Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Children of War in Vietnam
Pham Khanh Thuy.
I was born in 1969 in Saigon. August 29. My father was a military officer. We had maids, and a dog and lived well.
I went to a good school. I was Catholic. My parents were both from the South.
The end of the war came as a surprise to us. My dad came home, I was five years old, and my dad said that we were to meet him at the airport that afternoon. He said that he would come there later. He told this to my mother.
I wasn't scared. We drove to the airport.
We left in the morning after spend in the night in the airport. When we were leaving for the airport I looked out the back window of our car, and my two aunts were standing in the street. They took off their big hats and dropped them on the ground and put their hands on their faces and cried. I was the only one in the car who saw that because I was looking out the back window.
My father had another wife and he came out later with her and lived in Australia. I really didn't see him again after he got us out.
My aunt lived in Washington at the time and sponsored us. She had been a student here and married an American.
The adjustment here was not difficult. I was in the first grade at that time. I was not made aware that I was different until I got into junior high school. Then another girl came to my school, she had just arrived here, a boat person. And the other kids made fun of her, but that wasn't directed toward me.
My mother talked about her life, often. Told us about growing up in Vietnam.
Nguyen Kim Dung.
Born August 4, 1969. I was just five when Saigon fell. I was staying in the house on the day that the city fell to the communists. I heard the bombs at that time. We went under the floor when the bombs hit, and we stayed there for a long time. My father was in the army. He carried a radio around when he was in the army.
My older brother left early. He was serving in the navy. He wanted my mother to leave but she didn't want to leave. There were five kids in the family.
After April 30, we went to a new economic zone. The government sent us there. Later on, they sent us there. It was in the area near Cambodia and Kampuchea, near Rach Gia.
My dad was a farmer there. I was in school. We were poor, very poor. We had no relatives or friends there. We lived in a small house. During 1979, there was a storm and floods there, and the water came up to the roof of our house and we had to stay on the roof.
One day my mom came in and we were all in bed. And she said that tomorrow we would get up early and go to visit our grandparents. So we got up and went with her that morning, but we visited the grandparents earlier, in 1978, in North Vietnam. They lived Quang Binh in the North.
They were really poor in the North, everybody was. We went by train.
I was in 6th grade when we left Vietnam.
We went to Rach Gia then to leave. We got in a small boat, and they took us out to a bigger boat and that boat took us to Thailand.
It took three days and four nights to get to Thailand. Thai pirates stopped us five times. The first time they took the gold. And they raped one of the girls on the boat. There were 60 people on the boat. The first time they stopped us and they pulled us, then they took our gold and put us back on our boat. They took us off our boat and searched us then put us back on. I was so afraid at that time. So afraid.
This happened five times. They beat up on one man. And we saw that.
We stayed in Song Khla in Thailand.
We were there four months, and then flew to Bangkok and then San Jose.
I was in 6th grade in San Jose. All I knew how to say was yes and no. The teacher asked me my name and I said yes. They sent me to a special language school.
But I learned English and graduated from high school and now am in college. I hope to go into business for myself. My father is still in Vietnam. I write to him every week. My mother is still in school now.
I think about Vietnam a lot and dream about it a lot. Sometimes I dream that I go back there and am with my father and my friends again.
I hope some day to marry and have four children.
Ngo Lien Kim.
I was playing with my friends outside and we heard gun shots. My sister ran out and got us and told us to stay in the house because there was a war going on. But I didn't know what was going on. But we stayed in the house for several days. My mother put together bags for each of us. There are ten girls and a boy in the family. My father worked in the hotel, the Majestic Hotel, where he is the chef, still today.
He worked there for more than 20 years.
In 1975 everything changed. About 1979 we were so poor. But later is was better because my father found jobs for my sisters and brothers in the hotels. In the hotels the Russians stayed there and Cubans and other people. My father worked all the time. he left the house at 5:30 in the morning and worked until 10: at night.
One day at the school I came home and heard my sister talking. My one sister came here in 1975. I came home and my oldest sisters husband was out of jail for five months later and he wanted badly to leave the country. I came home and said they were coming here to visit my sister. I wanted to see my sister, too. I had not seen her for five years. I asked my parents. At first they said I was too young. But my sister said if I came here I would have a better future and education. So they said I could go. Two sisters with their families came with me. We went to Long Suyin. Then we took a small boat to a big boat at night. At first I was it was fun and then later when I got on the boat I was so scared. I said I wanted to go home to my parents but they said it was too late. There were 77 people on the boat. One kid died on the boat. She was killed by the engine. She was three years old and she crawled around on the boat. her daddy was the captain of the boat. At night they forgot to cover the engine. They used to cover it and let the kids sleep next to it. She fell into it and melted on the engine that night. They brought her out and wrapped her in a blanket and threw her into the sea. I saw her on the deck of the ship. I still see that sometimes because it scared me. The captain said at first that he could not find his child, he had five kids. They looked for her and nobody knew, it was at night. It was so dark. Suddenly everybody was looking for the little girl. And he yelled and said that if we did not find his little girl for him that everybody on the boat was going to die. They woke us all up and it was scary because he was so mad and was yelling for his daughter. The man then used a flashlight to look around the boat to search for his child. And he said if we didn't find his kid, then all of us would die. But we found the kid dead.
My boat had many women and children on it. The first two days were all right. Then the third night there was a storm and the water got into the boat and we were out of food. A big boat, came and we yelled for help. At first they didn't come. But then we begged them. I was crying. We were yelling and they brought us up to them and took us on their boat. They took our gold. Then another boat came over and took us to a small island. We thought they would leave us there. But the next day the police came and took us to a camp in Thailand.
The camp, when I first came, I was so scared. It was so dark and everything. And we saw no people. Later in the camp I went to school in the camp and learned English in the camp. I was in the camp for three months. Then we were transferred to the Philippines for four months and then we moved to Arkansas.
I came to San Jose last year. I was in seventh grade when I went to Arkansas. I skipped a grade. I learned English very well. I played with the American kids and learned fast. In 9th grade my grades improved. I am now a computer science major and I want to be a computer engineer some day.
I dream often of Vietnam. I hope one day my parents and family will come here or I can go back there and visit them.
I am very glad now that I came here. My other sisters want to come here to get an education. I have two sisters and one brother. They tried to escape many times but they never made it. Just me.
My father still works in the Majestic hotel. He is the executive chef in the hotel.
Pham Thi Kim Lien(Melissa Pham).
My father was a lieutenant colonel in the army in Vietnam. And he was a mechanical engineer. Every time I went to the army camp I saw the Americans, these big white men. And strange looking. Vietnamese tended to be shorter. And the language was strange to me. I used to hide behind my father's desk because I was afraid of them. They gave me M&Ms when they came by. They smoked Salem cigarettes and I learned to say "Salem." That was my first English word. No Americans were ever brought to our house by my father.
There were nine children in the family, four girls and five boys. We lived in a house in a military community near Cholon, right in Saigon.
No, I was never aware, really that there was a war going on. In 1975 I was 8 years old. I lived a normal life, went to school and played with friends.
One morning, about 2 months before we left, my mother began speaking with friends, I remember, and she was talking about getting my oldest brothers out of the country. They talked about paying money to have them take them out of the country as part of their family.
Both of my parents were born in the North, near Hanoi. And they were scared of what would happen when the Communists won. They had first hand experience with the communists. Other people did not have experience with the communists. I was at that time, I really didn't care what was going on. I remember my mother was worried and she urged my father to talk to his superiors about a way of getting out of the country. But he doubted that we would lose the war, even when the emergency began.
We did have a phone in our home. So when the American evacuation began they did try to call us but they were unable to get in touch with us.
We left on the night of April 29th. In a way we did see the fall of South Vietnam, from Vung Tau.
We left with the Navy. They had a curfew. Nobody could go out at night. We had everything packed by that time. The children could not go out at all at the time. My mother said that as soon as my father came home and said, "Go," we were supposed to go. So we stayed in the house.
