E.J. Carter: Okay this is EJ Carter, I'm speaking with Khanh Pham on April 6th 2019 in Southeast Portland. Thanks for being with us, first of all.
Khanh Pham: Thank you.
EC: Could you start by telling us--so you were born in Oklahoma city? [KP: Mm-hm.] Could you tell us about your childhood there and how you made your way to Portland?
KP: Sure. So my parents both were refugees and had not yet met and they met in Oklahoma just through, like, my mom was visiting, staying with her sister. They got married because they were of the age to get married and so then they had me a couple years later. That's where I was born and I grew up for eleven years in Edmond, Oklahoma. I don't have a ton of memories from that time, I mean I have some pictures, and I think it was the time of… I don't know…. I guess maybe I would say that that's where I learned to want to be white maybe [laughs.] Because I was born with the name Khanh, but when we moved when I was eleven, my dad told me that “This is a chance for you to change your name.” We were going to move to California because he found a job in California--and he said, "Well, now that we're moving nobody can know you. You can change your name if you want and if you pick something that's more American, then it'll make it easier for you to find a job later." So I had always been really embarrassed by all the teachers who couldn't speak my name or just always kind of made it an ordeal during roll call and stuff, so I decided to change my name at that age to Katie. And my dad legally changed my name at that point. So that's my only memory. I think even though it happened when I was eleven it was probably the result of my growing up in Oklahoma. Because there were no other Vietnamese kids in my class.
EC: Oh, none at all?
KP: None at all, yeah. No, I mean there was only like one other Asian kid or something like that in my grade.
EC: So there were basically no -- Edmond in general didn't have a Vietnamese community to speak of?
KP: I think Oklahoma does actually, but for some reason in my particular school at that time and maybe just my particular grade that year. I remember having a decent Vietnamese community. We went to temple and everything but maybe just not a critical enough mass in the town that I was in.
EC: To make it to the schools?
KP: I guess so, yeah.
EC: Okay. But your parents had friends who were Vietnamese?
KP: Yeah we had family. We all had family like on both sides. The community was actually very tight, I would say tighter, we were tighter in the Vietnamese community in Oklahoma than we were in California.
EC: Okay. So at age eleven you moved to California?
KP: Yep. To Irvine.
EC: Was that Southern California?
KP: Irvine California in Orange County.
EC: Okay. That must have been a much bigger Vietnamese community?
KP: Oh yeah. It was a total shift and suddenly I became, like, I had friends! It was like I had just one friend and she was Chinese American when I was in Oklahoma and then in California suddenly I was just more normal and I don't know, it was just much more I was able to feel much more normal and have friends and started to get crushes on other Vietnamese boys which is just a nice feeling to actually like people who look like you, you know? I think that must be very jarring to kind of always feel this disconnect. Looking back I think that was special.
EC: Did your family move for work or because they wanted to you to be part of a larger community?
KP: Oh they moved for work. They moved for opportunities, I mean Oklahoma at the time when they moved there like in the seventies it was really hard just because of the recession and everything. My dad was working super hard as an engineer at a private company and they still paid little. There's not a lot of opportunities in Oklahoma but in California they just knew that there was a lot more opportunities and wanted us to be able to in the future take advantage of more opportunities. And I don't know if they knew exactly what those opportunities were, but… My dad had a friend from his college in Vietnam. They keep in touch really well, even though they didn't have Facebook at the time, they just had networks that really helped each other like, "Hey, I got a job here. This is how you get a job with Caltrans." So he got a job with Caltrans which was really our family's step into real stability. I mean we were fine in Oklahoma too, I would say that we were middle class in Oklahoma but it was just, I don't know if my dad might have been like not sure if he could keep his job, I think the company closed later. I think having that level of stability, having a government job was a big game-changer.
EC: Did your aunts and uncles move as well, or did they stay? And cousins I guess, did they stay in Oklahoma?
KP: Actually one of them had already moved to Texas. Our family moved around a lot but some of them moved to Texas, some of them stayed, and then some of them were already in California. So we were actually joining another part of the [family.] My dad has like eight brothers and sisters. They were both in Oklahoma and Texas and California.
EC: Okay. Did your parents feel more at home in California as well?
[Child interrupts 00:05:52 - 00:06:06]
KP: So I think they did, I think they always comment that they miss some of the like...even though Oklahomans may have been racist they were nicer than Californians, if that makes sense. Even if they're not your friends they'll at least say hello to you. You know, they kind of stick to themselves, it's kind of a Southern kind of hospitality I guess. But in California it was much more like big city, a big suburb.
