Dustin Kelley: Hello, my name is Dustin Kelley and I am a librarian at Lewis & Clark College's Watzek Library. Today is Wednesday June 23, 2021 and I have the privilege of speaking with Kim Le via Zoom. Thank you so much for meeting with us today Kim, I appreciate it. Could you begin by stating your name and telling us just a little bit about yourself?
Kim Le: Sure, my name is Kim Le. I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania to refugee parents. I grew up in Sacramento, California and then moved to Portland, Oregon initially in 2004 when I came out for college and then permanently in January of 2012.
DK: So what were your first impressions of the city of Portland when you came for college?
KL: When I first came to Portland, I was very, very sheltered. So it was a very different experience. I think many traditional Catholic Vietnamese, my parents did not have me go out much or to different cities, especially without them. So it was definitely an eye opener to come to Portland. Just the people here are definitely very open and there is a diverse group of people. Possibly it was that way in Sacramento, but at least I did not get to experience it that way because I was home so much. So in terms of Reed [College], to be very honest, I did not know what “liberal” meant when I went to college, that is how sheltered I was. So when I thought “liberal” I was like, “Oh, well they say they are a liberal arts college so that is what they mean by liberal: liberal arts college." It was a shocker when I saw my first unclothed person walk across the lawn, that was a shocker for me. Eventually I adjusted my expectations about the world around me. So it was a shocker, I guess is the short version [laughs].
DK: What are some of the different Portland neighborhoods you have lived in over your time in the city?
KL: Primarily Sellwood when I was at Reed. I lived on campus for my first year. My second year, I lived off campus on Powell and 39th, so still pretty close to there. But definitely I got to see more people outside of the small bubble that is Reed. Then my last year, I came back to one of the Reed apartments which is almost pretty much on campus. So that area for the first three years that I was here. When I came back, I lived off of 82nd and pretty much Johnson Creek. So that area and then I eventually moved to my current home which is in Happy Valley, Oregon.
DK: Well, let's back up just a little bit and talk about growing up in Sacramento. What was that growing up like and tell us a little bit more about your family?
KL: I grew up, as I said, in a traditional Vietnamese Catholic family. So mom, dad, I have two older sisters and two younger brothers. So my family had five children. Most of the time we had at least one set of grandparents also living with us. Frequently aunts and uncles and sometimes just even friends that were room sharing with us at one point or another. So the house was always very busy, very full. There was always something cooking, there was always karaoke in the background or the latest version of Thuy Nga or Asia videos. So at least inside of the home, I pretty much heard, spoke, ate, thought in Vietnamese. Then outside, I felt like I blended in fine with folks at my high school. I went to Mira Loma High School and participated in their IB [International Baccalaureate] program there. There were lots of people from different cultures and communities. I did not feel like I stuck out at least—maybe I did—but I at least did not feel that way.
DK: You mentioned being from a traditionally Catholic family—what was the Catholic church experience like in Sacramento?
KL: I attended a Vietnamese Catholic church: The Vietnamese Martyrs Church. As I was growing up, the church was kind of in the middle of a field, basically. I think they bought a plot of land off of a highway for really really cheap and so we were out there alone. There was nobody around us. You would have to walk at least a mile or more to see anything around you. So that was the church where I was literally all day Sunday. Eventually, I think when I was in college or so it finally... oh after, much after, I think I was already back there for law school, I remember my first year of law school we were at the Jackson Church which is up by the Jackson Highway, I think. We moved to more of the middle of Little Saigon in Sacramento, so then there were more things around us.
DK: Were you involved in any other Vietnamese community organizations or connected to Sacramento's Vietnamese community at large?
KL: Yeah, so aside from going to church, the church had its own Sunday school as well. I was a student there when I was younger. Then when I was older, about seventeen or eighteen, I actually taught third grade religion in Vietnamese at the church as well. So there was the church and there was the youth group at the church that I was a part of. We call that TNTT—it stands for Thiếu Nhi Thấnh Thể. Nowadays I think they recently changed their name to the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement instead of Youth Society, so you can probably do some Googling and find that. It is a huge organization, lots and lots of people are part of it. The school was called Trường Thánh Giuse—St. Joseph's Sunday School. I feel like pretty much Sunday my life was there, and most of my friends were there. On Saturday though, my parents enrolled me in a non-Catholic Vietnamese school as well. So I also attended Lac Hong Vietnamese School and that was located at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento. Pretty much regular school Monday through Friday, Saturday was Vietnamese language school, Sunday was Vietnamese language and religion school and youth group.