Then he came home and told us to go, but we left everything that we had packed at home. My father sent a jeep, a military vehicle, and it took the whole family to the Navy base. There were two jeeps to take the 9 of us to the navy base. This was during the afternoon. I did not see the American helicopters flying overhead at the time. At the Navy base they gave us a hard time and would not let us into the base, but my father asked to speak to his adviser and then we got into the base. Only then did we start worrying about food and water.
One family tried to go back after waiting all afternoon. But when they went to the gate, they would not let them out. Once you were in you could not get out of the boat.
There were four big boats that we came out on. I wasn't afraid at that time. it was really an adventure for the kids at the time. The boat was crowded, but there was room for everyone. We left in the dark.
We transferred to another bigger boat the next morning, we had to because our ship stopped working.
We went out past Vung Tau at night and saw flashes in the sky around Vung Tau, shooting, shooting out toward the ships at sea.
When we were on the ship, we heard that if you were on a ship the Americans would not pick you up. So we had to climb on a barge. They brought a barge to us. And we had to climb onto the barge from the boat that we were on.
The barge was packed, it seemed like millions of people together on it. There were people who had been on it for weeks. And now we were just one of the crowd. All of the people were scared because they had run out of water. We had been on our boat for a day. There was no boat pulling the barge. It was drifting in the sea. After we got our boat we just let it drift. We were in the barge for four days. It was crowded and scary. We had a gallon of water with us. For our family. And my father had to protect it. He had a hand gun with him and he sat on it to keep it four our family.
We covered the water and sat on the tank so people would not be tempted when they saw it. One of the people on the ship died when the American ship came to pick us up. When we were leaving one section of the barge collapsed.
An American boat came and it called two more. Everybody rushed up the side of the barge. They climbed up the side, and the side of the barge collapsed when the people were on it. And many of the people fell into the sea.
It was an American military ship, with sailors. They rationed food and water for us. When we came on the American boat, my father wanted me to go with my mom. He wanted me to pretend like I was sick so he had me keep my head down so they would keep us on the ship. My mom went up first, and my brothers and sisters pretended like they were sick, too. There was quite a shortage of food. They had overcrowded us. It was hard because there was little space for the family. My aunt was on the ship, and she had left Saigon by helicopter earlier, and we were reunited on the deck of the ship, and that was strange. We were on the same ship and that was so strange.
Each family the rationed food to. And we were hungry. My sister had studied English. She taught us some words. And we went to talk to the sailors. And they thought we were so cute. So they gave us each a tin can of cookies. We thought it was cute that they gave us that. It was crowded. And only at certain times could you get hot water on the ship. We were there for a couple of days before they took us to the Philippines.
I had lost a sandal on the barge. And the ship was hot and I was barefooted. We were in the Philippines overnight. Then we went to Guam.
We were starving on the ship. They had these things to eat. American good. We stuffed ourselves. Fruit cocktails I remember. We hadn't had them before. The children were especially hungry. This was in the Philippines. We stayed overnight and then went to Guam. And we were there only a couple of days. We had some other little things along the way.
They had an office on Guam with people searching for people. Then we came to Fort Chaffee Arkansas. Then we were sponsored by a church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My dad didn't speak English. And so he communicated with the Americans only through a translator. Only my sister spoke any English.
A church sponsored us. We lived in an attic with mattresses on the floor in an annex. Then they got us a house, after a time, with three bedrooms and one bath so we were really crowded. And we didn't speak English. School was different and scary for me.
Four of us went to the same school. They hired an American teacher who spoke Vietnamese and he spent an hour with us every day after lunch. We were with the other students except for the one hour. We learned English quickly that way. We were good at math since that didn't take much English.
There was no prejudice among the children. But the weather was freezing at that time.
We lived there three years. I went to three different schools at that time and we were always the only Vietnamese there. On special occasions the Vietnamese in the region would get together. We found each other at those times.
In Chicago there was a Vietnamese priest, and he helped us, too. My father got a job in a welding shop, it was hard work for him because he hadn't done anything like that before.
My aunt went to Los Angeles. The aunt who was with us on the ship lived first in Nebraska and then moved to San Jose. She wrote that things were better there because there were so many Vietnamese and they could help each other out. It was hard for us because we all had jobs to support the family. The oldest kids wanted to go to school as well as to work.
So we all came to California, but my oldest sister married. her husband applied for a job with NASA and they moved to Texas. My oldest brother married also and stayed in Wisconsin. My second oldest brother stayed in Wisconsin with them. Today he works for FMC in San Jose.
I was in sixth grade when I arrived in San Jose. I went to a junior high school the next year. That was hard to adjust because living in the north people were different. Here I found more prejudice and I noticed it. It was like the children, in the class, they had gone to school together for many years, and so it was hard to make friends since everyone was in groups at the time.
Most of the kids also were physically bigger than me. They made fun of me sometimes because I was Vietnamese, imitating my voice and language. And when you're young that hurts, probably more than it should.
My sister and brother were in a different school but they noticed it, too. And sometimes on the street strangers would say mean things or imitate your voice, like when you listen to a foreign language and try to imitate the sounds.
Then I went to a high school. The teachers treated me well and I did well in school. I was the valedictorian of my class in high school and graduated first. I had also been at the top of the class in junior high school. Now I am in college and am studying computer engineering.
I want some day to marry and have maybe two children. I don't want a big family like my parents. here it is too expensive to have many children.
I will probably marry a Vietnamese. I would prefer that. because it has to do with the culture and getting along with someone.
I am between two worlds right now. And I am not sure which one I belong to any longer. it has to do with communication and with thinking. I am a stranger often when I am with all Vietnamese. But when I am with Americans I am a stranger, too.
I cannot speak the Vietnamese language all that well anymore. But I am not really an American either because of my experience. My friends feel that way, too. I even dream in both languages.
Now and then I dream of Vietnam and remember my friends there. I miss the feeling that we had there on special occasions, and celebrations, the lights, and going out to other people's homes for the celebrations. I miss that.
I was young then. It was like moving to another city when I cam to America. I moved from one school to another, always moving. Only when I got into high school did I stay in one school. Some day I'll go back to Vietnam as a tourist, I think. That would be nice. I have become somewhat comfortable in America, now.
Thao Mong Nguyen
I was born January 22, 1968. I am 20 now. My father's father came from the North. My father was born in the South. My parents have five kids. But the extended family is large. There is a very large group and everyone has an input into making decisions for the kids. Aunts and uncles all have opinions.
We used to live in Connecticut before we came out here. And some of the family is still out there. I am the second to the oldest child.
My dad was in press relations in Vietnam. He worked with the OSI. He worked out at Tan Son Nhut. He spoke English and taught English. And when he lectures the kids he does that in English, too.
I was seven when we left Vietnam. We left a couple of days before the fall. We had only one hour's notice. We were hesitant to leave and they all thought something would happen so we would not have to leave.
I never really had a childhood, like my younger sisters. I was always around adults. And so I don't remember having any friends when I was little. I was always asking questions and was around the adults. I was good in school and wanted to be number one. And I was very protective of my mom and my mother and father were from different classes. My father was from an upper class and my mother was not, and I was made aware of that and I became very protective of my mom from an early age. There was a family hostility toward my mom, and when someone was critical of her I would scream and end the argument.
There was talk of leaving but hope that we would not have to leave. it was pretty much like an adventure. My mom said finally we were going to America and we would have a better life.
Then all of a sudden we were packing and leaving. When we got to the airport it got scary. Everything and everyone was in this big gymnasium where we were all waiting to leave. My cousin was crying hard at the time. My dad had to hold my cousin and to cover his face with her so that when we got on the airplane nobody would recognize him, because we were afraid he would be arrested for trying to leave the country at that time. He would have been held by the VN police. The only person she got along with was my older sister. Everyone was sitting there and we waited for hours and people were crying. We knew we were about to leave and so it was tense. It was very cold on the airplane when we got on. I remember looking out and seeing the city lights. The back of the plane opened and we got on and they had netting that we were supposed to hang on to. Each of us had a school bag with a pack of noodles for the flight. I remember hanging onto the bag and sitting on the plane. And seeing the city lights below us as the plane tilted when we took off. The plane was packed, also. We sat on the side and not on the flood like all the other people.
