Azen Jaffe: My name is Azen Jaffe, I'm here with Lucy Hamill. We're at Lewis and Clark Watzek Library on March 15th, 2019, and we're talking to Mary Nguyen. Thanks for speaking with us today. Could you start by telling us where and when you were born, and a little bit about your life here in Portland.
Mary Nguyen: I was born in 1954 in the North Vietnam, called Hai Phong. You want to write down, or something. I can do that. You said about like how to live in Portland. I came to Oregon in 1985, and I live only in Portland with my family, whole family. I'm working now. Right now with the Multnomah county. We call it construction technician. This means I’m doing something with drawing, AutoCAD stuff, and review the plan for the architecture, working with the Multnomah county buildings.
AJ: We're going to circle back to your life in Portland, and your work, and how you came to Oregon. But, we want to start by talking about the Vietnamese Senior Association, which is how we met you. Could you tell us a bit about the Vietnamese Senior Association of Oregon.
MN: You know, my age now is sixty-five in May. Maybe next year I am going to retire. I have been working with the Vietnamese Senior Association of Oregon I think since 2005. The reason I come to work with the Vietnamese Senior Association -- we call it VSAO you know for fast way -- when I came to meet the Vietnamese senior people, the first impression? They feel very lonely here, because they have a barrier in the language. They feel like they need support from some people helping them. That's why I came to be involved with the Vietnamese senior group. That is the non-profit group, but we don't get any support from the government. So we just help ourselves. Right now you see the group, it is smaller than before. The reason? We go 2005 until now, fourteen years, some people go away, and not many people are involved. We don't have the ability to do something more. Not many people interested, thinking we can support them.
AJ: Sounds like an important mission. What sort of events does the VSAO put together?
MN: We used to have a schedule for every two weeks, and we meet together for about two hours. Before I was involved with them, I don't know what they are doing, but I heard they learned computer. Somebody come to volunteer in 2005, before. And the computer, not many people know, so they just stopped learning. That is the program from the Vietnamese Community of Oregon, and they have volunteers to support them and help them learn the computer. But at the time I come, those groups are gone. They don't support anymore. So I’m involved with them. Main thing I'm doing, let them get together. If we have something, something happened in Portland -- event or something -- I help inform to them, to let them know, because they don't have the English speaking very well. The thing is, we try to connect their lives -- the Vietnamese life -- with the American activity in Portland, Oregon. So, the Hollywood Senior Center [ … ] you know most of the people gather together from different country and different language that be together there, and we have the opportunity to have that place. We don't have to pay for that, so we can be there, and that’s why they support us to have activity and event together there.
The main thing, because the seniors live very isolated here. Sometimes you see that the children cannot communicate well with the parents, because they are living here and maybe they go to work, and they have so many activities. The elderly people don't have anything to do, so they feel lonely. That's the thing we try to make people -- Vietnamese -- together. Even though in America, we have many senior organizations helping. I won't say they don't want it -- but they aren't interested in that because the language. They don't understand. Right now I feel the process is much different, maybe combine together the questions. Compared to the time I come to Portland, in 1985, at that time we don't have many people helping each other, or helping in the language. We have difficulty with the language. We feel like we don't know anything happening around. From the time I went to school to get the degree, I have a very hard time in English, very hard. I can tell you, I spent more than two thirds of the time to learn English. More than everything else. Vocabulary, grammar, and I feel very limited speaking, because every time we out from school, we are only the Vietnamese students out together talking. We feel shy, and we feel embarrassed when we speak English to people. That's why at that time, at my age, it was very hard for me to learn English. Not like my children, not like my grandchildren. I have multiple languages in my brain. When we try to talk in English, and English is the worst subject to me. I hate English -- I say that to you -- not because of American people, but I hate English because it is so complicated and the accent is so very difficult. Compared to Vietnamese, we speak, you know, in here, and you speak right here. That is the thing. Maybe, if there's something you don't understand, just let me know. I try to do the best I can, but it's still the accent is very hard to get right. VSAO, the main thing is activity. Getting together to help each other, we help each other. We don't have finance, so people just donate money for any event by themselves.