DK: That is a very busy schedule. What were the differences between the two styles of Vietnamese schools you attended?
KL: I think at the church—I mean definitely the main focus is supposed to be religion or else why do it—I think that the Saturday school one, the Lac Hong, there was more emphasis on poetry, creative writing. I also did lots of performances with the Lac Hong school. We would go to different fundraisers for different Vietnamese events and actually do dances, or I did the national anthem singing contest. Different things like that where we sang the national anthem in Vietnamese. I think it was more networked to the general community as opposed to my Sunday school, where everything was within the church and kind of stayed very much within the church. So any of the festivals, any of the activities, any of the parties, everything was done on-site as opposed to going out into the greater Vietnamese community.
DK: Sounds like it was very important to your family to pass on Vietnamese tradition and culture. Besides language, what are some of the other ways they tried to instill that in you?
KL: So my two sisters actually had Vietnamese zither lessons. I do not know if you have seen them but they are like these... I do not know how to describe them, they are zithers! But they are really long, they are pretty big. I think seventeen strings are there. In Vietnamese it is called Đàn Tranh. So they had formal lessons for I would say a few years, and then they knew how to play this very traditional instrument and performed it at different events. I did not have that luck. I think by the time I grew of age to take these lessons the teacher was not teaching anymore or maybe it was just finances or whatever. But I did not take lessons from the official teachers. One of the professors at my Saturday school, Lac Hong, did offer some very amateur beginner lessons so I tried with that. That was fun, but it did not last long because I think she ended up stopping or just had to move away or something. So instruments were another way.
Food [laughs] despite being born here in the US, if I have eaten a hamburger I do not remember very well. The idea of it kind of still scares me [laughs]. I basically have eaten Vietnamese food and rice—Vietnamese soups, Vietnamese noodles kind of thing—pretty much exclusively my entire life. I might [have eaten] pepperoni pizza, I can eat hot sandwiches. But basically in terms of food and dietaries it was really hard growing up and going to formal events where they served fish and mashed potatoes or other things. It was definitely hard, food-wise, to kind of grow up and learn new things.
DK: So let's fast forward a little bit and come back to your time in college. What drew you to attend Reed College?
KL: So this is a funny story—I did not know anything about Reed. I remember at one point in time one of the counselors at one of my high schools said, "Reed is a really great college." So I just kind of remembered hearing that at one point. I borrowed a Princeton Review book from the local public library and I thumbed through and literally looked for the school with the highest academic scores and Reed was ninety-eight, ninety-nine and was one of the very top academic schools and it was on the west coast. Close enough to home but also far enough for a college experience. So I applied. When I came there, they were on spring break so I did not actually meet students. What I saw was just this gorgeous, gorgeous campus and I met with some of the professors and they were so nice. I was really impressed with the small faculty to student ratio. So I more or less just fell in love with the feeling, the small college feeling. I had gotten into USC, Berkley and all these other great schools, but really big. I just felt lost there so I really wanted to go to a smaller college.
DK: Were your feelings different when all of a sudden there were other students around on campus?
KL: I think I took it as a—I do not know if “challenge” is the right word. But I think I was interested. Nobody was ever mean to me there. Everybody saw me as very odd, I think everybody was just very amused and interested in knowing the way my mind works, just because I had grown up so very traditionally Catholic. I was still going to church every Sunday. Even though I did not have a car I would walk to church to take the bus to church. So my classmates would set up study groups at certain times, [I would be like], "Oh, I am not going to be back from church yet." I was still doing youth group there as well at the Vietnamese church here in Oregon. So they were like, "What are you doing at church all day? What is it that people do at church?" It was a great opportunity to really connect with other people who think differently from you, but from a very respectful manner. That is what I found to be the best thing at Reed, but also Portland in general, I think. Everybody has been very open and welcoming. Even to people who maybe traditionally do not look like a Reedie or a Portlander.
DK: Which church did you attend while you were at Reed?
