Dustin Kelley: Hello this is Dustin Kelley. Hannah Leah Crummé and I are speaking with An Vũ via Zoom. Today is the 23rd of March, 2021. Could you begin by stating your name and telling us a little bit about yourself?
An Vũ: Ah yes my name is An Thanh Vũ. I am a Vietnamese American here. So I am very glad to be able to speak to you.
DK: Thank you. When did you arrive in Portland?
AV: Oh, I arrived in Portland sometime in the year of 1992.
DK: That is a long time ago. Why did you come to the city of Portland specifically?
AV: Oh, you know, I had an opportunity to resettle in the United States in 1991. Then when I came to the United States I met some friends here. One of my friends, she [was] raised in Portland, Oregon. She invited me to visit Portland sometime during the year of 1992. Yeah, so she suggested to me that my family and I would resettle in Portland, Oregon. Another friend offered me free rent, so I was happy to move to Portland from Orange County in 1992.
DK: What were your first impressions of Portland?
AV: Portland, for me, is a beautiful city. It looks like one of my cities in Vietnam. It is called Da Lat. Da Lat is in [a] highland in Vietnam. So its climate is about colder than in Saigon. So when I came to Portland I considered it Da Lat city. So I have just loved it since the first time I came here.
DK: Can you describe the neighborhood you first settled in?
AV: The first neighborhood I was in was in Portland, Oregon in the area of Southeast, 82nd and Southeast Foster Road. So that is the area I first stayed in Portland, Oregon.
DK: Can you describe the neighborhood in a little bit of detail? For instance, what were your neighbors like? What shops did you go to?
AV: I think that the home I stayed in was on the street of 82nd avenue, near Foster Road and 82nd. That is the road, yeah, there is shopping... like a Fred Meyer. That is the market that I visit first in this area. I think that neighborhood is somewhat the same as any other neighborhood in the city of Portland.
DK: How did you get around when you first arrived in Portland?
AV: I had been here for some months in California, so I got a driver's license. So when I came to Portland, I could purchase a car. I went around by car.
DK: What led you to choose the particular neighborhood you settled in?
AV: Oh, I did not choose because my friend was on 82nd Avenue -- he just offered for me to stay there at this apartment. So just for that reason, I stayed in my friend's home in a somewhat high upper story. So I stayed in the upper story of his house. Over on 82nd avenue.
DK: That is great, sounds like you have a great friend who...
AV: Free rent is a great thing, yeah.
DK: What were your neighbors like? Were you able to make close relationships quickly?
AV: Because my friend is somewhat active in the Vietnamese community here in Portland... I think in Portland at that time there were about twenty thousand of Vietnamese in the Portland area. He is very active in community activities, so I got along with my fellow Vietnamese Americans here quickly.
DK: What was it like for you to adjust to life in the United States?
AV: Oh yeah… You know, before I came to the United States, I spent six months in Mactan, Philippines. So I had time to adjust somewhat to the lifestyle of Americans before I came here. I was taught about American culture, the American way of living in society. So I knew some things before I came here.
DK: You mentioned that Portland reminded you of a city in Vietnam. I am curious what other things you like most about Portland?
AV: Well [I] first came to Portland, I thought Portland was a beautiful city with lots of flowers! Especially during the springtime. We are going to have a great spring in a few weeks. I just love it! I love the climate and love the beautiful flowers and all kinds of trees over here.
DK: Were there ever any instances while living in Portland that you were made to feel unwelcome?
AV: Yeah, I think that you know, I feel welcome here! Because when I came here, I had a community, social activities, and especially went to the Catholic church or Buddhist church. We are very welcomed here.
DK: You mentioned attending services. Can you talk a little bit about which worship services you attended?
AV: I attended the Catholic services at our Lady of LaVang over on Sandy Boulevard. Not only do we have religious services, but we have some cultural activities. Like we have activities during the Lunar New Year and some other activities -- like we have the Freedom March every July fourth here in Portland.
DK: You now attend our Lady of Sorrow Parish, is that correct?
