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Interview with Van Tong Sam




Van Sam was born in Saigon on August 10, 1959. His grandparents had immigrated to Vietnam from southern China in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, and both his father and mother grew up in northern Vietnam. In 1954 they fled to South Vietnam after the country was divided. Van's father first joined the South Vietnamese army and later became a clerk/bookkeeper at the U.S. Embassy. When the South Vietnamese government collapsed in 1975, the family was endangered by his association with the U.S. Embassy, but Van's father felt he was too old to flee the country. Instead he moved the family to the countryside, where they would be less suspect, and sent his two eldest children, Van and an older sister, out of the country. Through a friend of his sister money was borrowed to pay the equivalent of $5,000 each for passage on a small boat that deposited them on an island in Malaysia on October 14, 1978. They remained in the Pilau Bidang refugee camp for ten months before they were accepted for resettlement in San Francisco by the International Rescue Committee. Van and his sister both got jobs in San Francisco, but after his sister married, Van decided to join a friend from the camp in Malaysia who had settled in Minnesota. He arrived in St. Paul on January 6, 1980. After several months of study in special classes for Indochinese refugees at the Gordon School in St. Paul, he passed the English examination for the University of Minnesota and is now a student there. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Van discusses his family background in Vietnam - persecution of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam after 1975 - his loneliness for his parents and seven brothers and sisters remaining in Vietnam - the many hazards of the boat trip and the difficulties of refugee existence in Malaysia - and resettlement, first in San Francisco then in St. Paul. He also discusses briefly the history of Vietnam, and the development of Vietnamese community organizations in the Twin Cities. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: Van Tong Sam represents one of the many ethnic Chinese in Vietnam who departed from that country beginning in 1978. It should be pointed out that during the interview Van said his brother-in-law came to the United States three years after he and his sister arrived, but he meant to say three months, not three years.





World Region



Van Tong Sam Narrator Sarah Mason Interviewer September 9, 1980 Minnesota Historical Society Saint Paul, Minnesota

Sarah Mason Van Tong Sam


SM: I’m talking to Van Tong Sam on September 9, 1980 at the Minnesota Historical Society. He is an ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. And I wondered if maybe then you could start out by telling us what you know about your grandparents, when they immigrated to Vietnam from China and if you know why they went there or if you know what year? VS: My grandparents came from China. They are long . . . I don’t know, I don’t remember, because it was a long time ago. SM: Yes. VS: My parents just said . . . just told me about my grandparents. SM: Yes. VS: They came from China during the . . . the Chinese people were very, very . . . [unclear]. SM: Starving? VS: No. SM: Oh. VS: Were not happy, not enough food and . . . SM: Oh, yes. VS: And during that war people were very poor. SM: Yes. 1

VS: They wanted to find another country . . . better for to live.

SM: Yes. VS: Then they got out of the country to . . . came to North Vietnam. SM: Oh. They came . . . VS: They lived near . . . near China, too. SM: Do you know what part of China they lived in? VS: Oh . . . yes. Mon Cai. SM: Oh, Mon Cai? VS: Haiphong, do you know? SM: Haiphong? Oh, Haiphong is in Vietnam, right? VS: Haiphong, yes. Haiphong, Mon Cai. SM: Do you know where they lived in China? VS: China? SM: Yes. VS: Canton. SM: Canton. VS: Canton. SM: Oh, they came to Haiphong . . . VS: Came from . . . yes, came to now . . . came to Mon Cai. SM: Mon Cai. VS: Yes. And Hai Ninh. SM: And Hai Ninh. 2

VS: Yes. Hai Ninh. Yes. SM: Oh, they lived in all three places? VS: They lived . . . yes. Three. SM: Oh. Okay. I see. Was that in the nineteenth century? VS: Yes, nineteenth century, but I don’t remember the . . . SM: Exactly . . . VS: What the years . . . SM: Yes. Okay. And then what you might know of your parents growing up in Vietnam. Did . . .? VS: My parents growing up in Vietnam. Hmmm. My father told me about his . . . his life. He’s come from a family . . . a small family, very poor. SM: Oh. This was after they lived in Vietnam? VS: Yes. Yes. His mother died when he was two years old. SM: Oh. VS: And his father . . . he didn’t know his father. SM: Oh. VS: And he lived in North Vietnam with another family. SM: I see. VS: Yes. And after 1954 the [unclear] of Communists, North Vietnam . . . revolution of North Vietnam. SM: Yes. VS: Then my father came to South Vietnam, Saigon City. SM: I see. VS: And after that he went to the army of French. 3

SM: Oh. Your father joined the French Army then? VS: The French Army. SM: Oh. VS: And then 1963 . . . I don’t remember . . . 1960 or 1959. SM: Oh. VS: The United States came to my country. SM: Yes. VS: And I don’t know . . . SM: Excuse me, just a minute. Do you know what kind of work your grandparents did when they came to Vietnam? Or when they lived in China? Were they farmers in China? VS: Farmers. Yes, farmers. SM: Yes. And when they came to Vietnam were they farmers, too? Or did they have shops or . . .? VS: In Vietnam they have a little business. SM: A little business. Yes. VS: Yes. SM: You don’t know what kind of business, do you? VS: I don’t know what kind. SM: No. Most of the Chinese weren’t farmers after they came to Vietnam, I don’t think. VS: Yes. SM: Yes. I see. So your father joined the French Army. He was just a young man then? VS: Yes, young man. SM: Yes. VS: And he’d gotten . . . he got married within . . . with . . . 4