KL: La Vang. Our Lady of La Vang. We call it Our Lady of La Vang, I think most people call it the Southeast Asian Vicariate but now I think it is officially Our Lady of La Vang and it is literally down the street from my office now.
DK: You mentioned you did not have a car. How far was it to walk to Our Lady of La Vang from Reed College?
KL: For masses that I would attend— not on Sunday so like under the obligation that I could not make it all the way to La Vang— I would go to Our Lady of Our Sorrows, which is also on 52nd, I cannot remember. It was really close to Reed. That was maybe a mile or two, so that was easy. But for Sundays when I was active in the church, Our Lady of La Vang was at least forty-plus minutes because I had to transfer buses twice. I had to take a bus downtown, transfer to get on a different bus to get there, and then walk from the bus stop there. So I would say forty five minutes, it was a long time.
DK: Yeah that is quite the commitment, that is awesome. What did you study while you were at Reed College?
KL: I am an economics major.
DK: And now you work as a lawyer. What first drew you to study law?
KL: When I was younger, traditionally my parents were very much, "You have two options— you can be a doctor or a lawyer." I was just not very good at science, in my opinion. It just never clicked the same way to me as it did to my siblings. I said, "Ok, I guess law it is." So even in high school I was in mock trial, moot court, some debates, things like that. So I felt like I knew I was already going to be a lawyer when I went to Reed. I was planning on majoring in political science, and then somewhere somebody told me, "Hey, did you know you do not have to major in political science to be a lawyer?" I said, "Oh! Okay, well then, I guess I will do something I like." I just had such a wonderful time learning economics at Reed but I ended up majoring that way. But while I was at Reed I figured, I need to get my foot in the door, I need to know how this whole law thing works, because I did not know a single person in my close family or friend circle who was a lawyer. So I needed to get my foot in the door. I applied for a work-study position at Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services thinking, Hey, I know something about being an immigrant, my parents are immigrants, and Hey, I am Catholic so maybe this is a good fit. I went there, did work-study, and eventually was offered a part time position there. It allowed time to become an accredited representative where I could start representing people in immigration cases.
DK: So you went to law school and now are back in Portland practicing law. I am curious if you could talk about a typical day working as an immigration lawyer?
KL: So pre-COVID, we would basically meet with clients about at least half of the day, where I am conducting consultations, finding out what a potential client’s immigration history is, what options are available to them, what is the best route for them to achieve their goals— whether it is bringing a family member here, trying to receive green card status for themselves, or ironing out some other confusion. The other half of the day I spend basically writing briefs, preparing applications, whether it is filling out forms and supplemental evidence, like organizing supplemental evidence and making arguments regarding my clients’ eligibility. It is mostly I would say paper heavy in terms of most of our cases are argued by paper. For I would say at least half of the clients, there is an interview required at the local Portland field office, so I will attend with them to make sure that the questions are on point, and if there are any questions regarding legal eligibility I am there to address them.
DK: So what is it specifically like being an immigration lawyer in the city of Portland? Are there any unique challenges to doing your work in this city in particular?
KL: I do not think it is unique within Portland. I can say some of the things that are— I mean, I can tell you when I was in Sacramento I already knew that I wanted to be an immigration lawyer when I was attending law school in Sacramento. So I did many externships and internships and was employed by different immigration offices down there and I would say all in all in terms of the type of work I would say very similar. I would say in terms of the immigration attorney community, the Portland one is very, very open. I am part of both listservs. In Northern California, no one sends anything, no one sends out a, "Hey, I am working on this," "Any ideas on this type of case?", or "Hey, I am running into this type of problem, is my analysis correct?" In Portland we have a very, very supportive community. Anybody who has questions can send an email out to the listserv and then the other attorneys will jump in and try their best to help. So it is a smaller community for sure, a smaller group of immigration attorneys. I think our— the organization I am a part of, American Immigration Lawyers Association— I think the Portland chapter has three and four hundred lawyers— versus Northern California, I think there are over a thousand-plus, so drastic difference. I think I am drawn to more of that small, tight knit community.
DK: What has it been like to practice law during a pandemic?