[00:08:14 - 00:08:45] At this point, Mary took a break from the interview to show us a pamphlet from the Vietnamese Senior Association of Oregon Tet Festival celebration with the Vietnamese Community of Oregon
We hope they can keep traditional. That is one of the things the Vietnamese Senior Association of Oregon is trying to do. In the next generation, keep traditional. That's one of the things we are doing in here. Vietnamese people, like Vietnamese Community of Oregon -- that's the one I'm working with them too. That's the one I make things for, design and stuff. [Mary shows us a second pamphlet] We have this one, the reason we make this one was because we get the grant from the government in Portland. They gave us like fifteen-hundred, and we make very big event.
For the elderly people like that, they try to do something even though they don't have money, the don't have a house, and at their age and knowledge, but they try to do something. Another thing, I want to give this book to the library if you want it. This is the book I make. I make the book. In here, only Vietnamese, but you know that is something you can keep for the records. Maybe I put some words in here before I give to you. We have three books, but the first one I don't have. I have the third and the second, and that is the third book. When we make the first one we never think we can make the second, and then the third one. Those people in here, like the Vietnamese Senior Association of Oregon, some of them involved with this. With their knowledge, and the skill. I designed that. I forgot to tell you my Vietnamese name, it's not like Mary. Can I put my name in here? My name called Nguyễn Thị Nội. All my documents before I changed my name is that name, my Vietnamese name. People don’t like to call my name because it means like grandmother. The book in here is like, some stories in here -- if somebody is Vietnamese you can have them translate it. Some stories that's a real story about their life they put in here. So instead of you interviewing me you can make some research, or somebody else. They make the poems. The poems tell you about what you feel. That’s the real feeling from the heart. From memory, from something you love, and something you miss. There's a lot in here.
AJ: That's great, thank you. We can also digitize these, and give you a copy. So they will be digital, and we can have them online and stuff. We will keep talking about the next steps, so Thank you.
MN: So that is some Vietnamese stuff. If you want to talk about that maybe take another day. We have activities, the most at the time I came we create a lot of things to do. Sometimes I have a potluck and bring them to the park. Most of the time we celebrate birthdays monthly, for the group. That’s the main thing. Sometimes we have outdoor activities in the summer. We use to be at the park very close to Stark. What is that name? Laurelhurst, yeah Laurelhurst park. We used to be there. Have some fun, sometimes we sing. Anything else?
AJ: That is great to hear. So now we are going to move towards your life here in Portland if that is alright.
AJ: When did you move to Portland and why?
[00:13:55 - 00:14:30] Mary discusses the release of the third book in the series she spoke about earlier, and invites Azen and Lucy to the launch event
MN: Talking about my life to come here, I should start from Vietnam. My family came here in 1975. We have six brothers and sisters, I am the oldest one. In April 1975, because the war happened the communist came to Vietnam from the North attack the South Vietnam. My family, my parents, and my brothers, and sisters, fight them, and then move to another city. I still lived in Saigon, that is the main city, because I was in school. So I had to be in Saigon, and they moved out of the city. When the war happened all of my family left, only I still lived in Saigon. We could not make the connection, we were not able to make the connection, so my family left. I lost them for ten years. I lived in Vietnam from 1975 to 1981, and I fled from Vietnam because we don't accept communist. I was born in 1954 in North Vietnam, and my family fled the communist too. From the North and go to the South. We don't accept communists, and when the communists from the North attacked the South we fled the communists again. You know a million people died at that event. I disconnected with my family from 1975 to 1981. In 1981 I left Vietnam. I escaped. I fled from Vietnam, and we got rescued from Malaysia. I will show one of the things here [shuffles through papers] the certificate under my name, and the boat number. I am the boat people, so that is the boat number for people who came to Malaysia. I think by typing or something they should approve that, it's from 1981. It’s original.
I live there for about a few months. It is a long story. My husband fled from Vietnam one year before me, in 1980. He was rescued by Cap Anamur. Then he sponsored me from Malaysia to West Germany, because he was there. He was rescued by a German ship. Then they helped him to live in West Germany. My parents lived in the U.S.A. In 1981 I came to West Germany with my husband, we had a reunion. I lived there for a few years.