I watched out a window. it was the first time I had ever been on an airplane.
My dad had friends in the Philippines. He was in the military. We stayed with them for two weeks. We were there when we heard when Saigon fell.
In Vietnam we didn't have earthquake drills the way they do here. In my school we had bomb drills. They asked us what we did when we heard the warning. We stood against the wall or got under the tables.
Once in the middle of the night my parents dragged us from one part of the house to the other. I remember seeing the light of flares and gas all around us.
We went to Guam for a couple of weeks then. Then Fort Chaffee. My father left there first. A church in Conn. sponsored us. He went there first and got a job. They got us a place to stay.
From Vietnam to Conn. was only four or five months. It was the fall. We stayed in one place first. The teachers all called me by my sisters name and put me in the wrong grade. They called her by my name. We were there for a month and then moved to Middletown. A priest bought a house and we stayed in his house. We stayed there for one year. It was on a hill. In school everyone fought to be our friends. They argued so they could sit with us at the table. They were always giving me presents. Jewelry and things. And a little girl named Tiffany always drew horse pictures and gave them to me. I was way ahead of all the kids in math and the teacher kept slowing me down. And I could speak French then, but not English, and the kids were amazed by that. I had no English at all. I communicated generally in sign language at the time.
My aunt moved to Washington with her husband. And I remember that one morning she called and told us that her daughter had shot herself with a gun they had in the house.
They had all been downstairs talking, and the children were playing upstairs. The found a gun and they were playing with it and it went off and shot her through the head. At the hospital she was still crying, "Mom, Mom." But she died there. And my aunt called us and I remember telling my class about it in school. I used a lot of sign language and French and Vietnamese to tell my classmates what had happened.
We were in Conn. for one year. I had two birthdays and that confused the children, because we followed the lunar calendar. I gave the kids both dates in school for my birthdays. I found it hard to explain to them.
I knew my cousin. It was strange because when the phone rang at 3 in the morning, and my Mom answered it. I got up when the phone rang and went into her room. After she talked on the phone my mom and I went outside. It was snowing then, at night. And it was the first time I had ever seen snow. It was a bright night outside and everything was white that night. It affected me, the death, obviously.
I remember that I cried that night. And so did my mom. Several months later, in the summer, we moved to Washington. She died before Christmas. We drove from Conn. to the state of Washington. We drove across the US in this $50 car that my dad bought. He's a good mechanic and he kept it in good running condition. We drove across the country in this Oldsmobile, all of us in the back with three in the front. And we saw all of the parks and monuments in the country. We saw Mount Rushmore with Abraham Lincoln on it. I always loved Lincoln.
We went to the cemetery in Washington. I remember feeling a lot of anger. What was the gun doing there. Why should she die in the US after all we went through in Vietnam. But I didn't dwell on it because I thought I would crack if I did.
I am a very emotional person and I have ups and downs.
So I didn't dare dwell on my cousin's death. I remember wondering what they did with a gun in the house in America.
It took us a month to cross the country and to learn about it as we crossed it. We stayed with friends or in motels. That was a big adventure for us. We saw everything at the time.
We were all little and there was not much to argue about. We met all sorts of Americans at rest areas along the highway and talked with them. It was another big adventure and we all loved it.
We moved then to Seattle. Mom mom's sister married an American, a white American, and my dad thought that might be a bad influence. My dad worked with the Americans, spoke their language, got along with them just fine, and he didn't want any of us to marry one. I thought that was strange.
At the cemetery they had these trees, and it had a little nut growing on it and I picked one up and kept it. That was 1976 and I kept it. I don't know why I keep it. But I do.
In Seattle there were more Asians. I was still in the ESL programs at that time. And I started to do well in classes, too. I had still had this drive to be number one, that stayed with me since I was in Vietnam.
We were in Washington from 3rd to 7th grade. My dad then had friends down here and he got a job down here so we came down.
I feel bad for saying it, but there are too many Vietnamese here. I feel like I shouldn't say it. But I wonder who they are. Are they traitors or who are they? There are so many of them?
I'd like to go back to Vietnam to visit. I have this identity thing. I sometimes forget that I'm Vietnamese. And then I'll look in the mirror and think, "Oh, oh, you're Vietnamese, Thao. Don't forget it." It's really hard. At the Olympics or on the 4th of July, I feel completely American. I am curious. If Vietnam was in the Olympics, I would cheer for America. This is my country now. And I think that's why I don't like to be around too many Vietnamese.
I always got along well with the white people. I don't dream about Vietnam. I look at pictures of Vietnam and can't remember things. There are no memories for me, now, of Vietnam. I remember some things, a few, but with no real details.
The older children remember more.
I resent the fact now that people call me something. I don't fit in with the whites that well, nor with the Vietnamese either. In Washington all of my friends were white Americans. Once I picked up English I fit in really well. And when people heard us but didn't hear us, they thought we were white. They found it hard to accept that we are really Americans now.
In high school, somewhere along the line I started to let up. And I just got by.
I didn't go to school dances. I didn't care for that. I didn't go to the junior prom or the senior ball. My date was an American for the winter ball.
My older sister now lives in San Francisco. She's an artist. She's very creative. She can crank out papers and anything related to school she could do easily. Right now she is writing a book. I try to stay away from conversations with her. She lives with her boyfriend. My dad has disowned her now and never mentions her name.
I don't know what I want to do. I don't know what my major is, now. From what everyone says, I gave up thinking about where I want to go.
I go into depressions sometime. It's family rooted. I don't handle stress too well. My sister put my parents through some rough times. And I resent that. I go out. I more male friends than female friends. All nationalities.
I want kids, but only after I've done my own thing. After I figure out what I want to do.
I pay for my own schooling now. I work as a secretary. At home I'm like other kids, I don't have to pay for rent or food. But I am responsible for my younger brothers and sisters.
I've always dreamed of having a big kitchen to cook in. But I've always worried that my dad would not like my cooking. I love my dad, with all my heart. But I detest all the things he stands for, almost as much as I love him. I understand his side and his past. But at the same time I believe he should try to understand my side and my sisters side. Our side and our life. We don't live in Vietnam any more and he doesn't seem to realize that. We just don't talk at home. I'm always the only person who talks at home. I talk, bu the doesn't. He gets upset and he sends me to my room. Whenever we have a problem, when my brothers or sisters want something, I end up asking for them and taking the blame.
Lately, I sort of want to move out. My dad the other day said "If any of you marry a white boy I'll disown you." And my Mom said, did you hear that. I understand why he says it, but it really hurts me when he says that. If we all just marry Americans, we'll lose something. Of course. But he doesn't understand. I don't like him saying it. Or maybe he should be more sensitive or subtle, I guess.
For my Mom, as long as we're happy, it's fine with her. She says often the things that he says.
We're Buddhist, but generally only on holidays or special occasions. We're not very religious. But I give money to the Buddhist temples.
I would love to go back to Vietnam, but I have this fear of being held there and then not letting us out. I would like to see my grandmother again, sometime. Go back for that, maybe. But only as a tourist, not to live there.
Van Thuy Mac.
I was born in 1967. In Saigon. My father is an American. My sister is 15 and she has a different father. MY MOTHER NEVER married my father. She helped my grandparents run a restaurant in Saigon.
They ran a small restaurant down in the Delta. My father left Vietnam in 1973 and then he came back and asked my mom to come with him to America. She didn't want to. In 1975 he wrote to her again and asked her to come to America. She refused again and he wrote back and said then he would marry someone else. And now he has another family.
I lived in Saigon until 1975 and then moved to the Delta. This is the name of the village where we lived in the Delta. Between Me Tho and Ben Tre.
I went to school there. Some of the people looked at me because I was different, part American.
I lived there until 1979. Then I left Vietnam.
My aunt and her husband and two sons they wanted to leave the country. We went to them to say goodbye. And on that day my grandparents said that they should send me with them because in American they felt I would have a better future. So my mother decided to send me.