KL: That has been extremely challenging. Practicing law in a pandemic requires even more patience than usual because the offices were closed, I do not know how long it is going to take before they are being called for an interview because processing times are constantly changing. Even when we go to the points of authority. So if we were to go to, let's say the National Visa Center and say, "Hey, my client's case has been pending for X period of months or years, what is going on?" generally their response is, "We are working on it, we will let you know." That is really hard to hear for our clients, who, when we are talking about immigration status, this really can make a huge difference regarding their ability to work, travel, pretty much day to day things. So having to tell them, “I do not know” and the government is telling me they do not know as well has been hard. It has also been difficult because I do not get to see people in person as much. Almost everything is via Zoom and via telephone. We are just starting to open up a little bit for some of our larger, more important meetings. But it is hard to make a connection and gain trust from your clients when they are only seeing you on screen.
DK: What has the legal system been like in general in Portland over the last––a little over a year now?
KL: What do you mean by the legal system?
DK: What has it been like in terms of the court process, the paperwork— has there been anything unique as far as beyond meeting your clients more via Zoom or less regularly?
KL: Sure, so at the Portland field office for a while they were just closed. So they were not doing interviews for any of the green card applicants at all. Then they reopened and there were questions about, "Well, how many people are allowed to attend?" For a while, attorneys were being told, "You need to attend by telephone." Then it was, "Oh, you can attend but now we are going to split your couple up." Usually I would come in with the petitioner, the person who is filing paperwork for their loved one, and the loved one who is trying to get their status. I would be able to accompany both of them in, but then when COVID hit, they said, "Well, we are doing interviews again, we are only letting three people in the room, so if you attorneys want to be in the room then we are going to split the couple up." Which was stressful for the couple as well, especially the beneficiary who does not feel like— maybe they have limited knowledge of the English language or customs. So that was definitely a challenge of the in-person interviews and sometimes telephonic interviews. That was definitely difficult. Yeah, actual procedures also changed, for example, when you apply for citizenship you get to change your name if you want. But ever since the pandemic has started, so for over a year now, anybody who wants to change your name your case just gets filed in the “Yeah, you are pretty much approved, but we have no idea when we are actually gonna give you your citizenship because you need a special ceremony to change your name, and we do not have the capability of scheduling that right now.” So pretty much all of my clients who would normally want that free name change as a part of the citizenship application are now opting to keep their name exactly the same because it is undetermined how long they would have to wait if they did try to change their name. So things like that.
DK: I would like to ask some questions now about the Vietnamese community at large, in general. To you, what does community look like? So what is your “community” like?
KL: My Vietnamese community or the ones that I feel closest to would certainly be my Vietnamese church community and the youth group. I think having a system where it can accommodate a child from a young age all the way to adulthood is really important to keeping community together. If you do not have programs, if you do not have activities for children, then eventually children will just stop being part of that community and then that community will shrink and go away. I think that that is really the key to the Vietnamese Portland community, is that there are lots of opportunities for activities, programs, groups for the youth to be involved. So obviously within my church, there is the Sunday school, or here at La Vang they also have Sunday school. My children are enrolled in that program. There is a youth group, my children are also enrolled there. At least for two years, I enrolled my daughter in the Dual Language Immersion program through the Portland Public Schools. That is great as well for creating community. They do a phenomenal job of celebrating all the major holidays, having get-togethers, whether it be a potluck or performances by all the children, so kind of keeping that group together as well. I am less familiar with the different opportunities outside of the Catholic community, but I am aware that there are lots of other temples, the Protestant Vietnamese Church close by as well. I can see that there are other activities. To highlight, they have the Vietnamese New Year at the Convention Center, so that is always fun for the children to attend as well.
DK: Can you describe what the New Years celebration at the Convention Center is like, in as much detail as possible?
KL: I have attended four or five times to be honest. But every time I have been there, it is really loud, so you need to prepare to have your ears blown off. But that is pretty custom. I feel like if you go to a Vietnamese wedding, your ears are going to get some practice. But at the actual New Years event, there is always something going on on stage. Whether it is somebody singing karaoke, some kids performing a dance or some kind of lion dance, wushu event, some kind of performance on stage. Then all around there are booths or tables where sponsors or non-profits will set up information to pass out mostly to let the Vietnamese community know that there are these services. Also, Portland and just in general Oregon government or health assistance organizations are present usually to do some kind of either passing out information or I have seen shots being offered at these events before, I have seen information about libraries, getting people set up for library cards. So really making sure that the Vietnamese community is aware of the resources available to them.