KP: Yeah, I think like we had neighbors that we never really got to know very well. Even now they've lived thirty years or something or twenty something years in the same house and they don't really know their neighbors. But in general I think that we had more family in California so I think they were happier.
EC: Did they have stories in Oklahoma of sort of overt racism that they encountered?
KP: I can't remember now, I think my dad mostly faced it actually in the workplace. But no, I don't think they actually talked about like, "Oh, someone called me a name" or anything, it was more just the sense -- and I think he said it in California too -- that there's a sense of what leadership looks like and he never was able to really get promoted. But I don't really know. I think by the time I was old enough to understand those things I was already of the house.
EC: So you came to Portland to go to Lewis and Clark, is that right?
KP: Yeah, my parents wanted me to stay at home and so I actually had to apply to Lewis and Clark behind their back. I was researching all the colleges that offered full scholarships and it was just random colleges that were not like need-based because we're not, like, poor. I was looking into West Point Military Academy and Eckerd College in Florida, all these cool schools that are kind of both well known and not known. I really feel lucky that I ended up at Lewis and Clark because even then I had a sense of my politics. And I didn't know anything about Lewis and Clark, but I knew that Portland was kind of progressive. I'm pretty lucky I ended up here because I could have ended up in the South. Not that that's -- I think there's really amazing people doing amazing work in the South but I think -- I mean I literally was, I joined track and field so that I could prepare for West Point. [laughs] Which looking at -- if you know my physical abilities -- is laughable. But I was really struggling with conflicts with my parents at the time and I needed to leave and yet they wouldn't let me leave because no other girls in my family left home.
EC: So it was important to you that they not have to pay for your tuition?
KP: Well, they weren't giving me permission. [EC: Oh, Okay.] They eventually, you know, when they saw that I had gotten a scholarship then they did eventually come around to supporting it somewhat. Like acquiescing I guess. They made me promise, we had all these fights and then finally the compromise was that I would live in the all-girls dorm and then they would let me go. Which I thought was okay. [ … ] I guess I also just didn't want to be controlled by that, by their money and be like, "Oh you can't.” I think there's a way in which… I don't know at that time I just really needed to feel more independent. Not that I was, they still supported my room and board, but I knew that I could figure out other ways to support myself and I think that was really key. That scholarship was just the beginning of a different path in my life because I had been so dependent on my parents for everything. I had to listen to them and they were very conservative and traditional and strict. I think by having that scholarship I was able to study abroad in Vietnam. (They were opposed to that too.) That just marked the change of my life.
EC: Did your political views have something to do with the conflict with your parents?
KP: No, not at the time, not really.
EC: It was just ordinary teenage conflict?
KP: No, I wouldn't say it was ordinary. I would say it had to do with being rooted in being Americanized. At the time, I didn't speak very much Vietnamese. At least minimal Vietnamese, just what you can get. Just obeying my parents orders to wash the dishes or something. But, I didn't know how to converse. I think I had a lot of internalized ideas of what I thought parent-child relationships should be like, based on what I was watching on TV. They had their own ideas about how children should show respect to their parents. I think we both mutually were disappointed, angry, and then probably a little resentful of each others' inability to kind of meet each others' expectations. I think it was maybe normal teenage angst, and then also a part of living in the suburbs and feeling like, "I can't get anywhere without a car, I need my parents!" And then I think being the child of immigrants. There's a particular conflict that comes. From a very young age I had to have a lot more responsibility interacting with authority figures. I never asked for help with school or anything like that. I don't know, I wasn't able to look to them as much for certain things like support during high school and things like that. I think it's maybe normal. Or maybe what's considered normal in the U.S. I don't think it is normal but...and then partly cultural differences.
EC: Were you interested in climate change and environmental issues at that age, or did that come about at Lewis and Clark?
KP: No, that came at Lewis and Clark. Yeah, I don't think so. I fell in love with the campus when I came. I was amazed. I had never seen so many green trees. I mean it is just such an amazing campus. The trees are taller than anything I had ever seen because the town I am from is thirty five years old or something like that. I just really, I grew so much that first year, I mean every year, but it was kind of like studying abroad for me. Because I had never really been around people like that at Lewis and Clark. They were all really worldly and traveled or wanted to travel. In my freshman year I met this senior, Brenna Belle who started this deep ecology study group just kind of opened my eyes. It was just a time of immense growth. I was changing every semester, more outside of class than inside of class, but I was also taking a ton of classes and overloading myself, just a ton. I don't know how many. I was taking the Max and sleeping in the library and everything just to take advantage of everything that Lewis and Clark had to offer. Even the library itself, I loved walking through the aisles and just finding books.