[00:18:16] Mary begins to show Azen and Lucy documents from her time in Germany
I will show you some German work. This is the sponsor from America, they sponsored me from Vietnam to America from my parents. This is the paperwork from the time I came here. Everything is under my name. I will show you something, we call a high school degree in Vietnam. That is my pictures, that is my name. Then in 1972, I got my high school degree. I was in the University before I left my country in 1974. We call it the Science University of Saigon. That's the name of that. Those papers I am not able to bring them with me, that is from my parents. When they escaped, they already prepared it. They packed everything, and they carried that thing. They brought this to the United States. My parents kept it for a long time until they met me and then they give back to me. That is why I am happy to show you, because there was a long way to go from escaping. At that time it was very dangerous to bring anything, but my parents prepared that so I have this one. A little bit to show you the process to come to the United States. I have a degree in Germany to finish that when I was there. Something you want to you can make a copy or something. That is just talking about my life.
When I lived in Germany from 1981 to 1985, my parents sponsored me to here, to the United States. I live here from 1985 up until now. I know I can live longer, a few more years. [Laughs] The first thing I came to Portland, I was very impressed about how it was so big and long. Compared to where I lived in Germany, the house was small. The land is small, so most of the houses are tall. In Vietnam the house is tall because we don't have land. But then here land is so big and everywhere you see landscapers. I talk to my friend, “we can bring the whole of Vietnam over here to live in this area, because there are so many land openings.” Everything looks so clean, the trees, and so beautiful. You know when we first came here, the feeling was very lonely. You see the neighbor, but neighbor doesn’t talk to you and you don't talk to them, because of the language. The main thing is the language because it creates a barrier, and the culture is different. But luckily I have enough knowledge to go to school and start my English, ESL. I learned from Portland Community College in Sylvania, and I continued for two years in my degree at Portland Community College, PCC at Sylvania from 1985 to 1988. I transferred to PSU from 1988 to 1991, to get the electrical engineering degree. I tell you the truth, engineering is not very hard for me. English the thing. I spent two thirds of my schedule learning English. Every time you open the book you have to know the language before you can do anything right. I feel like we have to work twice more than normal people. By the time I came to the United States, I had one girl already in Vietnam. She was about six years old, and in 1986 I had a second daughter. So I was in school with two children. I studied electrical engineering and there are a lot of requirements for that. That is why I spend a long time. One year for English, four years for the degree. But I did it for six years because I had one baby that is why I stopped. The time I was in school, luckily we had a job with a doctor. We call it optometrist doctor, he has an office in Beaverton called Century Contact Lens Clinic. He showed us how to make contact lens. We learned from him, and after that, we worked in the lab. He gave us a good schedule, anytime I was done from school or anytime I had time I could go there, and work for him. He gave us a prescription for contact lens, I know how to make contact lens a short way. Then you would go to school. And I made some money with that. I went to school, and make some money part-time job, and I had two children, very young. Everytime we went to school we would have to ask a babysitter to take care of them. Very hard. Sometimes it was like, how can I get through that schedule? For twenty-four hours, working, taking care of children, family, and then going to school.
I took minimum eighteen credits every semester to catch up with the school. In electrical engineer, there were only a few women, I think we had two or three women. So I hung out a lot with the boys, and I am the oldest in the group. I was in school in '85. But how old am I? I am fifty-four, I was thirty-one. Yes. I went to school when I was thirty-one years old. I was thirty-one years old, taking care of a family, and no English speaking. Sometimes I think that was the dream, I can never get that thing. Do you know why I chose electrical engineer?
