Garland Joseph: Hello this is Garland Joseph and Zach Selley and we are speaking with Thu Thuy Tran over Zoom on May 18th, 2020. Zach and I are currently located in Portland and Mrs. Tran is in Salem. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Thu Thuy Tran: Yes, thank you for having me [laughs].
GJ: Could you start by introducing yourself and telling me a little bit about how you ended up in Salem?
TT: So you do not go by question to question, I just go ahead and tell my story?
TT: Okay. Born in, like I say, I was born and raised in Vietnam. I never thought I would get out of the country. But in 1975 when the Communists took over Southern Vietnam, my family belonged to Southern [Vietnam] as you know many family members in the army and in the government. You know the Communists, very hateful and they were against those people in the [south] when they got southern [Vietnam]. They tried to [take their] revenge on the people that were against them in the war. Then even the family-related were not treated very nice. I was a high school teacher at the time in 1975, and I had my firstborn child with me. She was just one year old. My husband at that time, he was a university instructor. He got a scholarship from the Japanese government. So he was overseas studying for his master's degree in Japan. He was stuck there because he left us in 1974, when my daughter was just born for seven days. She was just seven days and he left Vietnam for his scholarship and his higher education. So when he left, I still stayed in Can Tho by the Mekong River. It is a big city there. I worked at a high school there, as a high school teacher. But I do like a social studies thing.
So I just planned and my husband planned to come home in three years when he finished his education, and we would reunite and he would work at the agricultural department at the Can Tho University and I continue as a teacher. However, one year later the Communists took over so we separated. Then, me and my daughter [were] alone in the south by ourselves. However, the Communists, they recruit us to be brainwashed and reeducate class and everything. So we had to go to all the classes. We called it like a reeducation class on-site to go back and work for the Communists as a high school teacher. At that time, I continued to go back because I had to supply, I had to support my daughter. Lot of my family members escaped— some make it to the freedom land. Some died. My brother, my oldest brother, was in jail because he did not want to escape and he was jailed by the Communists for twelve years. Now he is in Portland and Co Minh, [Note: “Co” is the surname and Minh is the “first” name] the one you interviewed, is his son in law. So I have a lot of family arrive here after all.
I would say because of that reason, I do not want to say. I am a social studies teacher, I have to turn around and say different things [from] the one that we have learned since I was in college in educational class and graduated from that level. I had to turn around and say what the Communists wanted us to say. So they teach us and they give us really the steps. We have to do a very uncomfortable level. They say when you have to talk about things and you are against your family and you are against yourself. But you live in Southern [Vietnam], because you live in Southern [Vietnam], you are guilty. You have to say things against you and your family. You have to do that to survive in the school setting. I do not feel good about teaching my students what I do not believe. We survive and I start planning escaping from my homeland. It took me five years, and I tried to escape nine times. One time I was caught back in the jail. However, because of the place I was caught was far away from the school. Normally we lied about identification, so I was able to come back and I was able to go back to work and teach.
We really left in 1980, escaped I remember after Christmas in 1979. That is when I made the trip, and this time, my students helped me to get on their family's boat, and I escaped with them. I [did] not have any more money to pay for the big boat. I sold my house and my house was gone after I got on the trip, and it was not a good one, people cheating. Nine times, I cannot remember all the trips, but each trip [was] a lot of energy and it ended up that I was able to get to the Thailand refugee camp with my older daughter. She was five and we celebrated her six-year-old birthday in the refugee camp. She is now attending Lewis & Clark College also, and she is finishing up her lecture. She is doing her intro in family counseling. So she will be finishing up her degree, her master's degree in counseling. She goes to Lewis & Clark as well, my older daughter. She lives in Camas, Washington. Okay, so about me— I escaped and I [made] it to [Thailand] and I lived in the refugee camp for seven months. Do you want me to keep talking or do you have questions?
GJ: No, you are doing a wonderful job of summarizing everything.
TT: Yeah, I say you have to say a long story to make it to Oregon. Basically, I live in a refugee camp... What, do you have a question?
GJ: No, continue.
TT: So I live seven months there in Songkhla, then after seven months in the meantime I try to connect with family. I was not able to connect with my husband at first because he graduated from that college and he moved to Tokyo and then he moved around because he cannot go home, go back. So I connect with his family and he has a brother in America who reconnected us later. Oh, I forgot— I connected with his brother who lived in Oregon, who escaped from the homeland in 1975. He was in the army, high rank in the army. He was able to escape and settle down in Oregon. So that brother wrote to my—my brother in law—he wrote to the church in Salem called Court Street, Salem Court Street Christian Church, and they agreed to sponsor for me and my daughter. So we were able to come to America after seven months in the refugee camp. We come as refugee status and we reside in Salem since then. So I never moved anywhere. I stayed here. We go to Portland for activities for family together or for visiting and go to shopping, to get together at a restaurant and everything. I worked in Portland for seven years. I commute from Salem to Portland and worked in Portland for seven years. So I know quite a bit about the community in the past.