We took a big boat out of Me Tho. A big boat. We were on the boat eight days and nine nights. We stopped in Malaysia. They didn't want us to come in and so they shot at us. Some of the people on the boat got wounded. So the captain said that all we needed was water. They gave us water and we sailed to Indonesia.
I was sick during most of the voyage. I was too young to be aware of most of what was happening. I was happy in Vietnam. But I don't think I had much of a future. In school we had to do labor on the weekends. For some of the school activities we also had to work rather than study. I didn't learn much in school. Some of the grade depended on how hard you worked.
I lived in three different places in Indonesia. The first place was completely abandoned. And we had to take a boat for water. And there were no people. Some of the people were wealthy and brought gold when we left Vietnam. But they spent their money for food in areas around us when we were in Indonesia. We paid for the good and the water. We had to pay money for a boat to take us to another island to boy food.
Then there was this place, another camp, with Americans to help us. And they moved us there. We lived in the second camp for one year. Many people died, about every day someone would die because of the water, which was not clean. And the mosquitoes also got people sick.
I had two cousins in America. We wrote them letters and they sponsored us to come to America. We had nobody else to sponsor us.
I arrived in America then in 1981. I arrived in San Francisco. I spoke no English at that time. I was happy, but I was afraid because everyone was white. I didn't know the language and I didn't know what I would do in America.
I lived with relatives in a house. I started in seventh grade and I spoke no English. So I was in the ESL program. I learned English during that year and then started to do well in school. After one year I could keep a conversation going.
I went to a junior high school and then to Independence High School in San Jose. I had a 3.3 average in school. I am in business accounting at San Jose State University, now. I want some day to be an accountant. I want to go into business in America.
My mother came her two years ago. I work in a store now to pay my way through college.
I am Vietnamese, that's what I am because that is where I grew up. Culturally, that's where I am. Usually, when you meet someone new they ask me if I am half and half. They recognize that.
I will have two children some day, after I marry. It is too expensive to have more children than that in America.
Right now there is a program to visit Vietnam. It is expensive. But I don't want to go back yet, I am afraid that they would not let me leave again. I heard of people who went back and then they stopped them and wouldn't let them leave again unless someone paid money to get them out again. So it is dangerous to get out if you go back there. But I hope that some day I can go back there. Right now I am afraid, though, to go back.
I am no longer very curious about my father. I know that he has another family. And we might bring some problems to him if we see him, so it is better that we not see him. It might be too much for his family if we contact him.
I was born in 1968 and came to America in December 1979. We lived in the highlands, near Ban Me Thuot.
My father was a soldier. He got out of prison in 1977, two years after the war ended. He was an officer, so he was sent to reeducation. We were middle class before 1975. In that time our house was big, but it got bombed during the war. After 1975 we came back and lived in our grand parents house. My mom was a nurse. Dong Phu was the name of the town where we lived.
I was in the third grade and then the sixth grade in those years. After two years he was back with our family. My mom worked real hard during those years to keep us alive.
I didn't know anything about leaving before it happened. My dad at first just said that we were going to China. There were ten of us, eight children and my parents. My mom and dad said that, because they said they could not go on living in the country the way it was. They said we would go to Hong Kong.
We were Chinese and that is why they would let us go legally if they wanted us to.
There were ten in our family. We planned to go to China. We left legally because my grandparents got the boat and because we were Chinese and they wanted us to go. My mother spoke Mandarin fluently.
We didn't have to put out money because the grandparents let us come free. We didn't have that much money, either.
The boat left Qui Nhon and landed in -- it broke down near Hainan and we landed -- then we went on to Hong Kong.
We were in Hong Kong for six months. We were in a camp, but then they started to let us out. After a couple of months they let us go to a third camp and from there we got jobs and were able to work in Hong Kong.
From there we went to San Francisco. I had an uncle here who came in 1975.
San Francisco was so big and so rich. My uncle lived in Oakland and he rented a home for us in Milpitas. We were driven to the house.
We waited until after Christmas vacation and started school. I used to cry at school. We were the first Vietnamese there -- me and my three brothers. We didn't speak any English. But we had this nice teacher. I was in 5th grade and he was the teacher. It took about a year to learn English after that. Then we moved into San Jose, and I went to high school there. At home we still speak Vietnamese.
My sister goes to UC Santa Cruz. My brother just graduated in Chemical Engineering from Sacramento State. And I am in college now. My sister is in business and computer engineering. I am majoring in nursing. I wouldn't mind going back to Vietnam. If the country were free I would go back.
I am not that happy here. You have everything we need here, but at the same time that doesn't make you happy.
When I marry I will have two children. I can't imagine having a big family in America because it is just too expensive.
I came at the end of December in 1977. I was born in 1969. I remember, because I lived in Saigon, and we wore uniforms to school. As a kid you didn't know anything about what was going on. We didn't know there was a war.
In 1975 we never went out in the street. Our parents built a shelter under our house. My father had a job with the government. He was sent to a reeducation camp when the war ended.
I remember that we tried to leave four times. I remember the last time, we went in a small boat, seven meters long. We were supposed to transfer to a larger boat. I remember lights and messages and there was a missed connection. We didn't want to make noise and seven meters was our boat. It was a fishing boat and we were crowded. We went through a storm that lasted two days. We all prayed at that time. There was one engine and we were afraid that it would go out on us. We couldn't believe that all of us made it to the boat. We divided the family into three groups and we took care of each other.
We landed in Malaysia. One part of the boat broke off and we thought we would die. And the next morning we were near land and we didn't know where we were. But it was in Malaysia. The man who drove our boat was never in a boat before. He wanted at one time during the voyage to commit suicide because we were lost. This was the fourth time that we tried to leave and we didn't know really what was going on.
Nothing was very well planned at that time. In Malaysia life was boring. There was nothing to do. We ate and went to the beach and went swimming. And that was it. It was pretty boring for a long time.
My brother had gone to college in America, to the University of Michigan. And he sponsored us. We moved to Grand Rapids.
In 1975 the helicopter landed near our house and we were all ready to go. We had our bags. But our dad was somewhere with the government, so we couldn't leave or we would have left then.
My brother had remained in America. I was in third grade and I spoke no English. We had to go some distance to school.
I was the only Vietnamese in school. And I learned English very fast since everyone spoke only that language. I did well in school. I think the teachers were real easy at first.
We came to grand Rapids in the winter and we had never seen snow before. In time we couldn't handle that. We landed and they put us on television. We were all sick and the plane had gone through a storm, and we had been bounced around and they put us on television right away.
I was standing around not knowing what was going on.
I went to Mt. Pleasant high school in San Jose. I am majoring in biology. I want some day to be a pharmacist here.
Our first Christmas. We were sponsored by a Christian church. They came over and set up a Christmas tree and gave us presents. This was all knew and we couldn't believe how great America was, the kids.
Duong Thi My Le.
I was born February 28, 1969. I came to the US in 1975. We left Saigon by boat.
We had 9 children in our family. I was the next to the youngest. My parents were separated at the time. Some of the kids lived with my dad.
My father was a major in the Airborne unit. I got seasick when we came out. It was crowded and I got seasick and threw up all the time. We got on a small boat and were at sea about three days on the boat. And we were picked up by a bigger boat that transferred us to an American ship. Then to Guam and then to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
There were six of us with my father. From Indiantown Gap we settled in Butler, Pennsylvania. I was in first grade at the time. I didn't speak any English. We arrived in the summer. We were the first Vietnamese family to arrive there and we had been sponsored by a Catholic church. There was another family that arrived later, another Vietnamese family.
The kids were not racial. They treated me the same as anyone else. My sisters who were older were treated differently, they were treated badly often by the other kids. They made fun of them but that didn't happen to me. I blended in. The kids were really affectionate, I thought all American kids were that way. They treated me like I was a special pet. They always tried to kiss me. There was a black kid int he class and he was the first bl,ack person I had ever seen.
In the summer I learned English and started school then in the fall. We stayed there five years. And then we came here, to San Jose.