AV: Yes, I have attended our Lady of Sorrow since 2001. At that time I was studying to be a permanent deacon. So after I was ordained to be the permanent deacon in 2002, I was assigned to Our Lady of Sorrow.
DK: What are some of your responsibilities as a deacon?
AV: My responsibilities as deacon are to assist the priest, pastor in liturgy, master liturgy. Then I assist him with, you know, funeral services, weddings, baptisms, and preaching. All of the faculties of the priest except saying mass and, you know, yeah… So the only two [things] I can not do are saying mass and giving absolution. Yeah, that is what I can not do.
DK: Why did you move from Our Lady of LaVang to Our Lady of Sorrows?
AV: Like I said, when I was at our Lady of LaVang, I was admitted to a diaconate program. So before I got it I [wanted] to move to Our Lady of Sorrow to serve there.
DK: What was Our Lady of...
AV: But sometimes I was invited to Our Lady of Sorrow to attend a service there. [It was] not permanent, but sometimes I came back to Our Lady of LaVang.
DK: What was Our Lady of LaVang like when you first started attending there?
AV: How was LaVang when I was attending there in 1992? At that time not [as] many [people] as there are today. Our Lady of LaVang grew quickly, and now they have a big church over in New Hope. New Hope Church now belongs to Our Lady of LaVang Parish.
DK: It sounds like you were very involved. Who were some of the leaders during your time there and some of the priests that you worked with?
AV: In 1992, I worked with two priests, the first priest Vincent Cu Dao Minh and the second priest and the Vietnamese name is Hung Phu. There were two priests at that time.
DK: How are the communities at Our Lady of LaVang and Our Lady of Sorrows different from each other?
AV: [Laughs] Very different because our Lady of Lavang there are almost ten thousand parishioners. But in Our Lady of Sorrows, we think that just several dozen -- not many Vietnamese come to our Lady of Sorrows now.
DK: You are also involved in a service organization, Teresa Charities. Is that correct?
AV: Oh yes, Terresa Charities is a non-profit organization. I am the man who formed it. We incorporated in 2004 until now. Our mission is to provide rice for the elderly in poor countries.
DK: How did the organization come about?
AV: You know, because I was hungry when I was in re-education camps in North Vietnam, so I know how people hunger. So I just asked my friend to join me in helping the elderly -- first in Vietnam -- to have full stomachs before they go to sleep. So we provide ten kilograms of rice for each of them monthly. That is enough for them to survive a month. Yeah, with only two dollars at the time, we could buy ten kilograms of rice. That is wonderful. So I asked my friend, my fellow Vietnamese, to join me for this reason. So we have afforded the opportunity to provide for thousands of elderly and everyone.
DK: Thank you for telling us about that. That is great. What are some of the careers you have held throughout your life?
AV: Please repeat the question.
DK: What are some of the careers you have held throughout your life?
AV: Oh, my career… I was a government official in Vietnam. Because of that, I was put into a reeducation camp in North Vietnam for ten years. And then when I came here… I do not think I have had a continuing career in my life. But first, I could say one of the things that I love most is teaching! Yeah, I was a high school teacher in Vietnam. In 1964, I started teaching in high school. Now I preach at our Lady of Sorrow. I can say that I love teaching.
DK: That is great. You mentioned the reeducation camps, and first of all I am so sorry you had to experience that. I am curious how that process shaped your thinking. What was the experience like?
AV: [Laughing] That experience, my experience of that? You can understand the living conditions in Communist prison: not enough food, not enough sleep, hard labor. I do not know how I could survive it for ten years, but I survived and that is a great blessing for me. After that, I had the opportunity to resettle in the United States. That is a great thing too. You would like to know more about the reeducation camp [laughs]?
Hannah Crummé: Only if you feel like telling us about it. We are interested in your complete history, but we do not want to bring up anything that is hurtful to you.
