Dustin Kelley: Hello, my name is Dustin Kelley and I am one of the librarians at Lewis & Clark College's Watzek Library. I am joined today by my colleague Dr. Hannah Crummé. Today is November 16, 2020, and we have the privilege of speaking with Chau and Tim Leatherman via Zoom for the Vietnamese Portland project. You may recognize the Leatherman name from the utility tool that Tim invented and that bears their name, but that is only a part of their story. Chau and Tim met in Oregon as college students in the late 1960s and fell in love. In fact, Tim followed Chau back to Vietnam in 1972, but they returned to Portland in 1975 in the midst of America's military withdrawal from Saigon, and they managed to bring a large group of Chau's family with them. Chau and Tim, welcome. We are so glad you are here with us today.
Chau Leatherman: Hello.
Tim Leatherman: Thank you, it is a pleasure to be here.
DK: Chau, I would like to start with you. Could you begin by telling us some about your childhood in Vietnam? For instance, what part of Vietnam was your family originally from?
CL: We are from North Vietnam. By the time that we left North Vietnam, we lived in Hanoi. There are six of us [siblings], and we were all born in different cities or towns in North Vietnam, except the [last] two [who were born in Hanoi]. My father was working all over the country and my mother—this is the picture I was going to show you—comes from the highland. That is where [she] lived, in two levels. Up here is where people lived, cooked, slept, et cetera. Underneath are where the animals are housed. That was also in North Vietnam but in the highland of Vietnam. [My mother spoke a different language, but she also learned to speak Vietnamese. My father comes from the plains and they met somehow at her place because my father was working in the town] that was near there. That is where we come from.
DK: What were some of your earliest memories?
CL: I cannot remember how old I was. We were in Haiphong, which is another town, probably the second biggest. I was supposed to be going to kindergarten. The very first time I went out to go to school, [I kept tripping] because there were so many things going around me that I had never seen before. The lady that took me there finally carried me to school. So, that was the earliest memory.
DK: What were some of the things that were going around you?
CL: You know, cars, people, [lots of bustling activities around me]. I guess I just never had seen that, so I was just looking around. I just kept tumbling because I do not see where I am going. Hanging on to the lady, but still tumble.
DK: That makes sense, the world is very large to a small child.
CL: Yeah, very.
DK: Your father was a government official in French Indochina, is that correct?
CL: When you talk about French Indochina, I think Vietnam has been under the French colonial government for a long time. But there were two separate systems. [My father] worked for the Vietnamese government, [nominally headed by] a king, but the French controlled pretty much everything. Because he is working for the government, he was sent to different places, different towns. Hence, we were born in different cities in the country.
DK: What were some of his responsibilities working for the king and for the colonial government?
CL: He was an administrator. At first at the district level, and the highest [as a] province chief in north Vietnam.
DK: You spent some time in Hanoi, but had to leave. Is that correct?
CL: Most people know the history of Vietnam, that the country was divided because the French were defeated by the Communists. My father was a [province] chief. During one of his inspections on a boat, actually, he was killed by the Communists. That was in January of 1954. In July 1954, the country was divided. The agreement was [signed] by the communist government and the [French colonialists]. So then we left North Vietnam in July of 1954 to the South. When we went south we relocated to Saigon.
DK: What do you remember about the transition process and moving to the South?
CL: It was pretty chaotic, but I was ten then so I was not involved. There were lots of people coming and going, especially after the death of my father. My mother [was] a homemaker, she had never worked outside of the house, but because of my father's position I think that a lot of people were helping us, so there were lots of things going on. I only remember that we flew from Hanoi to Saigon. How it came about, I do not know. Somebody must have helped my mother to set things up, to get all the transportations and things of that nature to go. I remember [arriving in Saigon and] staying in one of the schools, so obviously we were refugees then and then in the next day or two, we moved to a house. Somebody must have known to find a place for us to stay temporarily until we can move to a more permanent place. Throughout all of this, I was pretty much an observer seeing what was going on, but in some parts I did not quite realize [it was] that bad. Most of the things were taken care of by my mother and my older sister, who was then seventeen.
DK: You mentioned that you had several siblings. What were some of their experiences once you moved to South Vietnam?
CL: Once we got to a permanent place, my mother was getting things organized so that she could earn a living. She received a pension from the government for a while. Then, after that, I do not know how long, it was gone, so she had to have a way to earn a living. She opened a shop to sell [water vessels]—and remember she has never worked before in her whole life—anyways, she got us to go to school. We went to one of the schools in the local area, [not a public school], and we lived like that for a little while and then we got to a more permanent schooling system. At that time I was ten, so second or third grade maybe.
DK: What was your schooling like at your private school?
CL: I was little. All the classes were pretty large and you pretty much sat there and I do not recall much about schooling. I do not think school was so important for me then.
DK: Did you learn other languages in school?
CL: Not then, but in the system—in the educational system—in Vietnam, you have to learn two foreign languages. But that started in high school and high school started in sixth grade. Not only that, they designed the system in such a way so that people do not get educated. After you finish fifth grade you have to take a national examination in order to go to high school. When you pass those tests, pass those exams—you remember they are organized nationally—and then you can go to public school, which is where you do not have to pay money. If you do not pass that and you still want to go to school you have to go to private school, so you pay them a certain amount and you get educated. Luckily, I passed those examinations so I went to public high school and at that point, most schools were just either boys' school or girls' school. It was years ago, it was not co-ed like now.
DK: That is really fascinating, thank you for sharing that, Chau, I appreciate it. Now, I want to transition to Tim for a few minutes. So, Tim, did you spend your childhood in Portland?
Tim Leatherman: Yes, I did. I was born in Portland seventy-two years ago and spent the first two years of my life in the caretaker's cottage of the Portland Audubon Society's bird sanctuary on Cornell Road.
TL: My parents—after World War II housing was a big problem to find—and my parents became the caretakers for the bird sanctuary. Then, when I was two, my father built a house for us on Southwest Garden Home Road where we lived until I finished the third grade. Before entering the fourth grade we moved again. Again, to a home my father built. This one near Bridlemile Grade School. I lived there until I finished high school and through summers and breaks during college. My parents lived in that house for over fifty years, and I moved back a couple of times after college too.
DK: Wow, that is a long time in one house. What were some of your earliest memories of Portland? Any favorite places that stand out?
TL: I remember we had a small field next to our house on Garden Home Road where we neighborhood kids played kick the can and the sport of the season. I remember a special treat was when my parents took my brother and me to the Carnival Restaurant on Terwilliger Road below OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) Hospital. I remember going to grade school at Markham Annex.
DK: Do you have any early memories of living near the bird sanctuary as well? Was that a special place to you?
TL: No, I have no memory of living there. I was two when we left there.
DK: That's right.
TL: I do have a couple of pictures of me at the bird sanctuary.
DK: Tell us a little bit more about your family. You mentioned a younger brother, do you have any other siblings?