DK: You mentioned that your kids were enrolled in dual immersion with PPS. What was your family's experience like with that?
KL: My oldest child was a part of that program for about two or three years. It was really great. Her ability to read, speak, write comfortably in Vietnamese is beyond what I would have expected. I think they did a really good job of teaching the Vietnamese language and also keeping up with the English language skills while they were there. It was hard though, I will tell you for a kindergartner, to see the amount of homework and the amount of assignments they had to do. Hands down—I have now had two other children who have gone through kindergarten, first, second grade and so on, in non-immersion programs—the homework is, I would say, at least easily double if not triple the homework for a student in the non-immersion program. However, I definitely can see that it benefited her and that it was more fun. It was not so much of a chore. My younger children, now that I am teaching Vietnamese, it is hard like all the time for them. Versus my oldest when she was going through the immersion program it was not so hard because everybody was struggling with her in her class. She did not feel like, “My struggle is unusual,” versus my third child right now—teaching her Vietnamese—she is like, "How is this so hard mom, this is really hard, why do I have to do this, this is really hard!" That was not a question for Lynn, my oldest. She is like, "Everybody is doing this, I am gonna do it too, and we will all do it together and make it fun." So, different experiences.
DK: At Our Lady of La Vang, are there any special activities that your family in particular looks forward to? Or things that you are especially involved in?
KL: Sure, at Our Lady of La Vang, pre being married, I was super involved in the youth groups. I did lots of camps and helped them with the camps during the summer. Also the Moon Festival, Tet Trung Thu, we do that every year. That is really fun, it is completely kid oriented. So we have games for them and I think there is a little show and usually the shows are dances and things where the children are primarily the performers. It is geared, very G-rated, for little children. I think in terms of somebody now who does have more children and is not able to really be hands-on in throwing out these activities as much, we still look forward to celebrating Tet every year there. It is nice to be able to go there on New Years Eve, on Vietnamese New Years Eve, in traditional outfits in our Áo Dàis and see mass performed with all the traditional songs, attire. I think the children feel like they are celebrating with people again. It is that whole idea of if we did not continue having these events, I think they would stop identifying as Vietnamese because there is nothing to celebrate with other folks. Right now, I would say the highlight is definitely Tet, though Christmas is also one we really enjoy because usually the children are part of the Christmas pageants as well that are also in Vietnamese. Watching them perform is something that is wonderful as a parent and being able to see the other kids perform as well. So I get a chance to bond with other parents over their children's performance. So lots of activities.
DK: What was church like over the last year and a half when a pandemic hit and so much of our lives were changed? How did that impact your church involvement?
KL: Significantly. I actually have not been to Our Lady of La Vang very much at all. There are lots of reasons. One thing [is] that my children attend is Christ the King Catholic School, which is really close to Our Lady of La Vang right now. So we also are struggling to make sure that they also feel like a member of the Christ the King community. Prior to the pandemic, children would go to school at Christ the King, but on Sundays they always went to mass at La Vang. They did not feel—they always kind of felt a little bit as an outsider at the school. Even though they were practicing Catholics, very strong Catholics, they did not experience mass the same way that their classmates did. My daughter is an altar server at Christ the King, but she does not frequently get the chance to alter serve because she does not go to mass at Christ the King. During the pandemic, at first we were just attending live stream mass because I was pregnant and we were very worried about Coronavirus in general. Once it reopened, we opted to go to Christ the King because we felt that it was a smaller community, so the chance of transmission was lower and we were hoping to connect to that community a little bit more since so many of my children go to that school now.