GJ: I have a question. When was your husband able to join you and daughter in Salem?
TT: Yeah, a year later. He [was in] Japan and we connect. Then we get a sponsor because I am a refugee. So at that time, it was really hard for me. They will not allow him to come to America because he is already in a third country and he does not have a country anymore. He was a student but now he no longer has a country. The Vietnamese government communism wanted him to come back and work for them. They tried to convince him. But because, first of all, I convinced him to go back as well. I talked to him and say, "That is our country." We did not owe anyone that, we are just teachers. So you are a teacher also, we are not in the army, we are not against so we can come back if we are able to support and rebuild our country. I was relieved at first and then after a while, I feel guilty. My family all died and a lot of hate and discrimination against us as Southern people—even you tried you will not get a future for your children. If they say who you belong to and what family you belong to, my daughter might never be able to go to college. So at that time, I say, "Don't go home—I go.” So I decided at that point—and there is a lot of stories about it too. We have a house and Communists want to take my house away from us because they thought my husband escaped. But I told them my husband is a professional who went on a scholarship and he could go home. But then after they made me—they gave me such a hard time— they almost put me in jail because I have a house that was a comfortable house there because we were both working. Then at that time, I was so upset how they treated our people. I say, "I would rather die than live in that country.” I mean the communism regime.
So I escaped and I made it and we reunite. I was able to go and visit my husband in Japan. I was able to go with him to the US embassy in Tokyo. There, they made me take an oath and they allowed my husband to go. I do not know how, but they allowed him to go and come back to America a month later. They let my husband come from Japan to America to reunite a year later. So we have a second child born in America. For me, I start everything from scratch. I escape and I have nothing to bring and the trip was horrible. We were stopped by pirates and we lost everything before we got safely to the camp. I do not want to take all your time to talk about my trip, it would take another day.
But then we went to settle down in Oregon and my husband reunited with me a year later and we both start from the beginning. I start very much from scratch. I come here [from] Thai [with] donated clothes and nothing but me and my child. She was six years old and just had a celebration in the camp with the little cakes that I tried to make. She does not know English very much, I teach her some, and I learned some from the refugee camp. I do have some background in Vietnam because I learned some English as a third language. My second language was French. But then I learned some from the camp. However, I just study being a teacher, I am used to getting an education. It is easy for me to learn and pick up the language quicker than some other people so I got that advantage. But I got a job right away to support me and my daughter as an interpreter [laughs]. I did not have a lot of language skills but in [comparison] with the population at that time, I was just unique. I was interpreter to interpret what they wanted the other refugees that they sponsor. So at my first time I volunteered to interpret for the other people to give some symbol or message and I did that so easy.
I keep learning and I go back to school at Chemeketa Community College here. I take English because I had taken ESL class. I graduated from Chemeketa and then I go to OSU and then I go to Western State, a lot of college. I take credit here and there and I ended up graduating from Portland State. Because I got the job in Portland which is great, but I had to commute because I had so many work that I do then, so many jobs. So I just work and I do volunteer for my [sponsor] church. [Note: We did not convert to church but tried to make it work with our sponsor.] Then we pick berries, not very much and we did not make a lot of money, because I did not feel good about that. Then my husband arrived and so he helped working in the cannery. I worked for a housekeeping project at the YWCA, and then I did become a case manager there. I ended up at the YWCA. I become a case manager as well as a supervisor for a bunch of interpreters in different languages. So we have a USCC in Portland. We have a YWCA refugee program in Salem. Not too many people knew because we were only a small program. But we had four or five interpreters of different languages—Cambodian, Laotian, Russian, [Polish], so we had European as well. So I was able to move up at the Y and they really supported me, since they saw me grow from a stressful start. At the start I did not know a lot of English skill, but I am not shy to speak to talk, so that is why I was able to work with my limited English skill. So I work for the Y for seven years, and different positions until they run out of budget for the refugee program. They turned me over to the teen parent program as a family counselor. I do not have any degree in counseling at all and I only have an early education degree from Chemeketa and took a lot of education class from Western and even OSU for adult education. Then basically I just go back to school because I want to improve myself. I think education is very important to improve yourself, your value.
People value you, what you have, and what do I have? Bare hands, some used clothes, and donations. The church even took me to give me a lot of donations to furnish my first apartment. The church gave me a bed, a bicycle—I got a bicycle and I drove them to school. They found me, connected me with the community bilingual program. They found me the first job as a teacher’s aide at Hayesville Elementary School, at Waldo Middle School, and then Hayesville Elementary School. I think that is how it helped me to learn English from the beginning because I attended an elementary school. So that is really helpful-- that is very helpful when I got that job, and I worked there for a couple of years. At the same time I did housekeeping work, then interpreter, and then become a case manager—that is a state job. I got a state job. How did I get that? I went to the YWCA—we have a job fair at Chemeketa. So every program has a table and the YWCA had a table for me to talk about the refugee program and the services, the interpretation services, job employment and helping people. We settle them in the area. So we have a lot of people who first arrived to Salem. I do an interview and I set them up and connect them with the services available in the community. I would say at that time I was the community expert [laughs]. I know a lot about the community. So the family sponsors, the families and they come to us and they ask our advice, they come to consult. We help people to get employment, to help them to connect with school and with a lot of things. So a lot of people in the community still remember that we have that good connection. They call me like a sister, they always call me a sister. Does not matter how old they are, they call me sister. So I feel good because they see me as a sister. The family member that is close to them and is helping them.
