Interview with Phong Le, January 18, 2018

Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans
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00:00:01 - Interview Introduction

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: This is Betsy Brody. Today is January 18, 2019. I’m interviewing, for the first
time, Mr. Phong Le. This interview is taking place in my office in Richardson, Texas.
This interview is sponsored by the Baylor University Institute for Oral History and is part
of the “Becoming Texas, Becoming Americans” project. Thank you, Mr. Le, for meeting
with me.

LE: Thank you, Betsy

Keywords: Becoming Texas, Becoming Americans

00:00:25 - Life's trajectory-from Vietnam to North Texas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: I’m looking forward to an interesting conversation. Just to start out with, can
you tell me a little bit about your background, your time in Vietnam? What do you
remember of your family’s experience there?

LE: Sure.Sure. Well, it depend how much time we have, but I’ll try to give a quick
summary. We came to the US in 1975, right after the war ended. Actually, we left about
two weeks earlier, before the chaos happened, and it was a group of us that pretty much snuck out in the middle of the night with the members from the US Embassy that helped
us get out of Vietnam—or get out Saigon, at that point. But my background—basically,
I’m trying to be a very simple person. I came to the US at around age ten, and it’s been a
great ride since then. We grew up in West Texas, and then made our home in North
Texas, so most of our family members are now in North Texas. I’ve enjoyed travel. I’ve
worked for a lot of different Fortune 500 companies, as well as launched a bunch of startups
in the North Texas area, helped build the life science community in the North Texas
area, and now, I’m currently working with Lenovo, leading the life science solution
division. I’m travelling around the world identifying medical research that could help
develop new diagnosis and new drugs for the expansion, and hopefully provide a much
better, higher quality of life for everybody.

BRODY: That’s great. Sounds like an exciting and enriching life.

Keywords: Fortune 500 companies; Lenovo; North Texas; West Texas; escape from Vietnam; refugees; startups

00:02:04 - Dramatic escape from Vietnam at ten years old/Saving his pet cricket

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Partial Transcript: So you were ten years
old when—in 1975?

LE: Correct.

BRODY: And it sounds like it was a dramatic exit from Vietnam. Can you tell me what
you remember of the actual leaving?

LE: (both speaking at once) Sure, sure. I mean, I think I have a pretty good memory, but
everybody have their own perspective and so forth, but the night that we left was quite, I
guess, surprising for everyone. From what I remember is that we were woken up in themiddle of the night, and we were just told, “Grab one thing,” and then everybody was
shoved into a van.

BRODY: What did you grab?

LE: I grabbed my cricket. (both laugh) I actually—

BRODY: A pet.

LE: A pet, yeah, because I—at the time, I loved playing with different type of toys, and
we all have our pet—what is it?—dog, cat, or so forth, but I had my prized fighting
cricket. I had a group in the neighborhood that were competing in cricket fighting, and

BRODY: (laughs) Oh, that’s great. Did you have siblings?

LE: I do. There were eight of us at one time, but two younger one—the twins—they died
early, and so there’s still six of us; five boys and one girl. And we all made it out, but it
was quite a journey. We were taken a nearby airfield and kind of just waited in the
airplane. I think it was a DC-9 or DC-10, which was pretty stripped down with machine
gun mounted on the window, and they just kept us there overnight until daybreak, and
then we flew out. So it was quite an interesting time.

BRODY: Were you part of that group because your family was involved with the

LE: Correct. Yeah. My mom’s sister—my aunt—has connection with the US Embassy,
and they basically evacuate as many folks as they can at the last minute, and that’s how
we were able to come out together.

Keywords: US Embassy; Vietnam; cricket; cricket-fighting; escape from Vietnam; military planes; refugees

00:04:16 - Travel to Phillippines, Guam, and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas/Looking for a sponsor

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: That’s great. So then, where—you flew out. Where did you end up initially?

LE: Initially, we ended up in the Philippines and we stayed at the airfields there, and then
we flew out from there through, I guess, a different transport plane, and then we ended up
in Guam as the first stage of settlement for most of the refugees coming out of Vietnam.
We were there for a few months, and then we got transported to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas
right after that.

BRODY: So then you were in Arkansas for how long?

LE: I can’t remember, but I assume—it was a long, hot summer. That’s all I remember.
But I think we were there at least two or three months, because the goal here is to identify
a sponsor that can provide the housing and accommodation, jobs, and so forth in order for
you to settle in the states. And at that point, you go wherever there are sponsors, and
since we have a big family, it was more difficult to find a sponsor that can take on a large
group. There were actually two families—my mom and my mom’s sisters as well—so
we’re a large group; I think there were a total of twelve of us together. With that large of
a size and trying to keep everybody together, it took a little bit longer.

Keywords: Fort Chaffee; Guam; Phillippines; employemt; housing; jobs; refugee camps; sponsors; sponsorship

00:05:48 - Family sponsored by owner of a Holiday Inn in Sweetwater, Texas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah. So eventually who sponsored you?

LE: It turned out we’ve received words that there was one gentleman that actually could
take all of us, which was great news, but we ended up in a place that we completely
unaware of and unexpected, which is in West Texas in a small town called Sweetwater, a
small town of about ten, twelve thousand people. He is the owner of the local Holiday
Inn, so it worked out very well for him because he has plenty of room for us to stay, and
also, he has jobs that we could work at at the hotel to help with the cleaning and help with
the hotel. I remember we did everything from cleaning the pool to cleaning the rooms, so
we basically helped take care of the hotel.

Keywords: Holiday Inn; Sweetwater, Texas; West Texas; cleaning; employment; hotel; housing; jobs; sponsor; sponsors; sponsorship; swimming pool

00:06:42 - Experiences as the only Vietnamese family in Sweetwater, Texas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Wow. Were there other Vietnamese people in Sweetwater at that time?

LE: No. We were the only one.

BRODY: The only one’s your family.