But the most important factor really was my husband, who works at the law enforcement office here. He has to work during the day on Sundays and so really the only option for us to go to mass with the family was Saturday night. Christ the King has an earlier mass than La Vang, so it was more circumstantial and not necessarily a personal decision. It is not like we did not want to go to La Vang, I just think circumstances dictated that we went to Christ the King. But the few times that I have gone I have gone for a funeral mass, I went to a baptism. I would say that the community feels like it is struggling because you do not have those opportunities, you do not have the school that is open so you are not seeing children, you do not see other children. Everybody just kind of comes there, attends mass, and then leaves. We do not have that opportunity to chat with each other. One of the things about pre-pandemic life is we had a cafeteria where they would serve pho and bun and other dishes. After mass, we would all go down there and chit-chat and get a chance to catch up with our friends and other people, other parishioners. With the pandemic, we did not have that. It definitely feels farther away from the Vietnamese community as a result of the pandemic.
DK: I am curious when you have felt most at home in Portland. What are some of the things you like most about your city?
KL: That is a really tough question. I mean, I can put it a different way in terms of at least in the feeling of my experiences as a Vietnamese American. It was really comforting to be up here by myself and then go to mass at Our Lady of La Vang and hear mass being performed in Vietnamese. It is almost like the recipe of what Sunday needs to be in the life of a Vietnamese American was the same here as it was in Sacramento. So I did not miss a beat. I think if I did not have that community, if Our Lady of La Vang was not here and it was not this really full-blown Vietnamese community, I think I would feel more homesick for sure—like a fish out of the water—like, what do I do on Sundays? But I came here, I found that Vietnamese Catholic church and jumped right in and literally everything that I would have done in Sacramento I did here, just with new people and the same kind of expectation. I did feel a little bit like I was moved from one pod to another, but the pods were so similar that it just kind of embraced me, for lack of a better word. I will say also coming back to Portland, the immigration law community is so welcoming, so caring. When I was here as an accredited rep [representative] between 2004 and 2007 and then I left for law school then came back, literally I felt like I did not miss a beat. Everybody was really, really loving and welcoming.
DK: Conversely, have you experienced any challenges in Portland? Any racism or discrimination?
KL: I do not think I have experienced racism outside of my community. I will say that sometimes, I think that I experience the most racism within my own community. So I would say that a third of my clients are Vietnamese—between a third and a quarter. I have definitely had comments said to me before. I remember a consultation with a client and she asked for my rate and I gave her my rate or whatever—I am just gonna say three thousand dollars for example—and she tells me, "Oh, well I talked to this American attorney and he quoted me four thousand," and it was a counter, the way she said it was a counter. It was, "Your rate is too high, you are charging three thousand dollars when a White American attorney is charging me four thousand." I remember feeling in that moment like, "Wait, wait, wait. Did I mishear you, my rate is already lower." But then it hit me that what she was saying was, "Look, you are a Vietnamese attorney, if I wanted a real attorney, if a real attorney is gonna charge me…”—a real attorney in her mind is probably a White, Caucasian male attorney—“If I wanted a real attorney, I would have paid four thousand for them, I would not pick you." Recently, a few weeks ago, I had a client who was completely shocked that I could be an attorney. I told her multiple times, "Yeah, I am an attorney," she is like, "You are not a legal assistant? You are a real attorney?" in a very—maybe in one way it is a compliment, but in many ways it did feel like I am constantly questioned about whether or not I actually know my area of law. I feel like I am always questioned whether I am fit to practice within my own community. Because unfortunately, so many members of the community are misled into thinking that some of the legal assistants that are within Portland are actually attorneys. So they just make those assumptions. "Hey, I am meeting a Vietnamese person, that person is not the attorney." So it has been a challenge to educate my clients about what does it mean when you are an attorney, what kind of license do you need to have to be an attorney, and what are the expectations of dealing with an attorney? So no, you cannot just no-show, no you cannot just show up whenever you want to because I am not a receptionist, I am an attorney and I have back-to-back appointments all the time. I always wonder, can somebody of the same race be racist? [Laughs] Against their own race? So I would say that has been probably the brunt of the racism that I've experienced.
DK: Thank you for sharing that. In your mind, what does being Vietnamese American—what role does that play in your life?