AV: Okay, so you know… I know they wanted to put us in reeducation to die over there. Gradually die over there because of lack of food and lack of [good] living conditions. So that is why they were very harsh in their way of dealing with us. Like I said, we did not know how we could survive in that harsh climate in [the] forest, in the jungle, with the cold… you can imagine in the wintertime it was very cold. We did not have clean clothes on our body. We had to go into the cold water to plant rice. We must have stayed in the cold water the whole day. You can imagine that. If you did not follow their orders, they would put you in the… I do not know… They put one of your feet in chains and put you in a dark room, to stay there without water and without food for a time. Then when you came out of that dark room, you could not see. You could not walk. That was the way they treated us during that time. You know, the last men [left] the reeducation camp after seventeen years and I was in there half of that time. The last one that went out of the reeducation camp is seventeen years.
HC: What happened to you after the reeducation camps?
AV: Please, repeat the question.
HC: What happened to you in Vietnam after the reeducation camps. How did you get to the Philippines?
AV: Oh, okay [laughing]. That is a very long story. You know one of the main reasons why many of us could resettle in the United States is the intervention of the United States government in Vietnamese Communism. Because of the intervention of the United States government, they agreed that they would release all of us. If the person stayed in a reeducation camp for more than three years, he could ask to resettle in the United States. So I am one of the thousands of former Vietnamese officials who have [spent] more than three years in a reeducation camp. And we could come to the United States with our family. So that is why I was released and [had the] opportunity to [go to] the Philippines in 1991.
HC: Did you bring members of your family with you at that time?
AV: Bring what?
HC: Did you bring your family with you at that time?
AV: Yes, yes. I brought my family: my wife, and my two daughters.
HC: That is very nice.
DK: So let's back up a little bit. What part of Vietnam was your family from? What was your childhood like?
AV: Oh! That is a very long story, along with Vietnam’s history. I was born in North Vietnam, during the time of the French. The French had a government in North Vietnam. Then after the war of the French and Vietnamese Communists -- the war ended in 1952 -- Vietnam was divided into two. My family and I moved to South Vietnam. At that time it belonged to the French government in 1992, after Vietnam was divided into two. So I was born in the North but grew up in Saigon, South Vietnam.
DK: What was your educational experience like in Vietnam?
AV: Oh, like I said we were in the educational system of France. One of the differences between the French education system and the United States is that the French ask us to learn the lesson by heart from kindergarten to high school, to even university. So during all that time we must learn the lessons by heart.
DK: You mentioned working for the South Vietnamese government. What did you do and how did you come into that line of work?
AV: Oh, you know, at first I taught high school. Then I was admitted to be a reporter in the Saigon radio system. At that time it was the only radio system in South Vietnam. I was a reporter. Then the time went on and I became a government official. I served at the Ministry of Information. They you know control all the cultural activities of South Vietnam and I became a governmental official. The last position I held was the program director of the Saigon radio system.
DK: What was the Saigon radio system like?
AV: Saigon radio system is the only system with many radio stations in all of the cities in South Vietnam. So we control all the information services with South Vietnam.
DK: In closing, I think we have gone through most of the questions that we have. Hannah, do you have anything else you wanted to ask?
AV: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
DK: Did you have anything that we did not ask that you hoped we would bring up today?
AV: I think that is enough [laughs]. Because if you want to know, I think we need more time and that is a long story for me to tell. But I think that is enough for me today. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of the United States of America and to thank the government of the United States of America for your generosity in giving us another chance to build up our lives over here. So… yeah I am very grateful for your help. But I am and what I have now would not be possible without the help of the people in the United States. So for me, the United States of America is really a wonderful country and it has become my home country now. I wish all of you the best. Thank you.
HC: Thank you for telling us your story. It was a fascinating story and we are so pleased that you are here and part of Portland because I love the city and it would not be the way it is without people like you!
AV: Thank you, yeah [laughs].
DK: Thank you again for speaking with us.
DK: Again this has been Dustin Kelley and Hannah Crummé speaking with An Vũ via Zoom on the twenty-third of March, 2021. Thank you so much.
AV: Thank you so much and on behalf of my family, one more time, we are grateful for the generosity of the United States of America. Thank you so much.