LE: Yeah. It was quite an oddity.

BRODY: What was that like for you as a child, to be there in Sweetwater?

LE: It was a lot of fun because we got a lot of attention everywhere we went, from the
supermarket to just playing in the street and going to school, because everybody wanted
to know where you came from and how they can help, so it was a very interesting time.
People were very friendly and helpful. We were invited to a different church every
weekend, so we basically took the tour.

LE: Yeah. It was a very interesting time, but that’s how we survived. We didn’t have
anything, obviously, so through the church and through the community and through all
those efforts, we were able to get our own place and be able to accept a lot of donation,
and start a—or at least, I thought it was actually a very fun time for me.

Keywords: Vietnamese; churches; donations; friends; hospitality; refugee; welcome

00:07:53 - Reflections about school

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: You were in school then.
LE: Yes.
BRODY: What was that like?
LE: It was interesting because we had to dress different. We had to adapt to the
community, and understanding what you can do and what you cannot do, and learning
how to speak English, so that was probably the most challenging part. So there were
curriculum that we did really well, and there are area that we had no clue what was going
on. Anything that was science and math, we did, actually, really well, but any related
stuff related to English, and then we struggle, obviously. But after about a year or so, I
think everyone adapted pretty quickly, so I had a lot of fun.

Keywords: English; English language; adapting; fun; language learning; math; rules; school; science

00:08:34 - Le recounts his mother's egg roll business

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Speaking of adapting, you mentioned having to learn what you could do and
what you couldn’t do. What are some things that you remember being surprising or
challenging to learn in that regard?

LE: Sure. I think it’s just a thing, in general, as a family. For instance, my mom—we’re all trying to make a living, and she’s actually a very good cook, having raised all these
kids, so we started our own little egg roll kitchen at home. (laughs) We didn’t know that
you weren’t supposed to do that, (laughs) so we basically running an egg rolls kitchen out
of our small home. We had an old home with no AC or anything like that. I guess, after
about a month, we got shut down, (laughs) but everybody loved it and we had orders
from the entire town.

BRODY: Who shut you down?

LE: It was the Health Department! (laughs) Said, “Oh, we’re not supposed to do that?” I
thought—like, in most third world country, you can just buy food off the street. You can
just cook off the street. You can sell to anybody you want, so anyhow—
BRODY: Did your mom pursue the egg roll business after that?

LE: (both speaking at once) No, no. Not at all. No.

BRODY: (both speaking at once) No?

LE: Yeah. She was too busy working in the garment factory, but it was something that
she loves to enjoy doing anyway, and so why not make it for the whole town?

BRODY: Right. Right. Sounds like the town enjoyed it.

LE: Yeah. So she was just starting to cook for everybody and just little things like that.
Things like—you can’t keep farm animals in the backyard, (laughs) so we had a lot of
wild animals like ducks and chicken.BRODY: Really? (laughs)

LE: Yeah. (laughs) You’re not supposed to do that. Just things like that, but we adapted
pretty well. I thought we did pretty well adjusting to the culture and considering, even
though it was a small town.

Keywords: Health Department; adapting; business; cooking; culture; egg rolls; food; rules

00:10:26 - Friendships and growing up in small town America

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah. So given that you were the only Vietnamese family in the town, your
friends must have been all American.

LE: Oh, yeah.

BRODY: And so what was—tell me about your friendships and your pastimes as a
teenager or a child.

LE: (both speaking at once) Yeah. See, that’s the trouble. As a teenager growing up in a
small town, you do get in a lot of trouble. Most people don’t know that Sweetwater, at
one time, was considered the methamphetamine capital of the country because of all the
trailers and RV parks, and it was a very wide open area that just made it a perfect area for
people to make drugs. That’s an unfortunate part of Sweetwater area, even though it’s a
beautiful, nice area. Now, it’s known for being the largest concentration of windmill in
the world, and big oil and gas development too, but at the time, that’s what it was known
for. We did—from my group of friends, we did get into a lot of trouble. There was a lot
of drugs involved. We did a lot of boys’ things. Vandalism is like a regular weekend
activity, right? But growing up in that area, I just adapted to just about everything I’d get
my hands on, so I adapted really well with all the other kids, and I was pretty good in sport as well, so that helps. But we were constantly getting in trouble and trying to be one
step ahead of the law and so forth, so that’s what I remember my childhood. (laughs)

Keywords: drugs; friendships; metamphetamines; small town; sports; teenagers; vandalism

00:12:14 - Le remembers his parents' transition to life in America/Reflections on shift in social class

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: What did your parents think of that and going through the process that they
took to get here? How was it for them, parenting in a new country?

LE: Yeah. So it’s a—my dad was—my mom—well, both my mom and dad were very
strict, and we do have corporal punishment, just like we have at the time in the US, but
more so in an Asian family—Vietnamese family, so we constantly get reprimanded quite
a bit. You get your butt whipped. You get your hand knuckle whipped or you get your
face slapped. That’s very typical things in that time, so that was a very common
occurrence, but my parents were actually too busy working to really look after us, which
is part of adapting. He had a high level position. He’d been high-level educator in
Vietnam, and now he has to go work in a factory, go work in a lumber yard at an
assembly line, so it was a hard adjustment. They worked long hours, and my mom did the
same thing. She worked at a garment factory for many years, so disciplining the kid and
monitoring all these kids running around is actually very difficult. We all did pretty well,
I thought. We did enough to stay out of trouble, considering we were on welfare and food
stamps, and had to basically take whatever donation we can get, just trying to adjust to
the community and also trying to stay out of trouble as well because we all had a lot of
goals and desires, and in a small town, there’s not a whole lot to do, so you end up
conspiring a lot of things that you shouldn’t be doing. (laughs) But we tried to participate in sports and in bands, and as much academic environment as we can, and that kind of
helped us stay out of trouble.

