Interview with Connie Phan, May 31, 2019

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

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: This is Betsy Brody. Today is May 31, 2019. I am interviewing, for the first time, Ms. Connie Phan. 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 Texans, Becoming Americans” project.

Keywords: Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans

00:00:23 - Escaping Vietnam by boat/Encounter with pirates and almost drowning

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: All right, Connie. Thank you so much for joining me here today. I am really looking forward to hearing your story. To get started with, can you tell me a little bit about what your life was like in Vietnam?

PHAN: First, thank you so much for including me in this project. When I was in Vietnam, before I came here in 1978, when I left Vietnam, I was still a student—sophomore year. Oh, no, actually, freshman—yes. We left Vietnam in April 1978, and we arrive about four day and five night on a boat. About, let’s see, maybe twenty-two-meter boat with about 430 people—refugees, and we—during those three day—four day, we encounter pirate. (begins to cry) Looking back, I feel so blessed because there are so many refugee in boat didn’t make it. They got robbed, and woman and kid—either the pirate took them with them when they didn’t get any gold, but I’ve always been lucky. We only got it second time, and then the third time, we saw a pirate’s boat, but then we almost to Malaysia, I think, so they kind of leave us alone, so we made it to a military island—very small, remote island. Doesn’t have any—probably a few military personnel, and they help us get onto the island. I believe it was around two or three o’clock a.m. or something. It’s very dark. We were so glad that we made it. I’m sorry. (laughs)

BRODY: No, no. Thank you for sharing that story. That was—I mean, it sounds very scary for you, and you were young.

PHAN: I probably fifteen at the time or sixteen. Yes. And I’m the oldest of the five, and my sister is about eight years younger than me. Before we accept this plan, my father always want us to know how to swim, so in the morning, four of us—we’d just go into the beach and try to learn how to swim with some neighbors, but we all know how to swim by then already. And I was very—I mean, after four and five day, the fourth day, we already lack of food, so we—and be sitting at the boat. Your body is tired. I didn’t realize. But then, we are so excited to see the island, so everybody jump off the boat and I said, “Oh, I can do it. I can swim, so don’t mind me.” I jumped down, and I keep sinking, sinking, sinking! Yeah. I couldn’t get up to the top. And then, suddenly, there’s a big hand that’s grabbed me and pulled me up. I said, “Oh! That’s my dad! Oh, Lord!” (laughs)

BRODY: So your dad was able to grab you.

PHAN: Yeah. Uh-hm. Actually, he’s also the one that helping people bring up to the shore. Yeah, so I said, “Oh my goodness.” I remember that moment that I look up. It was him. Oh, it’s like—

BRODY: (both speaking at once) What a relief.

PHAN: Uh-hm. But yeah, those memory is kind of buried in the back of my mind.

Keywords: Malaysia; Vietnam; boat; boat people; drowning; escape; gold; island; leaving Vietnam; military island; pirates; refugees; swimming

00:05:07 - Details of plan and payment to escape Vietnam/Opportunities available due to Chinese descent

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Your dad, in Vietnam, was he working in some capacity with the Americans who were there? Or what did he do?

PHAN: He actually was a businessman. The trip that—our trip, actually, is organized by my—I guess call it uncle? My aunt’s husband. There’s about twelve or thirteen people in the group that organize this trip, but we had to work with the local government—I guess, police station or something like that, the local—that they have to give them the gold under the table for each person, at least five and half ounces of gold per head, so that—regardless of old or young, so that’s the base price that they have to provide to the local government so they can let us leave the country that we’re not prosecute. Most of—I would say 95 percent of the boat are Chinese Vietnamese, which is—most of them are either like me—my parent is Chinese but born in Vietnam, so I guess is considered a minority?

BRODY: Within Vietnam.

PHAN: Vietnam, yeah. And Vietnamese people—the Vietnamese citizen is not allowed on this kind of planned trip. Yeah. But actually, there are few family is Vietnamese, but they—you can tell by their last names is very distinctive. It’s Nguyen, N-g-u-y-e-n, and a friend of my dad or someone introduce him, and they wanted to leave too, so they would ask my dad, would have to do fake paper, identification for them to change their name to someone else, like a more Chinese-Vietnamese last name—either Tran or, like, Phan, or some other name. Actually, my father’s name is Luong—L-u-o-n-g. In Vietnamese spelling, for—in China, it’s called __(??) or __(??) in Hong Kong. So it can tell that, but that’s more Chinese that was born in Vietnam. They came from China.

BRODY: Okay. So there were distinctions in that. Did they get the fake papers?

PHAN: Yeah. So those—I think at least two family were able to escape, but they were very quiet on the boat. If they talk—they don’t want people discover that they are true Vietnamese citizen.

BRODY: Oh, I see.

PHAN: And they might—if they get in trouble, we all get in trouble.

BRODY: So they stayed quiet on the boat.

PHAN: Yes. Uh-hm. Yes.

Keywords: Chinese descent; Vietnamese-Chinese; gold; local government

00:08:35 - Memories of finding shelter on Malaysian island/Hiding money in shoes

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Wow. So you got to Malaysia, right? To this island?

PHAN: Correct.

BRODY: And what was that like?