My father went to school in Pennsylvania. The church got him a job. My father raised us all, then. My older sisters were my mother in the family.
There was a big difference in San Jose in the school. They made fun of me because I was different in San Jose. I graduated from Yerba Buena High School. I did real well in high school. Most Vietnamese students excel in school here. I was on the tennis team and I was the student body president of my high school.
I went to the junior prom and the senior prom, I don't date very much but I have a lot of friends. I had to mix with everyone to be the student body president. I was near the top of my class when I graduated.
I am majoring in political science now. I want to be a lawyer some day and then go into American politics.
I am a hyphenated American now. Most of the kids my age now feel that way. We are Vietnamese-Americans.
I have an insight into America that many kids don't have. I can understand things by being outside. The disadvantage is that I don't know which way to go. My sister told me we can pick the best of both cultures.
I don't even have an ai dai.
My sisters who stayed in Vietnam are now married. We send them money, as much as we can. We send them a lot of money because they keep sending us letters asking for it. You always feel guilty about leaving, I think you always carry that with you.
I never grew up with my mother, but I know there is no substitute for a mother. I missed that. I remember some things about Vietnam, some incidents. But that is all. It's vague. This is really my home now, the one with all the good memories.
Thuy Li Ngoc.
I was born May 5, 1967. I came to the United States in 1981.
I remember nothing about 1975.
We have six children in our family. My father was a businessman in Vietnam. I was in school in 5th grade. We were doing well under the communists in a small town near Qui Nhon. A very small town. Bac Soi. We sold cassettes and music. We still could do that under the communists. Before we left they said that members of our family had been to the US so we could not sell them anymore. After we came here they would not let the family sell them any more.
I remember now my mother telling me to get ready to leave and that she would join us soon. I cried and didn't want to go, but she told me that she would join us soon. I was unhappy about leaving because I would be leaving my friends behind and my mother. And I was afraid also of leaving.
It was good, though, that we decided to leave, I think now. We left on a boat at night. The first time we escaped the weather was so bad on the ocean, it was so scary we came back. And the second time we went we came back too. The second time I told my friends that I was going way to the US. And they told other friends and so we had to cancel that trip because too many people knew about it and my parents were angry that I had told people. We were supposed to say that I was going to visit my aunt.
The next time there were 48 people on the boat with us. We ran out of water on the first day. And so after the first day we drank ocean water. Everyone got sick. I got sick and vomited.
Then the Thai pirates stopped our boat. We ended up in Song Khla and I met father Devlin there. He helped me and loaned us money.
The pirates stopped our ship. The first time they were all right and they just wanted gold. But then on the second and the third day they stopped us also. They took us all off the boat except for one woman. They went on the boat and raped her.
I was very skinny then and just a child. We were out of food and water and were sick and so called the pirates come over to us.
We tried to signal them an SOS on some white fabric that we had. We didn't know they were pirates. And this lady on the boat they raped after they came to us.
The Thai man said that they would help us if we would give them gold. So they gave us some food and water and we gave them gold for it.
I saw a Thai man then after they took us ashore, on an island. And they put us in a circle. They picked out the women and took some of them into the bushes to rape them. That was terrible.
Nobody else was on the island. There was no water on the island either. it was all dry. There was some kind of fruit plant there that we could eat.
They took me away and I was crying. I said I didn't want to go with them. I cried. And they ripped my clothes off. I was so little and I didn't know what they were doing to me. I was skinny and I had no hair on my body, even, I was so young. One grabbed me and took me into the bushes and then they hurt me. I wasn't just thinking of rape but that they would kill me. But they didn't like me because my body was so skinny. The men who were with us just had to stay in a circle and look at the ground when they did this. They knew what was happening to the women. I was just so scared at that time.
They didn't kill any of us and they didn't beat up on the men. When they were finished they left us on the island. I just had my underpants on after that. They took our clothes and they left.
We then had to find something to eat and it was hard on the island. Then a few days later a Thai navy ship came by with sailors on it. They picked us up and they treated us well. We were starving and they took us to Song Khla.
I was in Song Khla then for many months. My uncle then sponsored us to come to the US. To California.
Everyone here was so rich. I spoke some English because I had learned it in Song Khla. In school I didn't do well at first. I didn't know how to dress and I didn't have nice clothes. The other students picked on me. There was one girl on the bus who always beat up on me because I dressed so badly, I guess. I told the bus driver but she said she couldn't help me. You know, they pushed me and pulled my hair because I was so little, I guess. I was only about 80 pounds at the time.
Then after 8th grade and I went to high school and everything was better. I did well in school then.
My mother is still in Vietnam and I write to her.
I am not that happy here, really, after what happened. It was too much for me. I tried to kill myself last year. I took too many pills and tried to kill myself.
My father does not treat me well. He never looks at me in the eye again after the Thai pirates. So we are not very close. Very few men understand a woman being raped. Very few. I ask men, what do you think it means to be raped. And they don't know. But they don't understand.
If I had a chance to do everything all over again I would never leave Vietnam. Such bad things happened after I left.
I remember those pirates and I dream about them sometimes. I remember them. I cannot be affectionate. I cannot hold hands with someone or be romantic now.
I don't know if I'll try to kill myself again. We can tell?
Hoa Khanh Thi Pham.
I grew up in Nha Trang and was born August 16, 1966. My father was a captain in the Army. There were nine kids in the family. I was the seventh of the nine children.
We lived well in Saigon. We lived in a really large house. It was my grandfather's house and it was shared by four families. I just remember that we had a lot of kids in the house. All the families lived in this big house. We were the poorest of the families.
We were Buddhist and we attended a school across the street from the house. My grandfather ran the school.
My family planned the trip to America. We packed our bags and each of us had a small bag. I was excited because we thought it would be a big adventure. I spoke no English and never really thought much about learning a new language. We intended to go by plane.
But then everything happened quickly. My dad went to work that day. But we knew something was going on because of all the activity in the streets. My father went to his base and apparently got trapped there. The communists had arrived and we were left alone to decide what to do. He said to my mom before he left that if anything happened to him then all of us were supposed to go without him. We were supposed to get on a boat and not wait for him. And we did.
But for some reason we forgot to bring all of the luggage. And we didn't bring our money. We went down to the port in such a hurry and tried to get through the gate. only people with money could go through the gate, but the gate was so big that when they opened it everyone else would push their way through.
That was how my family got in. Ten of us. The youngest was four at the time. I cried once I got on the boat. It was in the afternoon. My two young brothers got separated from us and we were looking for them. One brother jumped off the boat to look for them and then we had to leave without him, too. Then we found out that they had gotten on the boat before us with my aunt and uncle.
We were lying on the deck because the book was so crowded. When we left we saw fires in the city.
It took us seven days. We drifted. We had two bowls of rice ever day. But there was no water. We weren't sure where we were going. We were picked up by a rescue ship that was out there and they took us to Guam.
It was like an adventure in a way. Nobody died on the ship. But some people wanted to go back after two days. And so the captain gave them a small boat and then left us to return to Vietnam and we didn't see them again.
The Americans gave us a lot of food, and one man died after that, he ate too much and too fast they said, and since his stomach was empty, he died from that. I remember seeing him in a bag when they carried him past me and threw him in the ocean. I had never had to deal with death or anything before that time.
All ten of us landed in Guam. We were there for two months. They told us we would have difficulty getting a sponsor since there was just a mother and nine kids without a father. Nobody would want that responsibility.
We had an aunt who already lived in America. She talked to a church in California in Marin County and they sponsored us, in Novato to come there to live.
One of the church members had a house for rent and she gave it to us at a very small price. We were on welfare and my mom started working right after we arrived. She went to some night classes to learn English. She got a job in a bakery and we got jobs in the bakery, too. The people who owned the bakery then helped her a lot after that.
Two of my brothers started college right after we learned English. We had learned English in the camp, too. Just the basics.