BRODY: It’s interesting you mentioned the—sort of the shift that your parents had to go
through from the types of lifestyle and jobs that they had in Vietnam, and then to not only
be in a new country, but to have—sort of be in a different social class. Do you have any
thoughts or do you have any memories around that transition?

LE: For me, I didn’t really have much of an impact there, but for my parents, my mom
never worked in her life. She married young. She raised a incredible family, and coming
here to the US, she has to take her first job and starting work long hours, and low pay
long hours. They both did, so I think that took a huge toll on my dad because he came
from a well-to-do family, had a very nice, comfortable lifestyle, and had high credential
and high position in Vietnam, being a top educator to the top ranked school, as well being
a private tutor to the president’s sons and general’s family and so forth, so that was a big
change, so it took a big toll on him and he didn’t survive very long. Within four years, he
passed away.

BRODY: Oh no. While you were still in Sweetwater?

LE: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Keywords: assembly line; corporal punishment; death; discipline; employment; factory; food stamps; garment factory; jobs; parenting; parents; poverty; social class; struggles; wealth; welfare

00:15:48 - Involvement with churches in Sweetwater/Small town life

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So as the town you were in had so many churches,
were you guys involved with church very much?

LE: Yeah. We were raised as Catholics, and so Catholic church was the main church that
we go to. But because we, being new and such an oddity in that area, we basically
accepted every invitation that came and I think we visit almost every church. (laughs)
That was a great way to get to know the community, and also that was a great way to get
the support that we needed as well.

BRODY: It sounds like the town was very welcoming. I mean, some people say that
small towns or that Americans or Texans are not particularly open to people who are
different, but that does not sound like it was your experience.

LE: (both speaking at once) No. Not at all. I think in small towns, people are much more
helpful and much more accommodating, and also, we have something that’s unique that
gives them something to talk about and give them something to learn about. Whereas, I
guess, on the bigger town, they may help you get started a bit, but they expect you to get
on your feet within a few months, right? But in a smaller town, you develop a connection
much quicker and it seems to be more genuine.

Keywords: Catholic Church; church; kindness; openness; religion; small towns; welcoming

00:17:18 - Moving to Lubbock, Austin and arriving in North Texas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Interesting. So then what brought you here to North Texas?

LE: Well, after my dad passed away, we moved to Lubbock, Texas, and continue our
education there. And then from then, as each sibling started to attend college, then we
start moving to different direction around the county. I’ve ended up going to school in the
University of Texas in Austin. And ever since then, I’ve pretty much sprouted out and
worked overseas, and worked different part of the country, and now, back in North Texas. North Texas is—I guess we all grew up with high aspiration and looking for better
opportunity, and obviously, the Dallas–Fort Worth area has the opportunities that we
were looking for, so that’s why we ended up settling here.

BRODY: How old were you when you—was it after college that you ended up in—

LE: (both speaking at once) Right. Correct. Some of the family member were ready to
move to the Dallas area beforehand, but I came back from Europe in 1989 and started a
start-up company—my first start-up—in the North Texas area.

Keywords: Dallas; Lubbock; University of Texas at Austin; West Texas; death; moving

00:18:40 - Developing his first start up company and his strategies for handling learning differences

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Interesting. What kind of work was it?

LE: It was a very interesting company at the time that focused on multimedia technology.
I came back and I joined a group to focus on developing tools to advance learning,
especially for people with learning disabilities like myself, since I’m supposed to be
dyslexic and ADD and all that, which is something that’s very difficult, at the time, to
diagnose. But at the same time, I found ways around that and I’ve learned how to learn
through audiovisual means, versus the standard reading.

BRODY: Was that hard for you in school then, in a traditional school?

LE: (both speaking at once) Oh, definitely. Yeah.

BRODY: How did you kind of cope with both the language and the learning differences?
LE: Yeah. So my brain works very different than most. I didn’t know at the time, but as I
get a little bit older and older, and talked to other people, and diagnosed myself, I found out it’s a gift. It’s not a disability. And I’ve learned how to leverage that—learned how to
multitask—so I have what most people consider is a little bit different. It’s like, most
people are either the right brain or the left brain; well, I’m both, which can cause a lot of
confusion if you don’t know what’s going on inside your own head, but once I figured
that out, I was able to leverage that so I can be creative and analytical at the same time.
That’s when I really excelled, but at any early age I didn’t understand all that, so I needed
a lot of tutoring. But I did well, regardless. I was on the honor list, and on the dean’s roll,
and so forth, so—honor rolls—I’m sorry, honor rolls and dean’s list. As you can see,
that’s my dyslexia. (both laugh) But what it does is, it give you a whole different
perspective on life and, from an educational standpoint, it takes me a little longer to learn
something, but once I get going, I can excel a lot faster.

Keywords: ADD; dyslexia; learning differences; multimedia; start up company; technology

00:20:36 - Learning English and "West Texas English"

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Well, that’s good that you’ve figured it out. So language learning must have
been particularly challenging or—

LE: Actually, it actually came out to be a bonus because at one time, I spoke five
languages, once I learned how it works. But to learn English, it was difficult at the
beginning, but then, you—

BRODY: Did you know any English before you came?

LE: Just a little bit. Not too much.

BRODY: So you just quickly learned it.

LE: Yeah. We learned, actually, slang English or (both laugh) West Texas English. So
you can understand different part of Texas have different dialect, and West Texan—

BRODY: What are some of examples of West Texas English?
LE: West Texas is like, “Y’all come back now, you hear?” right? (Brody laughs) That’s
the West Texas slang there. But West Texas people just slur your words more and we
tend to speak a little bit slower. And so that’s what we picked up, but as you start hitting
the university level, then you learn the proper English, so my tongue has been twisted
many times. (Brody laughs) But also, I’ve learned French, I’ve learned Italian and,
through my travel, I’ve picked up little bit Spanish, Japanese, and so forth.

BRODY: Wow. That’s impressive.

LE: Thank you.