KL: Being Vietnamese American is a constant balance between the Vietnamese part and the American part and where to put my focus and my energy. Especially as a parent too, I am having to decide, "Do I feel like I need to be spending more time with my children and helping them master English grammar? Or should I be spending more time teaching them the Vietnamese language?" At some point I tell my husband, "I wonder at some point if this is not gonna matter because I speak English, you speak English, so if our children do marry somebody who is not Vietnamese and does not speak Vietnamese, we are gonna be able to communicate fine with them, we will still be able to have the close knit family ties that are really important to us." But I do not think I can run away from the fact that I am Vietnamese-American, so people are always going to expect me to be able to speak Vietnamese, people are always going to expect me to understand culturally things that somebody who does not appear ethnically to be Vietnamese to understand. Yeah I think it is a constant struggle, it is a constant battle between where you put your efforts. Very basic things like, "Am I going to participate in these activities at Christ the King where my children are very much a part of the community? Or am I going to spend those hours volunteering for an activity at the Vietnamese church where my children are also members of that community?" It is a balance of resources, it is a balance of where I feel like I can be of most help.
DK: What differences do you see between older and younger generations of Vietnamese Americans?
KL: I think older generations of Vietnamese are much more reluctant to explore outside of their community. I feel like my parents are much more like, "Oh, I am going to go look for a Vietnamese-speaking broker, a Vietnamese-speaking dentist, a Vietnamese-speaking whatever." So the older you are, I think the less likely you are to feel comfortable branching out and taking advantage of resources that are available that are not offered in Vietnamese. Whereas the younger generation, I feel like, are more willing to just see what is out there and what opportunities are there. If I want to do an internship, I am not going to necessarily call up the Vietnamese attorneys, I will call up every office that I think I can learn from. So in that sense, the older generation limits their ability to get assistance or get information. Which is a challenge, because then sometimes they resort to information that might not be accurate but is being offered in their language. It is almost like from a public policy standpoint, I think it is really important to offer services in multiple languages. And not just a flier in a different language, but you have to have a person on staff who can speak Vietnamese if you are really trying to help a community where there are so many different generations and constantly new people coming to the U.S.
DK: We have now come to the end of the list of questions I shared with you. I am wondering if there is anything that has not come up during this oral history interview that you were hoping to discuss or any other stories you would like to share?
KL: I just think it is really important to touch on— I think somebody is going to talk to you about April 30th [laughs]. As a Vietnamese American, I struggle with that date in terms of what it means to me. I have not participated in any of the major protests. I am having a hard time figuring out how I feel about— reliving it is not the right word, celebrating is not right— honoring it, memorializing that date. It is hard I feel, as a younger Vietnamese American person. You are trying to figure out when to let go of the past and move forward together as a community. Especially where so many young people are coming from Vietnam over. Their idea of Vietnam is whatever Vietnam is right now, they do not have any recollection of Vietnam before the war versus after the war. I remember talking to teachers of the Dual Language Immersion program, and they were telling me, "Oh, we get so many complaints all the time that our Vietnamese is not the proper Vietnamese," because it was the post-war Vietnamese. So it is weird because you have this Vietnamese American identity, and then you have the communist versus non-communist identity on top of that that kind of disappears as more time has passed. But then when you come here to the US, I think many of my friends who come here afterwards, they do not know the old Vietnamese anthem, they only know the new one. It is funny to be able to hear "You are not Vietnamese. You are not Vietnamese because you do not know the old anthem, because you do not know the old spelling ways." There is this animosity almost between new folks coming over and folks who immigrated here a long time ago. It is funny for me to hear somebody say, "You are not Vietnamese enough," when they have literally grown up in Vietnam their entire life and to say, "You are not Vietnamese enough." And on the other hand they tell me that I am Vietnamese, really Vietnamese, because I do not actually know how to spell the new way, I learned how to spell the old way. A lot of the words that I use are old vocabulary from the pre-communist era. I do not know the new anthem, I know the anthem from before. So they think that I am very Vietnamese, but they do not find this person who literally was born, grew up, speaks, reads, writes way better than me. They do not find that person Vietnamese and they find lots of faults in that person. So I think as you are interviewing folks moving forward you are probably going to see some of that push-pull animosity and maybe some of the I guess pride in, "We are the old Vietnam way." So there is always this kind of old-versus-new push and pull.
DK: Definitely, definitely. Thank you very much for that. Is there anything else you would like to share?
KL: No. Great. But thanks for taking the time to share with me!
DK: Thank you Kim, I really appreciate it. Again this has been Dustin Kelley and Kim Le talking via Zoom. Today is Wednesday, June 23, 2021.