Well, during that time, I think they know my name for receiving [Martin Luther King] awards a couple of times from Willamette University. They invited my family to come and see they voted for me. I [was] always runner-up because we have a very excellent volunteer and expert— her name is Mary and I cannot remember her last name. But she has nine children and she has a similar situation as I am. So I never will be able to compete [laughing]. I [was] always runner-up, but I am still proud that they were able to recognize my work from the YWCA to help hundreds of families settle down in Oregon, in Salem. After that, the program—during that time I was involved with human rights. I was the human rights commissioner for several terms. I talk back to the 1980s and 1990s. I was nominated board director for Red Cross. I am a long term board director for IRCO then, but now they have Asian Family Center or something but not IRCO anymore. So I was in a number of board directors, I cannot remember all. But because [of] my role in the community as a person working with the government, I have connections with a lot of refugees. Like at the time we had budget cuts, so I have to call family and go to the family council to talk about asking for a budget from the city to support us instead of the state. The statewide cut a lot of refugee funding so I was able to call for a big grant. So that is why a lot of people from Portland connect with me and see me as a community leader. They just know when voting but no one says anything but I am a Salem leader. So I would not argue with them because it is hard to argue when they say I am not voted leader, but I represent some of our folks here [because they are] shy to speak English. That is all I have.
So with that, I continue to go back and get my education. Then I got my master's degree from PSU, which is not easy. But I have two young kids at home. My older daughter was seven and a half years older than the second one. [Correction: Older sister is older by exactly eight years and two months than the younger sibling. Older sister (March 1974) and younger sibling (May 1982)] They are still young at home, however, my husband and my mother-in-law was able to support and care for the kids. My husband worked in town. Basically... we talked a lot about myself. So I can see I have done a lot to improve myself. During that, I did not mean to become a leader... but people were just talking to me. Then when I go up to Portland to work, it seems like a lot are disconnected with the community a lot. However, people still come to me for help. Being a state worker, I have more connections with a lot of people and was more able to help my people from the Salem community. There was one time I remember I had an interview for a job when the refugee program [had a] budget cut, we tried to go to the city and get funding. We get some funding but we cannot function the program at school. So we had to cut a lot of programs and it ended up we did not have a lot of money for the program. We still had the refugee program when I left, but I was looking for [something] more permanent that I can help my family. So I worked for the Y as a counselor part-time and do refugee part-time.
Then ended up when I said we had a job fair and I had a table to talk about the program. Then the state has a table close to me. The state was recruiting workers for their child welfare services. So I walk around when no one comes to my table and I see people. There are some positions and I thought maybe it was good. So I put my application and name there. The lady there, she is [an] affirmative action officer at the table and encouraged me to fill out an application. So I fill it out and I give it to her. That was it. So after the job fair I forgot all about what I did and why no one talked to me and I keep working part-time here, part-time there. Then get my family provided with my support and my husband also gets a job with the school district. We were both working hard. Then at that time, two or three years later, with that time one phone call called me and said, "Well, we got your application for the state job,” three years later! I said, "I remember, but then that was a long time ago!" The new guy, his name is—I forgot, my goodness—he is the new affirmative action officer for the state. He took over the job from the other lady and he found my application somewhere on the pile of trash or something left there. So he found my application and he called me. I was surprised and then he said, "Okay, would you like to come and talk to me?" So I did because at that time, I am looking for a more permanent job as well. So I come to talk to him and he suggests that I apply for Portland because Salem does not have a lot of needs of my language skill and everything.
So I took Portland and then I got a job almost really quick, as a child protective worker for Multnomah County, but it is a state job. So at that time, I did not even know how to drive. I did not know how to drive up to Portland very well. Every time I need to take a person to their appointment in Portland, my husband has to take time off to help me to drive for everybody, if they have an interview in the Portland office. I took seven people in the car and then three or four other people that needed to do their green card and have something to do with the immigration office. So we help them, to translate for them, and give them a ride. So my husband dropped me off at the Davis Street office for my interview. He took the rest of the group to the immigration office and helped them with their application and helped them with everything they need. Then I come home and then I got the job. It was so easy. But then at that time I had to learn how to go up to Portland. I commuted seven years as a child protective worker in Portland. And that is how I ended up to get my MSW degree from Portland State, because I was in the Portland area.