TL: No, just my younger brother Stuart. He is two, two-and-a-half years younger than me. Do you want a little background on my family going back a generation or two?
DK: If you have anything you would like to share, you are certainly welcome.
TL: On my father's side, my great-great-grandfather brought his family to Oregon in 1869 in a wagon train. I guess that makes me a fifth-generation Oregonian. They settled in southern Oregon in Coos County, where my grandfather had a dairy farm on which my father was born and raised. My father got off the dairy farm by getting a degree in Anthropology from the University of Oregon. He then budget traveled in Europe in 1939, barely getting out of Germany before World War II started, and returned to the United States from France on a ship evacuating Americans. During the war, he became a ships’ carpenter in the Merchant Marine. He survived the sinking by a German torpedo of one of the ships on which he served. After the war, he spent his entire working career in construction, first as a carpenter, then a foreman, then in the last years as a superintendent on large construction projects. He died in  at the age of ninety-ninety years. Just a few days before his death, he was still going to exercise class, reading the newspaper, and doing the daily crossword puzzle.
CL: Just a few years ago.
DK: Wow, what a rich life. That is great to hear about your Oregon heritage.
TL: He was a union carpenter, so we had a middle-class life growing up. On both sides of my mother's side she has Norwegian heritage and [thus] so do I. Her grandparents emigrated from Norway to Minnesota, and then her parents settled in Portland in the early 1900s. My mother was born in Portland, she graduated from Grant High School and attended Pacific Lutheran University. She married my father in 1945 and spent her entire married life as a homemaker. She died in 2016 at the age of 94, also healthy until nearly the end.
DK: That is really fascinating.
TL: As for my direct family, I am married to Chau and we have a son, Lee. Just two years ago, Lee and his wife Kelsey gave birth to Ezekiel, the cutest little grandchild ever born in the history of mankind.
DK: Let's transition again and go back to Chau. Chau, you attended college in Vietnam and graduate school in the United States. Is that correct?
CL: I graduated in Vietnam first. I went to teachers college which is part of the University of Saigon. Then I taught a year and I got a scholarship. The scholarship was granted by the United States AID system. Vietnam then was trying to set up the system of community college to get more people to go to college at a level higher than just high school. They sent me to Portland to be trained to teach, to get a master's degree in order to teach in community college in Vietnam.
DK: And then you went to graduate school in the United States? What prompted you to study abroad?
CL: I like to be able to travel. Before the United States, I was thinking England because I was a teacher of English as a second language. But without the scholarship, there was no way I could go anywhere. The United States AID worked with the [Vietnamese] government and they have that to offer, so I applied for it. United States AID is from here [the U.S.], so obviously they were going to send me here. I went to Portland State [University].
DK: Tell us a little bit about your academic experiences at Portland State.
CL: I was teaching English at the high school level in Vietnam. I have absolutely no experience in statistics, economics, and all these other business-related [subjects]…but the plan was to get me to be trained more and have experience in those subjects so that when I come back to teach, I will be able to teach business education. So I started out learning subjects that I have never known before. That is why it took me quite a while before I could get an adequate amount of credit in order to go into the education part of it.
DK: What were some of your first impressions of Portland?
CL: [I arrived in the evening.] It was very dreary and wet and cold. I flew here to Portland from Washington, D.C. From Vietnam, they sent us to the United States but not to Portland. They sent us to Washington, D.C. even though I and some of my colleagues have some English, they sent all of us into the English as a second language program at Georgetown for a couple of months. [They then sent me to Portland.] It was very cold in Washington, D.C., and we all stayed in a boarding house. We looked forward to the weekend because then we could go and have Chinese food with rice. Food is something that is pretty serious [for us Vietnamese]. I would look and see people are so busy. That was my first impression of the United States. People are busy, going as if they all have some purpose or other. I [kept] looking around, not having any other purpose than learning about the United States.
Hannah Crumme: Out of curiosity, what brought you to Portland specifically? Was the United States AID program for Portland specifically? Or what made you come here?
CL: I had no choice in that. Initially, [I was scheduled to go] to Kent State. [Later] when I found out the shooting happened I was pretty happy I was not sent there. For some reason they chose Portland State. I do not know whether Portland State was more willing to support foreign students, or whether they would make it easier for foreign students to ease into it. Portland State has been known to have quite a few foreign students, especially from the Middle East. Already in Portland, they probably have four or five or six other teachers also coming to Portland to be trained. I think that was the reason why. I did not know Kent State, or Portland, or Chicago. I do not know any of these.
HC: So you did not have any impressions of it before you came? When you heard you were going to Portland did you have any?
CL: Not at all, not at all. I think Portland turned out to be probably the best place. Weather is bad at first, but after that everything seemed to turn out very moderate, very temperate, quite good.
DK: Were there any places in Portland that were extra special to you? Any places in nature or in the city that you loved to visit?
CL: I love the Japanese Garden. That is where I want to come visit to be calm, or to feel peaceful. I love ikebana, and it is not a whole bunch of flowers in the Japanese Garden, but it is very selected. Very, very nice. That is probably my best place in Portland.
DK: Were you able to remain connected to Vietnam, to your family, during your time at Portland State?
CL: Yes, we sent mail occasionally. We received mail. There was no problem at all with the connection. I just never had a chance to talk. We did not have a phone at that point. If we wanted to talk, my family probably would have to go to the post office, the main one, and then use their phone system there for me to call. So we never did talk. For the three and a half years away, we just connected by mail.
HC: Where did you live when you were in Portland?
CL: I was staying first of all in the dormitory. The dormitory is interesting. At that point it was 1968, the name of the dorm is called Viking. It was a co-ed dorm. One floor was woman, another floor was man. I thought that I blended in pretty well, mainly because I just graduated from college [a year or two earlier,] so I was not way too much older than the rest of the students there. It was quite fun. They thought that I was young like them. To save money, I shared a room with two others. No, I am confused, I only had one other. After that when we moved out then I had two more roommates. It was fine. This probably is the best way to learn English, because the kind of language they talk, it took me a long time to understand. Not only did they speak too fast, they used colloquial words that I have never heard before. The two months or so in Washington, D.C. and then to stay in the dormitory like that, was very helpful.
HC: What was it like being in downtown Portland in 1968?
CL: I was never afraid. Again, [as in Washington, D.C.] the dorm did not provide food [on weekends]. On weekends, my sustenance was to go downtown, to Chinatown especially. That's where we had food. It's completely different from now. It looked in a way dingy in certain areas. The Chinese shops are fine, in other areas it looked just completely different. It was quiet. It was safer for some reason. I never had any reason to be afraid of walking, say like for dinner, walking there and then walking back. Right now, I do not know if the Viking is still a dormitory but it has changed its name. Portland State at that point, I think their mascot is Viking so they have that name also for the dorm. Portland was very calm and it does not have the sense of a cosmopolitan city like now.
HC: Obviously, one purpose of this project is to develop a history of the city, so that is why I am asking what Portland was like. That is great, and any details you ever want to tell us—either of you—about the city of Portland and what it's like to be in the city would be great because that's one of the aims of the project.