MN: Because I had a very good background in math. So when I was in Vietnam, I use to in school do very good math subject. I don’t have to study much about math. The thing is, I feel like if you have a background everything just adds up, it's a lot easier to go through. So engineering requires a lot of math. I picked up math because we don't learn English very much. That is why I don't want to. That is why I got the degree. But when I out of school, and not able to get a job. It was very hard for me to take care of family, and get a job. At that time in 1991, we had the recession. All the electrical companies lay off a lot. Many people with an education don’t have a job. I applied for a job as on call interpreter. Can you believe it? I had very bad English, and applied as an interpreter in English to the Vietnamese people. But I loved the job because I could help Vietnamese. So I applied for the job, as on call and worked for Multnomah County. The main thing was to help people see a doctor. I helped Vietnamese refugees who just came to the United States, they don’t speak English well. I worked for the county from 1985, as a Vietnamese interpreter and I had to get a degree too. Like a short term, that the county sends you to learn that. So I feel so lucky, I learned a lot of things from the people here. Like the doctor who made contact lens, didn't have to go to school I learned the technique. I learned health assistance from Multnomah County program. I got the job as a health assistant in the Vietnamese interpreter center. I worked for them from 1992 to 1998. At the same that I am working with them, I have the part-time job at the Portland Community College to be a teacher in math for the bilingual vocational program. There was a grant some government gave to help the refugee people -- immigrants -- to come to the United States. That is the good thing, because they had people who could speak their language, both language, to help them get through school and continue to get a higher degree. I taught them in math. Most of my students were Spanish, Vietnamese, and Russian at that time, because they have refugees coming. I taught them for about three years, in an afternoon program in the evening and then weekends. So I had two jobs, a health assistant and working part-time to be a teacher. Luckily, I had my brother he was architect, he asked me to help him to make the AutoCAD drawing of a building, and help him with the project. So I went back to school and learned AutoCAD. I learned AutoCAD at night time after work, and managed my schedule and I get the certificate for the AutoCAD. I helped my brother to draw the building and his project.
This is the whole path that God gave me. In Multnomah County they opened a job -- exactly the thing I learned to help my brother -- but later on, the job opened in Multnomah County. It came up, and I was an employee at the Multnomah County so I can get the job easily. I don't have to go through some complicated way to compete with everybody else. They opened internal first, so I had a chance to apply. The same time I am working with my brother helping with architecture, like on a project, whatever he is asking. I learned a lot from my brother -- another shortcut -- I learned AutoCAD, but I learned architecture from my brother he showed me exactly how to draw. When you learn from somebody, they give you a very good thing and guidelines how to do it. Easier than when you learn from school. In school, you learn all the theory. But when you work you are only focused on that thing. So I learned from my brother a lot, and I got a job, and I keep working until now.
AJ: That is great, a lot of work.
MN: A lot of work [laughs].
AJ: Yeah a lot of learning.
MN: But you understand me when I am talking?
AJ & LH: Yes.
MN: I forgot to ask, and I just keep talking, and I don't know. Sometimes I speak Vietnamese you know [everyone laughs].
AJ: So when you first came to Portland where did you live?
MN: I lived only in here, in Portland.
AJ: What area?
MN: The first time when I came here I lived with my parents because they came to live here in 1975. I wanted to show this photo.
AJ: Where did they live?
[00:32:20 Mary shows Lucy and Azen some photos]
MN: This is the boat when we fled from Vietnam. That is the time we had an oil refinery in Malaysia. We stopped there because we were scared to continue through the ocean. I was there for one week, and we ran out of water and we ran out of food.
AJ: This your boat?
MN: Yeah, that is the one. So my parents, when they came here in 1975 they brought some money, so they were able to open the store, the market, supermarket. Those boxes in here are items. Many people who live in Portland, Oregon, they know my parent's store. They came here to buy the items to support the Vietnamese people in Vietnam. They ship them to Vietnam. That is my family and I am here. At that time I was in Vietnam. So that is my picture for you, and my brother and sister. I have that photo. I love it. In Germany, I taught the children how to dance, and perform in front of the German people. I taught them, and that’s me here. My husband and my daughter, my first daughter here. That is all the people in Germany before we left. In Germany, they came to say goodbye to us. That is the people in Germany who are Vietnamese, and some German. In that picture, I was in German school. That is my teacher here and my daughter here. [ … ] Here that is my sponsor in Germany. He is the one who sponsored us. Every Vietnamese in a refugee camp, we have some family helping, supporting, and instructing us, and I really appreciate that. They give you everything you need. That is the process with those who are leaving and coming here. I have some photos in Germany.
AJ: These are great. Where was the market that your parents opened?