PHAN: The island basically had no water—no running water. The people that came—the refugee came before us, they dig wells and built a shed. They would go to the—to cut wood and then make the shed, and then use some sort of plastic like a roof. So I guess younger men, or they had the ability physically, can go do that. Like, older person might not. Luckily, my dad had enough—he bought two hundred dollar US that he buried. He put it in my brother’s—the shoe—I guess—how—

BRODY: The sole.

PHAN: The sole, yeah. He hide it in there, so that’s how we got the money and buy a shed for seven of us so we don’t have to build a—otherwise, we would be sleeping out on the open.

BRODY: On the beach.

PHAN: Yeah. Uh-hm. So that’s how—actually, how we had that two-hundred dollar left, because when we encountered the pirate, basically, they took everything—the watches or a necklace or a ring that you have. Yeah. Of course—

BRODY: (both speaking at one) So smart that your dad hid the money in the shoe.

PHAN: Yes. Back then, US dollar, actually, is illegal to exchange US dollar in Vietnam. You can get—you can put in jail for having US money—currency.

BRODY: Right, by 1978.

PHAN: Yes. Actually, the whole time in Vietnam, you cannot have currency—you cannot own US currency.

Keywords: Malaysia; US currency; island; money; shed; shelter

00:10:53 - Memories of day-to-day life in Malaysian refugee camp (Pulau Bidong)

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Wow. Okay, so that was really brave (Phan laughs) that he did that, that he had that. From the camp, what was your day-to-day life like in the camp?

PHAN: It’s the—I guess United Nation will provide the food for each person. They gave us a bag—like, a plastic bag. Inside, there’s would be three can of food. One is a green bean. One’s fish or either, if it’s not fish, it’d be chicken and—what’s the other? Maybe red bean or something like that, and a bag of—a pouch of rice that we have to cook. Every person had the same kind of bag. Every morning, we would be had to headed out to the main, I guess, where gathering—just stand in line and get that bag, and that’s our food. I guess the water—we just—if you live in the shed, it already have the well built, then you’re lucky. Otherwise, you had to go the public well to carry the water, but those were water—the well water just only for shower. You can’t really drink any, and the United Nation do provide water for per person. I think it may be a gallon per person or something, and a family—you can—I forgot my younger brother, my second brother—he’s the one that would carry the water for the drinking water and for—so those are for us to drink and eat, shower, those kind of—you have to use your well water. And those—every day, we just go and stand in line, get those food and come home, and then my mom would have to find way to cook those. And the refugee in the Pulau Bidong, they getting very creative that they need to find fresh meat and fresh fruit, so they do built their own—a little boat, and they would go out to the closer, I guess, bigger city island somewhere in Malaysia. I heard that maybe, it’s called Terengganu, but I’m not sure, but that’s how they go out, and they do that either at night or somehow, not letting people know. And then when they come back, they bring the goods back, and they would have a market to sell it.

BRODY: Wow. That’s enterprising.

PHAN: Uh-hm. But then, we would get in trouble if they get caught. Yeah. The military there, they don’t want you do that, (laughs) but I don’t know how they do it, but they did it. So that’s how we get—sometimes, we would have money, then—people have money, they were able to buy fresh fruit or fresh meat. Otherwise, they would stay with the canned food.

BRODY: You were a young child, right? Like, you were in high school still? Did you have to stand in line for every day for the food too?

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Yes. Uh-hm. Yes.

BRODY: So, adults, children—everybody individually.

PHAN: Actually, not every day. They—the shipment come maybe twice a week or something like that. And then, I guess—my memory is, like, we’d stand in line getting that. Every time, we like, Oh, the shipment’s come! Everybody get outside! Let’s go! Everybody had to go down to the center to stand in line and get those. And then most of the time, we don’t have anything to do, then I join a drafting class that the refugee camp there—the people get there before and they have teacher that—or that used to be a teacher, so they volunteer and teach the kids, so I joined. I signed up, went to the drafting class, so I was able to learn how to draw, and I brought you that book today.

Keywords: Terengganu; United Nations; drafting class; food; rations; volunteers; water

00:15:21 - Description of docks and process of leaving the refugee camp

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yeah. This notebook that you brought from the camp—the cover says, “United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” and you’ve got your name on there, and then your drawings that you’ve made. So this is how you were occupied during the day, learning. There’s some really nice drawings in here, especially—tell me about this one of the docks there.

PHAN: Oh, yeah. The bridge of the dock—yeah. I guess it was built—the first one, probably, is a lot older and is more for incoming boat, and the other one is the one that leaving, which is everybody wanted to go on—be on that bridge—I mean, that dock, because that’s the one that you’ll get to go—

BRODY: (both speaking at once) Get to go somewhere else.

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Yeah, yeah. Go to settle at place. You either go to America, Australia, or French, or any country in the European that they accept the refugee.

BRODY: For your family, when did you get to go onto the dock to go somewhere else?

PHAN: I believe we—around August of 1979. Yes. And at night time, usually, they would announce the name of the boat, and then the name of the person—the family that gets selected to go.

BRODY: Oh, okay. Every evening.

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Yeah. Every evening around seven o’clock, I think. And I remember clearly, at night, we—usually we would get together and sing or—I learned how to sing in English, but I didn’t understand what I was singing, (Brody laughs) and now, I remember I was thinking of the songs—something—“Que Sera, Sera”? I don’t know exactly which—French, right?