SM: To your mother? VS: Yes, he got married. I don’t know exactly what year. SM: Yes. VS: But his wife was Chinese, too. SM: I see. VS: Yes. SM: Had she lived in Vietnam all her life? She was born in Vietnam? VS: Yes, she was born in North Vietnam, too. SM: Yes. VS: Mon Cai. And . . . SM: So they left North Vietnam in 1954, both of them? VS: Yes, both of them. SM: Yes. Because they were afraid of the Communists? VS: Yes. After my father went to the French Army, they went to the Vietnamese . . . South Vietnam Army. SM: Oh, I see. VS: And after a few years he worked for the Embassy of the United States. SM: I see. That was in the 1960s sometime probably? VS: No. I think . . . 1970 or 1969. SM: Oh. VS: 1969. 1969, yes. SM: I see. So during most of your life when you were a little boy, he was a soldier then? VS: I was . . . yes. 5

SM: Yes. VS: I was born in Saigon City. SM: Yes. Were you the first child born? VS: No, I am second. SM: Yes. Your sister is the first one? VS: Yes, was first. SM: I see. And what year was that then? VS: My birthday . . . my birthday is September 10 . . . no, no, no, no. SM: Oh. VS: August. SM: August. VS: August 10, 1959. SM: Oh. VS: In Saigon City. I went to Dong Tien school, you know. SM: Dong? VS: D-O-N-G, T-I-E-N. Dong Tien school. SM: Oh. That was in Saigon? VS: Saigon City. SM: That’s a Vietnamese school? VS: What is this? SM: Oh, religion. If there was any religion your family . . . VS: My family, they don’t have religion. 6

SM: Okay. Did they have Confucian . . . like ancestor worship or anything like that [unclear]? VS: Just a . . . for . . . ancestral, you know. SM: Oh, yes. VS: Ancestral. SM: They had ancestor . . . VS: [Unclear] yes. Just for ancestors, not as religion. SM: Okay. Oh, okay. VS: Yes. SM: So Dong Tien school was a Vietnamese school then, right? VS: Yes, Vietnamese school. SM: Did they think about sending you to a Chinese school or . . .? VS: My parents? SM: Yes. Or they wanted to send you to a Vietnamese school? VS: I don’t know, because they . . . I was [unclear] of them, my family, my parents, for me to go . . . I went to the Vietnamese school. SM: Oh. Yes. Did they go to Vietnamese school when they were little? VS: No. SM: Oh, they went to Chinese school? VS: They . . . they didn’t know Vietnamese language. SM: Oh . . . VS: You know, they just speak and they know a little about that. SM: Oh. Do they know Vietnamese now? VS: Yes. 7

SM: Oh. VS: Yes. SM: But they didn’t when they were little? VS: Yes. SM: I see. VS: Community [unclear] when I was [unclear]. SM: Oh, yes. I thought maybe when you were in Saigon. VS: Saigon. SM: Yes. Whether it was a Chinese community you lived in or Vietnamese. VS: Oh, just I lived near around Vietnamese people. SM: Oh. Yes. VS: And I was . . . just spoke Vietnamese language. SM: I see. So you didn’t even . . . VS: But my family, everyone knew about . . . Chinese language. SM: Oh. VS: But I didn’t know. SM: Yes. Everyone of your family. VS: Of my family. SM: Yes. Oh, but you didn’t know? VS: I didn’t know. [Chuckles] SM: [Chuckles] VS: [Unclear]. SM: Well, you know . . . you know some. [Chuckles] You know some Chinese, don’t you? 8

VS: Yes. I know a little. SM: Yes. Yes. I see. VS: But my family, my brothers, you know, my sister speaks very good Chinese. Very good. SM: Oh. You speak good Chinese. VS: No! [Chuckles] I’m not . . . SM: I see. Well, were most of your family’s friends Chinese or were they Vietnamese [unclear]? VS: Oh, Vietnamese and Chinese. SM: Yes. VS: Vietnamese and Chinese. SM: So your family was pretty much like a Vietnamese family then? VS: Yes. Yes. SM: I see. But when your parents . . . when they were little, they went to a Chinese school, is that right? VS: No, I don’t think so. SM: Oh. VS: Because during back then . . . SM: Oh, they couldn’t go to school then. VS: Very, very poor. SM: Yes. Oh, yes. Yes. VS: Not enough food and the war . . . Second World War, you know. SM: Yes. VS: Around the [unclear] the war [unclear] during that . . . Germany, you know. The German people, you know. 9