After work, five o'clock, I run to my class at Portland State and get it done in three years. I do not know how I [did] that. Then I transfer back to Marion County and worked for Marion County's child welfare office for up to when I retired seven years ago. I worked for the state for twenty-five years. That is my work story and there is a lot going on. In the meantime when I go back to Salem, a group of Salem people come to my house and say, "Sister, sister, we need to do something because there is no one helping us when the program ends." So we went around and I said, "Okay, why don't we just start close to the new year.” So we started doing a New Year celebration and each one of us put some money in to make like a thousand dollars to buy food for everybody, and locally all the music. The dragon dance [was] all locally. We do use all the experts, all the talented kids. People in the community all put together the first event, which was very successful. We bought Banh Tet and we do the New Year's food and everything [is] free. Then at the end of the event, we still had a couple hundred dollars left because some people suggest that we do a raffle or something, and so we do that and we have a couple of hundred dollars left.
People come to me and say, "Chi Thuy, Chi Thuy! Why don't we make that a group or something?" [Note: “Chi” is like “older sister” in Viet, so “Older Sister Thuy”—repeating indicates the importance of the message.] So I go with a couple gals from the community and I say I did not want to do that because I kind of worked in Portland and come home with family and community and school as well. So I try to balance it and I say, "Well, I can try to help with the paperwork to go to the city and get the license." That is how Vietnamese Voice in Salem was born. [Note: We got the non-profit registered and set-up.] But then when it was born, we started getting funding from locals, like Morrow 2 company. [Correction: I believe Tran meant II Morrow company, as one of the people in the community worked there at that time.] We got Subway and a lot of local restaurants—Shari’s. And then a couple of folks in Portland like Powell Chiropractor. In fact, I went to that office and I still have some of my letters appreciating their support. I signed my name there and I am so happy to see they still treasure some of my appreciation. They send help and we got funding, and we do it every year, continue with that for a number of years until I retired in 2013. Then I would just become an advisor for the group.
Then the group somehow changed and do differently. They do the same thing, continue with what we have done. We do New Year, we do the Mid Autumn Festival. We [congratulate] students with good work in school, and award them. We write a lot of support letters for students to get scholarships. We do raise funds for events, like a gift basket, and we give money to Red Cross, we donate. We do a lot of stuff I cannot remember, but at that time we had a community and people [who would] just go to me a lot for advice and things. So then I am done because I retired and I become almost a full-time grandmother, babysitting for my grandkids in Camas. So I do not live in Salem much. I commute a lot. I go to Camas a lot to help my older daughter with her kids. So with that, it switches over from me to My Thuan Lipton and she is the one that took over for five years, I think until—she created the website. She has done a lot for the community, she has done a lot for the New Year. I think they have narrowed it down to just do the New Year for five years. I attend it and I help when I can. Then somehow when I go to the website, I think the last two years there is a gal from California— she helps My Thuan with the organizing and everything. But she left and came back to California. I think they left and then no one pays tax or doing tax or anything. I do not know, just like with the group— just phase out. [Note: Non-profits do not pay taxes but they do file taxes.]
We still have people who want to reorganize and do it, especially like our American folks have been helping us. Like Chris— what is his last name, my goodness— he is the one that referred me to you. How could I have forgotten it? Then Tim Wilson and Chris really wanted to help and the community at large. They keep telling, “Why don't you have that again?” However, I am in my seventies and I am just done, [I am] with my grandkids. I could support if someone go back and do it. But I remember to organize, a lot of [health] issues, myself and my husband. So I just feel like we focus on our health and what we can do for family and close by neighbors other than doing it at large… Yeah, people in Portland invite me to their community every time they have a vote for the new leadership or they invite me up there a lot to numerous community activities. Especially some of the Buddhist temples—I helped one Buddhist temple raising funds for a couple of years. We do programs just like a New Year as in Salem. I do it in Salem and then go do it in the Buddhist temple and volunteer for several Buddhist temples for a number of years.
Now I don't know how I can do it. People go, "Come back, come back!" I just put myself like time to isolate from the group. Because first of all when you focus on taking care of my family— my family is elderly. My husband would pass, my mother in law, my brother, my sister, everybody now counts on me. [Note: This is a similar pattern like before with “his brother, my brother-in-law” and so forth. She was trying to explain that while organizing she would take care part-time “her husband’s mother, my mother-in-law” until she passed away. But time is all collected together as even until this age and long after Tran retired, she is still watching out for her brother’s and her sister’s respective families. “Taking care” has many levels.] So I did not do community at large but I did [become] like a family center welfare office for people in the homeland. They need things and we send help to a place I cannot remember. I feel good about what I have done. I do not want to do more at this time because I know my time is counting down. Maybe just my finger to count down the years that I may be in this earth. I do not make headlines, not too many people know me. Just some people in the community sometimes run into me and say “Well, I like your show."