BRODY: (both speaking at once) Spanish. (both laugh)

PHAN: Oh, okay. So something like that. And then, when we get quiet, when—then the announcement came on one of those—what was it called?

BRODY: Loud speakers.

PHAN: Yes, and they have everywhere. Our boat number was KG-zero-two-zero-six, and I think our number rank—is ranked number—either four [hundred] thirty or—yeah. I forgot the rank number. That’s—they call it boat number one, two—if you say you come—your number is—your boat number is two hundred, then they know—they kind of know what month you come in. Yeah. So we are four hundred thirty-something. And in one day, it can be twenty to thirty boat, but very tiny boat, and some day doesn’t have any boat coming in. So I think the—in April of nineteen eight—between April and May 1978 is vast of boat coming in. The number get—adding quicker, from either four hundred to four-fifty, like to four-seventy-five, so quick. Yeah. When I left, I think it may be five hundred or five-fifty? I’m not quite remember. It’s been a long time.

BRODY: (both speaking at once) So, you had been there for over a year.

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Fourteen month.

BRODY: Fourteen months?

PHAN: Yeah. Um-hm. |

Keywords: America; Australia; Que Sera, Sera; UN High Commissioner for Refugees; UNHCR; United Nations; boats; docks; drafting class; families; notebook; refugee camp; singing

00:19:14 - Finding a sponsor and heading to America

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: It changed because you got a sponsor?

PHAN: Yeah. We would get interview by different country, and first, we were interviewed by Australia representative, and they will ask—they asked my father, Do you have any other relative that live in other country? And then my dad said, “Oh yeah. I have a sister in America,” and then, he kind of, “Oh.” He shouldn’t say that because (laughs) he actually really wanted to go to Australia. Yeah. And then they said, Oh, okay. Then you had to go to United State, (laughs) so I say, “Okay.” So that’s how we end up in the United State. But Australia—actually my cousin, which is my dad’s aunt’s younger sister, which is my cousin—he already been to Australia and he left a year or two year—maybe a year before when we left in ’78, so he left already either ’77 or ’76. And now he also made it to Malaysia or Indonesia. I’m not quite remember, but he made it to Australia. That’s why my dad wanted to go to Australia. But it never—my aunt—he had two sister, and the younger sister, when they left before us, she took care of two of my cousin—no, three of my cousin—male, there(??). So a total of four of them made it to Pennsylvania, so that’s why my dad just told the representative in Australia that he had a sister made it to USA, so that’s why we—okay. Said, “Okay, you go to the United State table over there.” (laughs) That’s how we end up in United State.

BRODY: So they called your name, and you were able to get on a boat. Where did your family head first?

PHAN: We actually—yeah. When we get to the dock, then they would take us to Kuala Lumpur, which is the capital of Malaysia, and that’s where we get on a plane. That plane was like a big military plane—can seat five hundred people, I believe. It’s called a Tiger, I remember. It’s very big plane. A lot of refugee people on that plane, and then I believe we flew to San Francisco, and then we stay in the military camp. I remember our family was given a room. Seven of us stayed there for about a week. Maybe they were making sure that we don’t have any infected disease. Then we get to go to our home—I guess, home city, which is the sponsor that sponsor us, and my dad—he had a friend that live in Richmond, Virginia, and we call him Uncle Bac—B-a-c, I think. He is a Vietnamese citizen that a good friend of my dad when they were in Vietnam. I don’t know how they connected anyway, but that’s—and then, Uncle Bac—B-a-c—I guess Uncle Bac that we’d call him back then—he connect—I guess he get in touch with the Catholic church, and that’s how they sponsored our family, and that’s why we went to Richmond, Virginia. And our sponsor at the time, the church—there’s two lady. I remember one of them was Mrs. Ellis—Ellis, E-l-l-i-s—and her husband’s Alexander Ellis the Third, and I guess we call her Mrs. Ellis. She’s a volunteer and she’s very active in her church, and there’s another lady that work with her. I forgot her name, but—yes. They both help us to settle. Found a house for us to rent, and I remember our address for the house in Richmond is 2333 West Gray Street.

BRODY: Wow. (both laugh) That’s a great memory.

PHAN: Yeah, and we happened to live on the Gray Street! (laughs) Yeah.

Keywords: America; Australia; Kuala Lumpur; Malaysia; Richmond; USA; United States; Virginia; church; family; house; housing; military camp; military plane; quarantine; relatives; sponsors; sponsorship

00:24:53 - High school years in Richmond

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: How long were you in Richmond?

PHAN: It’s about two year, and it’s—first year, we loved it because we had never seen snow. And we said, Oh, so cool and so nice! Had so much fun. But then, after second year, we said, We cannot stay in this kind of weather. I believe we had to put chains on the tire. It’s very hard. And I went to a high school—they put me in a high school—Thomas Jefferson High School. They put me in tenth grade and I didn’t speak any English. I had a dictionary—Chinese dictionary and I carry it with me, and I believe there’s already the three Vietnamese refugee already in that school and that they also—their last name’s also Tran, so we just connected right away, and we rented the same house. They lived upstair. We lived downstair. (laughs)

BRODY: So immediate community.