SM: Oh, yes. VS: Make the . . . made the war for around the country . . . a lot in the world. SM: Oh, the Japanese? VS: And the Japanese came to China to fight and came to Vietnam. SM: Yes. VS: And came to many countries, the Philippines. SM: Yes. VS: The Philippines. Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand. SM: Oh, yes. Yes. The Japanese took all of that except not Thailand, I guess. VS: Yes. Asian. SM: Yes. VS: Asian people, Asian countries. SM: Yes. Right. VS: But the Americans . . . the Americans, you know, Navy and Marines. SM: Yes. VS: Came to the . . . Pacific Ocean, you know. SM: Oh, yes. VS: Pacific Ocean to fight with Japanese soldiers. SM: Yes. Wait just a minute. [Recording interruption] SM: Could you talk a little bit about the role of Chinese in Vietnam? What kind of life they have in Vietnam. VS: Before 1975 the Chinese and Vietnamese people in Vietnam don’t have racism about Chinese and Vietnamese. 10

SM: Oh, Vietnamese racism. Yes. VS: But after 1975 the Communist took over South Vietnam. SM: Yes. VS: And the Communism the [unclear] of Communist . . . they want Chinese people to get out of the country. SM: Oh. Why was that? VS: Because they wanted to take . . . they took something like businesses and factories and something else of Chinese people living in Vietnam. SM: Oh, I see. So they could take over their possessions? VS: Yes. SM: Was it something to do with the war on the border, too, of China and Vietnam? Weren’t they fighting? VS: Oh. SM: Or that’s a little later? VS: Later. SM: Yes. That’s later. VS: After the Chinese government . . . SM: Yes. VS: . . . knew about Chinese people in Vietnam. The Communists . . . SM: Oh, yes. VS: The Vietnamese Communists were very, very . . . you know . . . they don’t want the Chinese people . . . they’re against the Chinese. SM: Yes. I see.


VS: Because before 1975 the Chinese government [unclear] large supplies for Vietnamese . . . for Vietnamese Communists, North Vietnam. To fighting with South Vietnam to take . . . took over South Vietnam. SM: Yes. VS: But the Chinese [unclear] Communists, they wanted to take over Asian people or Asian country. SM: I see. VS: But after that, the Chinese think about the Vietnamese involvement. SM: Yes. VS: Then they want . . . I don’t know exactly, but certainly the Vietnamese government, they want to . . . for all the Chinese people, get out of the country. SM: I see. Was that when you decided to leave? VS: Yes. My parents and my sister decided for me to. SM: Oh, they decided for you? VS: Yes, decided to leave the country. SM: Before we get into that, maybe you could tell a little bit about the effect of the war on your family. VS: During the war . . . the Vietnamese War? SM: You know, the war, the Vietnam War and . . . VS: From long times ago, the Chinese colonists came to my country, fighting with my country about one thousand years. One thousand years. SM: Yes. VS: After that, the French colonists came, too, and fighting with Vietnamese people about one hundred years. SM: Yes.


VS: During the Second World War, the Japanese came to my country and fighting with Vietnamese people. And the Vietnamese people [unclear] against the Japanese and to fight Japanese people to get out of the Vietnam country. SM: Oh, yes. And the independence movement. VS: Yes, during that, they are independent people. SM: Yes. VS: And after Japanese . . . my country had two parts because North Vietnam wanted to become the Communists and South Vietnam wanted . . . the people have freedom. SM: Yes. VS: They want . . . make two parts. For North Vietnam, they took the weapons that came from China and Russia. And South Vietnam, they took weapons that came from America, and Canada, France, and Australia. SM: And what? Australia? VS: Australia. SM: Oh. Yes. VS: And I think about 1954 to 1975 . . . 1954 to 1975 . . . twenty . . . SM: About twenty years. VS: Twenty years. Twenty years the war of Vietnamese people with Vietnamese people. SM: Yes. Yes. You were living . . . your family was in Saigon all that time? VS: Yes. SM: Yes. VS: My family was in Saigon. SM: Yes. Was your father gone quite a lot in the war? VS: Yes. Yes. SM: Yes. But did he send money to your family then to live? 13

VS: Yes. Yes. SM: Yes. VS: Now the Vietnamese Communists, they came to Cambodia and took over Cambodia. Laos. And there was one Vietnamese Communists took over Asia . . . Asia countries. SM: Yes. VS: And the Vietnamese Communists, they were fighting with the Cambodian Communists, but they [unclear] a lot of Cambodian Communists in Thailand country. The Thailand country said the Vietnamese want to fight with Thailand country. SM: Oh. VS: Thais. SM: Oh, yes. VS: And a lot . . . [unclear] Thailand, and Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore. They want to have a big meeting for . . . for the . . . SM: Oh, to make a treaty? VS: Yes, a treaty. SM: Oh, yes. The Southeast Asian Treaty. VS: Yes. For again, the Communist . . . SM: Yes. Oh, right. So all that . . . most of this time you were quite young. VS: Yes, very young. SM: Yes. And then after 1975 it became more difficult for your family? VS: Yes. After 1975 for my family it was very difficult to make money and to [get] food. SM: Yes. Where did your father work after the American Embassy left? VS: After the American Embassy left my father decided to leave the city. SM: Oh. VS: We all go to the small village to live on a little farm. 14