Oh, I forgot to tell you guys that I had a talk show with the Portland Little Saigon TV and Radio in Portland. Now they have CNN and newspapers—you can interview them, they are a really good resource too. But I work with them and I provide a couple of shows—I mean a talk show. I talk about child welfare, talk about laws, talk about how to raise the children without using physical— that is some Vietnamese culture, my goodness, combine. I talk about shaking syndrome babies, I remember that issue. I do use a baby doll and do that in Vietnamese using the material that I got from my child welfare background. So I did some of the show and people seemed to like it and looked into my show. The guy said he would make a video for me but I never asked. Some people still remember me on the show. The lady runs into me and says, "Well I have to miss your show because I go back to Vietnam to visit this time." I say, "Don't worry, I’ll be there." But then I will not be there because the TV show is no longer available, the TV channel is no longer available. Then they focus on the newspaper. So now CNN Vietnamese newspaper— it was Little Saigon TV and radio— that is where I volunteer my time to talk about and educate our community regarding and involving government and child welfare. Since [when] I work for the department of human services, child welfare, I think I have a lot of background in different areas with court issues, with medical education. I learn there from my job then what I got from school. That is really helpful. I feel so good even though it was a hard job. Very rewarding, but very challenging. I survived twenty-five years with the state. A lot of people quit the job. Child protective work was so, so hard job. You work with the police, you work with the court. I think I earned respect from the attorney that I worked with. I earned respect from even the church I work with, in both Multnomah County and Marion County.
One time I took a guy, I think in my retirement, one guy got into trouble with the municipal court on a traffic ticket. He asked me to help him and take him to the court. The judge was one of the attornies that I worked with when I was a child-welfare worker. He recognized me and say, "How are you, Mrs. Tran? Oh, do not worry, you have been good." He is really happy to see me and so it makes my neighbor or my friend that I help with the translation, he left nervous and then after, the judge be fair with him. I feel good that I was recognized of my work and earned my respect. Not a famous or popular person but I feel I am popular in the small community in the past. I did try seven years, no one was seeming to do much in that community, even in Portland. Some people that are leaders still remember me and because I am not being very available for many years. So no one even talks to me— they invite me sometimes. My focus is just on now, and I think I have done just enough. Maybe my age I feel I have more knowledge about things, about life. I can share a lot just with people who value me and I will share everything that I have. Yeah, now my children, that different generation, they will not take the value I have or my experiences, because they have different thoughts. I will just— sometime I feel, “Okay you have treasure here. If you want to take it you take it. If otherwise, I do not mind.” I am just open for everybody, and they can take it if they want to.
Talk about the community in Portland, I will say Salem we have about a thousand families [Correction: people] but it has not changed a lot. Because [in Portland] we have more people come like now, they open a lot of nail stores [salons], grocery store, and Seven-Eleven. The people in Salem since I moved here, they either work at the cannery or mushroom company. In the past a mushroom company moved and they worked in the cannery, so most of the people here work for the cannery. They do berry picking and now we have the nail [salon] population from Salem some and then from California and everyone else come. They are doing really well and they have grocery stores. Some people work for the state in the higher state levels. I can see only a few working in the professional computer, except for a couple of old folks. We have doctors, we have [a] psychiatrist, Vietnamese psychiatrist. We have several Vietnamese dentists, orthodontists. Oh my goodness, in Salem, the younger generation— they become professional and I see Vietnamese names around here. A lot of restaurants, four or five grocery stores, Vietnamese and Chinese stores and restaurants, they have several pho. The people here like the Vietnamese restaurants. They like Vietnamese food. I think food is a culture and it makes you feel good. Because my friends at work, they love Vietnamese food and I always bring my traditional dish to share with them. They say they really think it is the best and everything. You know, we have a small community here, which I am content to live in. My next-door neighbor on the right is Vietnamese, in the front Vietnamese, on the left, a Cambodian. They are all doing really well. Some Vietnamese work for the state, some of them own like a bunch of apartments for rent, they own land. I mean, the Vietnamese community in Salem, I can say forty, fifty percent, or even sixty percent own a house, and forty percent may own a second house for rent. I know some people struggle. The new arrivals now, we do not have programs to help them but the community grows enough and they are strong enough. They have a second generation good enough to help their own family so they survived and they are content. They produce a lot of good offspring. Doing a good job like my sister in law, she arrived here and immigrated here.
Now she passed, but she raised kids from Salem. She had three [Correction: two] medical doctors in her family. She had an engineer who works for Intel. She has an orthodontist from her family, and they are all from Salem. My other sister [in-law] has one dentist and one pharmacist. We have a lot of family around here. Everybody seems to have doctor kids in their family. I do not, but I know that Vietnamese people very value medical professions. Because with them, doctor is the first career respectful in [the] homeland and here. That is hard to get, but all the Vietnamese kids in Salem seem to listen to their parents. Not all, I would say, but most of the people I know. So my next-door neighbor, she has a son and he wanted to become a doctor. So that is what his parents want. He did not become a doctor, but he researches for OHSU. So he is also in the medical field. So my goodness, people here just want to become doctors. So we got a bunch of doctors from the Salem area, you know—come to Portland and now they live in Portland, and they live in Washington County. I mean Washington County— a lot of Vietnamese in Clackamas County, Happy Valley, you name it. A bunch of people doing well and move to that area. Also basically I can see the second generation, they are doing really well. Some still struggle, but most of the people in Salem [are] now working for the cannery and they pick berries in the summer. Some people can afford a house. I can see a lot of people afford a house and housing here is not very expensive. The cemetery here—like the family cemetery—I can see a lot of Vietnamese names. My family has like seven people in City View Cemetery. For myself, maybe that is where I will be visiting, and I will join them there. We make this land like our homeland. We love Salem. We love Oregon. We love Portland.