Keywords: English language; West Texas English; language; language learning; learning English; slang

00:21:54 - Career trajectory and world travel experience

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: After college, you came to the DFW area. What were you doing at that time?

LE: So actually, after college, I got my first job and I moved to Belgium, working for a
Unisys computer there, so that’s where I picked up French on the southern part of
Belgium, which is the French-speaking part. I spent a year doing that. Then I came back
to the US for a little bit in Boston, New York area, then I went back to Europe for my
second internship working in Italy—it’s where I picked up Italian.

BRODY: How long were you there?

LE: Italy? About six months. And then from there, I came back to the US and accepted a
full-time position in New York with Citibank. I worked there for two years, among other
jobs. And then from there, moved back to the North Texas area to launch my first
company. And like any start up, your first start up tend to be a failure, (laughs) but the
network I built and the people I met was invaluable. From there, I move on to securing a
position with EDS at the time, which is the Ross Perot Company at the time. Then that
company got acquired by HP, but I already left at the time. And then I went and followed
my boss to MCI System House, which then also got acquired by EDS/HP, so that was my
second time back. (laughs) And then I went to work for TXU at the time, the big Texas
utility company, which is also broken up now. Then I continued from there to work for
them for a little while, then I had higher aspiration to launch more start-up company, so I
went back to get my master in technology commercialization at the University of Texas
as well, so I was commuting back and forth between Dallas and Austin. Ended up doing
really well and got a job offer to go to Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. So I did
that, but then after 9/11—did that for two years—and after 9/11, moved back to Texas
again because 9/11 pretty much shut all the government labs down for security reasons,
also to start focusing again on developing weapon of mass destruction because of the war
that we’re getting into with the Middle East and so forth, especially with Iraq and Iran.
But no matter where I went, I always came back to North Texas, so North Texas tend to
be the hub. I helped build up the North Texas life sciences community here. I launched a
start up here in Frisco, did really well there, and helped develop the medical device in life
science industry area. From there, I launched other company in other part of the states—
but still use Texas as a hub—and did a lot of advising, consulting, and travelled the world, and then now, I’m running the life science division for Lenovo, which is—luckily,
I’m still able to base out here in North Texas.

Keywords: 9/11; Austin; Belgium; Boston; Citibank; Dallas; EDS; French language; Hewlett Packard; Iran; Iraq; Italian language; Italy; Lenovo; Los Alamos; MCI; New York; North Texas; Ross Perot; TXU; career; education; employment; jobs; language learning; start up companies; war

00:25:17 - Identity as a "universal citizen with a Texas stamp"

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So you’ve always come back. Do you think of yourself as a Texan?

LE: I think so. I think of myself as a universal citizen with a Texas stamp. (laughs)

BRODY: Tell me more about your thoughts about identity and how you identify.

LE: For me, it’s a little bit different. I’ve really never identified myself as a Texan, or
even a US citizen, because of my travel. Since I’ve travelled so much—been in over fifty,
I don’t know, maybe sixty countries by now—I have more of a universal perspective. But
no matter where I go, people ask me where am I from and I always say, “Texas. Dallas,
Texas.” North Texas—and everybody’d recognize that, right? You can tell in other part
of the US, but when you say, “Dallas, Texas,” people know. That, in a way, kind of give
me a little bit of pride. So I guess, in a way, I do identify myself as a Texan since I finally
bit the bullet in buying a truck. (laughs)

BRODY: You bought a truck? (laughs) What color is your truck?

LE: It’s a silver Ford F-150.

BRODY: I think you are a Texan. (laughs)

LE: There you go. When you a buy a truck, you are a bona fide Texan. (laughs)

Keywords: American identity; Dallas; Texan identity; Texas; identity; travel; trucks; universal perspective

00:26:39 - Vietnamese identity vs. Vietnamese American identity

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: That’s really funny, but I mean, it raises a interesting point. I mean, you’ve
lived in so many places and you’ve been so many places. Do you think of yourself as
Vietnamese? As Vietnamese American? American?

LE: Yeah, sure. I mean, I get that question asked all the time, and again, because of my
travel, I kind of lose track of my identity in a way. I always identify myself as a universal
citizen. But people always say, Well, aren’t you Vietnamese and aren’t you American, so
aren’t you Vietnamese American? I’ll say, “Yeah, I guess so,” right? But I don’t have a
large group of Vietnamese friends, or I don’t participate on a weekly basis or on a
monthly basis with the Vietnamese community like I used to in the early days. To me, I
just look at myself as a universal citizen, and even though I was born in Vietnam, raised
in West Texas—raised in North Texas. But to me, I can relate to everybody.

BRODY: Yeah. There’s a flexibility that comes with that, but yet, people will always ask
you, right?

LE: Yeah. Always ask. It’s like, “Where are you from?” But then, they say, No, no.
Where are you really from? I say, Okay, then I got to feed them the full story. But if they
ask me, Well, where are you from? I say, “Dallas, Texas.”

Keywords: American identity; Asian Americans; Dallas; Texan identity; Texas; Vietnamese Americans; Vietnamese community; Vietnamese identity; friendships; identity

00:28:08 - Impact of refugee experience on world view

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: How much does the—or in what ways does the refugee experience that is your
story inform the way that you interact with the world?

LE: Oh, I think it’s tremendous. I mean, just, not so necessarily just being a Vietnamese
refugee, but I think just being a refugee, period. Why do refugees and immigrants tend to do so much better in the US than, let’s say, the average citizen? And a lot of it has to do
with where you came from and the circumstance of how you got here that allow you to be
more inspired and allow you to take a look at a problem from a different perspective,
which is something that I think most people who are raised in a comfortable environment
tend to take things for granted, so that’s something that I have to remind myself on a
daily basis, because we do have a very comfortable life in North Texas. We earned it, but
at the same time, I feel like it does make us kind of lazy. That’s something that I see in
the second generation. I see it in my own kids, which I try to remind them that you can’t
take anything for granted. So from that perspective, just being a refugee, period, remind
yourself that at one point, you had nothing and it could happen again. Anything that you
have can always be taken away from you, so you have to take care of what you have and
be more grateful of the things that you do have, and be more grateful and be more aware
of your surrounding. That’s something that I think most of us have lost.