EC: What was it like to study abroad in Vietnam?
KP: It was really life-changing. It was definitely a turning point. Well, one I started to learn Vietnamese. It just healed so many things to be able to speak in Vietnamese, meet other people that spoke and talked like my parents, and I met some of my family members who I had never met before. [They] even reacted like, there's a particular way of yelling … I don't know this sounds horrible, but the way that men, husbands yell at wives that -- still really messed up and wrong -- but I was like, I always thought it was unique to my family. But I was like, "Oh, there are ways in which things are cultural and people are raised in a certain environment where things are normal and that's how you are raised." I don't know, it just healed a lot of things. I think I had a lot more empathy for the things that my parents experienced, the challenges that they must have gone through, and then just a lot of pride. I’m sorry, I'm getting emotional.
I met like my uncle who fought on the other side in Hanoi, because my family is from the North, but they moved in 1954. But that means that we have some family that stayed. Not like my “uncle, uncle,” but my grand uncle. Like the brother of my grandfather. Four brothers of my grandfather stayed behind. My grandfather died. It's not that he even went down South, he died. So they stayed in Hanoi. One was in the army for twenty five years, I don't know, just the immense sacrifice that he talked about I mean everybody at the time. It was 1998, it was a different country than it is now. [Now], there is a certain kind of prosperity. [Then], people were still incredibly poor. It was life changing, both in terms of my own personal identity but also, a more deeper understanding of the impact of imperialism on people. I mean just so much sacrifice and so much … I don't know. Maybe because they had not met a lot of Vietnamese Americans, but people shared a lot of stories with me about the war. A lot of love for me, like way more love than I think Vietnamese Americans show to Vietnamese people. They really welcomed me as like, a long-lost sister coming home. I don't know… I'm still remembering some of the people I met. I don't think I deserved it. But they showed me so much. I don't know, I think I was just, kind of still needing something. I couldn't even put words to it now, but that's what I got.
EC: Have you been back a lot since then?
KP: Yeah, I've been back maybe five times now. So I was there '98, I was there in 2003 to a little bit to 2004. And then I went back in, I think it was not until 2011. And then after that I went back like every year, 2011, 2012, 2013. And then I went back in 2017. That's five or six times, yeah. And then we're going back this year.
EC: How did that change your sense of the Vietnamese American community here? Or your role in it? Or your connection in it?
KP: I think it just gave me my own experience. I think, unlike a lot of Vietnamese Americans my age, I went back by myself and really was able to experience Vietnam and talk to Vietnamese people without my parents being the liaison or the gatekeepers of that relationship. By that time I was already becoming politicized. Actually, that's not true even as a young kid I was a reader and I loved Steinbeck. So I guess I was generally progressive and not like political. But I definitely had an affinity for what's fair. I was able just to have responses that I still stay to this day. But I think sometimes in the Vietnamese American community, there is so much pressure to see poverty and then somehow push it through the lens of anti-Communism and then blame the Vietnamese government -- for things that they have partial responsibility for -- but I think you have to understand the global economic context to really understand. I think also knowing that my family, like part of my family, fought on both sides of the war. That's a part that many Vietnamese Americans don't talk about even though many Vietnamese Americans are like mine. Like split Northerners who went South but still have some relatives in the North. Even Southerners, I know a friend that's Southern Vietnamese but her dad was aligned with the resistance and stuff. It gave me more confidence in myself. Even though I am not confident enough to be public about this, but confident enough to at least feel -- as you saw in my thesis -- that there are other voices. That I was not totally bizarre, I don't know. Yeah it changed my relationship a little bit to give me a little, “I have a different identity and I don't feel like I'm less Vietnamese for that” and different political orientation. I mean it definitely made me feel alone too. Because where I'm from in Orange County, you could be really destroyed publicly, lose your job I mean there is just so many repercussions to articulating the kind of politics that I have. I mean not my progressive politics, but anything to do with Vietnam.
EC: Support for...?
KP: I wouldn't even say support, like I don't support the Vietnamese government but I also don't support the flag of South Vietnam.
EC: Right. Yeah I can definitely see how that experience would have informed your thesis, having looked at that.
KP: Yeah. So, yeah. What was your question again? How did it impact my relationship with the Vietnamese community?
EC: Yeah, in America.