When I was a state worker, I traveled a lot. I traveled to a lot of places in Oregon. Almost everywhere. From north to south to east, and I had meetings here and there. I even traveled out of state for my job. But you know, I love Oregon, and we stay. We think about moving to California several times, but when we come down, we say nope. We come back to Oregon, where we have good water most of the time—sometimes it gets a virus [laughs]. Then we love Oregon because— there is some discrimination against us. Because there is a question asking, do I get [discriminated] against me? Yes, especially everywhere. Everywhere I get discrimination against me. When I would attend Portland State University in social work class, where I got MSW, there was this one lady, she hated me. She hated me, like I can tell. She showed that she hated me so much. I did not know how, you know? I go back to school and get my education. It seems like I would go into the same class with her, and it insults her. Insult her so much that we go to the same class. But I did not know how to explain, and she did not want to be close to me, but she showed that she hates me. Then later, she comes and works for child welfare. When she graduated, she comes to work for child welfare, and I had a connection with her and somehow I learned that she hated me because she had to interview [for] the job that I got hired right away in Portland. The same time as me, and I got the job, and she did not get it. I do not know how, you know, I did not know much about child welfare, I was a green papaya. Then I just answer the question based on what I worked for people, and I feel for them. I was [starting from] scratch. I was so poor. I was well educated and well respected in Vietnam and then came here from scratch and be nothing. Nothing when I come here. People can look at me and go, “You look ugly.” [laughs] “You did not speak English, so you look scary.” Everything is over, and I think I am so confident and I still [do] not speak English without an accent, but I feel confident that people understand me—it is hard to still struggle with the language barrier. I am not good with writing a lot, and [sometimes] my adult children sometimes have to correct me.
But it is okay, that is us. I have been through with education, and that is all I can get. I cannot get more than what I can, you know, my friends only have that much. So there are a lot of things that I can say, but I know the community in Portland. I can only talk about my family, my friend's family, people that I know in the community that tries doing well. Everybody values education. They raise their children. One of my child says, "Mom, how come the Vietnamese family always wants their kids to become doctors and take martial arts?" Yeah, the martial art is also from the family [tradition] too. My father is a martial arts master. Then my husband is a martial arts master. He is really good. He has three black belts, three degrees in Judo, and a number of different martial arts. [Correction: Third degree blackbelt only in Judo, with studies in other martial arts.] My second adult child did the black belt in Taekwondo. Everybody is a black belt or something, but I do not have any belts. [laughs] I told people if someone picks on me, then I have my martial art because I run. I am good at exercising and walking and running. But my family has martial arts. So the question was, “How come the Vietnamese always raise their kids to become a doctor and become a martial arts master?” I say, “That is a good question because traditionally we live with that. We grow up with that and we respect that.” We want our second generation to be respectful to other people and that is how we take pride in being parents. If your kid is successful in what you have respect for, that is why we took pride for. Sometimes you do not have to, I learned to just accept your children the way they are. I do not have a doctor in my family but I have children with, you know, they live good lives. I mean, they have good intentions. They know a lot about life and different things. My older daughter, she enjoys different things. She has raised the kids differently but they seem to enjoy what they have and live a good life and good citizenship. So I think that is good. We do not need to just become a doctor. So we do not make a lot of money like a doctor, but we are rich in a different way and that is how we still survive.
My generation will be ending soon. But the second generation, I have a hope for them and I know they will make up a good community of Southeast Asian American community to build with this country. With them, Vietnam seems farther away and was in history, like a legend or something. But they do not have a connection with the homeland. We do because I escaped and my husband— we do not go back because of a lot of bad memories. I went back and visited one time only to visit my family, but now my uncle, my aunt, all passed away. The new generation is not very connected to me. I send help, I send support, but I am not— even myself, being away from the country [for] over forty years, I do not have a lot of connection emotionally. Likely with coworkers and my students. My former students, now they found me and we are friends on Facebook everywhere and so we do have that connection. But my second generation and maybe third generation—this is their country. They love this country, they love the people here, and they love the culture here. I try to preserve that culture in some attempt, but I know it is all over. I can just do my small part when I can and what I can.