PHAN: Uh-huh. And I remember, sometime, I left my dictionary in the school somewhere, and somebody find it and they just bring it to me. “This is your.” I said, “That’s right. It’s mine.” (laughs) It’s very funny.

BRODY: You need it.

PHAN: Uh-huh. And I was put in a English class for mental—well, I guess, not “mental,” but it’s more talent-challenge kid, like either handicap, or on wheelchair, or kid that have speech problem, so I was put in that class so I can learn English easier for me.

BRODY: So they put you in a special-ed class.

PHAN: Dead correct. That’s right. That’s why I—

BRODY: But there—was there an ESL—English as a second language—program?

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Not really. Back then we don’t have an ESL class, and that’s the only class that they could put me in it for English, and I do clearly remember I was in the history class. This teacher—I forgot his name. Maybe Mr. William or something. Anyway, he put me sitting nearby him, but then I couldn’t understand what he said but I can read, so when he give quizzes and test, he’d be just reading out loud and I couldn’t understand what he said, but if he give me the test and I can read it slowly, then I can do it. And then—I don’t know how I told him that I—and then the next time, the first quiz—I flunked the first quiz—the second quiz, and I told him, “I need the quiz that you can give to me,” so he just moved my table next to his desk, and then he just slide his quiz over and let me read, and then he read to the class. And from then on I always aced—make a hundred on the quiz.

BRODY: That’s great! (laughs)

PHAN: Yeah. But I just take slow for me to read, but then try to hear an American speak English is harder. Even though—

BRODY: (both speaking at once) You had a lot to learn all at once.

PHAN: Correct. Uh-hm.

Keywords: Chinese dictionary; Richmond; Thomas Jefferson High School; Virginia; cold; high school; snow

00:28:34 - Moving to Dallas,Texas for a warmer climate

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Two years in Richmond. How did your parents find a warmer climate?

PHAN: Somehow someone—I don’t know how they got ahold of—oh, I remember now. The refugee that we met—a friend that—in Pulau Bidong. He actually came to Dallas, Texas, and then when he talked to this gentleman—we call him Uncle Kee—and then Uncle Kee said that he from Danang, Vietnam. And then when they got to talk and then the friend that—the refugee that live in Pulau Bidong kind of know us too—our neighbor—and they said, Oh, I think I know somebody live in Danang and his name is Quanh Luong, and then our Uncle Kee said, “Oh my goodness! That’s my—I call him ‘brother’! ‘Brother Quanh’!” And then that’s how, I guess, they exchange number, and they call us somehow, and then my dad said, “Oh my goodness.” So he say—and then, my dad told him, “It’s too cold up here,” and then he say, “Oh, just come down here. Just come down here. We find you a place. Don’t worry.” And then, we—okay. Then, my dad just decided to, “Okay, let’s move.” So we told our sponsor, and they were very sad that we were leaving but they understand. So we went to a Greyhound station, bought seven ticket, and just hop on the Greyhound bus and come down to Dallas. (laughs)

BRODY: Wow. How brave. And then the uncle met you here?

PHAN: Yes. Uh-hm.

Keywords: Dallas; Greyhoud bus; Pulau Bidong; Texas; refugees

00:30:28 - Living arrangements in Dallas/Registering at North Dallas High School

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Where did you live when you first got to Dallas?

PHAN: It’s funny. When we on the Greyhound bus, the Greyhound bus had to stop at some gas station for restroom stop, and—it’s funny—my dad didn’t come back, and one of the—I guess the passenger say, “One of the China man not coming back yet! You can’t leave!” (both laugh) And then the bus driver wait for him to come back, so it’s funny. Yeah, I remember somehow we made it to Dallas to the Greyhound bus downtown, and my Uncle Kee—he lived in a housing Section 8, one of the government-run Mexican village on Harry Hine. So it’s only a one-bedroom—no, maybe a two-bedroom—a two-bedroom condo, I guess? Apartment? It’s very tiny, probably around 750 square feet, though not more than 1,000 square feet. So seven of us and my Uncle Kee, his wife, and he had two children—a daughter and a son—but the son was very young back then, and the daughter, Van, she’s—we kind of call each other cousin now, so Cousin Van—she’s about same age as Mylinh. And I imagine her dad gave her room to us—of seven of us in her room, she got kicked out. (laughs)

BRODY: (laughs) She got kicked out.

PHAN: And she had—

BRODY: (both speaking at once) So there were eleven of you in the house.

PHAN: Yes. Uh-hm. And we stayed there maybe a week or two or something like that, so we can find apartment to rent. Myself and my three—four of my other three brother, we went to—I think he’s—no, his neighbor—my Uncle Kee’s neighbor have a son that is in high school, so he took us to North Dallas High School to register, so I end up going to North Dallas High School with my other two brother, Tom and Peter, and my third brother, Minh—which is now, he’s Ryan—and Mylinh is younger, so they go to middle school. I don’t know who took them there. I forgot. But I remember clearly, I went to North Dallas High School and registered. (laughs) I went there. |00:33:24|

BRODY: As an eleventh-grader, then?

PHAN: Actually, yes, eleventh-grader, because I kind of—almost finished tenth grade over in—

BRODY: In Richmond.

