E.J. Carter: This is E.J. Carter and Hannah Crumme. We are at the Rockwood Library, and we are interviewing Eliza Lê. Today is October 12th, 2019. Thank you for being here with us.
Eliza Lê: Thank you for having me.
EC: Could you start by telling us a little bit about your life here in Portland?
EL: I was born and raised in Portland, so I have been here thirty-three years. I grew up in SE Portland and then from middle school until college I was in NE, and I am currently in the Gresham area right now.
EC: When did your parents come to Portland?
EL: I want to say they came here 1985? And then I was born a year after.
EC: Do you know what circumstances they came under? Did they talk much about their lives in Vietnam?
EL: I mean, I hear bits and pieces of their story. So, from what I can recall they are both from Vietnam, so during the 1975 era when a lot of folks were trying to escape Vietnam and go to other countries, I know that both of my parents attempted multiple times and it was not successful. Therefore, what happened was, my mom's family, the opportunity came up, and they had to escape and my mom was the only one—oldest sibling—left behind. So, I just give her props and kudos of her just being by herself, taking care of herself during that time. And then she did meet my dad, so they were kind of a support system for each other.
EC: They met while they were in Vietnam?
EL: They met while they were in Vietnam. They were in the same circle of friends. My dad and his family were also trying to escape as well with many attempts and no success. They—with him and all of his siblings—they kind of had to go one-by-one in order for it to work, so it was kind of different from my mom's siblings where they had to all leave and she was the one that was left behind. At some later point in time, my older sister was born and they were not able to evacuate together from what I recall. My dad had to escape first, and I want to say maybe he ended up in Malaysia, and then my mom and sister as an infant had to escape on a small boat. Or maybe she was in Malaysia and he ended up in the Philippines, so they were separated, eventually united either in Germany or France, and then made their way to Portland. And then I was born a year after.
EC: Do you know why Portland, why they came here?
EL: Well, I want to say it was because my grandfather, my mom's dad; grandma; and all of my aunts and uncles came to Portland. I do not know his reasoning why, and I know they opened one of the first few Asian grocery stores shortly after coming here. I want to say it used to be on East Burnside and, like, 8th street. So, it was natural for my mom to come to Portland as well.
EC: Do you know when they came?
EL: My grandparents? I am not sure when they came over here. I want to say it was in the 1970s or early '80s.
Hannah Crummé: What was the name of his grocery store?
EL: Dai Chung.
HC: Did his children, your aunts and uncles, work in it? Or, did they come and do separate things?
EL: As a child growing up, my grandparents were not running the store. At that time, my aunt had taken over it. As a kid, I was always at the store with my other cousins and my aunts. So, I have vague memories just running around that store, eating the candy and everything. They closed it down at some point, and my aunt and uncle ventured off into DC travel, which is still here. DC stands for Dai Chung, so they kind of kept that name going, but in a different business venture.
HC: Why did they switch into travel?
EL: I'm not sure, but I would make a guess that during that time it was a very big boom business, because we did not really have going online [for] booking our own flights, especially international flights, so I think there was a really good demand for it, if I want to make a guess, but I am not sure the exact story of how they got into that path.
HC: What neighborhood did you live in when you were a little kid?
EL: From childhood up until elementary school I was in Southeast, and then middle school until college I was in Northeast.
HC: Where were you in Southeast?
EL: Kind of by 50th-ish and Division area.
HC: Could you tell us a little bit what the neighborhood was like then?
EL: Yeah, so we grew up in an apartment complex, and during that time there were a lot of minorities that lived there, so we had a lot of other Vietnamese neighbors as well. There was a huge sense of community there, I think because all the parents were going through the same things––trying to learn English, raising their children, and things like that, and the Portland Public School system. I just remember growing up spending a lot of time [with] each other's families, so we were always just together in a big group at somebody's apartment complex. And then our parents would also be gathering together on a daily basis as well. We were never just in our own family circle, it was just like one huge community family. I still keep in contact with those kids that I grew up with, and my parents as well too with their parents.
HC: Can you tell us some of your favorite memories at that time?