My family in Portland—I have one brother and one sister. [Correction: Tran’s Brother lives in Portland, and Tran’s sister lives in Salem.] I sponsored my sister's family. I sponsored for my brother, however, he also comes here as an HO, Humanitarian Orderly Departure. He has settled down in Portland, he has children spread [all over] the world because he was in jail for twelve years. So he has two children who live in France, two children in Sydney [Australia], and two children who come with him to America. So one of them is a teacher with the Portland School District and Minh Co, he is her husband. Minh Co, the one I mentioned that you interviewed at Van Lang Vietnamese School. He works for the state as well, he works for the department of human services, as well. Then his wife is a teacher. So we [are not] a doctor or something, but my nephew, who belongs to my brother, he works for Intel. Then my sister who lives in Salem with me, she brings the whole family over here and we all reunite. So we, the close extended family, they are all here. My sister, all her children have a job. Some work in the cannery, some work for like a nail profession, some work for factories, and some go back to school. So we all try to make up a new life. I think they are lucky to have me—I am sorry to say that [laughs]. But I invite them and they become good citizens and protectors. That is a good story right, but we have been through a lot. So like we say, one person lies on their back as a bridge, the other person can walk over and get across the river. I will make myself as a bridge for my family, and a number of people can walk over to the river. Now it is time that I need to take my bridge down and relax. Maybe I can sit under the coconut tree or something and enjoy myself if I can. I am always at home watching people come by. Definitely this interview, it is interesting. I am not sure [if] I have talked enough, but let me know if you have more questions [laughs].
GJ: You have said so many great things, thank you so much. We are getting close to the end here, but I just have one question about what is happening now. So what has COVID-19 been like for the Vietnamese community in Salem?
TT: Well in Salem, you know, we [were] hit hard. We follow the rules, everybody is looking at the news and talking to each other about what is going on because some people do not listen to the radio. So we both stay at home, like my family when we go out. I rarely go shopping, I do Instacart myself. My second adult child and my husband be out here and there. But I [am not] out yet, curbside pick-up, or something. But basically, people seem to understand the seriousness of the issue and they are scared. They are very scared, maybe more scared than anyone. My sister did not let anyone come into her house in and out. She is inside her house all day. We come up to the door and leave stuff. We left and she comes out and gets it. That is what is good for her because she is in her eighties. The other people, my neighbor, they are still opening a new grocery store. That is so unusual because they planned to open. They just opened a Seven-Eleven store. Which they asked me the first person to come.
Basically the people in Salem take it seriously. The people want to go back to work, yes, but they respect the law. I have my niece-in-law she say, "I want to go back and [be a] nail dresser." She is a good one and she wanted to go back to work. But they follow the rule, even though they see it’s scary. They keep asking me questions. My sister always, every day, she asks me like I am a radio what is next and what is new. She asks me what is anything new, so I have a role to tell people what I learn from listening to the news around you or whatever I find out. So basically, they follow the rules and they will not break the rules, I think. There are some people who support Republicans, some are Democrats, and that is some discussion between the group but they will not fight. I know some group in the family in Portland, they fight over Trump and not Trump [laughs]. Vietnamese are very alert about the issues and some people— I know you did not really ask about that. But yeah for us, you know, try to stay at home and try to keep all the rules that we know to keep ourselves safe and stay home safe. Like I believe in that. I keep looking on my Facebook and tell my niece and my nephew, they to go to the coast. I say, "Stay home, save lives, be safe." I keep texting those things. They say, "Do not worry."
Every time I have people get out of my house, “Wear your mask.” I put some masks by the door in a box—you know, close at the door. People come in and out, get that. My family, my daughter, and her two sons come to visit me during Mother’s Day—they are all masked up. You want me to send over to you, I do not know if I can text you. I can send you through email. They are all masked and we come out, we take two meters, six feet away. I cannot hug them. We have a funeral in my family during this COVID thing on April 11th, . My sister-in-law passed and the one that I told you that they have all the doctors in the family. They do the family funeral— we respect that. Only twenty people at a time allowed in, so we sit in the car. We take turns coming in and we keep the space. They even pass the mask at the door for us to have a mask on and we wear gloves. Even when we signed the guest book we always used the wipe to wipe the pen even if it is a family member. So we have another funeral in the community, which I will not be able to attend, because I do not plan to attend a lot of community events.
But I know they do the same thing. People told me that people respect the rules and very keep that nicely. No wedding during this time because no one [is] happy enough or they do not want to. No birthday party, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, just visiting in the distance. My kids visit me and they stop by here and there. Yeah, we do food, I do Instacart for my family and my friends. And I send Instacart to my sister, to my brother. I was thinking people need to send them some help in that way. We do [it] directly. I do not know how to sew well so I did not make the masks. But I loved to see a lot of people in the community doing masks and doing free lunch. My grand-niece makes a hundred free lunches to give it away. My grandson donates— each one a hundred dollars or something, they have it in their piggy bank. We got a bunch of—we do community here— I am not sure if they do food or lunch or anything. I do not hear from Salem a lot, but they do the march for the nurses and everything. We all appreciate the nurses, the doctors, and medical folks that are doing that. Because we have family members in that field and we worry for them as well.