Keywords: Vietnamese refugee; children; flexibility; immigrants; immigration; refugee experience; refugees; second generation; success; world view

00:29:50 - Involvement in and observation about the Vietnamese community in Dallas

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: You mentioned you not being as involved now in the Vietnamese community
as you were early on. Can you take me back to the time that you were involved with the
Vietnamese community? What were the types of things that people did?

LE: Sure. I mean, on my earlier days, since we are new in a community, you have to bond with your own race, in a way. So you have to go to the church event, you have to go
to the community events, because that’s all you knew at the time. But then we kind of
expand beyond that, but at the time, we were very close with the church, with the
community, we participated in all the events—charity events as well as fundraisingevents and other business events. I used to mentor and I used to tutor and I used to lecture
in the community for the various venture that I was involved with. That community is
still there, but I just haven’t participated as much, I guess I would say, in the last ten
years or so, since I kind of branch out to other part of the world—other part of business,
which is mostly predominated by Caucasian, but that’s just the nature of business. But
today, I see a lot more Asians being integrated. Same thing with other races too; whether
it’s blacks, Latino, Hispanic, wherever, we seem to have a more integrated community
now, so I just don’t see myself standing out like I used to.

BRODY: Yeah. That’s a function of time as well as the community itself growing. What
words would you choose to characterize the Vietnamese community in North Texas in

LE: Oh, it’s amazing. From what I’ve seen in the past, when I was involved in the early
days, most people have low-level-paying jobs. I was one of the few that actually were
doing really well, but I really didn’t understand why they didn’t do as well, but that’s
because of their culture. They stayed within their own circle or their own bubbles that
they’re comfortable with. They were required to speak Vietnamese at home. They were
required to participate in the Vietnamese community. So most of the people at the time
have very low paying jobs. They were blue-collar worker. But as the time pass on and
generation gotten more and more educated, the community has exploded. I mean, most of
the jobs before were either in restaurants or in low-wages labor, but now they’re
professionals. They’re in management. They’re doctors, lawyers, engineers, business owner, so it’s changed dramatically, I would say, in the last ten, fifteen years as people
became a lot more affluent, more wealthy. You see them have much bigger house, nicer
house, nicer cars. So in essence, the community has adapted very well. But then there are
new waves of Vietnamese coming in as well that are starting from the bottom as well, so
it’s like a cycle that we go through, but—

Keywords: Vietnamese Catholic Church; Vietnamese community; Vietnamese language; business; culture; diversity; education; fundraising; integration; mentoring; restaurants; social class; social mobility; success; wealth

00:33:12 - Community connections through food

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Do you think there’s much interaction between the new arrivals and the people
who came at the time that you did?

LE: I think so. I think a lot of them are still connected through the food that we all share.
I think food itself brings people together, and because we’re all looking for the best
Vietnamese food possible and the most authentic Vietnamese restaurants possible, we
tend to pool ourselves together in those environment. Even for me, I have to have at least
a few Vietnamese dish at least once a week. (laughs)

BRODY: Do you cook?

LE: I try to. Yeah, I try to, but it’s hard to cook for—just for one or two people.

BRODY: Well, that just makes me think. When you were growing up in Sweetwater,
what was that like? Did your mom cook Vietnamese food every day?

LE: (both speaking at once) Oh, definitely. Yeah. Every day. Every day. And there was
not much of it, so there was no second serving. (laughs)

BRODY: Well, was it hard for her to get the groceries?

LE: In a way, but we grew. That’s why we had a little farm in our backyard, which we
shouldn’t have. (both laugh) She tried to grow whatever she needs in the backyard, and
she wanted fresh chicken, so we grew our own chicken. (both laugh)

BRODY: Then you found out the hard way, right?

LE: Yeah. So we had fresh egg. It was difficult to get some of the items she needs, but
sometimes, we had to drive two hours away just to get the ingredient and supplies she
need. But yeah, she cooked every day. We couldn’t afford to eat out.

Keywords: Vietnamese food; Vietnamese restaurants; cooking; culture; farming; food; gardening; groceries; restaurants

00:34:46 - American food

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Right. Were there things that struck you, at the time, as being particularly
American things that your friends were eating that you were—that you hoped that you
could try?

LE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Pizza and burgers was actually a treat. (Brody laughs) Yeah. Believe
it or not, it was kind of funny because when my dad passed away, one of my friends’ dad
owned the local Sonic restaurant, and they donated over four hundred burgers and fries to
us. (laughs) So that was quite—

BRODY: You’ll never forget that. (laughs)

LE: Yeah. So that was like, “Wow!” That was like—that was a treat for everybody,
because we had a lot of people that came in for the funeral, and most of them were
Vietnamese. Since my dad was quite well known for the time, so people drove in from
long distance to attend the funeral, and instead of having Vietnamese food, we ended up
having hamburger! (laughs)

Keywords: American food; Sonic; Vietnamese food; burgers; fast food; food; funeral; pizza

00:35:45 - Le reflects on his father's role as a leader in the Vietnamese community

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Why was your dad so well known?

LE: He’s the top educator in Vietnam, and that’s a very respected position.

BRODY: And the people in the surrounding communities knew that. I mean, when he
was alive, did people come and seek out his company and counsel?

LE: Oh yeah, so we had a lot of company all the time.

BRODY: It sounds like that, at that time, even though you were in West Texas and you
were the only Vietnamese family in Sweetwater, it sounds like, in the neighboring
communities, there were other Vietnamese families as well.

LE: Correct.

BRODY: How did you find each other?

