Xuannha Truong Vo: Could you start by telling us where and when you were born and giving us a brief overview of your life here in Portland?
Long Nguyen: I was born in Da Nang, Vietnam, in 1937. I went to the United States in 1994. I was in the army and left the country in 1975. I was in prison in the south of Vietnam. I came here with the HO [Humanitarian Operation].
XV: What were the circumstances that brought you to Portland?
LN: I contacted my friend who was in the prison with me and he sponsored me to come to Oregon. I lived in Beaverton because my friend lived there. He helped me to rent the place in Beaverton. I lived with my children in the apartment. They have grown up now. They worked and had their own families. We were lucky because my kids have had stable jobs since 1994. Most of them are in Oregon, some of them lived in different states. They have their own children. My grandkids are now in college and high school.
XV: Are there organizations, family members, or friends who helped your family establish itself in the United States? Who was your sponsor? Why did you come to the city of Portland specifically?
LN: My friend in Beaverton helped me rent an apartment. There were also some organizations like IRCO [Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization] or people from the temple who helped me in the beginning of my life here. People who came here before me, like the Hollywood Senior group or the Army group, showed me how to live in America. Someone I know taught me how to drive a car. I got my driver's license, I got a car.
XV: What were your first impressions of Portland?
LN: I always come up to Portland often because I go to the markets and join different groups. My first impression about Portland was that there were not a lot of people and houses. It changes over time, because it has been more than twenty years already. Beaverton has also changed—now, the streets have more lanes than before and they have more big companies here. We did not have lots of Vietnamese organizations or groups like there are now in Portland. It’s life. I also have more friends from different groups, like people who were in prison with me because of the war and came here, et cetera.
XV: Describe the neighborhood in Portland you first settled in. Did you feel isolated or were there other Vietnamese Americans nearby?
LN: When I came to visit my friend in Portland back then, I think there were more old-style houses than there are now. We have more new styles and, once again, it has been more than ten, twenty years. Of course, everything changed. I do not feel isolated. I think it depends on whether people were willing to communicate with others or not. They could choose to have a social life or not. To me, people who do not have a social life would feel lonely. I knew a little bit of English back then. I can have daily English conversations with people here. If there is any complicated situation, I will ask someone to help. I learned many things from myself.
XV: Was it hard to adjust to life in America? What were some of the challenges you faced?
LN: When I left Vietnam, I could not bring any money with me. But I was lucky, I came here and found a job to do. My children were with me and they were in their mid twenties. I have seven children, but only five children came here in 1994. After fifteen years, the other two children came to the United States and we reunited. Language is a challenge for me, but I learned English day by day. I can speak with people here. Our family is lucky, everything was fine. My kids studied part time and had full-time jobs. It was hard in the beginning. Once they had money or they were in the last year of college, they stopped working and tried to finish school. My family had seven people and we lived in a small apartment with two bedrooms for a year and a half. After that, my friend had a three-bedroom apartment to rent and they let me rent it for a couple months. But then we bought a house. Everything is fine to us. I have [seven] children and they work, so our finances are fine.
XV: What kind of work did you do and how did it compare to the work you did in Vietnam?
LN: Someone here showed me how to apply for a job here. Back then, they did not require much like now. Lots of companies were hiring. If you worked okay, you could keep the job for a long time. I worked in my company for a long time. I retired in 2014. Jobs here are better. People work with the machine. I do not think I can compare working here with working in Vietnam, it is very different. Back then, jobs in Vietnam were very unstable. I was a stevedore in Vietnam.
XV: What was it like to raise children in Portland? If they attended Portland Public Schools, was that a positive experience?
LN: I do not know about it, you should ask the younger people. My children were studying college and going to school at the same time, so they took longer than other kids here to finish school, like six or seven years. My youngest children are now 45 or 46 years old.
XV: What social and economic issues are most significant in the Vietnamese community, or with refugees more generally? Could city, state, or federal programs do more to address these issues?
LN: Some people are willing to have friends and join community activities but some people just want to stay home and put the blanket on. They do not want to do any community activity or serve the community.
XV: What local (Portland-specific) public or political issues are most important to the Vietnamese community?
LN: Some people are concerned with the potential enforcement of federal immigration raids. There are some new laws now. In general, if anyone is against the laws and the policies change, they would be concerned. Besides that, I do not know anything else.
XV: What groups or organizations do you participate in or rely on? Are there individuals in the community who you look to for leadership and guidance?
LN: If I need any assistance, I know the place to go, like where to go when I need help with my retirement questions. I do not go to IRCO anymore, I can find the resources by myself. IRCO does not have time to help me. People who came here before me can help me out when I need it.
XV: How is the Vietnamese American community in Portland changing? Do you worry about younger generations of Vietnamese Americans?
LN: They lived in different places when I first came here. Not like now, they tend to live closer to others. There are not many Vietnamese here, but now they come to Oregon from other states and people here sponsor more people or relatives in Vietnam to come here. About the younger generation, they need to know how to behave, like what to do in the new country, new culture. Everyone who knows it and knows how to overcome the challenges, they will succeed in life. That is what I think. I do not know about others’ opinions.
XV: What is your relationship with the country of Vietnam today? Do you go back to visit? Do you stay in touch with relatives?
LN: When my two daughters were still in Vietnam, I came back and visited them sometimes, like for a month or three weeks. But when they came here, I did not go back there much. It has been ten years. My health is not great and my wife is weak now, so we cannot go to Vietnam. I still have two relatives and still stay in contact with them.
XV: Is there anything we have not asked about that you would like to discuss? Do you have any additional experiences that you would like to be preserved in these oral histories?
LN: I do not. I feel really tired because I am very old. I need to rest. Thank you.