So basically I see people in Salem-- they do shopping. They be careful with their shopping, they go with the rules and everything. I do not see people violate the rule in the community. The Vietnamese, I would say like other Oriental people, respect their government. Some people may go over the line. I do not say for everybody, but at large, they seem to be very scared. They just pray for the thing [to be] over. My daughter’s mother-in-law, she takes care of her one-hundred-year-old parent at her home in Portland. She connects with me really well so they are worried about their stimulus check. They keep calling me [laughs]. They say, "When will my stimulus check come in?" Oh my goodness, I get crazy with that! We did not worry about us, but we worry about the other people and they keep calling them. So, one person, they come in and I check on the IRS website. You put your information in and they say we mailed the check on what day. So I inform people and they are happy. So people got the check and they are happy. They call me, "Yeah, we got the check, thank you!" I say, "I did not do anything! [laughs] I did not do anything about your check." So basically, some people got help and a lot of people— my family is very divided, I would say, about Trump and no Trump. Very dividing. But we do not hate each other, we are just discussing and we do not like the way something [has] happened or not happened. But we respect each other. I would see myself as an elder in the family, even in seventy-something. My brother is in his late eighties, my sister [is in her] early eighties, but they both, like I say, both depend on me emotionally. They do not depend on me financially anymore because they are very independent now. But they always come to me to get support. I call them every day and my brother— he is very good about news and everything because he follows. But my sister, she is scared. "I could not sleep." I say, "Okay, do not worry, it will be over." Yeah, a lot of people get really bad mental and cannot sleep and worry about the check.
I say, well, if they do not have the check then they do not have to worry, but they were. But they got their checks and I feel relieved. Oh my goodness, they do not call me everyday anymore [laughs]. I do not know what else you need. I think basically people—they maintain. I do not know a lot of people [who] very badly need help. I think they have good savings, even they—we have a couple homeless because of drug issues. A couple of Vietnamese homeless and the family will take care of them when they have needs. So I do not think I do much. I connect sometimes with the refugee program at the Alliance Church here in Salem on Broadway. They sponsor like nine people from Nigeria or Africa. So sometimes we collect some of the clothes and used stuff, and then new stuff and then give it to them at the church. I do not know much because I stay home and all I know is just through the news. So I know Salem applied for [permission to] open and the state says we have to watch day by day and week by week that Polk County and Marion County may be able to reopen. I am not very excited about it. Even if the gym reopens, I will not go. I have to stay home a little longer. We play pickleball and we have a group of the elderly that play pickleball there at the Courthouse. [Note: Salem Courthouse is a local Athletic club.] I love to play pickleball, even after I fell and [got] hurt two times already, hurt my legs. But I love to play that. It is good exercise and you have good connections, relationships, and everything.
But even if they open, I will not go back for a while. That is for myself. I know my sister will not open her door until all the virus is gone. Even for us, we come and we wear a mask and we wear gloves. We bring a box of food that we have to leave at the door. She looks out the window and she looks out and she waves at us and when we left she would open the door. We laugh about it but it is okay, she is good. You know, my brother is the same thing— bring the children, bring food, and bring stuff. We deliver things to him, put it at the door and he is inside, he is content. He watches TV, he is exercising, he cooks for himself. You know, he is over eighty years old, but he is doing a lot. He can walk to the store but he stopped doing outside a lot. So basically people are [scared] and nervous. They use good stimulus check and they can use more.
But I don't see anyone really bad in the community because most of the Vietnamese, if they make two dollars they save one and a half dollars, just like my husband— do not spend, save. Then every time we have a disaster, I think the Vietnamese can help the other people more, because they save. My grandkids have three containers—three vases of savings— one vase they put money for spending, one vase they put for charity, and the other vase for saving. They have three of those and when anything is coming up they take all those like a piggy bank and put it in the charity. So I think my daughter raised her sons really well. She raised them and [is] a good mentor, you know, she is a good mentor. She will become a family counselor soon, maybe next year. She will graduate from Lewis & Clark and I am very proud of her. She has been working for many years, now she is back to school and being a fulltime mother and [doing] full time school.
Okay, thank you very much for interviewing me. Oh, where do you put this information? Is it in a file or in your term paper? Where do you store this information?
GJ: So this information is going to go on our website. The recording of the interview will go on the website and so will also a transcript of the interview as well. Then [in] the next month or so I will work on transcribing our interview and I will send you a copy of it when I am done.
TT: Oh wow, sounds good. Well, you know, thank you very much [laughs]. I am not sure if what I talked about will be helpful or will give some insight or something helpful for your work. But I love to talk.
GJ: No, it is great, thank you.
GJ: Okay, let me do the closing really quickly and then we can let you go.
TT: Okay, so if you need...
GJ: So again, this has been Garland Joseph and Zach Selley. We were speaking with Thu Thuy Tran over Zoom on May 18th. Thank you for doing this interview with us.