CL: Definitely, some of the storefronts I used to see when I was there went away maybe by the time I left. The changes already started even then. It just looked very quaint. It was more comfortable—as far as I am concerned—than now, when everything is more formal.
HC: Chinatown has obviously changed quite a bit.
CL: Very changed.
HC: Have you watched that over the course of your time here? Do you have a sense of what has happened with Chinatown?
CL: No. When Tim and I came back to Portland, we did not go there [very] often. We moved to live in Northeast Portland, [so we went there even less]. I think lots of shops that used to be in Chinatown moved to 82nd, which is closer to us so that is where we go when we need anything.
HC: I will hand it back over to Dustin. I have interjected indirectly anyway, so I will back out of all my spiels.
TL: Way back then, way back in '69 and after, there was a restaurant in Chinatown called Fong Chong and it served dim sum, and so from then until it closed a few years ago we have been back to Fong Chong many, many times.
HC: That is great. One of the things we are trying to develop is the history of individual businesses and things like that, so that is great to know and anything like that is very useful.
DK: We love all the details.
TL: We remember the owner of Fong Chong. We used to call him the old man. He was always there, then pretty soon it was obvious his son was taking over, but the old man was still always hovering around.
HC: That is lovely.
DK: Chau, do you have anything else about your time in Portland as a student that you want to share?
CL: Let me see. I am not sure, I enjoy the system of higher education here, but I was assigned an advisor. I did not know how to use them until gradually the things I needed to ask, that I do not have anybody else to ask for, especially in courses and things like that. That part I liked. The library in my college in Vietnam is very minimal, but the library in…I spent a lot of time in the library of Portland State.
DK: Well, you are talking to two library staff members, so we appreciate that.
CL: Always, absolutely wonderful. I do spend a lot of time there. I had to write a thesis at the end to graduate, so it was where I lived for a while. Even the library now—from looking outside, I do not come in anymore—it has changed. It has expanded, it got expanded tremendously.
DK: Tim, you went to Oregon State University is that correct?
TL: Yes, that is correct.
DK: What did you study there?
TL: Well, I was not the best of students, but I managed to graduate within four years with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Perhaps I was not the best of students because, during my freshman year, I spent the better part of the year trying to master juggling, and then in the remaining three years trying to become good at table tennis. I paid my own way through school by working summers and breaks as a construction laborer. I had a friend who was from Thailand who invited me to go home with him during the summer break of 1968. I had saved enough from my previous work to fund my next year in school, so I did. That was my first time out of the United States except for a weekend trip to Victoria, British Columbia. The Thailand trip also included Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
DK: Wow, that is a lot to see.
TL: Yes, it was quite an eye-opening experience.
DK: You mentioned table tennis. In one article I read, it seemed like that had played a part in how you and Chau met. Is that correct?
TL: That is correct. It was during a college break of the following year, 1969, when I was back in Portland living at home. I worked during the day as a construction laborer and [was] still trying to get good at table tennis. A table tennis friend and I had heard there was a ping pong table in the basement of a dormitory serving Portland State University students. We went there to play. While we were playing, a group of students came down to take a break from their studies. Among them was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I tried to play extra well to see if I could impress her. I was very socially awkward growing up, but somehow I got up the courage to talk to her and to get her name and phone number. It was Chau. The rest is history.
DK: When was this that you met?
TL: This was the summer of 1969.
DK: Wonderful. What was some of your early relationship like in the Pacific Northwest?
TL: I had an old car that I purchased from my grandfather. It was a 1952 Ford that I used to take Chau around. I remember asking her for a date to go to a movie. I remember asking her for a date to go out for pizza, and I was so culturally unaware that I did not realize that Vietnamese hated cheese. Somehow our relationship survived the pizza dinner. I eventually think Chau has come to enjoy cheese and pizza as well.
CL: A correction here. It is not Vietnamese, it is just me.
CL: Not Vietnamese. I think the part that surprised me the most was he took me to a Mexican restaurant, and for the life of me I could not imagine anybody eating, I think it was tortilla soup, that had lots of cheese in it so I do not think I finished it. It was just way too much for me to handle. I learned to like it, and I like Mexican food tremendously now. That is a good change.
TL: Chau, do you remember any of the things that I did to try to woo you?
CL: I am not sure, but I remember going with you to Oregon State. I do not know for what occasion, but you took me there and then you took me back. I cannot remember what's happening there anymore. It was a long time, long time ago.
DK: I am enjoying hearing the two of you share recollections together, and there is going to be plenty of time for that to continue. Many of the next questions are for both of you, so you can feel free to chime in as necessary. I am curious, what prompted the two of you to return to Vietnam?
CL: The country Vietnam then was in a war for a long time. Vietnam as a country has been under domination, under control of the Chinese, for thousands of years and then under the control of the French for hundreds of years. They always lost their control and we regained independence and then it came back and forth, back and forth. The French actually toward the end was in World War II and then they left. The Japanese came to Vietnam for a while and then the Japanese left and then the French came back, and then the French were defeated by the communists. It comes to the time where they have the agreement to have the country divided, just like in Korea. Our country was divided a little bit after North and South Korea. [Our family then] left North Vietnam to go to South Vietnam. My father died because of the communists, so I think the decision has to be my mother’s decision to leave.
CL: [In 1975] I was working as an assistant secretary to a pretty big guy that works at the defense attaché office in the [U.S.] embassy in Saigon. We know that the country is going to fall, we just did not know when. At that point when we realized people started moving out, I was working there so I was able to see that we can arrange so that I can get my family out with us. Tim was working in Vietnam too, [for an adoption agency]. You were taking the kids out, right?
TL: Chau is jumping ahead a little bit of your question. His question was what prompted you to return to Vietnam once you finished your degree at Portland State?
CL: I totally misunderstood.
DK: That is okay, and you have added some extra details about your family and some of the things you have done so that is a-OK. I am curious about what prompted you to leave Portland together—or, if it was together—and return to the country of Vietnam?
CL: I left Portland when I finished my education here. I had a degree. Then the scholarship, the purpose is to get a master's degree in that particular topic then the money dried out. I am not free to say, “OK I liked it so, well, I'll stay here.” So then I come back to Vietnam and at that point, that is when things become kind of wishy-washy. I do not know what the situation is with the community college [program], but I was not asked and it was not set up. I was just doing different things. I was working an odd job here and there. Being a secretary, being an assistant, being an accountant, and then finally working for [the U.S. government].
TL: To answer your question as to what prompted the two of us to return to Vietnam, we had fallen in love and Chau had an obligation to return to Vietnam as a condition of her scholarship in the United States. She flew back across the Pacific and we decided I would cross the United States, fly across the Atlantic, and travel through Europe and across Asia to get into Vietnam. And then once in Vietnam, we would see if our love was real, and if it was, get married and we would live there indefinitely. I like to joke that I am probably the only young American male of my generation to pay his way to get to Vietnam.