PHAN: Yeah, in Richmond. I believe we also get the transcript. I don’t know how we did all that. We went to high—the Thomas Jefferson, and the counselors—I think, Mrs. Brumbler? It start with a B. I think Bumbo or Bumber or something like that. She’s a very tiny, small woman and she gave us the transcript and it’s not finished. I don’t remember, because we left October or so. We came here in October, I think. The school was already start.

Keywords: Chinaman; Dallas; Greyhound bus; Harry Hines; North Dallas High School; Section 8; apartment; housing; transcript

00:34:17 - Memories of North Dallas High School

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So did you start school right away then?

PHAN: Yes. Um-hm. I was eleven grade(??).

BRODY: (both speaking at once) At North Dallas High School.

PHAN: Yeah.

BRODY: What was that like, both being new to Dallas and also kind of entering a new high school after school had already started?

PHAN: Actually, over here, it’s more—because there are more Vietnamese community, so there are a lot of Vietnamese student already at North Dallas High School. And North Dallas High School, there is mainly—that I believe—maybe 90 percent or 80 percent Hispanic already, but there’s about—my number may be not correct—but there’s African American and Caucasian, but mainly, I think, Hispanic is the majority of the student body. And again, minority of the Vietnamese refugee, and there may be some Laos and Cambodia student there, but the Vietnamese student is—probably had more than the Cambodia or the Laos.

Keywords: African Americans; Cambodians; Caucasians; Hispanics; Laotians; North Dallas High School; Vietnamese students; education; refugees; schools

00:35:36 - Friendships, Vietnamese classmates, and Math Club/Meeting her future husband

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: What was it like for you in terms of making friends and integrating into those classes?

PHAN: Actually, it’s very easy because there’s some Vietnamese student there already, so we became friend pretty quick. And most of us, since English is our second language, but math or geometry is international language, so I was—I always flunked math when I was in Vietnam, but when I came over here, I just got hundred most of the time—an A. I got just automatically got it. That’s the only thing I understand, so easy is a triangle or geometry or trigonometry, and math is so easy. So we excel in math. And I joined the math club, the math team, and then we’d be going with—and then make a lot of friend—students who joined the math team and go to many high school to compete. I didn’t bring trophy home, but maybe a ribbon or something.

BRODY: (laughs) But it was fun, you remember.

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Yes, and actually at that high school, I met my husband there.

BRODY: Oh, did you really?

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Uh-hm.

BRODY: How did you meet him? Tell me about that.

PHAN: He actually in the same class. We were the same grade. But he’s a lot smarter, so (laughs) he always made the math team. He always brings the—either bring first place home or second at least, but I’m usually the one that have the last one, either six or seven, (laughs) something like that.

Keywords: Vietnamese students; geometry; math; refugees

00:37:45 - Working during high school

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: So, was he—did you go to tournaments together, and was it love at first sight?

PHAN: No. Actually, no. (laughs) I was taking an architecture drafting class. He also taking an architecture drafting class, and he, actually, also working already as a—managing a Chinese movie theater at night, because our community here, we don’t really have a movie theater, and I guess that’s some Hong Kong investment. I guess—I think a few brother from Hong Kong, they rented a movie theater on Fitzhugh and Capital, and they usually have Chinese movie at night from ten o’clock to two or three o’clock, and my husband, Timothy Phan, he actually work as a—selling ticket at that theater.

BRODY: Oh, did he?

PHAN: Yes. Uh-huh. So he already making money when he’s in high school. (laughs) My first job in America here—actually, this was in Virginia too. My mom was a housekeeper. We work for a cleaning company. She worked with cleaning company, and I sometime help her in the summer. We go to client house and clean, and clean their toilet and vacuum and mop the floor. That’s my first job there too, and when we arrived to Dallas, my first job in Dallas here is, I had gotten to do—a classmate—her name is Lei Lee and, unfortunately, she’s already pass away.

BRODY: Oh, no.

PHAN: Yeah. She had cancer, so she was pass away probably last year or two years ago. Anyway, she’s the one that find a job for me. We got paid twenty-five dollar working on the weekend, Saturday to Sunday, at the Dallas Market Center downtown. We are in one those stand that selling coke and hot dogs. And the gentleman that hire us, he’s—I believe he’s Jewish, and we call him Mr. Frank. Somehow he got a bunch of Vietnamese student working for him on the weekend. Everybody get paid twenty-five dollar cash, so that’s good money for us. (laughs)

Keywords: Chinese movie theater; Dallas Market Center; Fitzhugh; Hong Kong; Jewish; employment; housekeeper; jobs; movie theater; movies

00:41:05 - Parents' jobs and lack of involvement with school

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: You were working and you were going to school, and your parents—how involved were they with your school?

PHAN: In school part, we had to handle everything ourself. My parent doesn’t speak English, so in term of homework, we had to figure out our own, and we either talk to our friends or—yeah. There’s no such thing as tutor. It’s not like in Vietnam when I had tutor. (laughs) My dad would be working at assembly—electrical—some kind of electrical assembly company, and my mom worked as cleaning staff for a hotel at that big one down here. What’s it called? Loew—back then, they call it Loew Anatole.

BRODY: (both speaking at once) The Anatole. Yeah.

PHAN: Yeah. Loew Anatole. But now, I think it’s some—

BRODY: Just The Anatole.

PHAN: Yeah. Some—either Marriott or someone bought them already. She worked there until she retire. She had to clean the room, at least eight room a day. So every time I stay in a hotel, I always put tip.