SM: Yes. Did he have relatives there or anything? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. I see. And he would try to not let anybody know he worked in the Embassy? VS: Yes, he was trying not to let anybody know he worked for the Embassy of the United States. SM: What would happen to him if they knew? If the government officials knew? VS: If they knew . . . if the Communists knew my father worked for the Embassy of the United States, mainly they’d [unclear] and to learn the [unclear], you know. SM: Oh, yes. VS: The [unclear] . . . after that, maybe kill him. SM: Oh. VS: Because they . . . the Communists, they don’t want people who worked for the old government of South Vietnam, you know. SM: I see. VS: Because they want to [unclear] people worked for South Vietnam. SM: I see. VS: They want to have a new . . . a new government and a new way for people to go. SM: Yes. Well, did he think of a . . .? VS: That’s Communists. SM: Yes, the Communists. Did he think about the fact that maybe he should leave? Or he just wanted to send his children? VS: Because his . . . his thought in his mind about his . . . now he’s too old. SM: Oh. VS: This one . . . this now children get out of the country. SM: I see. 15

VS: For to have a new life and to get something better than in . . . from the other country. SM: Yes. Would he want to come over here if he could, if you could bring him? VS: If I have . . . [unclear] and money, maybe I sponsor for them to come to this country. SM: I see. Yes. Would he want your brothers to come first or could they all come together or . . .? VS: Yes, if my family comes over here, I want my brothers and sister. SM: Oh, you have another sister? VS: Yes, one. Just one. SM: One more. Okay. So two altogether, sisters? VS: Yes. SM: How many brothers do you have in Vietnam? VS: Six brothers. SM: Oh. Is the sister quite young? VS: Yes, very young. SM: Oh. How old is she about? VS: She’s about . . . seven years old. SM: Oh, just a really young child. VS: She’s a young child. SM: Is she the youngest one in the family? VS: No. SM: Oh, there’s still someone . . . VS: Yes, one brother is very youngest. SM: I see. How old is he? 16

VS: Four years old. SM: Oh, just four years old. VS: Yes. SM: I see. Well, how did they decide who would leave? You say your father and sister decided it? VS: Because . . . yes, because my father, he didn’t want me to go into the army of the Communists. SM: Oh. VS: And he wanted me to have a good life for study, and my sister to get something good and . . . something better than this country. SM: I see. What is your sister’s name? VS: My sister’s name is S-A-M. SM: Yes. VS: M-U-I. C . . . SM: Oh, C is the next one. VS: C-O-U. SM: I see. VS: Yes, this is the last name. SM: Yes, Sam Mui Cou? VS: Cou. Yes. SM: Yes. I see. And she lives in California now, is that right? VS: She’s living in San Francisco. SM: Oh, San Francisco. And she’s married? VS: Yes, she is. 17

SM: She got married after she came then? VS: No, she got married . . . was in Vietnam. SM: Oh, so she and her husband and you all came together? VS: No. SM: Oh. VS: I and my sister came first. SM: I see. VS: After a few months, her husband got out of the country, came to Thailand. SM: Oh, he went a different way then. VS: Yes, a different way. SM: I see. Why didn’t he come with you two? He didn’t have enough money or . . .? VS: Because he didn’t have enough money. SM: I see. So you both came to California first and then he came later? VS: Yes. He came about two years after [unclear] I came to America. SM: Oh, I see. He could come because he had a wife here, is that right? VS: Yes. SM: Yes. VS: His wife sponsored for him coming over here. SM: I see. Yes. I see. Well, were you worried about leaving or did you want to leave or . . .? VS: I want to leave my . . .? SM: Vietnam. VS: Vietnam? 18

SM: Yes. VS: Yes, because I don’t want to live with the Communism, under the Communism. Because bad things . . . some . . . the Communists just talk about some things for people very good but not do . . . not do some things, too. SM: Yes. I see. VS: Just talk. SM: [Chuckles] Just talk. VS: Yes. SM: But I suppose you were pretty sad to leave your family. VS: Yes, I am very sad. SM: Yes. VS: Because my family and me and my sister lived a long time in my country have a lot of [unclear] and a lot of relatives and friends over there. SM: Oh. Oh, yes. I see. So how did your father plan the trip? Or did your father arrange for you to go on a boat or did your sister arrange it? VS: My sister. SM: Oh. She knew somebody that . . .? VS: Yes, she knew somebody. SM: And how much did that cost? VS: About ten pieces of gold . . . golds. SM: Oh. VS: But I think about . . . five thousand a person. SM: Oh, boy. How could your father get so much money when you would have nothing left to eat? VS: Because, you know, this money came from my sister. 19