DK: I think that's fair.
TL: This was in 1972 when I arrived in Vietnam and Chau returned.
DK: So Tim, did you speak any Vietnamese when you arrived in Saigon?
TL: No, I did not speak Vietnamese when I arrived. Chau met me at the airport with her oldest brother who was an officer in the South Vietnamese Army and had access to a Jeep. Of course, I was so happy to see Chau but due to cultural restrictions we could not embrace.
HC: Were there any political or administrative complications to entering Vietnam as a United States civilian in 1972?
TL: Yes [laughs].
HC: What was that like?
TL: I started trying to get a visa before I left Portland to start my trip. When I got to Washington, D.C. I tried to go to the Vietnamese embassy to try and get a visa. I could not. When I got into Europe, every capital of each country I was in I would go to the Vietnamese embassy and inquire about how to get a visa to get into Vietnam. No help. Finally, I got across Asia and got into Bangkok and went to the Vietnamese embassy. No problem at all, “Here's your visa, sir.” I was then able to…I think it was a six month visa and I am not sure what kind of visa it was. It was probably a tourist visa because when I entered Vietnam I had no work lined up. I paid my own way there and had no job prospects lined up when I arrived.
HC: Was your plan to be there for only six months or was that just the visa you could get at that time?
TL: That was just the visa I could get. Our plan was to, as I said, if our love was real, get married and live there indefinitely.
DK: So I take it the love was real.
TL: Yeah, we decided the love was real. I arrived in August of 1972. It was a bit difficult for us to be together in Vietnam because a Vietnamese woman who spent time with an American was considered to be a woman of ill repute. Of course, Chau was not, she was well educated.
CL: I remember I had to say to you that we cannot do things like that. We cannot walk in the street and hold hands, so we would have to get married somehow.
DK: Did you get married rather quickly after Tim arrived?
CL: Yes, in September.
TL: About a month later. We actually had two marriages. We got officially married on September 23rd, 1972. But in Chau's family astrology played a pretty big part in when events were held. Chau's brother was really interested in astrology and somehow the decision was made that our wedding ceremony would be on October 14th. We have two anniversaries.
DK: All the more reason to celebrate.
DK: So Tim, Saigon was brand new to you. What were some of your first memories of seeing Saigon?
TL: My first impression was that it was hot. Very hot and humid, very humid. In most of the city, traffic was chaotic and life was bustling, but in some parts of Saigon it was really beautiful. There were beautiful, shady, tree-lined streets and there were some nice parks.
DK: Chau, how have things changed in Saigon since you departed for PSU (Portland State University)?
CL: We came back the first time in 198—.
TL: No no, when you returned in 1972, how had Saigon changed from before you left?
CL: Oh. My first impression was that I had never seen so much garbage and dirt inside Saigon while I was there before. I had Portland to compare to Saigon. When I first came back, in Saigon things were hot and noisy and garbage everywhere, et cetera, et cetera. About a month after coming back I thought, everything is just fine, I did not pay attention to all these other things I had to compare everything with anymore. It took about a month or two before I got back into things as to the way it should be.
DK: You were married in 1972, and you stayed in Vietnam until 1975 as the city and South Vietnam fell. What were those years like living in South Vietnam before you left?
CL: We rented a room in a house.
TL: We got married and found our first so-called home, [it] was a rented room in a house in Saigon. I bought a bicycle as my first mode of transport. When Americans go abroad, usually the first job, the easiest job for us to get is as an English teacher. My first job in Vietnam was to teach English at private high schools. And then after a few months of that, I became a helicopter repairman. That was during the period when the Paris Peace Accord was signed between Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger in 1973, and the United States almost totally withdrew from Vietnam. That job repairing helicopters quickly ended after only about three months. Then I got a job as a part-time English instructor at a Vietnamese hospital teaching the staff there that wanted to learn English. That was a program that the United States government had set up and the American Medical Association had received the contract, and they had this program in Vietnam and they made me a local hire. That job ended after about nine months. At some point, while we were living in Saigon, my parents sent me a letter saying that they knew a young couple that wanted to adopt a child. They sent me on what ended up being a wild goose chase going to orphanages in Saigon and the Saigon area to see what the possibilities were for them to be able to adopt a child. But in the course of going to those orphanages, I ended up going to an adoption agency, an American adoption agency [that] had set up an office in Vietnam. In fact, it was an Oregon-based adoption agency called Holt Children Services. When I was doing that search I went and stopped there and met the staff, and eventually I was able to get a job with Holt as their logistics person to take care of the maintenance and repairs and procure supplies. When there were flights to send children who had been [approved] for adoption [in the United States], [I] made the flight arrangements.
HC: When you are sending children back to the United States and it is an Oregon-based adoption agency, are the children going back to Oregon or are they just going everywhere?
TL: They would be going everywhere in the United States. It was just the agency that was coordinating all this. I have to say that when I arrived in Vietnam, my intention was to try to live a Vietnamese life. It was quite clear after I got there that the American presence was still pretty strong and that you could live an entirely American life. Especially if you had received your assignment to go to Vietnam in the United States. If you were sent there by the United States government or United States company or contractors, you could go to Saigon, you could stay in American-type hotels, you could eat at American-type restaurants and shop at American-type commissaries, you could go to American movies, you could travel in American vehicles, and so you could live an entirely American life if you wanted to. But I, as I say, paid my own way to get there and had no prospects, and my intention was to live a Vietnamese life. I have to say that I did not succeed. It was very, very difficult for me to learn a foreign language. I did learn enough Vietnamese to survive, but I did not even come close to being able to have a conversation like we are now. I could buy and sell, I could order food, I could go here and there, and I could get along fine [on the necessities] with my poorly accented Vietnamese but nothing real deep. [We] lived in the city in our own [rented] housing, and we did not have a lot of association with Americans, but my work was with Americans so I had kind of a half-and-half life.
DK: When did you know that you would need to leave Vietnam and return to the United States?
TL: Starting in early ‘75 we read and heard the news reports that the North was invading the South. We knew the South was going to fall to the communists, but we did not know when or how much of a battle there would be for Saigon. There were rumors that anyone associated with the Americans would be killed after the communists took over. So, in April of 1975 the United States was starting to evacuate all Americans and some of the higher-up Vietnamese as well. By now I had been working for this American adoption agency for over a year, and Chau was already a United States citizen and working for the United States Embassy, and I think she just told you that she was working in the Defense Attaché Office of the United States Embassy and working for the head of the Defense Attaché Office, so she had pretty good access. He was giving her pretty good information as to what the intelligence was learning of the invasion of the South by the North.
CL: I think he was not the head of the Defense Attaché Office. He was the head of one of the departments of the Defense Attaché Office. It had something to do with intelligence.
TL: OK. At the adoption agency, we were able to get most of the children out. We got most of the children that were in our care, it was several hundred, out of the country on a charter flight in early April. Chau and I remained in Vietnam. The decision to leave was very difficult because while we could get out easily, we did not want to leave without getting Chau's family out too.