When I was in fourth grade -- I was put back one grade to learn English. I had no problem with other classes besides English. I spoke half English and half Vietnamese and they seemed to understand what I was saying. I learned English by being around all English people. We were the only Vietnamese in town. We had problems with our neighbors and people in the area where we would walk home and they would come out and make fun of us. They didn't know we were Vietnamese. They called us "Japs" and "Chinks" because they didn't have a word for the Vietnamese. They didn't bother to find out. They were the bullies. But there were really friendly people too, all around.
We never went hungry and the church provided clothing for us. I was surrounded by American friends all the time.
Eventually the people who owned the house wanted us to pay higher rent or to move out, as we became independent. We looked for a house in Jose and we moved down here.
I was spoiled in Novato because we had a lot of publicity when we came over. Then in San Jose there were so many South Vietnamese that we were no longer special.
I went to high school in San Jose. I had come to the US when I was eight, so my vocabulary in Vietnamese was limited. So I had a limited vocabulary and couldn't speak well to the new Vietnamese kids, the boat people. I can communicated in Vietnamese, but I can't really communicate my feelings, not effectively. I have to express the way I really feel in English. My mother no longer works. My father just arrived here from a reeducation camp. He was there for nine years. he got caught twice and returned to it. He was scared after that.
He was so much older when he arrived here, than when I remembered. It had been so long and I hardly knew him anymore. He was always the youngest looking of his brothers and sisters. And I looked at the old photographs of us together. But when I saw him again he was a very old man, about twice as old as I thought he was.
He was shocked by me, too. I was nineteen and had a boyfriend that wasn't chosen by him or my mom. he was shocked by the way we dressed and wore makeup. He was and still is very traditional, so he didn't understand anymore what our lives were really like.
I think I will go back as a tourist after I graduate from college. My parents are really against it. There are rumors of kidnapping and problems of people who go back.
I have become Americanized. But I haven't given up all of my Vietnamese identity. My mom has taught me a lot. I still practice Buddhism. I've dated Americans. Some people have even called me an American racist because I hung around with all white groups. And when I came down here I didn't hang around with all the Vietnamese. I got along a lot better with the mixed groups. They called me a "wannabe" because they thought I wanted to be an American. It bothered me at first, but not any more. I went to the senior prom with an American boy. But my Mom didn't know about it. She said before that she wouldn't mind, but I didn't let her know.
I didn't think at first that I would ever marry a Vietnamese guy.
I was in the top 2 percent of my high school class. I don't think I'll have more than 4 children. It seems like my brothers and sisters don't have as many children as they would in Vietnam. It's too expensive here.
People generalize too much about the Vietnamese. In the paper recently someone wrote about the Vietnamese smoking too much, being too loud, and hanging around in large groups. I don't think he had seen everything or all of us. He was just wrong. I guess though that's just how people are.
Maybe some day, maybe in ten years, I'll go back there again. I don't dream about it much any more. I miss the education there. Even in the fourth grade I was studying things that Americans study in sixth or seventh grade. Education was just better there. And I do miss that.
Vo Lan Thi Huong.
I was born in 1967 in Mha Trang. I came here in 1976.
We were supposed to leave in 1975 but my grandmother refused to leave. So we didn't go. My father had been a captain in the Army. And we thought he was only a captain and nothing bad would happen to him so we could stay and not be in danger.
When the communists came into Saigon they were shooting into the air and that was frightening, but that was the only time I was afraid during the war.
Mostly we stayed at home after the fall of Saigon. I was the oldest child in our family.
We went back to Nha Trang when the war ended and I went back to school. But school was not the same at all after the war.
After the Comms took over, everybody went to the same school systems and everything talked about how bad the Americans were. In math they would use examples of shooting down American airplanes added to killing American soldiers.
My father did have to go to a reeducation camp near Saigon. They said he would be going just for three weeks. But then he went for six months. And he had to work in the forest and chop down trees. He wasn't used to working hard like that.
They did terrible things to my dad when he was in the camp. He was released in six months because he didn't do anything bad. But he had changed very much. He was much darker and thinner and his health was gone. And he wasn't like my dad anymore. He was quiet all the time and didn't talk. He thought that the Communists were always watching him. I was so close to him before he went to the camp. And today he is different. Today he is still different. Even today. Not like my father. They brain washed him and did bad things to him. And now he is afraid all of the time. he thinks people are watching him now.
He had been a pharmacist before the war. And he became a pharmacist again. He was afraid to try to leave the country because they would send him back to the camp.
The neighbors watched my dad for the Communists. Everybody was watching my dad now to see if he did anything wrong. Now and then they would come to the door and come into the house to search and see if anything was wrong. When my dad was in the camp the communists came to our house one night and took away some of my dad's friends who were living there. They took them away that night and we never heard from them or saw them again. Never again.
We planned several times to leave. it was scary. But never until the last minute did we know for sure that we were going. My dad and I and my mom and two sisters went downtown and then went to the beach so that people would not know we were together. Then we went to the beach and met there so the neighbors wouldn't see us.
I went with my dad and my mom brought my sisters. Now and then we would go down to the beach at night until it got dark and we would just sit there quietly until it got dark. And when we did that the communists would always watch us.
So this one night we went down there and we were really scared. We brought nothing with us that night. Then a boat came, a fishing boat, they came back from fishing and they put us in the boat. We had to swim out to the fishing boats. My dad showed us how to swim that night. My dad carried my two year old sister on his back.
The first night there were 36 people on the boat. Some of the people we didn't even know. There were three families on the boat. One of the families was the fisherman's family. The first night there was a big storm and everybody got very very sick. I was even unconscious I was so sick that night. The second night there was a big storm too. Big waves came over the top of the boat. On the third day a Japanese ship found us. And they took us aboard. Before that we saw six other ships, including a Russian ship. But they would not stop and help us. The Japanese were very kind. They gave each of us a little can of fruit. We didn't know if we were even going to live and then they came along and helped us. The engine had stopped working and we were out of water.
They took us to Japan and we stayed there for six months. We stayed near Tokyo in a very large building. We were the first refugee Vietnamese to come to Japan. We got to go around Tokyo. It was a really beautiful city and the Japanese were so nice to us when we were staying there.
My uncle lived in the US at that time. He was a pilot and he came here in 1975. So we contacted him to sponsor us to come to America. We had nobody else in any other country to help us. We came here after six months.
We lived in Louisiana for about four or five months. Then we came to California becuse my dad thought we would be happier here.
Everything was strange here. I didn't speak the language and so the school was difficult. The kids were all nice to me, but everybody was white and I felt pretty bad. The people in Louisiana were prejudiced toward the blacks, but they let us in. They let us into their church and there were no black people in the church. We were Buddhists at the time. But now I don't have a religion any more. I don't believe in God or anything like that any more.
My Dad's mom was a Buddhist and his dad was a Catholic. But now I have no religion. My dad wanted to become a pharmacist here but he didn't have the time to study for the exam so now he is a technician for a high tech firm.
We are doing all right now here. My mother works. I am a junior here.
I was at the top of my class in high school. I am now in pre med and hope that some day I will be able to attend medical school and become a doctor. I think my dad would like that very much.
Sometimes I have nightmares about Vietnam and about trying to escape again. And I feel frightened and then am glad that I am here when I wake up.
My parents are very strict now and I don't date. I just go to school. I didn't go to the junior or senior prom. I didn't like it. I didn't want to do that. I don't like parties. I don't like to dance.
I think I'm a happy person today. I think so.
Tat Sieu Chi.
I came to the US on December 10, 1979. Before 1975 there was some fighting in the suburbs of Saigon, in Cholon, where we lived. My father was a physician in the Vietnamese Army. I had eight brothers and sisters.
Life became terrible after 1975. My family was in business. They said we were the rich and so they took everything from us -- property, houses and everything and tried to send us to a new economic area. So we left the country and left everything behind.
They wanted to take everything from the rich. They treated Chinese business more harshly because of the traditional relationship between the two countries.
In 1975 they came to our house, they came in, and they said we are going to write down everything that you own and we are going to borrow it from you. They paid us not a cent. They left everything there at first. But they registered everything. They tried to find out where our money was -- if you didn't know how to hid it they would take that too. Later they came to pick up everything and kicked us out of the house and told us to go to the New Economic Zone.