Keywords: English; English language; Lowes Anatole Hotel; assembly; education; electrical; employment; housekeeper; jobs; parenting; school

00:42:45 - Learning English

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: They were working hard, and you guys were in school and also working hard. How was learning English for you? Because—

PHAN: Actually, learning English—we learned it for watching Tom and Jerry.

BRODY: Tom and Jerry. (laughs)

PHAN: (laughs) Yeah. When we came home from school, we just turned it on. We just watch it, and that’s—we enjoyed watching that, and actually, I believe I learn English from Tom and Jerry. (both laugh)

BRODY: That’s fantastic. But it must have been challenging, and especially with all of you being different ages, sort of picking up the language. Does anything stand out in your mind as—besides Tom and Jerry—about the process or some of the challenges with the language?

PHAN: I remember clearly, in Virginia, we had a phone and when it ring, we all kind of hang around the phone and say, What we going to do? Pick up the phone? And pick up the phone, but then when they speak English, we don’t know how to talk back. And then actually, that phone was calling for Mylinh, my sister, and then she was talking English to her classmate! We were just like, How is she communicate? We didn’t understand. What is she talking about? But I don’t know how she pick up English so quick!

BRODY: Well, she was younger, wasn’t she?

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Yeah. She was about eight years old, I believe. Yeah. And then, we would ask her, What did you talk about? And then, she said, “I don’t know.” (both laugh) It’s funny. When we left Richmond, I think her classmate—her friend gave her a bear, and she still kept the bear. She still have the bear. (laughs)

Keywords: English language; Tom and Jerry; cartoons; friendship; kindness; language; learning English; telephone

00:44:34 - Reflections on how knowing a family in Dallas helped to ease the transition

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Aw. Wow. Some of those small kindnesses. Speaking of that—so you didn’t have a sponsor here in Dallas.

PHAN: No. We started on our own in North Texas, yeah. Basically—I’m thankful for our Uncle Kee and his wife and his family. Unfortunately, he pass away too. He pass away with cancer, and so is his wife, Aunt Kee—we both—our family went to the funeral for both of them. The second one is only my sister and I and my brother, Ryan, can go. Three of us went to Aunt Kee’s funeral maybe four years ago? Something like that. But Uncle Kee pass away seven or eight—ten years ago. And now, our cousin, I guess—we call her cousin—Cousin Van—we feel like family. She’s live in Seattle now. That’s how we were here.

BRODY: It sounds like it made a big difference to have the family members—your aunt and uncle and cousin—to help you sort of transition into this.

PHAN: Correct. Um-hm.

Keywords: assimilation; death; family; funerals; integration; transition

00:46:03 - Phan reflects on religion and her recent Baptism

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Does anything stand out in your mind, other than what you’ve said already, about letting you stay in their house and so on? Small things that made a difference? Making you feel comfortable?

PHAN: Well, yeah. I guess we would feel right at home right away. I guess, to me, a lot of thing we don’t plan, and I feel like maybe (begins to cry) God already had a plan for us. It is ___(??). I was atheist and as I became Christian probably ten years ago, maybe? I’m not quite sure, but I remember I was—even though we go to church and try to learn English, and my mom was Buddhist, and my dad is—he kind of—I mean, he’s okay with any religion, so we basically root in the Buddhist religion because we were in Asia. In 2010, maybe around that time, somehow something happened, and then—I kind of feel bad, back then, that I said, “Oh, I do not believe in God. I mean, there’s no such thing. Man—human revolution, back in forty-some million years—there’s no such thing as someone getting born with a virgin.” I just think it’s foolish when people come and tell me those kind of thing. (begins to cry) But I believe God is looking over our family and we were saved for a reason, and I just got baptize—

BRODY: You were just baptized?

PHAN: Baptized in 2016. Yeah, it was on my birthday.

BRODY: Oh, that’s beautiful.

PHAN: Uh-hm. I turned fifty-three on that day.

BRODY: And you got baptized on your fifty-third birthday. At what church were your baptized at?

PHAN: I was baptized at American Baptist Church, AABC—Asian, I’m sorry. Asian American Baptist Church, not far from here.

BRODY: So that was a really meaningful—

PHAN: Yeah. Uh-hm. BRODY: —change for you.

PHAN: Yeah. My dad actually get baptize before I did. He became a Christian also. |00:50:05| BRODY: So you were sponsored in Virginia by Catholic Charities [USA], but really your family wasn’t particularly religious at that point.

PHAN: Correct. My mom still practice Buddhism, but actually, she—God answer our prayer. She’s not baptized yet, but she converted. How do you say those—like, she stand in public to announce that she accept Christ.

BRODY: Oh, okay. So she took—made that profession.

PHAN: Yeah, uh-huh. Last December.

BRODY: Okay. So what role does religion, do you feel like, play in your life and your experience that you’re talking about here?

PHAN: Can you rephrase that question? I don’t quite understand.

BRODY: (both speaking at once) Well, I mean, was it part of your integration process, or not really much, as you were getting used to being in this country and getting used to school and your family was getting used to work? Did religion play a role in that?