SM: Oh. VS: My sister said, when we get out of the country, the people, you know . . . the leader of boat, you know. SM: Yes. VS: He wanted my sister . . . [unclear] if she’d have a job in this country to make money he’d return someday to [unclear] of him. SM: Oh, so you didn’t pay it yet. VS: Not paid him yet. SM: Oh, I see. So the leader of the boat said that the sister could get a job and pay it when he . . . VS: Yes. SM: Oh. So he let you go without paying then? VS: Just five pieces to . . . SM: Five? VS: Five pieces of gold. SM: Oh, so that would be about two thousand five hundred? VS: Yes. SM: Yes. So he let you go for half then. VS: Yes. SM: I see. But where is he now? [Chuckles] How could you send it to the boat man? VS: Oh, now he’s still in Vietnam. SM: Oh, he is? VS: But he has some relatives in Canada and California. SM: Oh, I see. VS: And she . . . he send a telegram for them. 20

SM: Oh. VS: And call then . . . to call my sister to return back the money. SM: Oh. In Canada and California he has . . .? VS: Yes. SM: Do they call her a lot and ask for the money? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. [Chuckles] Oh, that’s not very nice, is it? VS: Every . . . every month she returns a little with money [unclear]. SM: Oh, she pays them a little bit. Oh, I see. VS: Pays a little bit. SM: Do they send it to him then or do they keep it, the relatives? VS: Just like keep it and waiting for him to come to this country. SM: Oh. He might come here himself? VS: Yes. But I think the Communists know of him. SM: Oh. VS: Wanting to take the money for people to get out the country. SM: Oh. Well, is he Chinese, the man? VS: Yes, he’s Chinese. SM: Oh. Oh, did he mostly take Chinese people out? VS: Chinese and Vietnamese. SM: And Vietnamese. VS: If they want . . . they have money and want to get out of the country. 21

SM: I see. I see. Well, a lot of the people that wanted to leave then were Chinese Vietnamese, weren’t they? VS: Yes. Because they live . . . live with the Communists three years, they know a lot about the government of Communists, what were the Communists’ goal. SM: Yes. And they were mean to Chinese people. VS: Yes. SM: Well, what year was that when you left about? VS: 1978. SM: 1978? VS: Yes. SM: Was . . . in 1978 was it mostly Chinese people leaving? VS: Yes, mostly Chinese. SM: Yes. VS: And after 1978 a lot of Vietnamese people got out of the country, too. SM: Oh. Before 1978? VS: After 1978. SM: Oh, after 1978 it was more Vietnamese? VS: Yes. Yes. SM: Oh. Which years were more Chinese coming out? VS: About 1978. SM: Just 1978. That’s what they call the boat people? VS: Yes, the boat people. SM: Yes. But after that there were Vietnamese coming, too. VS: Yes. 22

SM: I see. And how did you get to Malaysia? This man took you to Malaysia? VS: Well, the leader of the boat, he wanted to go the western way in the ocean after . . . SM: Oh. He went west, you said? VS: Six days. SM: Oh. VS: Six days in the ocean. People were very tired. SM: Did you have food? VS: Just had food but not enough for people. SM: Oh, yes. VS: Because they keep the food. They want to keep the food for a long time. SM: Oh. VS: Because sometimes the boat has problems and has some . . . to go a long time in the ocean. SM: Oh, yes. VS: And when some of the sailors in the boat, sailors in the boat, they see . . . they discover the . . . you know, the . . . leaks have for [unclear] the power. SM: Oil? VS: You know, in the ocean. SM: Yes. VS: I don’t what that is called. SM: Oil? VS: Yes, oil. SM: Oh.


VS: Yes. And they came to the oil company, you know. The . . . I don’t know what kind of people in that [unclear]. Black people who come from another country. SM: Oh, pirates, you mean? VS: Yes. SM: Oh, I see. VS: And they held my boat, my people, food, and for something . . . else. SM: Money and so on? VS: No, not money. SM: Oh. So the pirates wanted the food? VS: Food, water, and oil. SM: Oh. VS: And they called the Malaysian Navy to . . . SM: Oh. VS: To . . . for my people and my boat. Got in their refugees camp. SM: Oh. Who called the navy? VS: The . . . I don’t know exactly, but I think their leader. SM: Leader, yes. VS: Leader of the oil company, you know. SM: He had a radio or something? VS: Yes, a radio. SM: Oh, I see. So somebody had taken the food and the water. VS: Yes. SM: Oh. These were like robbers or pirates? They steal the food and water? 24

VS: Oh, no. SM: Not pirates? VS: My boat was very lucky about that. [Chuckles] SM: Oh, okay. [Chuckle] Scratch that out. What did they do? Just held back on the food and water, is that right? VS: Food and water, oil. SM: I See. Yes. Until you were sure you had enough. VS: Yes. SM: I see. VS: Very dangerous in the ocean. SM: Yes. VS: Very dangerous. SM: Then what year did you get to Malaysia and what date, if you know? VS: Oh. October 14, 1978. SM: I see. And what . . . was it in some city in Malaysia or just . . .? VS: No, just an island of Malaysia. SM: Oh, an island. VS: That’s the refugee . . . [pilobedong] camp. SM: Oh, yes. VS: For refugees. Refugees [unclear] refugees. SM: So your leader knew you were going to that island, is that right? VS: Yes. SM: He tried to take you there. 25