EL: During that time it was when technology was kind of coming up, so, like, Nintendo—the original Nintendo. You know, everyone grew up financially pretty stable, but it is not like every household had a Nintendo. It would be one family had a Nintendo, and we would all congregate and wait in a line to play, and there was never any drama or anything, so it was just, like, very community essence with everybody there.
HC: What were holidays like in that community?
EL: Holiday-wise it would still be spent with ours and their actual family members, and then there would be family friend holiday parties as well too, so it was just, like, orchestrating that, so very busy during the holiday times.
HC: Did you attend public school while you were living there?
HC: What school?
EL: I went to Creston Elementary School, and then when I moved over to Northeast I went to Rose City and then Gregory Heights and then Benson and then PSU [Portland State University].
HC: Do you have any particular memories from elementary school?
EL: For elementary school, I want to say when I went to Creston the diversity was very low, and so maybe during that time I was a little bit more reserved and hesitant as maybe I did not feel like I had many kids to relate to. Moving to the Northeast area, it seemed a lot more diverse and I was able to make friends that I am still friends with now, over twenty years later.
HC: What neighborhood did you move to when you moved to Northeast?
EL: On Sandy Boulevard.
HC: Tell us a little bit about the school there, and the community there.
EL: Rose City, and then going into Gregory Heights—I know you met with Mr. William Vuong, he was actually one of my teachers at Gregory Heights. They had additional classes for primarily just Vietnamese students, so I have very good memories at Gregory Heights. We had a very big group of Vietnamese students, and that was a class where we would all be together, we would be able to relate to the same things. He also connected us with the outside Vietnamese community, and that is where I got into Vietnamese traditional dancing and events and things like that.
HC: What was the content of that class?
EL: It was pretty much a cultural class, and then any help with any regular classes could be done in there, and then just networking outside of there too.
HC: That is interesting, we have not heard about that in any of our other interviews. That was run by William Vuong?
EL: He was one of the teachers. There was another teacher as well, too. As far as the history of, I am not sure how it came about, but I could always ask him because I see him all the time.
HC: Well, that is fascinating, that is fascinating because—this is bad form for an interview, I should weigh in on that—but we have not heard that and I usually imagine that type of class to be an ESL [English as a Second Language] class, or something like that, but it does not sound like it is ESL and you are obviously a native English speaker.
EL: I have been in ESL class before, just because I think I am in the minority group, I get placed in ESL class automatically. But the format is very different, and it was only Vietnamese students that were in that group.
HC: That is interesting. I mean, that seems like the real occasion in which Portland Public Schools is working to help build a community.
EL: Yeah, exactly.
HC: Did you find that helpful?
EL: I think so, because I do not know if that is the point where I became more involved in Vietnamese community events and activities, and I kind of just kept going from there up until now pretty much. I think even though it was not an academic course, I would say it would have helped other Vietnamese students that maybe just came over from Vietnam, and they do not have a sense of belonging, that that class was there to help with that.
HC: Tell us a little bit more about Sandy Boulevard, and Northeast, and the neighborhood you were in.
EL: It has changed a lot now, I feel like. You know, a lot of businesses have come and gone, but I love the Northeast area, I think it is very diverse. So growing up on Sandy Boulevard, it was a mix of American business and then a lot of Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian … you know, things like that. I feel like it is constantly growing, which I really like. I like that I can still get Vietnamese cultural resources in that area. I love that Northeast area.
HC: Outside of school, where did you hang out when you were in high school?
EL: Where did I hang out? So, during high school I would say I was pretty involved in the traditional Vietnamese dances as far as a lot of different events. Hanging out could have been at Lavang Church [Our Lady of Lavang Catholic Church]. I helped dance with them, so there, and then just a lot of family and friends is pretty much what I can recall.
HC: Were there any restaurants or other places where your parents or you congregated with other people, or just in people’s homes?
EL: Growing up as a young child, it was a lot in other folk's homes. Just always at family friends' houses, and then getting older it would be, you know, usually at a Vietnamese restaurants. A lot of pho places have still been around since I was a kid until now, but usually a lot of homes is the main place.
HC: Did you grow up speaking Vietnamese at home?
HC: How was it speaking the two languages?