LE: You know, that’s a good question. I was too young to know, because we didn’t really
have internet back then, so somehow, I guess just through mail—just snail mail and just
driving, even just word of mouth, that people were beginning to connect with each other.

BRODY: Do you think the churches had any role in connecting people?

LE: (both speaking at once) Oh, definitely, yeah. I think the Vietnamese community
definitely—the Catholic church, especially. The Vietnamese Catholic churches definitely
helped connect a lot of people.

Keywords: Sweetwater; Vietnamese Americans; Vietnamese Catholic Church; Vietnamese community; West Texas; leadership

00:36:53 - Church and Religion

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Here in Dallas, are you still attending Catholic church or involved in a
Vietnamese Catholic church?
LE: Only when my mom call me. (both laugh) Yeah. My mom go to church at least twice
a week, since they’re very—
BRODY: (both speaking at once) And she’s here too?
LE: Yeah. She’s here in Dallas.
BRODY: Does she attend a Vietnamese Catholic church?
LE: Yeah, yeah. And, as well, American church.
BRODY: (both speaking at one) St. Peter’s.
LE: Yeah. That one, and also a couple of them in Dallas. She kind of rotate around, but
she goes to American church as well as Vietnamese church.
BRODY: So now the church is not a big factor, but at the time that you were integrating,
that was definitely—
LE: (both speaking at once) Sure. Right. Yeah. I think church and religion—at the time,
that was really the sole avenue you go to for support.

Keywords: Catholic Church; Dallas; St. Peter's Vietnamese Catholic Church; Vietnamese Catholic Church; churches; religion

00:37:42 - Racism and discrimination

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Tell me about—you’ve travelled around and you’ve lived in a lot of places and
interacted with a lot of different people. Have you experienced any discrimination or
racism, or do you have any thoughts on that?

LE: (both speaking at one) Sure. I think in the early days, because we were so unique and
different, people were just calling us by different names and so forth that, at the time, we
didn’t know what they mean anyways, so it didn’t bother us. (both laugh)

BRODY: That’s good.

LE: Right. We’ve learned a few slang ourselves, so we kind of throw some back to them,
and sometimes they didn’t like it either. To me, I just didn’t see that as a problem, but
occasionally people would say whatever they need to say just to express themselves or
make them feel bigger, but I never looked at that as something that would hold me back.
If there’s any racial bias or discrimination, it’s not the one that’s verbal or the one that’s
in your face that you’re concerned with. It was the one that’s really behind the doors
where decisions are made against you just because you are different. And sometime I do
see that, but I never let that stop me from being able to achieve what I needed to achieve,
so I always had to work a little bit longer, work a little bit harder and smarter, and just
have to get to the right people at the right time. But I can see that. I can see that in the
early days, but I don’t see that as much today. Definitely twenty years ago, thirty years
ago if I look back, I do see that, but at the time, it was not as apparent to me or it didn’t
bother me. But if I were more aware, as I am now, and go back to those same time
period, I probably would’ve done something about it. But at the time, you just accept it.

Keywords: buillying; discrimination; racism; slang; teasing

00:39:45 - Parenting and passing on cultural values

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: You mentioned you’ve got kids and have raised them here, obviously, in Texas.
Tell me about your family.

LE: Sure. I have two grown daughter. They’re both in college. What’s different about
them is that I did not marry within my own race, so I married a wonderful woman from
Oklahoma, raised on a dairy farm, blonde hair, blue eyes. (Brody laughs)

BRODY: How did you meet?

LE: We met at a club (laughs) and, as it turned out, we were working for the same
company at the time, so that kind of kicked things off a little bit. And it was—had the
right chemistry, and we have two beautiful daughters and they were both born with
blonde hair at the early age, which is kind of weird, but that was not expected. But then
their hair got dark as they get older. They’ve done really well and, in the early years, they
looked a little bit, probably, more Americans, but now as they grown older, they look a
little bit more Asian, so even those transition has been very interesting for them as well.

BRODY: Yeah. Can you tell me about how—what your observations of their own
experience growing up?

LE: Yeah. They basically were raised as American because, since I divorced, when—
even though we raised them together, I divorced when they were a little bit younger, and
my ex basically raised them the way that she wanted, which, basically, as an American.
So as far as I’m concerned, they’re as American as they can be, but we also tried to
introduce them to Asian culture as well, but I think they’re much more suited to be a North Texan, let’s say.

Keywords: American identity; Asian identity; children; culture; divorce; interracial marriage; marriage; parenting; values

00:41:43 - Key values of Asian or Vietnamese culture

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: What are the key values that you think are part of Asian culture or Vietnamese

LE: I think family is key, but in the early days that was extremely important. Everything
you do, you have to think about your family first. But I think, in recent years—like I said,
in the last ten years, that doesn’t seem to be as important anymore because people tend to
have more choices now.

BRODY: Even among the Asian community here?

LE: (both speaking at once) Yeah, yeah.

BRODY: Just here, or even abroad?

LE: (both speaking at once) I think everywhere. I mean, even in China, they had to pass a
law that parents can sue their children, because if the parent feel like the children are not
spending enough time with them or taking care of them as they age, the parents actually
can sue the children now. That kind of tell you how much has changed, and that goes
with economics. As the economies get better and better, people get more and more busy,
and they have more and more choices. They rather spend time with people in their own
age or their own interest, so family is not really on the top of their priority list, unless it’s
holidays time. So I began to see that everywhere as well, and I think that’s just the natural
cycle of life.

BRODY: So family is a key value but kind of, maybe, diminishing.

LE: I think so.

BRODY: (both speaking at once) Are there any other values that you think would
characterize Vietnamese culture?