VS: Yes. SM: I see. Do you know how many refugees were there on that island? VS: First time I came to those islands I . . . about eight thousand people. SM: Oh. VS: But every day [unclear] until fifty-four thousand people. SM: Oh. VS: Just in the little island. I think about . . . five . . . five kilometers. SM: Five kilometers. VS: Five kilometers, you know, just about . . . SM: Across? VS: Three . . . yes. SM: Oh. VS: Three miles. That’s the island. It’s small like that. SM: It was five kilometers across. VS: Square. SM: Oh, five square. VS: Yes, square. SM: Square, yes. I see. Well, where did the food come from? VS: The food came from international . . . SM: From the United Nations? VS: Yes, United Nations. SM: Yes. VS: International Red Cross. 26

SM: Oh, and the International Red Cross. Well, did they cook it and just distribute it or . . .? VS: United Nations. Just not . . . not cook. SM: Oh, they gave you the rice. VS: Yes and the food in a can. SM: Oh. VS: Into the can. SM: Well, did you have a place to cook? VS: Yes. SM: Or did you look for firewood or . . .? VS: Yes. [Unclear] to cook. SM: Each family just cooked for themselves? VS: Yes, each family cooked for themselves. SM: Was there enough wood to burn? VS: We did not have enough wood because . . . SM: Not enough. VS: The jungle of the island is very small. [Chuckles] SM: Oh. You’d think it would be all cut down very soon. VS: People . . . a lot . . . yes. People a lot did not have enough wood. SM: What will happen when all the trees are cut down? They won’t have any more . . .? VS: Because . . . yes, the government of Malaysia wanted the island to have . . . still have the wood. SM: Oh. They don’t want them cut down. [Chuckles] VS: They don’t want the people, Vietnamese people, refugees, cut out a lot of wood. 27

SM: Oh. VS: And they wanted to have the supplies for Vietnamese . . . for refugees . . . wood. SM: Oh, they want to have the wood . . . VS: Yes, supplies come from another . . . yes. SM: . . . supplied from somewhere else. VS: Come from another city. SM: I see. Well, what about medical facilities? Were people sick in . . .? VS: Oh, when people got sick, the medical came from the United Nations and International Red Cross. SM: I see. VS: And many doctors come from . . . doctor volunteers come from another country like France, United States, Canada. SM: Yes. VS: Germany, and Swiss. SM: Oh, yes. VS: And Netherlands. SM: Oh. VS: A lot of countries. SM: Yes. I see. Well, did each family have . . . or people have a place to sleep? Or where did you sleep? Were there buildings or you slept outside or . . .? VS: The [unclear] time very difficult to find a place for sleep. SM: Oh. VS: They just sleep outside their . . . the seashore. You know, the seashore right there . . . SM: Oh, by the seashore, on the beach? 28

VS: Yes. First time, you know, and I would sleep, you know . . . very, very cold outside. The water . . . the raining . . . SM: Oh. [Sighs] VS: The rain, you know. Well, I just have a little raincoat. SM: Yes. VS: To put on. Very cold. SM: Oh. [Sighs] Did the United Nations give you something to sleep on? VS: No. SM: Just a little raincoat, hmmm? VS: No. SM: Oh, you brought the raincoat with you? VS: Just . . . somebody has money, you know, still have money to buy something. SM: Oh, yes. I see. VS: From the . . . the people of Malaysia, you know. SM: Oh. Would people come on small boats to sell things? VS: Small boats, sell some things. SM: Oh, I see. VS: If people have a lot of money, you know, maybe the seller, the Malaysian seller, you know, to [unclear]. SM: Oh. Oh, I see. To sleep on. VS: Yes. SM: Oh. VS: And maybe kill people, too. Kill Vietnamese people. Because they wanted to take money from the Vietnamese people and go . . . 29

SM: Oh. Yes. VS: [Unclear]. SM: I see. Well, then how did you get to leave the camp? VS: When . . . first time I . . . about a month, the . . . SM: After you had been there a month? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. VS: The Australia . . . SM: Australia? VS: Yes, the Australia interview, I and my sister. But they couldn’t accept me because . . . accept me and my sister because I still have my family in Vietnam. SM: Oh. VS: They didn’t want me . . . I sponsor for my family to come in that country. SM: Well, why not? VS: Because . . . SM: You had too many that you [unclear]? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. VS: They just wanted people who still have been in refugee camp . . . they just want if you have enough people, ten people. SM: Oh, I see. VS: Or more than that. SM: Oh. 30

VS: They want to accept . . . okay. SM: I see. They wanted a group that was all together. VS: Yes, that all . . . SM: I see. VS: And after six months the United States interviewed me to accept me and my sister. SM: They said they wouldn’t accept you? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. VS: I left the refugee camp. I don’t remember the date. SM: Oh. [Chuckles] VS: But I remember August. SM: Oh. VS: In August. SM: Oh, was this 1978? VS: 1979. SM: 1979? VS: 1979. SM: I see. Well, did the United States interviewer accept you right away or was it . . .? Did you have to have several interviews? VS: The United States interviewed me. Me and my sister, you know. The first time they said, you don’t have relatives and . . . relatives and don’t have . . . or you didn’t work for the United States. You don’t have special . . . that special . . . SM: Oh. VS: For to get in the United States. 31