EL: I think more as a kid I can remember it would be primarily Vietnamese, and then maybe as I got older it was me talking more English, because both of my parents, they both speak English. Now, it is intertwined words, so I would be saying a sentence in Vietnamese and there will be an English word that pops in there, and then I will finish off in Vietnamese. But, my brain will automatically change if I do not know the word in the other language, or vice-versa. Sometimes I will speak to my parents in Vietnamese and they answer me in English.
HC: Did you go to the Vietnamese language school?
EL: Mmhm. I attended Lavang Church, and they had reading and writing, and religion class, so I was there from, I want to say, preschool or kindergarten until I did the religion class until 12th grade, and I did the language class until 9th grade.
HC: Do you have any memories from the church that you would like to tell us?
EL: Yeah, I mean the community there is massive and huge and it is still huge to this day. I would say it was very beneficial for me to attend because, being born and raised here, I feel fortunate that I can still speak the language, have a good comprehension of it, and able to read and write, you know, slightly, not super well-versed, but I can try to get by with that. It did bring a sense of community as well too.
HC: Are you a member of the religious element of the church as well as the language school?
HC: How did that function in your life growing up?
EL: It was pretty normal. I mean, growing up it is going to the class and then attending the Mass, and then once I graduated it’s just still attending the weekly Mass. You see a lot of the same people, and there are new people that join us too, but, yeah, ever since I was a baby.
HC: Are there any people at the church who you feel a particular affinity with, or connection to, or who shaped your development?
EL: I mean, you know, some of the teachers there. I do not know if you have met the SBTN [Saigon Broadcasting Television Network]…
HC: Very briefly.
EL: Okay, Trung Quang Lê is his name. He also was one of my teachers there too, so it is funny how now we have circled back in the community, but in a different setting. So, there are teachers who have helped shape my life, as well as friends that I have met there that I am still friends with until now, and still on occasion see them too.
HC: Do you have any poignant, or hilarious, or whatever particular memories associated with the church or childhood more broadly?
EL: I do not … I do not recall any hilarious, but some of the moments growing up in a Catholic school, you can imagine maybe what you have seen on TV as kind of the very old-school feel of it, being a religious setting type of thing. It was very much like that, but I think as time has gone by they have also evolved to the changes of the generation as well. When I grew up it was strictly Vietnamese, and now I see with the children that go there now, they allow for English too, because the point is that they understand what the content is, so that they are more open and flexible now I see.
HC: Is there anything more I should ask you about childhood before going on to your after childhood?
EL: I think that's covered a good amount.
HC: What did you do after high school?
EL: After high school I went to Portland State University, and I attended the school of business. I majored in management and leadership, and human resources management. I went there starting in 2005, and then I received my BS in those two double majors there. Originally, I was just going to do general management and leadership, but one of my professors was teaching a piece, I think, about compensation and HR information, and that is where it kind of sparked me, like, this is kind of interesting, so I decided to add in the human resources and go that route. That has kind of been, I feel, my calling ever since then.
HC: How did you like PSU?
EL: I really liked it. It was really diverse, and I do not know why I love being in downtown even though it is very busy, but I think it is very lively down there. There are a lot of diverse groups within PSU that I like as well, too. So, they have a Vietnamese Student Association, which I was not a member of, but I did either connect with them, or if it came with events and things like that, I would attend their events. Overall, I liked their system that they have there. I see that now they have done a lot of building developments, and some cool things and I am like, Oh I wish they would have had this when I was there.
HC: I hear you mention diversity a lot. Would you be interested to talk about how significant it is to be in a diverse community versus a more homogenous community, or how diversity affects you in your life?
EL: I feel like, because they have a lot of international students, I was able to connect with them and know where they are from and their background, and for them I would share what is going on in Portland and that kind of thing. I think it just builds connections, and then everyone has a very different story and background to share. I feel like it shapes it more of a whole with all of the differences.
HC: Where did you live while you were at PSU?
EL: I was still in Northeast.
HC: With your parents?
HC: How was getting back and forth, and how was the whole experience of getting to school and commuting?
EL: During that time it was not as trafficked, so I could just take a bus outside my house and go straight to school. Sometimes I would drive, and it would be fine. I probably would not drive there now if I was attending there. There were so many options back then, and now there are just more options of how to commute and get around, so it is not that bad at all.
HC: Were a lot of your friends from high school at PSU as well?
