me it’s great. I think a lot of people I know that have
been back, though, didn’t come on a boat, so it’s a little traumatic. Like, my mom won’t
ever go back because it just reminds her of—you know, and then there were things
where, you know, when we left and when my grandparents left they just confiscated their
houses and just—you know what I mean? Like it’s hard for them to go see that. So I
think they don’t have as much interest. But then my aunts—my mom, you know, who
had a big family, her siblings that were younger that her didn’t come until, gosh, what
year? I was in junior high, so maybe mideighties or something? So they came on a plane.

Keywords: China; loss of property; return to Vietnam; trauma

00:52:59 - Thoughts about identity and immigrant acclimation

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Partial Transcript: DANG: I think I’m Vietnamese Chinese American. Yeah. I think as I get older I see a lot of things I do that’s very similar to how my parents did it, and then I see some thing[s], those are very opposite, you know?

BRODY: Right, right. I mean, the question of identity is really what—you know, what we’re trying to get at.

DANG: Okay.

BRODY: There was thinking about—you know, just in our conversation we’ve kind of learned a lot about the things that were important to you that kind of shaped your worldview, so, again, I was curious of how you thought of yourself.

DANG: Yeah, and I think—you know, in the American sense I really believe in individuals. Like I just think—you know, with this country, and I know there’s people behind the scenes that we don’t give credit to, but for the most part when times are tough or even when they’re not, there’s always individuals that make huge, huge impacts. But when it comes to friends and family and people at my office, there’s this—I always think of this sort of group dynamic, you know? I never forget that I’m just a tiny little speck in the universe, you know? But then when you think about in specifically your career and what you want to do, I do believe that individuals can do immense things.

Keywords: identity; individualism; worldview

Subjects: Asian Americans--Ethnic identity; Individualism

00:55:07 - Differences between Asian Americans and Asians

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Partial Transcript:
DANG: I think the interesting for me now is looking back. Like I feel like, you know,
like lately, especially in an academic setting, there’s a lot of students, exchange students,
from mainland China, which, you know, my parents always raised us really as Chinese.
So a lot of things people find difficult is they always think—see, with the Asians, if
you’re Korean, it doesn’t matter if you’re born in Paris, you still call yourself Korean.

BRODY: You’re Korean, yes.

DANG: Same with the Chinese, same with the Vietnamese, you know? So they raised us
as Chinese, but when I see now actual, you know, Chinese people born in mainland here,
it’s really odd. Like, they seem really foreign to me because I have nothing in common
with them. They have certain things that are really odd to me, you know? And my parents
have visited China a few times and my dad’s very proud, and even he had a hard time.
Like, for instance, at the subways, there’s no line ever, or anywhere. There’s no line. You
just go. So he found that very rude, you know? Because he’s so used to having an orderly
line and who’s in front of you goes first. So I find the same thing. Like, I’ve had students
who were from mainland, and when I went to UT there were a couple of—and it was
really difficult to interact with them sometimes because their culture is so different.

BRODY: Even though you personally identify—right. (laughs)

DANG: Was raised somewhat Chinese, right? Yeah, it’s just really weird, you know?

BRODY: I understand that. (laughs)

DANG: Yeah, so I think that’s interesting. But it’s fun to look at it that way now because
I’m trying to process it and, you know, think how was I when I got here? How different
did I appear to other people in my actions and all that? But it’s interesting. It’s fun to see
it that way because I feel like—seeing them makes me feel more American even, you
know? Because, like, I wouldn’t do that that way, you know?

BRODY: Right. That’s—it really brings to light some of the differences between culture
and values and norms that you’ve grown accustomed to that aren’t necessarily cultural.

DANG: Right.

BRODY: That’s another interesting point that you’ve raised there.

DANG: And then sometimes they come here and it’s only temporary. They know that in
their head, so maybe they don’t acclimate as well?

BRODY: Yeah, that’s a good point too.

DANG: We came here; this is our home. Period. We’re not moving again. But they’re
coming here just for college or for business a few years and then they go home, you
know? They just want a degree from here or they want to say, “I worked on Wall Street
for five years,” you know? So maybe they’re not as interested in acclimating, you know?

BRODY: Right, the mindset.

DANG: Right. So it’s totally—it’s very interesting to watch.

BRODY: Do you have children?


BRODY: No. So, sort of, that’s the next stuff, right? Thinking about what values are the
values that are the ones you would want to transmit from your own parents to your

Keywords: American identity; Asian Americans; Asians

Subjects: Asian Americans--Ethnic identity