SM: Get in. Yes. VS: After that, they have a special program for a resident scholar. SM: Oh. VS: And he said a lot of Vietnamese people are in the ocean and a lot of Vietnamese people still in refugee camps. SM: Camps, yes. VS: Very, very poor, you know. They want to . . . people know and to help . . . help the Vietnamese.... [Recording interruption] SM: So do you know when you arrived in California? VS: [Unclear] ICM, you know. SM: ICM? VS: The ICM of America people. They told me the date to . . . departure from Malaysia to California. SM: I see. And do you know what year . . . that was 1979? VS: Yes, 1979. SM: In August? VS: September. SM: Oh, in September. I see. And how did you choose California? Was there a sponsor for you? VS: Yes, that was there a sponsor of community [unclear] the community . . . IRC. SM: Community IR . . . VS: IRC. SM: IRC. Oh, International Refugee Committee? VS: International . . . yes. 32

SM: Oh, I see. So the whole big organization sponsored you, is that right? VS: Yes. SM: Yes. Did they have a place for you to live and so on? VS: Yes. They found a place for us and applied for the apartment for me. SM: Oh, yes. Yes. What city was that? VS: San Francisco. SM: Oh, yes. San Francisco. So you and your sister lived there together. VS: Yes. And they found jobs for me and my sister. SM: They what? VS: Find a job. SM: Oh, they find a job. VS: Yes. SM: I see. What kind of job were you doing? VS: The first job they find for me the . . . washing dishes in a restaurant. SM: Oh, yes. [Chuckles] That’s a hard job. VS: And I just worked eight . . . eight days. And I don’t . . . SM: Oh. VS: I don’t want to work over there because . . . SM: [Chuckles] VS: Because the boss of the restaurant was very bad. SM: Oh. He was being mean or something? VS: And after that I found a [unclear] better in a jewelry store. SM: Jewelry store? 33

VS: Yes. SM: How many days did you work in the restaurant, five days? VS: Eight. Eight. SM: Eight days. VS: Eight days. SM: Yes. What did the boss do that was bad? The boss of the restaurant. VS: The boss said something very impolite. SM: Oh. VS: And to make me very . . . sad. SM: Oh, it was racism? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. Hmmm. That’s awful. Then you worked in the jewelry store? VS: Yes. About three months. SM: Was that . . . that boss nicer? [Chuckles] VS: That boss, I think, very nice. SM: Oh. Yes. And where did your sister work? VS: My sister worked for the jewelry store, too. SM: Oh, I see. VS: Yes. SM: She started out working there then. VS: Yes. After three months, I decided in my mind to go to study. SM: Oh. 34

VS: Because I don’t . . . first time I came to the United States I don’t know a lot about English. SM: Yes. VS: I know a lot of vocabulary but I don’t know how to speak. The American people . . . SM: I see. You had studied it in school? VS: Yes. And I decided to call my friend in this . . . in Minnesota. SM: Oh. VS: And he’s called me to come over here and study. SM: Yes. Is this the friend you’re staying with now? VS: No. SM: A different friend? VS: Different friend. SM: Yes. Where did you get to know him? In the Malaysian camp? VS: Yes, the Malaysia camp. SM: Oh. I see. VS: Because he came over first. SM: Oh. VS: And I had to write to him by letter. SM: Oh, so how . . .? You knew his address then? VS: Because before he left the refugee camp . . . SM: Oh, he had an address. VS: Yes, for me, the address. SM: Oh, I see. I see. Well, did the people in San Francisco . . . the people that sponsored you, did they help you, too? 35

VS: Yes. They helped me to find a job and they helped something like the [unclear]. SM: The bed? VS: For convenience. SM: Oh . . . VS: And for a room for to live and to buy some food and for some money. SM: Yes. Was it a group of people? VS: Yes. SM: Yes. A community. VS: A group of people sponsoring for me. SM: I see. Yes. So then . . . let’s see. When was that where you came to Minnesota then? When did you come to Minnesota? VS: I came to Minnesota January 6, 1980. SM: I see. And you came mainly because you had a friend here. VS: Yes. SM: Well, how did you find Minnesota? Was it different from California? VS: Because the first time I think I realize cold weather. SM: [Chuckles] VS: And have the convenience for study. SM: Oh, yes. VS: Because in the winter, it’s very cold. Just . . . .think, just study. SM: Yes. VS: Not have to go someplace for [unclear]. Just study is easy in the winter. SM: I see. So you started to study right away when you came here? 36

VS: Yes. SM: Yes. The Welfare Department said that’s okay? VS: The Welfare Department, they . . . [unclear] me the money one month. SM: Oh, one month they didn’t . . . VS: Yes, they didn’t [unclear] money. SM: Oh. VS: Because they . . . they didn’t know . . . SM: Oh, they didn’t know you were here? VS: Because I’d . . . I didn’t call when I left California. I didn’t call the . . . SM: Oh, the Welfare Department? VS: No. SM: Oh. VS: The International Refugee Committee. SM: Oh. Oh, you didn’t tell your sponsors. VS: Yes. SM: Oh. VS: I just left by myself. SM: I see. But so the welfare people in Minnesota didn’t give you money? VS: After . . . SM: After one month? VS: One month. SM: Oh. How did you live? [Chuckles] VS: I lived by my money I made. 37