EL: They actually were not. We kind of dispersed after high school, and some folks, they either took a break and then they came maybe when I was almost finishing up. Or a lot of folks did PCC [Portland Community College] and then transferred over. So, school-wise I had my best friends there for a few years during the same time, so it was nice taking some courses together. But, not a huge amount of my friends went [at] the same time as me.
HC: Did you develop a new friendship network then as a result in college?
EL: Not really. I think at that point in my life I already had my established friends and then people that I met in school, whether it was in, you know, business presentation groups, it was more of get the assignment done, get the presentation done. I did not really keep in contact with the people I was in groups with.
HC: What did you do after PSU?
EL: After PSU I went on the job hunt for, I want to say, a year, to try to go straight into HR. But I think when I graduated I may have graduated with two to three thousand folks that were in the same major as me, so it was very difficult.
HC: And it was 2009? Is that right?
EL: I finished around 2012.
HC: Okay, so a little bit post-recession, but possibly still with the impacts of the recession happening as well.
EL: Yeah, so even during that time, with a college degree but no experience, it was really hard to get into the door of places. In the meantime, I kind of just did serving, bartending, and then accounting, and then kind of branched into HR that way through that organization. I just kept applying and applying, and I eventually got an interview at the Nines Hotel, so Sage Hospitality. I was hired on as their HR coordinator after a year of searching, and I am still there now as their assistant director of HR.
HC: How is it working there?
EL: I love working there. I do not work in the front, like guest-facing, so my guests are the employees, the associates, but I still have the same boss. I love working with her, I love the team. There is a lot going on in that one building, so it keeps it very dynamic, very exciting, never a dull moment.
HC: You have been able to stick downtown, so if you like the busyness of downtown that is nice. Tell us a little bit about working downtown. How is that?
EL: Working downtown, it has also changed a lot, and evolved a lot too. I feel like it has gotten a lot busier. The building I am in, I am not sure if you are aware… the Meier & Frank building––so you know how Macy's is now gone and so new business coming in there bringing in a lot more customers, a lot more traffic. It has just changed a lot.
HC: What is going in there?
EL: There is Google going in there, there is OSU, there is a gym, and then a coffee shop right now. I do not know how much more space they will have after that, but Macy's was like five floors, so it is a lot of space. A lot of potential for other folks to come in probably.
HC: How do you get from Gresham to downtown?
EL: I will either drive all the way down via Burnside for the most part, or I will do Park & Ride, so just park at one of the stations and then take the MAX down.
HC: What has caused you to reside in Gresham?
EL: It is just temporary, but my husband and I are living with my grandpa to help take care of him because he is sick.
HC: Your mother's father?
HC: Do your aunts and uncles from your mother's side of the family still remain around Portland?
EL: They are all in Portland, except for one uncle [who] is in Salem or Corvallis, and then I have two aunts that are in California.
HC: Did they move there after being in Oregon, or did they go there directly?
EL: They went there after, so they had all been here together and then one of my aunts moved to California for some time now, like maybe when I was a baby or something like that. My other aunt, maybe in my teenage years, moved to California as well.
HC: What caused them to move? Do you know?
EL: I do not know why my first aunt that went over there moved, but I want to say my other aunt, for employment reasons, moved to California.
HC: Are they in the same place down there, or different?
EL: They are in different areas.
HC: Where are they?
EL: One is in Irvine, and one is somewhere close to San Jose, or like forty-five minutes away from San Jose.
HC: Fast-paced areas.
EL: Yes, very.
HC: Have you visited them down there?
EL: My aunt that lives in Irvine, her daughter—so my cousin—got married a year ago, so we all met up in San Diego a year ago for the wedding. My other aunt that lives close to San Jose, I had a task force assignment to open a hotel next to the Facebook campus, so we had met up to have dinner and catch up. So I have seen them both recently.
HC: What are your impressions of Portland relative to those places?
EL: Very different, I want to say. I love Portland because it has that city life without being, compared to California, as busy and fast paced. I feel like we are getting there now, but you can have a good balance of both.
HC: How is it living with your grandfather? How long have you been with him?
EL: We have been with him, I want to say, almost a year and a half now.
HC: How old is he?
EL: He just turned eighty-eight a few weeks ago, so we all got together to celebrate his eight-eighth birthday.