MN: The market? This one, was on Burnside between eighth and ninth. They had that supermarket from 1981. I think they keep until 1990. Then the business go down and my parents got old. All of my brothers and sisters not able to support and help them. At the time they opened that, things like packages and the thing helping Vietnamese in Vietnam is really big. Business was very good at that time. Later on, we had so many supermarkets around. Things go down, and my parents are not there anymore. But my sister continued to take care of that. But she moved back to Sandy, right now it is still on Sandy. Do you know La Vang church on 57th and Sandy? My sister, my third one, she continued to open the business for travel. We called it the name Dai Chung, now it is DC Travel. That was also the name of my parent's supermarket. Many Vietnamese know that, people come here and still some areas people will remember that. Because they use to be there. I felt lucky when my parents left, and they got money to come here. They brought the whole family and things with them. They left before the communist came, so they were able to bring with them my documents, money, and stuff.
AJ: So they must have been some of the first Vietnamese people here in Portland.
MN: Maybe. I don't think they came to Portland right away. I heard they were in Seattle first. Because they had a sponsor from the Catholic or some church. Their sponsor lived over there. Then later on, they moved over here. I think the first time they lived in Seattle.
AJ: When you moved where there a lot of other Vietnamese Americans in your neighborhood?
MN: I believe that on Sandy and 82nd, you could see a lot of Vietnamese business around there. If you walk there you will see pho restaurants and a lot on 82nd. I lived on the 76th and Sandy, so not very far. We have very many Vietnamese communities and they grow up fast. They do good things. We had a doctor office and many businesses along Sandy and along 82nd. We have a big Vietnamese Community now. One thing I want to let you know, I am involved with the members of the Vietnamese board, the Vietnamese Community of Oregon. So I am involved in so many projects for me working. The Vietnamese New Year. Don't forget we have one coming on April 30th. That is the Black April, that means we lost our country. It is coming on the 27th. I am going to send you information, and invite you. If you want. It is a very good thing -- not only to interview about my work -- but if you can observe the Vietnamese activities you can get some more specific understanding. April 30th, 1975 marks the date we lost Vietnam. It is very important for us. The Vietnamese community is going to have that happen on the 27th. I think I can send you the schedule. Another one coming -- I talk a lot, because I am involved in so many things so there is a lot to let you know. I am very busy. [Laughs] The next one is the float at the Rose Festival, we are going to make the float. Vietnamese make the float, the community is involved in that. Maybe we can have a parade. I am there every year to take photos. Get together with the float, Vietnamese and, and parade every year. I can send you the link to that.
AJ: That would be great. We are planning on going to the Black Friday and we were at Tet. That would be great. Thank you.
MN: Yeah that is just the thing that I know. I can maybe even send you more information about that, Black Friday. You heard that before? I believe that not only me interview, but you have so many people before. The thing I wanted to bring you last time when you came, is very good, because it came up right away and I mentioned it right away. I think it is very good because you can see people there, you can invite some people to have interviews. The thing I want to let you know, the Vietnamese people are very shy. They feel isolated. They feel like don’t trust easily. Because you don't understand the same language, you don’t have a connection. The connection is important. If you make the first move, then you have a connection with me, with somebody else, then we will spread the word to somebody else. They trust their own people, the people they know. After this, I hope you can get some more information to help you with your project. The thing I really would like to help with is to preserve what I am asking for. Thank you very much for Lewis and Clark to bring up that project, and focus on Vietnamese people. I will like those things you get -- documents, information, everything -- you know maybe you can apply to the history of Vietnamese in the future. For the next generation. Because all of us elderly people worry. After us, after me? The old Vietnamese, like my grandparents and parents and the people you see from last time [at the meeting of the Vietnamese Senior Association], they will be gone very soon. Most of them are eighty years old. Older than that. Right now you see from 1975 to now Vietnam is still under communist. Even though the communist changing to open the world to our world, but the theory of the communists is still like that. You see why people do not accept communism. Every time the communist come we have to run. If they are good, like the way they said, then we wouldn't have to run away from my country. I already had a country. Why do we have to leave our country to live in here? Why do we have to fuss with the English people here? To learn some different language and culture. If you are able to go back to Vietnam, you want to go back to Vietnam. Because everybody have their heart with their country. Where you are born, your homeland. That is why. We are living here, we appreciate it. Vietnamese who come here, get the support from government from America. We feel so lucky to have freedom. That is why we are here, because we have freedom. We have the human standard living here. If they don’t have freedom, then you don’t have the human living, protection, then you have to run away. Hopefully all the documents and all the things your project is working on, will try to spread more. Make the people know that if only know about the Vietnamese. You should let people know why they come here, why they live in Portland. You can summarize instead of telling the same things. I believe they say the same things. Even though they might have a different story, much different living, the goal is still the same thing. We don't accept communist. That is why we are here. We worry because the next generation doesn't know why your parents are here. Now your school or program can help the next generation know why we are here. That is helping the people, like young generations -- my children -- still remember the history about Vietnam. They should do something.