DK: When you say Chau's family, who all does that include?
CL: My mother, and then I have five other siblings, and my oldest sister, her husband and two children, my older brother and two little kids, and then I have three younger, single brothers with us.
TL: And most of all, your mother.
CL: Yeah, my mother first. I do not know, did you count?
DK: Twelve including you, or excluding you?
CL: Excluding me.
DK: What was the process of helping assist your family in leaving Vietnam and trying to come to America?
CL: Because I was working and considered to be an employee of the embassy, I was able to do all the paperwork necessary for all the people, all the twelve folks that we mentioned. The paperwork part was easy. The getting out of Vietnam was not easy. My four brothers and brother-in-law and then one of [Tim’s] assistants [at the adoption agency], so six men. My office was within the airport area. We could go in and out easily, but the men at the age when they had to be in the military were not allowed to come into the airport. Tim came into the picture, what did you do?
TL: When I was working for the adoption agency, in the last months when the Americans were leaving right and left, one day one of the Americans drove a big black American car with diplomatic license plates into our adoption agency compound, threw me the keys, said, “I’m out of here, do what you want with the car.” When you have a big black American car with diplomatic license plates, you have quite a bit of freedom. In order to get the men of Chau's family in to the airport, I put them into the trunk of the car and drove to the gate. With the diplomatic license plates and just an American in the car, they waved me right through and we were able to get the men of her family into the United States section of the airport where they were processing people to evacuate on the United States airlift flights out of Vietnam.
DK: So where did you stop along the way on your trip back to the United States, and what was that like?
CL: I went with my extended family, Tim stayed back. I do not know what he was doing there, but he stayed back. Bringing the children out maybe.
TL: Correct. Our decision was that Chau and her family would leave, and I would stay and help process the few remaining children that we had in our care at the adoption agency before I left.
CL: When we went there, we had to stay overnight at the compound. When it was time to board, I think it was a military plane, a certain number I cannot remember—C-142 or something. I think we, the women and the children, were free to board that military plane and [my colleague] devised a way to draw the attention of the Vietnamese military away so that my brothers and brother-in-law could also be allowed to board that plane. Then we flew from Tan Son Nhat, which is the airport, to the Philippines. I think the United States Military or Navy has a place in Subic Bay, Philippines. We stayed there a night or two, and then from there we were also airlifted to Guam and we stayed there a couple of weeks or so. From there, we went to Camp Pendleton in California. Then I had to go back to Portland to report to work, [while] the rest of the family stayed [at Camp Pendleton]. I cannot remember how many days, but they came later. I came back first because I was supposed to be working, still an employee for the federal government. So they put me in doing some work at the Corps of Engineers in Portland. I worked there for maybe a month or so before everything was processed and I am out of there.
HC: Did you request to come to Portland? It seems fortunate that you guys came back to Portland?
CL: Well, yes. I requested to get back to Portland because Tim's parents are here and they are the most logical people who were having to bear the burden to take care of that many people.
TL: Just another word or two about us leaving Vietnam: Chau and her family left, we think they left Vietnam on April 21st. I stayed. The country fell to the communists on April 30th. That was the day where helicopters were flying off the top of the embassy taking the last few Americans out of the country. A few days before that, the communists had shelled the airport and airplanes could no longer fly out of the country. After that, it had to be by ship or helicopter. When Chau left on the 21st, I stayed a few more days and left with the thirty-three children that were in our care at the adoption agency. I think it was on April 26. It was four days before the country fell but it was while the airport was still open. There was still this process of going to the airport, getting into the American section, getting the paperwork processed, getting onto a plane and leaving. By then I was familiar with that process and I was able to help facilitate getting all those thirty-three kids out of the country.
HC: Where did you go with the children?
TL: It was roughly the same path. We flew to the Philippines, then I think we flew from there to Hawaii, then from there to California, and then up to Portland.
HC: Did the children come up to Portland?
TL: Most of the children. I found a newspaper article that was written by the Oregon Journal telling about my experience. Some of the children were ill and sick and were dropped off along the way to get medical care or hospitalization. A couple of others were dropped off in California, but I think we ended up coming to Portland with twenty-seven of the thirty-three.
HC: Where did they go?
TL: Holt knew we were coming, and they had this network set up where they had people come to meet us, and put the children in…I do not know exactly where the children were housed.
HC: We have interviewed the Benedictine Sisters at Mount Angel and they took a big set of children at the same moment as the fall of Saigon, so I am really just trying to find out if it is the same children that went to the Benedictine Sisters at Mount Angel.
CL: Could be.
TL: I don't know.
HC: What was it like coming back to Portland for both of you? Did Portland seem different than when you were here the first time? And for Tim, what was it like being back home after being away for years?
TL: One of your earlier questions was had Portland changed, or had you seen the changes to Portland over time? By now, I had traveled quite a bit and I cannot remember exactly which trip it was, but I remember coming from the airport. By then we had the Banfield Freeway, and just as you come along next to the Lloyd Center, you can look into Portland and see the city, and see the bridges, and see the West Hills in the background. I can remember having the distinct impression that I had been to so many places around the world, and that Portland really is a pretty nice city, it is a beautiful city. We came back to Portland, and for me, it was a bit of a downer I guess you could say, because I did not leave Vietnam on my terms. The [circumstances under] which I left Vietnam were [not what I wanted them to be]. Of course, our immediate task was to get Chau's family resettled. We quickly got started on that. My parents were a huge help to us. All twelve of Chau's family plus Chau and I poured into their house, and we all ate our meals at my parents’ house. Chau's family helped cook the meals. [Soon after,] my parents made arrangements that Chau's oldest sister and her husband and their two kids would stay with my father's brother and his wife. My parents also made arrangements that Chau's three younger, single brothers would stay with friends of theirs. The rest of us were all sleeping at my parents’ house.
DK: Wow. What was it like to have so many of you together under one roof? And with other family probably coming over to visit quite a bit too.
CL: I would say that they were all happy, and to them the house was probably big. It has three bedrooms, it has a basement, and their house in Vietnam is way smaller so to them it was fine. But to Tim's parents, I am sure that they say it was so crowded. It worked out fairly nice. During the day, however, there were lots of things that needed to be done. Getting them to get all the paperwork, sign up for social security, all of the things that are necessary to live here. We had some other help, like Bill Kennedy was providing lots of transportation and looking for houses for them. The church that Tim's parents go to, knowing that they are taking a big load of folks to help, they also chipped in with donations of clothing and all this other stuff. Even referring to houses to rent. [My family] finally rented a house, a three-bedroom house, and the whole twelve group of folks moved there. Pretty soon, my brother-in-law got a job at ESCO. He was trained as a machinist, so he got a job at ESCO, so they bought a house with some help from relatives. So there were four people out of that house. The rest lived in the rented house until they were able to save up enough money to buy another house. In fact, they rented the house for a few months, and they gradually got their own place. At the same time, everybody [would] go to work. I remember all my brothers were gardeners. Somebody worked as a dishwasher, somebody worked as a busboy. The Stock Pot Restaurant is the place where he worked. Somebody worked as a cleaning person for a butcher shop. Everybody worked except for the ones that were little kids. My sister’s kids were in grade school, not old enough like eight, nine, or ten. She went to work as a seamstress. [The houses were] not being crowded all day long, just in the evening when everybody came home.