HC: His health is not great now?
EL: His health is not great, I do not know if it is his stubbornness or not, but he still remains—or tries to remain—very independent. Minus driving and things like that, he is able to cook and care for himself, so we are kind of just there as an additional support system, and my other family members come and visit or take him to his appointments.
HC: How did you and your husband decide to do that?
EL: The thought crossed my mind when he was admitted to the hospital—it was the second or third time—and we were talking about, Okay, does he need to go into a facility, or do we need to have a home-care type of system. In my mind, it just sort of popped up. Why have a stranger take care of my grandpa? I could just move in with him and be there. I asked my husband, and he was totally on board, you know, he was very supportive of it. So that is how it all came about.
HC: That is very generous of your husband, and of you. How did the rest of your family react to that idea?
EL: They were like, you know, are you sure? Because my husband and I just got married two years ago, so during that time we were still newly husband and wife and everyone was just like, are you sure you want to do this? I was like, we will just try it out and see. They were all very grateful of it too. It is definitely an adjustment, lifestyle-wise, but at this point we are all very understanding of each other, so it is flowing.
HC: That is good. My grandfather briefly lived with me and it nearly killed me.
EL: Some days you are kind of just, like, breathe.
HC: How did you meet your husband?
EL: We have been in the same circles for a long time. He was in the friends circle of my sister, and my best friend's brother. We have always been in each other's lives, and eventually, as I got older and he got older, we connected in a different way. And that is how we became husband and wife.
HC: Is he also Vietnamese?
EL: Yes he is.
HC: When did he come here, or was he born here?
EL: He actually came here when he was one. So, he is right at that in-between. I think him and his family went to California first, briefly, and then to Portland, and they have been here ever since as well, in Northeast Portland.
HC: What does he do?
EL: He works for Honda, in the parts department.
HC: Is there anything else I should ask you about your larger life?
EL: I think we covered a good amount.
HC: We have covered that you are part of a religious organization. Are there any other community organizations that you are a part of?
EL: I am on the board of the Vietnamese Community of Oregon [VNCO]. I have served on either their board or support committee going on six years now. Right now, I am their external vice president, so I work very closely with their current president right now. Before that I was always involved in the community events, but more of, like, a volunteer basis. My mom, Mary, which you have met also, she was the one that got me into getting on the board. Kind of like “voluntold” kind of thing, and I am like, Okay, let me try it out, and I actually was learning the operations of it. I started off doing the marketing side when I first came on, and then into human resources, and so I actually really enjoyed it. It is a lot of work, but it actually fills my soul.
HC: What is the work? When you say it is a lot of work, what are you doing?
EL: A lot of the main things are either obtaining funds, of course, and then all of the events at a bare minimum we have lined up for the year. Whether it is our huge Vietnamese New Year festival, which takes a lot of coordinating and planning and a lot of connections with outside resources. We just have our constant traditional ones. You both attended our Mid-Autumn festival just last month. Making sure that we keep those, at a minimum, events going, and still keeping the cultural heritage going so that it is still existent for our current generations and their generations so that they are able to attend and know a bit about the Vietnamese culture too.
HC: When you say you are external vice president, what does external vice president mean?
EL: We have an internal VP, and they are kind of in connection with the Vietnamese communities that are not in our organization, but, say, other churches and temples, and things like that. For me, as external, I would try to connect with outside of those resources. I assist with the grant writing and connecting with new outside resources, but I also still assist with the planning of the events and whatever the president needs, I help assist with that too. Just make sure that our meetings are organized, flowing, because our board is a very small group, so me acting as external VP, I also covers other roles as needed.
HC: When you say seeking funding, is that mostly grants, or how does the VNCO seek funding?
EL: We have an annual fundraising dinner that we will be hosting next month. We try to get sponsorship or funds through our own community, but also writing for grants, applying for grants. The fundraising dinner is the main time, or any time we have an event, we may have a small donation box to add on to those funds, and then going to local businesses to see if they want to be a sponsor. In connection to that, if they are a sponsor, they can have a booth at our New Year's event and things like that.
HC: You are doing a lot of work to maintain a connection with the Vietnamese community and the Vietnamese American community, why do you feel so driven to do that? What does that do for you?
