ZM: This is Zoë Maughan and it is June 28th, 2022. I am speaking with Jill Nguyen via Zoom. Jill, do you want to just reintroduce yourself a little bit, and then we can dive in.
JN: Absolutely. Again, thank you for allowing me to share with you more of our history, Zoë. I just had a great time with you the other week. And so after some reflection, I thought, "My goodness, there's this huge piece of our history that I would love for us to share." And so, here we are. As I had mentioned last week, I am a first-generation born American, native Oregonian, a daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. And if I hadn't mentioned before, I am a granddaughter of Vietnamese veterans, on both sides of my family. So on my maternal side, my mom's dad, my grandfather, had fought in the War. As well as my paternal side, my dad's father, also fought in the Vietnam War. Both of them fought alongside the Americans, against their own people. To which they would never admit that they were their own people, the Viet Cong. One grandfather survived, and one grandfather died. It's one of those things where I was able to collect some information through different individuals in my family. It's challenging to have someone open up a piece of that memory box to share with you their experience, something so traumatizing, something so literally life-changing, and so for me, not even going through that, I could still feel the sorrow, the pain, the suffering. And I am so grateful for my life, for my freedom, and I'll never, ever forget the sacrifices that my family has made.
So here we are back in Vietnam, it's , and my dad was only seven when he lost his father. I can't even imagine the horror, the fear, that he grew up with. He doesn't talk about it. So we don't know much about our family over there. I actually did just lose my grandmother, on my dad's side, last year. Met her once on Zoom, but other than that, we didn't really have a relationship with his family. Until this day, I don't know the deep dark secret, or why he separated himself. Maybe to protect him? To protect us? I don't know. But, that's that side over there. Over here on my mom's side, we just imagine grandfather fighting in the war, my grandma, and my great grandma, and ten children, five girls and five boys—they're looking for a way to escape. To just get out of where they are. My grandparents had a lucrative business, a sewing business, they owned and operated in Vietnam, it’s named after my grandmother, Cam Industries, and they were very successful, from what I was told from my mom. They had helpers, to help raise them. They had all that they needed. My grandma would sew their clothes, so they had what they needed. They were comfortable. So just hearing the news currently, I can't even imagine going to sleep and wondering if we're going to wake up together. I can't even imagine just looking at my clothes and seeing if this is what I'm going to run away with.
So, in their journey to escape, our family, they were Buddhist, however, to come to America, they needed to get sponsorship, and the Catholic church sponsored the entire family. It was the only way—that I was told—it was the only way that they could stay together. Otherwise, two children here, three children here, they'll take a kid here. Who would want that? Why would they even leave? To be separated? A church sponsored them, so now it's, again, Grandma, Great Grandma, and ten kids. Ten kids in tow. They converted to Catholicism, Grandpa is left behind. My Grandma was only in her early thirties, her youngest at the time was about two to three, my youngest uncle. And the oldest was around twenty, if even that. So they're coming to a new land, culture, food, people, environment, everything. Language! I can't even imagine, I can't even imagine! That this is still in their lifetime. To sacrifice something that we were comfortable with, successful at, but yet, fear, and bombs, and innocent civilians, and all of that. I just can't even imagine coming to another country—a far away country—it wasn't even just down the street, and having to start over, but still knowing that hope is stronger than fear, or even death. And also, I can't even imagine my partner, leaving my partner. And back then, internet wasn't invented yet, no cell phones to text, or however. How did they even reunite? So, out of curiosity I did ask my mom sometime last year, "How did that happen? It's like a miracle." Grandpa was in touch with a family member—I believe it was in Paris—and that cousin knew where my family were in America, and that's how they reunited a year and half later.
So here they are, settled in Oregon, and they open up a new business, was called Cam Industries, then the new name is called: Sewing B’s. B is the beginning of their last name—Bui—B, U, I. So here we are, the Bui family, grandparents started this business, sewing company, with their children, grandchildren. A 13-thousand square foot warehouse, Northeast 61st and Fremont. Their sole client was Pendleton Woolen Mills. Of course, I was a child, I didn't know the significance or meaning behind Pendleton. I knew it was a design that isn't really my style [laughs]. But here we are, it's our second home, in this factory. My cousins and I, my brothers and sisters, we were all raised there. It was our safe place, it was our playground, it was our second home. So just imagine this 13-thousand square foot warehouse, and in the back, in the back we have: Grandpa, my uncles, my cousins, my brothers, in this huge room. The tables are just massive, and they have rolls of fabric, just raw material that they would pull out and—person over there, person over here—they would cut down and pile up fabrics, rectangles of fabrics. Which would then be transferred over to the middle section of the warehouse, where Grandma was, leading about twenty seamstresses, my sister, couple of aunts, and they would sew these jackets—Pendleton jackets. The jackets would then be transferred up to the front of the warehouse, where my mom and I were, we would cut off the final stitchings, iron, put them on these hangers, put the plastic wrap over, and stick the tape on it, get it ready for shipping every Thursday. Inventory. "Get them on the carts! Let's go!" I can still hear it! I can hear it! Rolling down, these heavy, heavy jackets, they're so thick. Again, they're huge! I mean, I was just a tiny little thing. And I really feel like being around my mom all those years built up my business acumen, just listening to her on the phone with folks, negotiating, taking down notes, and just presenting herself in front of people. I feel like that's where I got my business sense. Unknowingly, it was education right there. Playing with my cousins when I wanted to play with them, I had a play pen over there, we'd eat together. Again, it's just our safe space, our second home. So just think: have you ever even thought about just seeing a tangible item somewhere, and thinking of the deep sense of closeness to this item, something that you haven't seen before, but looks familiar? Or maybe it just brings back memories? Just anything. I know smells do, scents, music, some tangible item, you know? So then I would just walk into museums, historical museums, Made in Oregon store, a friend's couch, and I would see a Pendleton fabric, and to me, it just means: this is our ticket to freedom. Because of this sole client, our family was able to provide for ourselves, for twenty-seven years, our sole client was Pendleton Woolen Mills. And so every time I see a piece of this fabric, I just think, "Thank you. Thank you for that chance, for our family to prove ourselves, with barely a resume." Right? And because of that, we're here.
So here we are, my grandparents are in their eighties, married almost sixty-seven years. We are great contributors to society. My cousins, aunts, and uncles, my brothers and sisters, my parents—we're doctors, we're business owners, restaurant owners, florists, artists, graphic designers. We're good neighbors, we're hard workers. I just sometimes can't even believe this is my life, I can't believe that this is our lives, and again I feel so grateful for their sacrifices. Because if it wasn't for them, we literally wouldn't be here. And so, I feel for people, we all have a story to tell, we all do. We just need someone to listen. And to want to hear our story. And so this is really the first time I've shared this. In all of its entirety, so again, thank you. And I just, I hope one day—gosh, I really should—reach out to Pendleton and just tell them that they're—whoever it was—that had that deal with us. They have made beautiful lives for over seventy of us. So this to me, this is freedom. Thank you.
ZM: That is really amazing. Thank you for sharing.
JN: Thank you for listening.
ZM: Is there anything else you'd like to share before we wrap up the recording for today?
JN: I think that was the story.
ZM: Honestly, thank you so much for sharing. Truly, that is a really amazing story. So I'll close us out: this has been Zoë Maughan speaking with Jill Nguyen, it June 28th, 2022, and we're meeting via Zoom. Thank you [JN: Thank you.].