Before they came back we left the house and locked it.
Before we came here, most of us just left and went to the houses of friends. Just my mom and some of my brothers and sisters stayed. That was the most difficult time for us because we had to go to the homes of our relatives. When you are rich people come to you. But when you are poor people do not treat you well anymore. I really hate my relatives today because when we needed their help, they wanted to kick us out or wanted us to give them money. They were afraid they would get caught, and second because you had lost everything, you were not the rich man you were before. They just ignored us after that.
I lived with my relatives for about one year. In hiding. After the communists took everything from us, then they didn't care anything for us anymore. They already had what they wanted. We had no money. The Com countries have registration for everything. So if you want to buy food, you need a registration card. So we had to buy everything on the black market. We had to sell our gold to buy food. I had to go on the street and sell things -- anything you could get, really.
I saw kids going to school in those years, but I couldn't go because I didn't have registration with the government. I felt bad when I saw other kids going to school. Even if I registered I could not go to school. They wanted me to go to a New Economic Zone
I hide in my grandparents house. But I had no right to live there, according to the government.
My grandfather was part of an organized group of people who put up money to buy a boat. By the time when left in May 1979 I was ready to go. We left from almost the tip of South Vietnam. The boat was designed for about 400 people. But the total got up to 640 people because many just sneaked on. I don't know how they got everybody stuck onto it, though. First we went to the tip of Thailand, to Song Khla. They transported us there. At first they wouldn't let us land. Then they let us land and said they would fix the boat and pull us back out to sea. They put everyone back on the boat, and they beat up people to get them back on the boat. My grandfather resisted them and they beat him with their gun butts. I watched all of this. They pulled us a short distance, but the ship got stuck because the water was low. And then some of the people poked holes in the bottom of the boat. So they took us off the boat again and the last people off set fire to the boat. The Thais were pretty mad about that, but they didn't kill anybody.
We stayed in Song Khla for six months. My father had been in the military so they let us go early. We had not one single relative in another country. So we had no sponsors. We moved to Kansas first and had a sponsor there. It was very cold and hot and boring and we were not happy there. We lived there until 1982 and then moved to San Jose.
My father has no occupation now because he cannot speak English. He learned only a little. But all of the children work now and support the family. I went to Peter Burnett Middle School and then to Lincoln High School. Now I am a freshman doing above average. I am majoring in engineering
I am pretty happy here. Even though there is some racial discrimination here, it is a lot better than Vietnam. The discrimination is not so open here. People make fun of the way you talk or of your culture, in school and on the street. But that is a lot better than Vietnam. My parents are happy here too.
I liked Vietnam before 1975. Especially the place where I grew up, Cholon, which had a whole Chinese population. If the communists weren't there any more I would want to go back. But all of the efforts of my parents and grandparents there were lost. And so if I went back I would have to start over.
My family came from Canton, they came to Vietnam in the 1930s.
Nguyen Huong Mai.
April 1, 1965. I was ten years old in 1975. I was in Vung Tau at that time. We lived in Nha Trang but we moved to Vung Tau when the trouble came.
We had to go through a lot of different means to go to Vung Tau. There were six of us. My father had to stay in Nha Trang because he worked in the government there. Suddenly, my Mom was packing everything up. And we asked what this was all about. I was afraid at the time. Not really worried because I hadn't seen any war, and I was the middle child.
We drove to Vung Tau. My Uncle's family, aunt's family, grandmother, we all went at one time in several cars. One of the cars ran out of gas and we had to abandon it.
On the way there what we saw was really too horrible to describe. There were bodies along the highway. We almost got shot by the soldiers along the way. It was really terrible. People were running along the road with their belongings. The road was crowded. One time on the road we even ran out of water. It took a long time. It was like an adventure. Then we had to go to the sea and go by boat part of the way.
We stayed at a home where we had stayed on vacation earlier. it was a home by the beach. There were soldiers all over the city and there were bombs going off and you could hear them. We stayed there for a while, and we tried to go to Saigon, but the way was on the road so we had to go back to Vung Tau.
We had to stay there. It was a vacation place. We didn't have trouble getting in to the place. My mom was afraid because my dad wasn't there at the time. But he arrived later.
There was shooting around the city every night until the end of the war. And then there was shooting in the city, right by where we lived. I saw ships sinking in the sea and saw helicopters coming down to shoot and then falling to the ground. Sometime we had to go into the basement because of the bombing. We didn't feel safe. I was thinking that I would die. I was thinking that I would die and so I was afraid to die and I cried a lot during those days. I didn't understand what was happening. My mom tried to get us out of the country but we couldn't get out. There were a lot of bodies on the beach that washed up from boats sinking.
Then on April 30th the Communists came in with tanks. My brother and I went to the windows to see what the communists looked like. I had never seen a communist before and I didn't think they looked like us. I thought they were like wild animals that lived in the mountains and I wanted to see what they looked like. My dad always talked about Coms, but I never thought they were human and they looked like us. And I saw them and they looked just like us and I thought, "What is this?"
There was a whole bunch of them and they were singing and marching in and they were very happy. But we were scared so we watched them through the windows. Everybody was really scared of them at that time. My dad didn't know what to do.
My Mom didn't let me go out at first because they were scared. Finally, we had to Saigon. And then we came out. My aunt lived in Saigon and we didn't live in Vung Tau. We all went at the same time. On the way to Saigon we had an accident at night. It was strange because we were all happy now and not long before this we had been so sad. We were all singing on the way, at night. We were so happy we thought we were safe. Now we were happy. Then suddenly I heard this boom, there was a big hole in the road, at night, and the driver didn't see the hold. Everybody screamed at the big sound. Suddenly, the car turned upside down in the road. And we were all thrown out. It was really dark and then it was quiet and everybody was praying. I thought I was going to die that time, but I was awake. Everybody was on everybody else and they were on top of me. Some communists were on the other side of the road and they heard our accident and they came to help us. We got out of the car and my oldest brother was missing. We didn't see him. We looked for him and we didn't see him. We looked and then my Dad saw him underneath the car. His legs were sticking out. And he was dead. That was my oldest brother. he was 15 years old at the time.
Then we were all so messed up and really sad. We had to go on to Saigon and we had to put my brother back in the car and we tipped the car back up again. My grandmother was really hurt, too. My cousins were injured, too. But my brother was dead.
This was a big van, there were three families in the Van. So my parents didn't know what to do. We drove to Saigon and then the next day we buried my brother. Everybody was happy to see us in Saigon because they thought we were safe. We got out of the car and we were all crying. They thought we should be happy. Then my dad told them that my brother had died. We just cried and cried and cried and we didn't know what to do.
When we were in Saigon we stayed in my aunt's house. All of our money was gone after the accident. And my brother was gone and my parents really loved him. They miss him until today.
We stayed in Saigon. My dad was questioned and he told the communists that he was only a teacher and we waited to see what would happen.
After a few weeks we went back to Nha Trang. Our house was completely empty. Everything was gone then. Life never got back to normal. We cried all day every day and the neighbors kept telling us to stop crying. But we just couldn't.
It was hard for us. My father had to go away to a camp. My mom had to support us now. I was only 10 at the time and we had to work -- I washed the clothes in order to get money to buy food. And I had to learn to cook food to sell. My mother worked too and we managed, but just barely.
The Communists came to our house every day and they pointed their guns at us and said, "Where is your dad?" They did this every day. His name was Nguyen Phuc Hau. They kept asking for him. They were new people in the government. Every day they were trying to find him but he was hiding in Saigon. And people kept bringing the Communists to the house and saying, "He lived here!" But they didn't find him.
We lived for three years with the Communists and never really had freedom. My dad never came home again and he stayed in Saigon.
I never went out of the house except to go to school. But we didn't learn anything in school. They took our class and had us collect garbage and then they made us plant rice. That was what they called school. So I got punished in school. They talked about how stupid the Americans were. And they talked about how the Americans had dominated us. And they talked about how the Americans fed their dogs better than the Vietnamese ate.