EL: For me, I guess in our board and our group, I am considered one of the younger generations, but I think growing up in the Vietnamese community and then now being a part of the board, I do see a huge potential to bridge the gap of generations. Even within our Vietnamese community, I see between new-age and then very traditional, there is an opportunity there to bridge that, and I feel like I am trying to help assist with that, being that I can understand kind of both sides of it. Being Vietnamese American, I think it is good for that connection between both as well, too. I feel like I have that passion where I want to connect that, and not lose the tradition or culture over time so younger generations can see the importance of keeping that going and getting them involved too, which is kind of difficult.
HC: Tell me more about the differences and the similarities between older generation and current-generation adults, and maybe any differences you perceive.
EL: For example, when we plan events, I have noticed a trend through the years that they keep it the same. We come in, we do the flag ceremony, sometimes the army group comes in, we do the moment of silence. It is very cookie cutter as far as what the agenda is, and so if we are trying to bring in somebody that may be younger, they may not understand that those things are important, but they are also wanting to maybe bring a fresh view on it. Older generations might be like, no these things are important, we have to do this type of thing. I think it is too much openness and un-openness on one side, and it needs to slowly come together where maybe we can still have those traditions, but maybe done in a different way and be open for change.
HC: Why do you think the older generation is so clear, or has those things? What do you think those elements mean perpetuating so much for them?
EL: My thought on it—and I am not speaking for everyone in that generation—I know some of them are open to change too, I think that they definitely grew up in a different environment, because a lot of them are refugees having to escape Vietnam. They kind of have a different feel when it comes to doing the Vietnamese anthem and the American anthem. It really means something to their core. They are like, that is very important to do, and if we're going to do them we need to do it the way we've always done it. Showing respect and all of that. Maybe, younger generations, they were born here, they do not understand that struggle or what they have gone through. It is kind of like, we can do quick anthems, or maybe a different style of it, and things like that. So, I think it is just growing up in different eras and not understanding each other's story to try to just meet in the middle.
HC: Do you think the younger generation has sympathy with some of the political symbolisms of the older generation? When we have spoken to the older generation, it comes out often [that] people feel strongly about the flag. Do you feel like the younger generation has that same sympathy, or do you think they are less connected to that?
EL: I want to say yes and no. For me, I have always grown up with the Freedom Flag as our flag. And I think because, politically, our flag is considered a different flag and so kids growing up—and if the school is teaching a certain way—that is what they are going to grow up knowing as what is correct. I think if their families are not very well immersed into the community now, they are not really going to vocalize the importance of that symbol, so I think there is a lack of connection when it comes to that. I think it is yes and no, because I grew up hearing my family's stories and what they had to go through for what we consider freedom, and for my freedom, and things like that; so I am always very appreciative of them. I think that is why I have a connection where I want all generations to understand the path that we are leaning towards, and the symbol of the Freedom Flag, and the importance of it. But I think it is just different understandings and connections that they can either be on a different path, or the same path as us.
HC: Are there other differences you perceive between people? First generation and second generation and refugees, and differences about how long you have been in this country? Not just how long you have been here, but being born here or having children born here. Are there other differences between generations that you perceive and either want to bring together, or think are fine?
EL: It is a really big mix, because I could say that maybe friends that I have that are my age that have children, they may involve them in just Vietnamese events like Mid-Autumn festival, because it is geared towards children, but they are not really well immersed into that, hey it is important for us to be involved in the Vietnamese community, and bring awareness, and be a voice, and understanding of not just the events, the culture, but maybe the political history of it as well too. I really feel like it kind of starts either within the home, or if someone just has their own individual desire to understand more then they branch out on their own, It is just a really big mix, and the community, we are always wanting younger generations to join, so we are always calling out to … It is mainly either a little older generation than me, or the older generation that they are attending these events all the time. And it is like, we want them to bring their kids, or their grandkids, or nieces and nephews to join us as well, too. It is kind of hard, because I think they try and then there is no interest and they do not really push it, so it is hard to get that connection.
HC: Are there differences in the experiences of those generations outside of the Vietnamese community? With the White community or the non-Vietnamese community of Portland? Do you feel like they are having different ways of engaging with the city more at large?
EL: Like outside of our community? Like they are having better engagement?