HC: This is a slightly odd question because it is asking you to remember what it was like for other people, but what was it like for them to arrive in Portland? What challenges did they encounter? How did they find work? What neighborhoods were they in? What was it like for this big and diverse family group to come to a new city?
CL: Actually, it was just a wonder because there are two people, my brother and brother-in-law, who had been trained in the United States. The rest of the folks speak very little English, and it was just a wonder to them. The scenery, the people, the way things are, the way that people eat. People eat quite nice things like fresh caught salmon. [Now everyone loves salmon, but at that point they all,] “Eh, I don't think so, that doesn't taste so good.” They learned too. There are so many things that they learned. They were fairly young then, so they adjusted pretty easily. I remember my mother learned English sentences so that she can talk to people. There were people who came to the house to teach English for my mother and my sisters-in-law. All the other folks go to Portland State, and they have some ESL [English as a Second Language] training there. [My mother] learned one sentence, she said, “I do not speak English,” so that people would go away because she does not speak English. But they adjust.
HC: How was it for your mother? Was it hardest for your mother? I imagine it would be hardest for the oldest person, but that might not be right.
CL: I don't know if it is harder, but remember this is the second time that the family as a unit had moved to a situation we never knew before. I think they are quite, how should I say, adjust very well and take it with the sense of adventure rather than why did it happen to me, why did I have to leave my home. They all know the situation that if they do not go, what it would be like.
HC: Was there an existing Vietnamese community in Portland that they could join?
CL: [Not at the beginning, but soon after.] Then they did join, my mother did join. The rest of them, once they got their job I do not think that they did. Except for my single brothers, they joined some groups so that they had some association with some other folks.
HC: What were those groups?
CL: The group that my brothers joined later, and actually they met each other in Portland State, and then from there that group branched out and they had things happening as a group socially elsewhere, but with the same group that went to Portland State.
TL: I think Chau's family was the first of the refugee families, the escapees from Vietnam in 1975, to come to Portland. There was a newspaper article saying there was another family that came at around the same time and settled with a family in Camas, Washington. That was the first trickle of what became a big stream of Vietnamese coming to Portland.
HC: So there were not many Vietnamese people with whom to socialize?
TL: Prior to that there were just a few students and a few wives of Americans who had married in Vietnam, soldiers who had married Vietnamese women in Vietnam.
HC: How did they decide what neighborhoods to live in?
CL: I think they did not know Portland very much then, so the house to rent is probably somebody referring. In fact, I think they are living in Southwest Portland because Tim's parents lived in Southwest Portland. There was a house they rented in Southwest Portland very close to one of the members of the church that Tim's parents went to.
DK: You mentioned the church was really helpful. Were there other organizations that were essential in helping your family get resettled?
CL: I would say that at first Tim's parents single-handedly did the whole thing. And then they recruited help, and other church members know that that's what's happening and they started helping out and bringing food, offering [clothing]. I think one man, he has a laundromat—no not laundry, to clean clothes.
TL: A dry cleaner.
CL: A dry cleaner cleaning for hotels. He said, “Oh we have all these clean things that have been left here.” You know, little things like that. People are extremely helpful and generous in giving them things that they think these folks need, that my family needs.
TL: Our family being such early arrivals, there was not any. I do not think there was any government infrastructure set up, or non-profit infrastructure set up to assist the Vietnamese, the refugees, as soon as my family arrived. That started to develop as more and more Vietnamese flooded out of Vietnam and came to the United States.
DK: As more Vietnamese settled in Portland, did your family make any connections with Vietnamese churches or religious institutions, or other community organizations kind of continue that Vietnamese community? This could even be in the decade that followed your arrival in Portland.
CL: My family, I say we are non-church people, but my mother is a Buddhist. She went to the Buddhist temple, and there was none here then. There was a group that was set up by one of the non-profit organizations that was called the Indo-Chinese Cultural Center because their main purpose was to help not just Vietnamese, but Laotian, Hmong, and other groups so that's why it is Indo-Chinese Cultural Center. I remember my mother, somebody came and picked her up and brought her to learn English. She actually was going there, not to learn English, but just to [socialize] with other people. I do not know how much English she learned except for, “I don't speak English.” But that is helpful.
HC: Where was that located?
CL: It is on, I don't know…the Trader Joe's on 41st and Broadway. You know that Trader Joes? That location?
TL: In the Hollywood District.
CL: The Hollywood District. It is across the street, I do not know if it is there anymore or whether they moved. They had somebody who went to the house and taught my sister[-in-law] and her two little kids. One is three and one is one, so she cannot go to class. So somebody came to the house and taught. Things like that I think impressed them tremendously. This man, his name is Jeff. Jeff, who is probably, I do not know how Jeff knows about them, but he came and he taught them and he is extremely helpful and they all were very, very happy and thankful for that. And then folks at the Lutheran church, your parent's church, what was her name? Gail …
TL: Gail Baack.
CL: Gail Baack also, I do not know if she taught or not, but people are…That is when you see how the community comes about to help. I do not think your parents asked for them to help, but they saw it and they just offered their help. It is nice in that way when the community comes together, it just automatically offered help.
DK: That is so wonderful that there were so many positive connections. That is great to see. Were there any challenges, or any times where the community was less welcoming to you and your family of immigrants?
CL: I do not see that, whatever happened to my family is totally positive. I remember when my family was here twenty-five years, they invited your family, Gail, everybody else who helped them to settle here and live for twenty-five years, so it was a really nice event for them to show the appreciation for the help that they received.
HC: That is lovely.
DK: What did both of you do for work after returning to Portland?
TL: Immediately after leaving Vietnam?
DK: Yes, after returning to Portland.
CL: After we returned to Portland, I went to work for the Corps of Engineers for a couple of months at most. And then in August we took a trip to Europe, so my guess at this point is that that was a good thing to do. When we left I was worried that they hadn't really quite settled down. People were doing this and that, but I was not there. But it turned out that my not being there, they took care of themselves. So we were away for a while, nine or ten months or so before we returned back.
DK: I had read you were in Europe for a long time, but I did not realize it was quite that long. Ten months.
TL: Yes, it was nine months. [After we left Vietnam and returned to Portland,] the adoption agency gave me some busy work to do in Eugene for a couple of weeks and then they said that is the end of our relationship. I guess you would say I was unemployed for the next two and a half months until Chau and I decided to take this budget trip to Europe.