LE: Food, definitely. Before, everybody cook, so that was something that you could share
among family, so you spent a lot of time cooking together and eating together, and I think
that’s been diminished as well. We have more and more options now. We have more and
more restaurants that are open where they go out to eat, versus cook at home, so I think
that’s diminishing as well—at least, in my family. My mom, she try to cook for
everybody at least once or twice a month, but before, you were doing it every day. So that
doesn’t happen anymore because you’re so busy now. I think that’s changing too, and
that’s the bond that you used to have which is beginning to fade away.

Keywords: Asian values; China; Vietnamese values; cooking; culture; family; food; restaurants

00:43:57 - Reflections on writing a book about his life

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: I was thinking about some of the—the whole path that you took here, and I
know that you’ve written a book, and thank you so much for sharing that. Can you tell
me what drove you write your book and, sort of, what it contains?

LE: Right. Right. Yeah, I’ve kind of live a pretty fast life. (laugh) The book was
published in 2006 and I was about only forty at the time, and it took me long—even
though it’s a short book, but it’s very straight to the point—a little bit too much of the
truth, which scare a lot of people.

LE: In other words, it has subjects in there that most people are afraid to talk about,
especially at the time when the internet was just taking off. Now, it’s no big deal, but the
content of the book still hold truth, which kind of surprising for me, but for someone
that’s only forty years old and haven’t had a whole lot of experience in life, but yet had
enough, or at least more than the average person, that people are willing to want to read
it. But the book covers topics that deals with sex, love, marriage, gambling, business,
entrepreneurship, finding balance, spirituality, religion, and so forth. I guess I’m just a
fast learner in a way. I’ve had a lot of experience even at the time, and I’ve done a lot
more since then. But in essence, the content and the book laid the foundation for the life
that I hope that my kids can relate, because I didn’t have a father growing up—he passed
away young—so a lot of us has to learn things our own way, so we created our own
niche, we’ve made things work, and I was hoping to leave a legacy for my kids. And a lot
of people also wanted to know: how can I be able to do all this in such a short period of
time? Well, I was only forty, so a lot of people thought that a lot of these were all made
up. But I’m a dual brainer, so my brain is on all the time, even though—when I’m
sleeping, I do a lot of lucid dreaming, so my brain is constantly working and I solve
problems that a lot of people can’t solve, so there’s not really anything that is impossible.
It’s just, what can you imagine? What can your mind allow you to imagine? There’s so
much to be discovered still, and I just got a jumpstart on that, and I continue to help solve
problem that most people can’t solve. So that’s what I want to leave behind for my kids.
It started out as more of a manuscript, and then people start asking more and more about
it, and then I started adding other topics in. But I think at the time, it was really to help
my kid understand why I did what I did so that they don’t have to repeat the same mistake, and they can also use that platform to grow upon. And as it turned out, it help a
lot of college students.
BRODY: Really?
LE: Yeah. I still get a lot of thank-you notes from college students and college graduates
who’ve taken some of the advice and move on to their careers and saw what I predicted
come to reality.
BRODY: What did you predict?
LE: Half the book—the stuff I wrote in my book actually came true already in just
prediction of where technology is heading, and the society that we’re living in and how
you can make it better.
BRODY: The title of the book is Living in Paradox. What is the paradox you’re referring
to there?
LE: Well, life is a paradox, if you haven’t figured that out yet, (laughs) but most people
believe in right or wrong or believe there’s only one way of doing certain things, but life
is a paradox. We are constantly in conflict. We’re constantly contradicting ourself. We’re
constantly contradicting each other, and that’s why we have all these conflicts, and we
have to find a compromise. So there are no rights or wrong, at least from my perspective.
It is whatever we make of it. Rules change. Why do rules change? Because we decided
it’s okay today but then not okay tomorrow, and then with time we switch it back. Take
marijuana as a perfect example. Why is it legal in some states, and not legal in the other?
We live in the same country, right? That’s just one example. Life is a paradox, and if you
understand what are those environment are so that you can allow yourself to understand
the left and the right, the black and the white, then you can decide which side you want to
stand on and understand why, or maybe just find a gray area and find that balance, which
is something that very difficult for us to achieve—for most of us to achieve, and so it’s
something we have to work on on a daily basis.

BRODY: What do you mean?

Keywords: advice; book; legacy; predictions; problem-solving; technology

00:49:00 - Links between his experiences and his flexible mindset/philosophy about life

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: That sounds like the same kind of flexibility you were talking about earlier.
How much do you think your own story, your own experiences has contributed to your
sort of flexible mindset?

LE: Well, I think experience—when we’re young, we’re selfishly motivated, so we want
to do things our way because we want to prove ourself. But as you gain more and more
experience, you realize you don’t know as much as you thought. And then we can get a
lot of knowledge from the internet—you can google anything you want—but the wisdom
is missing. Very few of us can actually connect the dots. We can regurgitate a lot of stuff
that we live and read about, but until you actually have that experience—two person can
have the same experience, and they’ll give you two different perspective, right? So it’s
extremely important that you understand yourself, and then understand how to express
yourself in the environment that you want to live in. But if you’re incapable of adapting
to that environment, it’s okay too. You just have to create your own environment. I’ve been pretty lucky at being able to adapt in all situation, and I continue to push myself to
explore what I’m capable of and not forget what’s the most important things in life.

BRODY: What do you think the most important things in life are?

LE: (laughs) Oh my god. For me? (laughs)

BRODY: Yes. (laughs)

LE: The most important thing for me is really to have the best experience I could possibly
have without hurting myself or people around me. (both laugh)

BRODY: Fair enough.

LE: Yeah. Life is all about the experience. I could give you the philosophical perspective
as well, but we may not have time for that today. (laughs)

BRODY: Go ahead. (laughs) I would love to hear it.