AJ: Is there anything else you think is important to preserve?
MN: Preserve as in you mean everything you collect from us? From school, from the project? Continue to bring this more in school. If you have one hour to mention that to the children. Either to the Americans, maybe, the Americans still have Vietnamese mix in there. Because some fathers are American and the mom is Vietnamese. We have a lot of families now, where marriage is between American and Vietnamese people. So many are involved in that. The history of Vietnam, the people in here are real. I talk to you like real, I tell you the true things what I have. I don't have any reason to be lying. Why? But, the communist are always making the programs to change the history. They reverse everything. They make us seem bad. We have many Vietnamese communists come here. They want to do something bad to the Vietnamese community, refugee, immigrant. Sometimes they made bad things happen, there is no trust. They want to destroy us here. I try to be here to bring the real story and the real things that happened to me. To let you and the school, and the program and the project use the stories to make the truth. If people have to research, or study or something, they know what is going on. Maybe long enough for you, maybe longer than you were thinking?
AJ: We were thinking about an hour. We probably have time for a couple more questions if that's okay with you.
AJ: You mentioned that when you came here, you received some support. Were there ways that the government or the city here in Oregon could have been more supportive?
MN: Yeah, when I came here, luckily because my parents sponsored so I don't get the support right away, because of my parents. I live with them for about a year I think. After that, we go. We have the whole family, so we move out. In my parents family we have five brothers and sisters. A big family. So I move out. And when we move out, we were in school. We get the Pell Grant from school to pay for the tuition. I stress some, because we have family, and children. That gives you more stress. I have a work-study, I have a part-time job working with the doctor, and both of us -- like my husband and me -- are working. I can tell you since I came to the United States, I never get any unemployment. I'm working up until now, and that's lucky for me, because when I was in summer school, I still work for an electronic company in Beaverton. I applied for summer job doing that. When we move out, we got the housing. We apply housing. We live in Clackamas County, close to 99 West over there. We live there for about a few years. When we get the job, and more income, and you can pay more for the rent. It came up that we pay more than normal for the house, so we had to move out of the housing and rent another house. We live in the apartment for a while, and at that time both of us working. My husband working for the Walker Electronic and I work for the Health Department in Multnomah County, so we have the support like that. We get support from government a short time for the housing, for housing and Pell Grant from school, and we still have the part-time job working.
AJ: And you're still with Multnomah County?
MN: Yeah, I still work with Multnomah County.
AJ: What are you doing there?
MN: Same thing I said. Drawing building, AutoCad program, and checking the architecture plan drawing if they do something with the Multnomah County buildings there.
AJ: Have you experienced discrimination while working here in the U.S.?