CL: You were not unemployed, maybe you worked without pay because you must have helped them, my family, because I was working. Tim does have a car, so he probably becomes the driver, the chauffeur, doing whatever that needed to be done in order for them to become accustomed, used to, Portland.
TL: Thank you. I probably was pretty busy. Going back to what Chau's family experienced in the early days, when they rented that house on Southwest 47th, my sister-in-law tells a story that the house had a fireplace and one night it was cold so they decided to build a fire. Then it was time to go to bed, and Chau's mother convinced the rest of the family members to close the damper to preserve the heat. The next morning, everyone felt sick and according to my sister-in-law she blamed it on food poisoning, so she threw all of the food in the house, all of it away. It was only much, much later when she read an article of a similar incident that she realized that they almost all died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
HC: It is great that they all survived. That was a risky night. That might have been their most dangerous night in all of this.
TL: Yeah, it kind of shows the difference between what life was like in Vietnam and what it is like here, and how if you do not know some ins and outs, how adjusting to a new life and a new place might cause some issues.
DK: Tim, would you be willing to tell us some about your utility tool that came about?
TL: Yes. Chau and I took this long extended trip to Europe and it was a trip to decide what are we going to do with the rest of our lives. During the trip, I was jotting down ideas, and during the trip I was carrying a pocket knife. There were often times where I wished I had a pair of pliers in my pocket. I jotted down a note that, in essence, said add pliers to a pocket knife. When we returned, I looked at this list of ideas I had created during the trip, and I decided to concentrate on this one. I asked Chau, “Is it OK if I try to go to the basement and pick up a file and hacksaw, and build a prototype of what's in my mind?” She said “How long will it take,” and I said “Maybe one month.” So she said OK. She went to work to support us, and I went to the garage and picked up a file and a hacksaw and three years later I had a prototype that I liked, and then it was another five years of searching for a customer and modifying the prototype for what the market wanted. Finally, I was able to commercialize the idea.
DK: And for anyone listening, on the Leatherman website there is a lovely little video that talks about their time in Europe and that shows the picture of your prototype and your drawings and some wonderful details, and you meeting some people who have used your utility tool over the years.
TL: Yes, the whole Leatherman journey has been very, very gratifying for me.
DK: So, Chau, could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing during these three years while Tim was developing a prototype?
CL: [laughs] I think it is very reasonable, and actually I think it is smart of me to ask you how long will it take so I can do what I plan to do. Anyway, my intention has always been that I will be working. There was no plan to just stay at home and be a homemaker. The refugees start coming in, and there are lots of families with children, and the state of Oregon, especially in Portland there is a program from the state. It is called the Children Services Division, which is part of the Department of Human Resources, and it is in some way connected to the Adult and Family Services. That Adult and Family Services is welfare for families that qualify, but this one almost all the families have little children. I applied because of my language ability. I applied to work, and they do not have any name to quantify what it is. I was working as just a translator but they called that position researcher. So I was a researcher for a while working with some social workers and caseworkers and families with children. At that point, the goal is to help resettle them, but just like the domestic program, it is mainly to protect children. Once [most had been resettled], there was always some family here and there with [problems with] children. Gradually, when the refugees stopped coming in big waves—the non-profit agency that resettled them is called Catholic Charities and they are still working here now—[the Department of Human Resources] converted our group into part of the Children Services Division working with domestic children also. Just kind of assimilated us in there. I worked there [until] there were no longer [very many] Vietnamese refugees needing help, then we worked with domestic children. It involved things like you placed kids in homes and then you referred them to treatment et cetera, et cetera. What do I do after that? And then we have a kid. When our son was born in ‘81, I was still working there but on a part-time basis. And then he got sick, so then I retired to take care of this sick kid and I have not worked since then. Since 1983, '84.
HC: We often ask people a lot about their experience with the Portland Public Schools. This interview has gone really long, and we want to be conscious of people's exhaustion levels. I would like to ask you about your experience with the Portland Public Schools, but I would also like to check in and see if everyone still has energy to keep talking?
CL: Oh, it is fine.
TL: I am fine.
HC: OK. How was it raising a kid here, then? What was your experience with the school system?
CL: I may not be able to help you very much. Tim at that point is very busy with developing the tool and trying to make a go of it. Our son, Lee became sick when he was two and a half. He had a situation that he should not be exposed. He had leukemia and should not be exposed to other kids. That is why I no longer worked. I stayed home with him. I [carefully screened the children, his cousin was ok, to control who he came in contact with]—just like COVID—control of who is fine and who is not. [A little later], for him to have socialization with kids his age, I get him into the Montessori school at Providence for two days a week with the condition that anybody sick in his class just let me know and I will keep [Lee] home. It works out fine, and when he becomes six, the illness is not as intense as it was earlier. I signed him up for another Montessori school, so that is why I cannot tell you about Portland Public School.
HC: With his illness, what was your experience with the healthcare system here?
CL: We have for thirty or forty years now, we have Kaiser. We cannot say anything better than that they are wonderful. The pediatrician, the oncologist that worked with him was absolutely wonderful. We signed him up for, it is one of these, what do you call that, it is not proven yet, it is experimental.
CL: Therapy, yeah. He said that these are the risks, these are the benefits, and the chance of surviving is not too high so we decided as a family that we were just going to try it, and so we did and he was in chemotherapy every so often for five years. After these five years when it was over, they declared that he is clinically cured. If anything happens it is something else or something new. That is when I found out it is nice to be able to stay home to be able to get him to do his stuff and make it work. After that, when he finished the fifth grade, he went to middle school, which is a public school, yes. He went to Gregory Heights, a local school. At the local school, the teachers were wonderful. He got to learn all these other things that he did not have when he was in a smaller school. If I had to, I would say I do not have any qualms with sending him there. But then in high school, we then go back into the private system. It was at that point, we went to Jesuit, we went to Lincoln, we went to different schools to see what would be best for him. [We chose Jesuit.] Jesuit was co-ed. A couple of years before that it was only all boys. I think he was lucky. It turned out to be the school system was fine.
HC: What made you want to go to private high school?
CL: Our plan for him is that we encouraged him to at least finish college, and then whatever else he wanted to do further [was up to him. We chose Jesuit because it concentrates on academics], but then at the same time that he would be free to have…He is a pretty good swimmer and for this many years that is a little bit more disciplined and a little bit more control of kids. That is my problem, I just want to make sure that there is more attention given, so that was the reason why. I do not even know if it is any better than any other. If he was to go to local school, he would go to Madison, which is the local school.
TL: Of course I am a public school kid all my life. I grew up and went to the public schools in Portland, and I think they are fine and if you want to get a good education, you can get a good education at the Portland schools. Chau was primarily responsible for the choices on Lee's education, and I think she made good choices.
CL: The reason that we wanted for Lee to be in the Montessori preschool is because that is the only setup that I can get Lee to be exposed to other kids and still under control that we will not have any regrets not to do the things we can possibly do to keep him safe and then from there it just go on.
DK: Tim, you helped sponsor a friend from Vietnam to the United States, is that correct?