PHAN: Not really. Yeah. I mean, I grew up more in the Buddhism religion, but then I’ve declared myself as a atheist probably between teenager until mid-forty. And I’m still learning. I mean, I really don’t go to church every Sunday, but I do listen to as much possible on the radio, and I have friends that are supporting me. Any time I have a question about God and Jesus, teaching about the Bible, I always have answer from my friend.

BRODY: Right. So the churches that—the church that you got baptized in is an Asian-American Baptist church. So language-wise, do you—is it English?

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Actually, the church practice in English and they do have Chinese Bible study after the service. Mainly, the church is speaking in English.

Keywords: Asian American Baptist Church; Buddhism; Christianity; God; atheism; conversion; language; religion; spirituality

00:53:05 - Phan reflects on her friendships with Asians, Caucasians, and African Americans

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: (both speaking at once) In English, because there’s multiple different types of languages that people speak. When you think about your community that you’re part of, are you—do you mostly interact with other Asian people or are you—do you feel like you have a diverse group of friends and contacts?

PHAN: I would say it’s 60, 70 percent Asian, but we didn’t—I have friends that’s Caucasian and African American that I feel comfortable to talk with and email or texting. And my son, he had a classmate since second grade—the last name is Quitman/Kweitman(??)—and my son was the groom-man. BRODY: Oh, in the wedding. PHAN: Yeah, in the wedding this year. And they were roommate together at UT [University of Texas] in freshman year, and I usually—when I make sushi or something, I would make Brady a box for him and a box for my son. (both laugh) And then, I say—I always say that I’m his Asian mom. (both laugh)

BRODY: That’s really sweet. So yeah, I mean, tell me about your kids. You have just the one son?

PHAN: I have two son, Kenyon and Weldon, and Kenyon—he’s twenty-six now, and Weldon is twenty-two now. Weldon just graduated from UNT [University of North Texas] in music degree, and Kenyon graduated in—I guess, four years ago. They’re four year apart, so he graduated in UT in biochemistry.

BRODY: Great. I’m going to stop the tape for a second and see—about one thing. pause in recording

Keywords: African Americans; Asian Americans; Asians; Black; Caucasians; University of North Texas; University of Texas; White; children; friendships

00:54:34 - Motherhood and children's identity

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: All right. Restarting this recording now. So we were talking about your kids. They’re in their twenties and they were raised entirely here, born and raised in Texas. Do you think they think of themselves—in what way do they think of their identity? Vietnamese? Chinese? Asian American? American?

PHAN: They probably think of themselves Asian American because—but then, they know that they have Chinese root and little bit of Vietnamese background. They understand the Chinese—Cantonese language better than the Vietnamese, but they—now, they can distinguish when we talk Cantonese or we talk in Vietnamese. My younger son, Weldon, had a little difficulty to distinguish that, but he’s getting better now. But my older son, he definitely know when people speak Cantonese. He can understand a little, but not as much. When he was little, I did speak Cantonese—strictly Cantonese to him, and my husband—he’s Chinese also, but he’s from Hainan Province, which is an island in Hainan in China. They do have their own dialect, so he and his mom speak to my older son, Kenyon, in Hainanese, so he can switch over quickly and speak to them, and he speak to me Chinese. But then when he’s about three and a half—about four, I put him in a daycare, and that’s when he start to learning English, and we still keep the language until my younger son, the second—my younger son was born. He have a speech delay, so we were told by the speech therapist that we should speak either one language, that we do not mix it, that way—to help him, so we decided to keep English in that, because sometime we do speak English and Cantonese kind of mixed together, so it’s hard. So we just kind of drop the Chinese language in the household and then speak English after my second son was born. And then my older son, Kenyon—he kind of lost. (laughs) BRODY: Right. You don’t use it.

PHAN: Yes. Yeah. He lost the language. But then, now, he kind of catching back a little because some of his classmate speak Cantonese at home. So he learn a little at a time, coming back.

Keywords: Asian American identity; Cantonese; Cantonese language; Chinese Vietnamese; English language; Hainan Province; Hainanese; Vietnamese identity; Vietnamese language; identity; language; language learning

00:58:40 - Phan discusses her own sense of identity

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: That’s great. So you think they think of themselves as Asian American. How do you think of yourself? Your identity?

PHAN: I would consider myself Asian American now because I’m American citizen, and even though I’m root in China, but I don’t really have any connection with China because I’ve never been to China. (both laugh) But I do learn the culture and the language when I was young, so it still embedded in my brain that I know the language. I appreciate the language a lot, and I feel kind of bad that I’m not good at any of the language because I’m halfway—like, I still have very heavy accent in English, and I’m not really perfectly in speaking in Mandarin. I’m not speaking perfectly in Cantonese. I’m not perfectly speaking in Vietnamese. (laughs)

BRODY: But that’s a lot of languages that you know. (laughs)

PHAN: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of halfway in between, so yeah, I guess, if you—like, you have so much water, you can fill up four cup. You can’t fill them all full.

BRODY: I see what you mean. So you think of yourself as Asian American as well.

PHAN: (both speaking at once) Yes. Um-hm.

Keywords: American citizenship; Asian American identity; Asian Americans; Cantonese; China; Chinese culture; English language; Mandarin; Vietnamese language; culture; identity; language; language learning

01:00:21 - Transitioning between social classes as a refugee

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Earlier—I’m just kind of jumping backwards a little bit. Earlier, you mentioned that in Vietnam you had a tutor and things like that, but then when you came here, that wasn’t really the lifestyle that you were in. Did you feel like your family transitioned from one social class to another when you came to the United States?