MN: Yes. I cannot say no. It has to be yes. And it's not just in U.S.A. Everywhere. Everywhere if you not like the same skin, same language. You still feel like discriminated from the side, from body language. If you go to work, I still say I have a hard time not because of the job, but the English. I have a hard time to write an email, because I have to figure out the right language to put in there. In the meeting, I feel like I don't speak very much, because I don't have the language enough to speak. Even though people are very nice to you, but you feel limited about communication. To me, that is discrimination. Because, instead of talking to each other for an hour, you talk only maybe two minutes and that's it. Because I don't have enough knowledge, I don't have enough language to express myself to you, so you're not interested in me. Right? If I talking about movie, and I say a movie and you looking and you see and you like then we can share the story. We can have that general together, and maybe I did. Discrimination in here is not like… I think the government use a lot of rules and policy to protect against discrimination. Even though body language, even though you don't talk, the body language you know? People still look at you and discriminate. But, I have to adjust myself first. I have to know who am I? Where am I? And, the people I connect with, I still have a lot of good friends. They still support me a lot, but I can tell there is still around me discrimination. The first time you see me, you already have discriminated. Right? You maybe don't come to me right away the friendly way, until you know me. Or maybe I have to put myself in front of you, and make you feel like you have to connect with me. The first time I come in here [motions around the room], I feel confident, more than before. Because I was in school, I was a teacher in school, at least I know the environment and everything. So, I don't feel shy, I don’t feel scared, or worried. I can come in front of you, and talk to you. I have put myself first, opening, and show you I am ready to connect with you. But, if you stay in here, and you don't put yourself in front of people, or let people know I want to be your friend. Then I can feel like they ignore you. That's just the feelings right. And then you go to my country? You feel the discrimination too. Vietnamese people see you and they come to ask you. Or maybe the language, maybe you don't come to talk to us. So, that's just natural. But if you get further than that, like you feel really aggressive or something. You show me something, you hit me, or you don’t know me but you hit me right away. That's what I feel like is discrimination, real discrimination. Naturally, discrimination is happening everywhere in different situations. Different people, knowledge, and level and how long you've been there, and how you learn.
AJ: Thank you for sharing.
Lucy Hamill: Has that experience been different for your kids growing up in Portland?
MN: The discrimination? That's the way I said, because they make them equal with Americans. They born here. Sometimes they have benefitted more, because they were born in the Vietnamese community. They born in Vietnam, they are Vietnamese, and they live in America. But, they are born in America, their perspective is equally American. They have the knowledge, the same like you. They were in school same time like you. The language is not the main thing for them. Vietnamese is the main thing for them, because they can’t Vietnamese well like me. So, they like American. That natural discrimination they don't have. That's why I don't think they have a problem with that. They don't feel the discrimination, because in their eyes, they see you more than they see me. They see Americans around more than Vietnamese people, and they were in school and had American friends. They connect with the American. They continue like that, and the community, the activity is normal. If they have some discrimination, they can bring it up right away. It's very stressful for us. For us, we have the potential of feeling like we have a low system. We come here, we're refugee, we're immigrant. That's everything impressed in the back of your mind. You are strange, and different from people born here.
LH: Is it important to you that they stay connected to the Vietnamese culture and community?
MN: It's very hard for them. Like my granddaughter., she speak Vietnamese not much even though she try. But every time I’m talking about Vietnam, maybe she’s not interested very much. That's the thing, because she doesn't see it. She doesn't feel it. She doesn't touch it. So the connection is lost. For me? I touch, I feel, and I see, so my connection is strong. For them, they only see you, American. The connection depends on where they live, and how they live. But, if I bring my granddaughter back to Vietnam, and let them live there for a while maybe it is different. You bring the tree from this environment and put into another environment, some tree die. Everything you can ask, I have a long story about what we're talking about.
AJ: Unfortunately, it looks like we're running out of time, but maybe we could speak again. Before we close, is there anything else that you would like to discuss, or any more experiences that you wanna put out on the record for today. Anything you think we should ask?
MN: The first thing I really want to say, personally I really appreciate. Thank you so much for the Lewis & Clark project. Put a lot of work, and time, and knowledge to focus to the Vietnamese community in Portland. That's a thing I feel like very hard for ourselves, because when we come here we don't have enough voice, enough support to maintain and bring back the things we had while we here. I would like to let people know, the value we pay for the life in here is very expensive. A lot of people, not only had to put their life in danger, but they suffer a lot to get through things. They lost their country, family, and all the love in Vietnam. They have a very bad memory about. You know? They don't have a house, they don't have a homeland. And they come here, they lost some of their children too, because generation not connecting with generation. I hope the program makes something of value for them. The value of why they are here. Everybody has a story, and they suffer from their lives to come here. Right now even though we get everything like American people have, but we still empty in something inside. We cannot say something, we want everything and we get everything, but that's why so many community members, Vietnamese people they try to get it together to bring up the memory, and history, and working to help the next generation to understand. Thank you so much for your time Azen and Lucy and E.J. Carter. I thank you for all the things, and I'm going to sign this book and give this one to your program.
AJ: Thank you. This has been Azen Jaffe and Lucy Hamill interviewing Mary Nguyen on March 15th. Thank you again.