SM: Oh, from before. VS: I made it before. SM: I see. VS: Before. SM: Yes. Well, were those people in San Francisco, were they angry you left or . . .? VS: No. SM: Oh, they thought it was okay? VS: It’s just about . . . that’s okay. SM: Yes. VS: I want to live somewhere . . . SM: Yes. VS: And for [unclear]. SM: Yes, I see. Then they didn’t . . . in Minnesota they didn’t say you have to have a job? They said you can go to school? VS: No. They just said . . . they just said if I get better about English then maybe I can find a job by myself. SM: I see. VS: Or if you want to decide to go to school you have . . . you have to [unclear] yourself. SM: I see. So it’s up to you. VS: Yes. SM: They didn’t tell you what you have to do or something. VS: Yes. SM: I see. Well, do you think Minnesota is different from California for the refugees? Is it better or worse or . . .? 38

VS: No. The same. SM: Same. Yes. VS: As California. SM: What about for racism? VS: For racism? SM: Is that . . .? VS: I don’t know about that. SM: Nobody has said anything impolite to you here or . . .? VS: In this country? SM: In Minnesota? VS: Minnesota? SM: Yes. VS: Some people. SM: Some did. VS: I think a lot of people, American people in this country are very, very friendly. Friendly. SM: [Unclear]? VS: Friendly. SM: Friendly. Oh. VS: And . . . SM: In Minnesota or . . .? VS: Yes. SM: Or all the United States? 39

VS: Yes. SM: Oh, and Minnesota. VS: But some people get drunk and speak something slang . . . SM: Yes. VS: And . . . to . . . to, you know, like people when you’ve come for in here and you didn’t know anything, you know. You don’t know anything, they . . . SM: [Chuckles] VS: They want to make money and to speak with you very, very impolite. SM: Oh, here in Minnesota? VS: Yes. SM: Oh, they speak to you impolite? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. And make money? How is that? VS: Yes. Like sometimes you don’t know, you know. You buy something in the store, you know. Because . . . SM: Oh . . . They cheat you. VS: Yes. Like money. SM: Hmmm. Do you know some about the refugee . . . the Vietnamese refugee community in the Twin Cities? What organizations they have or . . .? VS: Yes. The Vietnamese community in Minnesota have one community in the University of Minnesota. SM: Oh. VS: And one of veteran soldiers. SM: Oh, yes. VS: Vietnamese soldiers in Minnesota. 40

SM: What’s the name of that? It’s called Vietnamese Veterans? VS: Vietnamese Veterans. SM: I see. VS: And the Community Employment . . . SM: Community . . . VS: Community for the people who work for employment office. SM: Oh. VS: To find jobs for Vietnamese people. And the community with Vietnamese people and American . . . SM: Are these organizations? VS: Yes. SM: Oh. It’s called Community of Employment Office? VS: Yes. SM: And Community of Vietnamese and Americans? VS: And Americans. SM: Oh, I see. And are there Buddhist organizations here or churches that are Vietnamese? VS: Oh, I don’t know a lot. But I just know one temple. SM: Oh. VS: At Dale Street. SM: Dale Street? VS: Dale Street. SM: Oh. It’s . . . VS: The temple, I don’t know the name. 41

SM: Yes. But it’s Buddhist. VS: Buddhist. SM: Yes. Is it in a church or in a house or . . .? VS: The house. SM: Oh, in the house. And then there is that one Vietnamese church at Saint Vincent’s, right? VS: That’s a Vietnamese church and American, too. SM: Oh, yes. Right. VS: Because that . . . SM: Is a Vietnamese program in the American church. VS: Yes [unclear] church. SM: Is there any Protestant church of Vietnamese that you know of? VS: What did you say? The people . . .? SM: Not Catholic, but they are Christians, a Protestant church? VS: Yes, some Vietnamese. SM: Oh, there is. Yes. VS: People to . . . SM: I see. Anything else you want to say about the Vietnamese community or . . .? Are they getting along pretty well finding jobs and . . .? VS: Yes. SM: Going to school and . . .? VS: But I don’t know the Vietnamese in the United States of our culture. Because I think some days . . . someday . . . Vietnam country will have peace. SM: Oh, and then some would go back? 42

VS: Because many, many people in my country, you know, they know about . . . a lot about Communism. SM: Yes. VS: They’re against . . . they want to . . . North Vietnam and South Vietnam, they want to have peace and people have freedom. SM: Yes. VS: And people live in the United States, maybe they want to come back to their country. SM: Yes. So some might want to go back. VS: Yes. And some people because they live in this country have a lot of convenience. SM: Yes. VS: They want . . . maybe they want to stay over here. SM: Yes. VS: Because they think, in this country, they don’t have the war and better in not our country. SM: Yes. I see. Well, thank you very much. Is there anything else you want to say? VS: No. SM: No? Thanks very much. It was a very interesting story. VS: Yes.