LE: This life as you know it is what nature intend for us to do, and then this is life as you
know it is what society intend for you to do. So what nature intend for us to do is
basically just to reproduce, replicate. That’s really—so if you ask someone, “What is the
meaning of life?” They could give you all kind of answer, but in reality, there’s only one
meaning of life which is reproduction, replication. If you look at all DNA program, and
that’s really the area that I work in—is in genomic research, leveraging AI and
supercomputers to do that—there’s only one purpose in life, and that’s to replicate. And
then whatever you want to surround yourself with to support that mechanism, that’s what organic life is designed to do. If we don’t replicate, we die, so that’s why DNA program
only does one thing and it does it pretty well. It makes a lot of copies, and it trying to
seduce other host to support your replication. That’s why we have viruses, bacteria, and
why we have different species, and male, female, and so forth, but in reality, it’s only one
program; it’s to replicate. But then you have life for society as well, and society support
that whole process, so we build a society that will allow you to replicate faster and better,
and that’s why we have more people living today than we ever had combined in the
history of the world. So we’ve done a very good job at that.

BRODY: At that, yes.

LE: So that’s really the purpose of life, and once we expend this planet, then we go to the
other planet. (laughs) Take it with a—but in reality, I think the other part is—to life—is
the consciousness, is that the side effect of life, now, is consciousness, is that we became
aware of what nature intend for us to do, and we’re trying to change nature. We’re
redesigning nature right now. That’s why we no longer live in the wilderness. We live in
a concrete world. We live in a sterile world. We can’t go back. Our immune system has
been compromised, so that’s why we get so sick so easy once we get outside of our
environment, because we sterilize our environment. We’re rewriting the program. We’re
re-editing our genome. We’re changing our own self to be able to, again, replicate even
better. We got designer babies now. In essence, we’re constantly in conflict between our
physical and mental aspect, is that the physical side—nature already programmed it for
us. Now it’s our awareness. What do we want to do? Do we want to follow nature’s rules
or do we want to redesign it? That’s awareness.

BRODY: Interesting. Sounds like a lot to think about, for sure.

LE: Most of us don’t want to think about it. It’s too complicated. We just want our food,
football, and TV. (both laugh)

Keywords: adaptation; experience; flexibility; nature; philosophy

00:54:19 - Politics

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah. There’s—and this kind of makes me think about this other area that we
haven’t talked about yet. You’ve described what society wants and sort of the
expectations of that. Where does politics fit into that? Are you engaged with politics,
either—I know you think of yourself as a universal citizen, so does that make you more
engaged at the global level or the local level or both?
LE: I try not to, and I used to volunteer and help deliver message, and used to pass out
pamphlets and leaflet and so forth, but I don’t do it anymore because, just from a personal
level, if there’s something that I can change and control, I will do it. I just don’t feel like
we’re in control of this big machine anymore, so I try to just do what I can within my
own little community. From a bigger perspective, we need an overhaul. For a political
perspective, the system that gotten us here no longer works, and that’s why we have so
much disarray right now in Washington. Not just in the US, but look at the UK, for
instance, with Brexit, and all the other country that can’t seem to get along anymore
because their population has been diversified now, so the old system—the old model—
doesn’t work anymore. It’s almost like having the tax system that’s been so outdated that
there’s so many loopholes in it that you basically have to revamp it. In that perspective,
these changes will not come overnight, and that’s just something that we all have to
continue to pursue, and I think technology will help to get us there. It’s sometimes better just to start from scratch, so look at another example, like electric vehicles. Tesla’s taking
the lead on that—or space travel. Those are the kind of things that has to happen in order
for us to wake up and get rid of the old model, and be able to get out of our comfort zone.
But right now, I think we’re not there yet, so I try to stay away from it. (laughs)
BRODY: Yeah. Well—and even—do you keep up with Vietnamese politics at all?
LE: Some. Not much. Only because of the business I do. Right now, I mean, we look at
what’s going on in Asia, especially with China and Vietnam, and with communism and
socialism and capitalism all mixed into one, so that’s actually working really well, right?
So you don’t have to have just communism. You just have to apply communism when
you need to, apply socialism when you need to, and apply capitalism when you need to—
whereas we think about just, Capitalism, capitalism, capitalism. Well, that’s not a
sustainable model.

Keywords: American politics; Brexit; China; Vietnamese politics; capitalism; communism; politics; socialism; technology; volunteer

00:57:18 - What does it mean to be American?

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: When you’re thinking about yourself and your kids and the people who are in
your community, do you think of yourselves as American? Do you think of yourself as
American? And if so or if not, what do you think it means to be American or to say that
you’re American?

LE: Yeah. When I travel, I get asked a lot of question like, “Where are you from?” and,
“Oh, you’re Americans, right?” And I say, “Oh, yeah.” Even when I hear a side
conversation, even though I’m not born in the US—but what is the US? The US is made up of refugees and immigrants, right? So some of us are born here, some of them are not,
but in essence, if you pay your taxes, you’re an American. (both laugh)
BRODY: It’s that simple.
LE: It’s that simple, yeah! There’s no way about it. What is American? Being an
American is the ability to have the freedom that we’ve earned. We pay for it. We
sacrifice ourself for it. Freedom, the ability to express yourself, the ability to do whatever
is needed to provide for your family in a way where you’re not restricted like most
countries. As much as I like to travel and enjoy all the culture around the world, I still
like coming home to North Texas because to me, there’s no other place in the world that
I’ve seen that has the best quality of life. I mean, everywhere else, there’s things you can
do, there’s things you cannot do, whereas, here, in Texas, especially North Texas, we can
do just about anything we want as long as we don’t hurt ourself and other people. We
have more opportunities here than anywhere else. You can launch a start-up any time you
want. You can create and express yourself anyway you want. I always feel very blessed
and grateful every time I come home. We have a beautiful airport.
BRODY: (both speaking at once) Yeah, so this is home.
LE: Yeah. We have a beautiful airport. We got lots of land. You can actually see the
sunset. (laughs) The air is better than most. We complain our air quality here but, boy,
have you been to China? (both laugh)

Keywords: American identity; Texas; business; food stamps; freedom; identity; immigrants; opportunity; refugees; start up companies; success; taxes; welfare