PHAN: Yes, definitely. My dad, he’s doing very well as a businessman in Vietnam where he owned a lot of business. He operated restaurant, and then he go through a lot of business selling peanut butter, restaurant, and then recycling—metal recycling plant. I mean, our social status in Vietnam can considered well. We have maids come to the house and take care of the kid. My mom doesn’t really have to do anything. She have a chef that cook for the family. We go to private school, and my dad even have a Jeep—have a car and he had a driver!


PHAN: Yeah. He didn’t drive. It’s considered pretty well, I would say. And then we lost all that when we came here. We start from scratch, that my mom start as a cleaning staff at the hotel and my dad working at a assembly. And he—actually, his first job when he’s in America, from Richmond, Virginia, is he’s replacing those batteries for those—is it arcade?

BRODY: Oh, arcades?

PHAN: Not arcade. What’s it called? Those—like, construction? They have those blinking sign for those cars? They put—yeah. Like, they blocking the road.

BRODY: Oh, yes. I know what you’re talking about.

PHAN: Yeah. And those blinking orange—

BRODY: Reflector lights.

PHAN: Reflector light, yeah. That’s right. Uh-hm. He replacing those battery. That’s his first job. He come from—he was a—not a chairman, but one of, like, executive member in a school—in Chinese school in Danang that he donate a lot of fund to the school. They have his name on a plaque. Like, he donated the basketball court equipment. It will have his name on there. But when we came to America, he start from scratch. But he survived well because he go through the World War II from China. He came from China. He left China when he was about ten or eleven, crossed to Vietnam by himself, and I don’t know how he survived.


PHAN: Yeah.

BRODY: That’s brave.

PHAN: Yeah. I mean, his life’s probably more difficult than my life, and I’m sure my children is have a better life than me. My life was much better than for my dad—my dad’s life—so that’s our goal, I guess. We just make our next generation have a better life than us.

Keywords: assembly; business; cleaning staff; housekeeper; social class; wealth

01:04:32 - Discrimination and racism

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Yes. Absolutely. When you made that transition and your family made that transition, do you remember any experiences with discrimination or racism as you were adjusting to life here?

PHAN: There are a few cases, but we don’t take it as offended. That just life. We go through. We don’t hold grudges when people make comment that hurt ourselves. I mean, they just don’t know. I mean, sometime they don’t mean it, and just move on. I feel very blessed that I haven’t encounter, physically, discrimination that, like, a lot of African American culture that go through in the sixty. But I’m sure there are a few, but then I don’t really kept it that affect my life. I just move on. And, like, people will probably say things, so I just let it go and just move on, to me.

Keywords: discrimination; prejudice; racism

01:06:03 - Thoughts about diversity in the United States

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Earlier, you mentioned your family friends and friends of your children being of different cultural backgrounds. Do you know—what is—can you tell me about some of your feelings around being in a country where you’re meeting all different types of people with different backgrounds?

PHAN: I think my difficulty is more language communication. Some of the friend—the mom that I—is Caucasian. I’m sure they very nice, open heart, and they know that I’m from Vietnam, I’m Chinese, speak the language—the dialect, the English accent heavy, but they understand and they reach out, and I feel very blessed that I feel welcome. A lot of mom that I encounter from either elementary school with my kid, to middle school and high school—I mean, very cordial and very helping.

Keywords: English language; accents; communication; diversity; friendships; language; language learning

01:07:25 - Meaning of "being American"/Emotional reaction to the Pledge of Allegiance

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: That’s great. What does it mean to you to be an American? You mentioned you got your American citizenship. What does it mean to say, “I am an American”?

PHAN: I’m very proud, and freedom is not free. To me, we are very blessed to live in America, and the freedom we have now, I feel a lot of people take it for granted. (begins to cry) Sometime I get emotional when I stand up, when we have—what’s it called? What’s it called? I pledge the allegiance.

BRODY: The “Pledge of Allegiance.”

PHAN: Yeah. Um-hm. BRODY: It makes you emotional?

PHAN: Yes.

BRODY: What do you think about when you’re doing the “Pledge of Allegiance”?

PHAN: I always tears up and get—I wish I could sing and say that, (laughs) but I usually tears up.

Keywords: American identity; Pledge of Allegiance; freedom; patriotism

01:08:54 - Reflections about memories brought up in interview

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Partial Transcript: BRODY: Is there anything else that you’d like to share that I haven’t asked you about or something else that you’d like to add to what we’ve talked about today?

PHAN: I’m sure there’s many, many small story that—right now, I don’t have any. But this interview, it kind of bring a lot of joy and sad, and I made of lot memory that’s kind of buried a long time that just come right back, and it’s hard.

BRODY: Well, thank you so much for sharing those memories and those stories, and I think that your story is valuable, and it’s been an honor to record this interview and to hear your stories, and I’m so happy that they’re going to be part of this collection.

PHAN: Oh, thank you so much, Betsy, to having me here.

BRODY: Oh, thank you very much. I really, really appreciate it. It’s been really beautiful.

PHAN: Thank you.

BRODY: Thank you. end of interview

Keywords: emotions; memories