HC: I can imagine there being different challenges if you immigrated in your forties and had to either learn English or start speaking your second language than if you just grew up here. Or, if you went to Portland Public Schools, I could imagine you have a diverse range of friends that includes people in the Vietnamese community, but also people outside the Vietnamese community. Just broadly, do you feel like they are engaging …
EL: I think there is a mix, because we have had some people reach out to us and tell us they just came to the United States, so they are seeking out the community where they best feel comfortable with. Because, like you are saying, if they just came here in their forties maybe they do not know how to speak the English language. It is going to be very difficult, and they are wanting to try to find folks of the same background to see if they can connect, and also get resources from them as well, too.
HC: Are there any occasions in the city writ large that have ever made you feel unwelcome?
EL: For me, I do not think I have ever experienced that directly. I know as a kid, growing up some of my friends would tell me that they experienced bullying in school and it may have been because they were Asian or whatever it was. Also that they did not feel like they had a voice to stand up for themselves. So I know that that was going on, and then I can see that it seems more dominant now that bullying is going on, but maybe not for those same exact reasons. That is another issue itself.
HC: Do you think participating in the Vietnamese community, organizations like the VNCO, helps people if that should occur? Is that an extra support system?
EL: I feel like it could be a support system. I do not necessarily think that it could resolve the problem, but it could be another support system or another outlet for somebody.
HC: Have you ever traveled to Vietnam?
EL: I have. The first time I went—I think I was in high school—I went with my mom and her two sisters and their families, and my grandma at the time. My aunt from California had joined us as well, with two of her kids. We did the tour, the tour route. I just remember it being really fun. I do not remember it being really hot, so I must have had a lot of fun there, a lot of good food. We were definitely treated differently coming there. They know automatically, just looking at us, that we are from America. I do not know how, because I am buying their clothes and wearing their clothes too, but they are just able to know. Definitely treated differently, sometimes in a good way, and sometimes more like a dollar sign type of thing. I just remember having a really good time there, and then my second time, which was the last time, was last summer with my dad, and my sister, and step-siblings, and my step-mom. We went to go visit his mom in Vietnam, so she is my only family member left in Vietnam. A lot of his sisters flew in as well, so we were able to reunite. It has changed, the city has changed a lot, I mean, Wi-Fi everywhere.
HC: Which city is it?
EL: Saigon. A lot of motorcycles going on. It is a very lively city. The food is still very good, and we did some countryside, so it is very under-developed in some of the areas. It makes me appreciate all the little, simple things I take for granted here sometimes, but everyone seems just very happy, and living a more simple life there. I had a really good time there as well, and I would go again at some point in time.
HC: How is it for your parents when they go back? Do they also just have a good time, or does it have any fraughtness for them?
EL: I think yes and no. I think sometimes when parents go back there is a lot of visiting, visiting, visiting, and connections and things like that. When we go it is kind of a more vacation kind of trip, and then, yes, of course seeing immediate family. It could be different just depending on what you are going for, and how you are planning it.
HC: Is there anything else we should ask you that we have not yet?
EL: I think that was pretty summarized.
HC: A lot of the purpose of this project is to understand how Portland has developed, and the history of the city, and particularly the Vietnamese population's role in that, and what it has both been like to be Vietnamese here or Vietnamese American here, but also how the community impacts the city and shapes its development. Do you feel like there is anything more broadly about the Vietnamese community, or even beyond your relationship, your impression of the city and the Vietnamese community that we have not asked?
EL: I think overall there is a good connection between the Vietnamese community and just the general population and all.
HC: It is part of the general population, by which I mean I think our goal is to recognize that it is part of the population as a whole, but is also significantly shaping … Like Sandy Boulevard is developing in a way that reflects the Vietnamese population that is there as well as everyone else.
EL: I definitely see that continuously growing and branching out. My hope is just that we have more members and participants that will either volunteer their time or their understanding within our organization. Just keeping that Vietnamese heritage and culture going within Portland and Oregon, so I just hope that continues on that path.
HC: Well, great. Thank you very much for speaking with us. This was a lovely interview.
EL: Thank you both.
EC: We are visiting with Eliza Lê at Rockwood Public Library on October 12th. Thanks again for talking with us.