I laughed at them and I didn't sing their songs and I didn't join the pioneers and my teacher got very mad at me. I would have to stand up during the class. And I just stood their and cried. We had a new teacher and he was a communist. I just stood their and cried when he lectured.
I didn't really care because I knew that I would never live their all of my life with the Communists.
During the next three years I learned nothing in school. All I did was work for the communists to try to earn money for them. Finally, we managed to get out, after failing ten times. it was horrible. I hate to talk about it.
A lot of times my Mom tried to get us out but we always failed. We would get on a boat and go out to meet another boat. And we had a signal this one time and nobody knew what the signal was for the big boat. We always got stranded. It just never worked well. Other times they took our money and then just never showed up. We would go out of the city along the beach.
The tenth time, in 1978, we finally got out. The ninth time we lost everything. They took everything we had in order to let us on the boat, they said that we were going to America and we would have everything there, so they wanted everything else that we had with us. We went home without anything. We had nothing. We walked home that night to my grandma's house. They thought that we had left and they were really surprised to see us again.
I mean everything, clothes and everything were gone this time. Then the last time we weren't that successful either. We went to my parent's friends house around 8 o clock. My mother was late and there were a group of people that went up the mountains and they were waiting for us. We thought at first that they were communists, and we almost turned around this time when we saw them again. But we turned around and then changed our minds again. They were the right people this time.
We went in a small fishing boat this time and there was a big storm. More than 100 people were crowded into our boat. This was near Nha Trang. We were supposed to go to the Philippines but because of the storm we turned around and went to Malaysia. We ran out of food on the way and there was a big storm. My dad was a good Catholic. And my dad thought that we were prepared to die and he then prayed over us. We thought we were all going to die. i couldn't eat all the time we were ont he boat this time. The supplies that we were supposed to bring this time got left behind. all that we had on the boat was what we brought to wear. There wasn't food or water for the people. After seven days a ship stopped and gave us food and water. We landed in Singapore and they turned us around and we went back to Malaysia. This trip was eight days again. Finally we went ashore in Malaysia. I was almost dead. My dad was really happy now. Six months after that we came to America.
I dream about Vietnam every day. My dad always has nightmares about the Communists capturing him. But I have nice dreams about Vietnam all the time.
Vu Ngoc Lan.
We had many opportunities to leave before the fall of Saigon. My brother had a friend named John, an American, who had a Vietnamese wife, and they left the country around April 28th. They said that if we wanted to come with them, we could be at a place at the right time and the right day, but my brother couldn't do it because he was in the police and he did not have the permission to leave. So we stayed.
My brother came home at night on April 28th because the war was almost over and we had lost everything so quickly. My brother had just left his Navy ship at that time and the ship had stayed at Vung Tau. He said that now we had to leave the country. There was a lot of confusion at that moment. One brother was a policeman in Saigon and the other was in the Navy. The only chance we had was my brother's Godfather who was a military commander. At night, when my brother came home to us we all packed. But we couldn't bring much, only a little dry rice for each of us and a few belongings. Then the whole family went to a place to contact my brother's godfather. Then we went to the Navy headquarters but they wouldn't let us in. They let in brother because he was in the Navy. He went inside the Navy headquarters and tried to contact his Godfather. He had to stay there then. My brother then called his boat to see what he should do. And they told him to meet this Major who would take the family to his boat. It was around 50 miles by airplane from where we were to where the boat was. But after this Major called then my brother's Godfather called and he came out and got the family through the gate. Then the whole family went in. Just my family was outside the gate at that time. He brought us inside the headquarters, and then he took us to the back of the headquarters. I think everything was planned from that point on. My brother was still in the Navy so we had to be careful.
My parents and five brothers and my sister and me were there. I was the youngest. We started in a small boat down the River. Two families in the boat going down the river. He took us from Binh Bac Danh, on the other side of the river, I remember, was the Saigon zoo. I wasn't really scared because I didn't know really what was happening. This was all during the day. We stayed at the end of the River for a time and then got on a bigger ship. Before we left my house, down the street was my Uncle. With his family. We told them to come along with us. But his wife was afraid and she said that she didn't believe us. But she was afraid that she would die with her children in the ocean. My dad tried to do anything to force her to change her mind so the whole family could come along with us. And he couldn't leave his family behind. We gave our house to them and said, "Now everything that we have belongs to you." That included all of the machines for my dad's business -- including the machines that he used to make flowers. All that we had was then their's.
In the evening we went out on the South China Sea. When I looked outside the boat I saw smoke and fires on the River. I wasn't frightened at that time. We went all the way to the Philippines and Subic Bay. We stayed there for a few hours. Then we went from there to Guam. We stayed in Guam for three months.
Then we flew to Camp Pendleton for a few months. Nobody died on the way to Subic. A few days before I left my house on the way to Subic. A few blocks from our house I saw a helicopter get shot down. We knew the family where the helicopter came down in their back yard. The pilot was saved, he jumped outside before it crashed. I saw it on fire in the sky and then saw it fall down to the ground in our neighbors yard. I can still remember that because it was near to our house and there was a big explosion. When I remember Vietnam is when my family talks about it or when I receive a letter from Vietnam. I prefer the life there to the life here because it was easier. You didn't have to work so hard it was more relaxed and there were relatives around all of the time.
My parents had left Hanoi in 1954. My mother had a younger sister. When she moved to South Vietnam her sister didn't come with her. Her husband would not let her. So they were separated. But we kept contact. When we came to America, we received letters from the North, after not hearing from them for 30 years. And now we are separated by so much.
After April 30, 1975, you could travel back and forth and so many families were reunified by the end of the war.
The one from the North came down to Saigon. My aunt came down to Saigon but we were gone by then so they probably will not see each other again ever. They wrote that they didn't have enough money and they asked us to send us some if we could. There life had been so different from ours because they had always lived in a communist country.
Vu Ngoc Lan.
I was born in 1963. We lived in Qui Nhon for 11 years. Then my dad got out of the army and we moved to Saigon. My uncle knew everything that was going on in Saigon and in the rest of the country. So he got together with my dad and some other men and they discussed the situation as it existed in 1975.
They told my parents what was happening. There were eight kids in our family. My oldest brother was in the eighth grade. We lived with my uncle at his house.
I was taken out of school eventually. We began to get ready to eave. We decided that we would all leave on a ship from Vung Tau. We went all together so that we would all live or die together. We could each bring just one bag with us. Then we went to Vung Tau to get on the boat. We left in April just before the Communists came into Saigon.
We went on a ship for three days on the ship. It was a really big ship, but a private one. And there was rice on the ship. We had rice but that was all there was to eat, except for sugar. The ship was packed. We slept on the deck. At night ships would come up to ours and we could see the people on the ship crying and begging for us to pick them up. I still have a brother over there. he got left behind.
My dad and my brother went back to our house to get something to cook with on the ship. But they got separated on the way back to the boat and we got separated and my brother got left behind.
When we left Vung Tau people looked back and cried. My mother was crying because my brother was left behind too. We didn't pass any American ships on the way to the Philippines, but once we got on the ocean we saw the American ships but they didn't talk to us. We saw a very big Vietnamese ship, too. And we went on board their ship and they took some of our people on their's. A man carried me on his back from one ship to another.
A baby was born on our ship. But nobody died. There was not much to do on the ship.
We went to Singapore and then to Guam and then to Arkansas. And then we settled in Duluth, Minnesota. We wanted to go to California. But they sent us to Minnesota. We were sponsored by a Lutheran Church. We stayed there four years. The people were all very nice. They fixed up a house for us and my dad got a job right away. The people brought us food and they really helped us.
We had a tutor, and she taught us everything, the culture and the language and everything. There were about ten Vietnamese families in Duluth and we got together every weekend and got to know each other very well.
I miss Vietnam very much, especially when I see it on television. Over there we didn't have as much freedom as here, but life was easier. People had more kids there because they could afford them and here it was more difficult. And you could walk around more safely there, but here you can't because it isn't always safe.