DK: Can you tell us a little bit about what the sponsorship process was like?
TL: The person was actually a classmate of Chau's, a year behind Chau, who we engaged to teach me Vietnamese when I was living in Vietnam.
CL: I think you probably had talked to him before, right?
TL: His name is Vinh, Do The Vinh is the Vietnamese way of saying it.
DK: Yes, we had the privilege of interviewing him (see Vinh The Do) and recording his oral history.
TL: I offered him a chance to leave Vietnam when we left, but he had a mother who was ill and other family, and he chose not to leave. But then after a few years his mother died and he could not live under the communists anymore, and decided to leave Vietnam on a boat and succeeded. [On] his boat the engine stopped and they were luckily able to hail an American destroyer that was in the area, and the American ship picked up the people on Vinh's boat. From the American destroyer, Vinh sent me a letter saying that he had been saved and asking if I would sponsor him to come to America. Of course I agreed. I think from the American destroyer they were dropped off in Thailand and he was in a camp there for a while, and went through some various processing to get to America. By the time he came—it was in 1978—there was quite a bit of infrastructure set up to help the Vietnamese refugees, so I was able to tap into that and get Vinh settled fairly well. He came out with his fiancé and also his brother and his brother's wife. We were able to—for a while we had all four of them in our house and then we were quickly able to get them their own housing, and get them…Vinh of course was fluent in English, he too was a teacher in English in Vietnam, and so he had an easier time adapting. Things went pretty well with that process.
DK: Very interesting. Well, I only have one more question for you. We have had a wonderfully long conversation, but I am curious, have you been back to visit Vietnam since you left in 1975?
TL: I will answer first. As I mentioned earlier, when I left Vietnam I did not feel like it was on my terms, and I was very eager to return. It took years before the Vietnamese government allowed ordinary Americans to come back and travel in Vietnam. At first it was only in organized tours. In 1987, Chau and our five-year-old son Lee and I were on the second tour allowed to come back to Vietnam and my impression was that life for the ordinary Vietnamese looked pretty tough. Quite difficult. We had one experience where we visited one of Chau's friends, and a secret policeman showed up to hassle us and her friend. But that visit seemed to satisfy me, to give closure to the Vietnam experience in my life. It was not until 2011 that we went back again, and since then we have been back twice more.
DK: Do you have anything to add about your return trips to Vietnam, Chau?
CL: Yeah, I agree with Tim. When we came back in 1987, I was shocked. Saigon is the first place we stopped. The city used to be all people all the time, and noisy. [But] Saigon at that point was just like when we had COVID here in Portland. You would go out in the street, no cars. No cars and no people, and the few people coming out all looked as if they were mentally unhealthy could not do anything, could not see anything. I was shocked. I could not imagine it to be like that. So we thought it was exactly the right decision for us to leave Vietnam in the first place. Coming back, I visited friends who still lived there, and found out how difficult it was. It was just something else. The last time that we came back to Vietnam, we went into an area of Saigon, and it was just like New York. They have a Hyatt hotel there, it just looked like New York and not Saigon. That is how changed it is. Before I forget actually, before I forget I have a [reminder] note here and I was wondering if you…A couple of months or so ago Vinh sent us some writing regarding his trip from Vietnam to the United States, and his first days in the U.S., and I read some of that. I was laughing out loud because of his experiences as a Vietnamese who has never been abroad, and some kind of things he had to go through to be compliant with what is required of him. I want to show Tim but he wrote it in Vietnamese so if you wish to re-interview him, ask him about that. It is just fairly recent. He kept detailed notes of things he has done, of what he was told to do, and how he carried that out. Just as a side note if you should want to go into that.
DK: Yes, we will be interested in inquiring more about that. As we are close to the end of our interview, I am wondering if either of you have anything else you would like to add. Anything we did not discuss today that you were hoping to, or anything that popped up from your memory after we moved on from a topic. I just want to give you the floor at this time.
TL: Chau, any thoughts?
CL: No, actually. I need to thank you for taking on this project. As I said, if I live a while longer I may not remember the things that happened to us, and you are doing this in a way that is very academic and credible, so for that I thank you. Hopefully, when Zeke grows up, if he wants to learn about his grandparents he can go find it and read. Also that matters because I do not know what he knows and what he does not know.
HC: We would be interested in interviewing your son as well because we are not just interested in the experience of people who came from Vietnam, but also people of Vietnamese or partial Vietnamese heritage that are living in Portland. If your son would like to talk to us and be interviewed, we would be quite keen.
TL: We will let him know. I had one thought to close: As we were telling our story, I was thinking that Chau and I have had a wonderful life, but thinking back on it there have been three times when we have been lucky enough to beat the odds. One of them is that an interracial, intercultural marriage is not supposed to work, but Chau and I have been married for 48 years. The second is that the odds of an invention ever becoming successful are [very, very low], so I have been lucky that the Leatherman tool has been so well accepted around the world. And then finally, when our son Lee got leukemia when he was two and half years old, the doctors told us that his odds of survival were one in four, but two and a half years later he went into remission and has not had any issues since. We have been quite lucky that three times in our lives we have been able to beat the odds.
HC: That is lovely, I actually meant to ask you during the interview but we took a different turn, about being in an interracial marriage from the late sixties onward in Oregon specifically and what your experience was with that. I do not want to re-get us into the interview, but if you do have any reflections on what it was like to be in an interracial couple in Oregon in the second half of the twentieth century, I would be interested in knowing.
TL: I think the short answer is, like we already said earlier in the interview, that in Vietnam there were some issues. But in America, I cannot recollect any issues. Chau, do you have a different answer?
CL: No, I think that is right. The issues were in Vietnam. Let us backtrack one more [time]. When I came here I was still young, not too much older than the people going to college then, so somehow I do not feel like I was being discriminated against at all. Just another college student doing her own thing. But when we came back to Vietnam it's quite an issue because there's a lot of American troops, American GIs in Vietnam because of that war and a woman going out with an American, especially an American, people look at you and behave differently toward you or even comment. I do not know if Tim remember[s] it, but the comments made it so I am not going to wait until he asks me [formally], so it is OK not only for my family but for the rest of the family, that I asked him let's just get married.
TL: Oh it was you that proposed to me?
CL: Yes, to get it done with. That helped to get that part out of the way.
HC: Out of curiosity, why is it different to be married to an American than to date an American?
CL: Married to an American or to date?
HC: In Vietnam, why is it easier to be married to an American than to be dating one? Why do people treat you differently?
CL: It is not any easier, but it formalized the situation so then nobody can say, “OK she's just a bar girl. She's just making money out of that.” Good families never let that happen. The American presence there was just overwhelming, [and for whatever the reason, girls who dated American men were stigmatized.]
HC: Apologies for that late digression.
DK: Any other thoughts? Again, this has been Dustin Kelley and Hannah Crummé and we have been interviewing Chau and Tim Leatherman and we are just so grateful for our time together.