KP: Yeah, I mostly just came back wanting to do something in solidarity with people in Vietnam. I just came back wanting to study Economics. Martin Hart Landsberg was a professor back then, and he's probably the one professor, strangely, that actually impacted me. I don't remember almost anyone else but he was probably the closest thing to a mentor. And not like we had a really strong relationship, but his classes really shaped how I saw and critiqued global economics and really helped me understand the ways in which the IMF and the World Bank and the WTO impact why countries stay poor, or are locked into particular relationships with advanced industrialized countries and some of the traps of development that Vietnam is still trying to overcome.
EC: So after you graduated, did you start getting into organizing work immediately?
KP: Yeah, I did. I mean I was already an activist in college. When I came back from Vietnam, I tried going to college for a semester but I had to take a semester off because I think I just needed to experience life a little bit. I took two different breaks from college: one after I went to Vietnam, the other one I think after I went to Zimbabwe. The scholarship allowed me to do a lot of things that I wouldn't have been able to do. I'm sorry what was your question again?
EC: After you graduated did you immediately get into sort of social activism and community?
KP: So I was an activist during college. Like after Vietnam was when I really delved more deeply into activism, because I wanted to understand. I came back in 1998 because I was there from like February to June or July or something. We were preparing for the WTO protest. I didn't actually end up staying. I'm not sure the years, but definitely 1999 was the WTO protest. That's when I started to become an activist. Not like super clear on my strategies or tactics. It was just like circling and trying to learn from the older activists, adults around me. That is what gave me my roots in Portland, was getting outside the campus.
EC: You worked for an organization called Refugee Transitions. What did you do with them?
KP: Kind of everything. I was part-time development associate and part-time family associate... I don't know, I forget what it was called. So that was an agency that matched English tutors with refugee families. It is not a direct service agency, it just connects people who want to volunteer to teach English with refugee families. But in the absence of an actually social safety net, those volunteers actually often become social workers for families. I didn't stay there super long, about a year or so, but that was actually really an eye-opening experience. They weren't Vietnamese families at the time they were, Liberian, some Burmese families. It was so striking to me how much I resonated with the conflicts that some of the second generation kids also were experiencing with their parents. I really related to this one girl, Blessed who had so many conflicts with her grandmother. Her grandmother went through so much, dug through dirt with her fingers to make sure she was fed, during a civil war and everything. But now that they were in Oakland she insisted that her daughter do chores and do all this stuff and her daughter was getting a lot of love from these white tutors. In a weird way these white tutors were really I think unintentionally pitting this young girl against her grandmother by kind of bolstering her own teenage point of view, and putting some of their own American values in. I just really related to both her teenage struggle which was me, and also being able to kind of see her grandmother's point of view too. So, yeah. That was just a year long work job. One of my many little projects I want to do is an oral history of like, parents and children of immigrants. Just sharing some of the stories because I think there is a lot of misunderstandings between the generations. Some have really great and close relationships to their kids, but there is a lot of hurt and trauma that is played out in that relationship.
EC: Did your relationship with your parents change as a result of all of these experiences?
KP: Yeah, I think it changed a lot. I mean, to be honest, as soon as I left home things changed. We just had some distance from each other. But then definitely being able to come back to Vietnam, being able to speak to them in Vietnamese helps a lot, I think. And I think just having a lot more compassion and understanding of the world. I think I just grew up a lot each time. Not just the first time but even the second time after I graduated. Not right after I graduated, but after this organizing training program, I went to Vietnam for a year and learned a lot as well about -- I don't know how to put it -- just the way the world works, I guess.
EC: And when did you go back to school to study urban planning?
EC: Okay. And what would you say are Portland's big challenges, from an urban planning perspective, at least as they affect the Vietnamese-American community, or refugees more generally, or people of color more generally?
KP: I would say displacement is the biggest thing. I think there is a lot of investment pouring into the city right now. You know, Portland is a very livable city in this way, it has real great parks and access to nature, and compared to California some parts of it are still affordable. And yet, under our kind of capitalist system we really just determine housing based on the market. I think we don't have enough really bold leadership to figure out how do we come up with really innovative ways to pull property -- pull land -- off the market so that we can keep it permanently affordable. I think the Portland that kind of welcomed Vietnamese refugees in the '70s and '80s allowed Vietnamese families to live in now what is considered inner Southeast. But that was where refugees could afford at the time. Now a lot of Vietnamese families are moving. Actually, I've heard they're moving out of state even to like, North Carolina and other places that have cheaper real estate. So I think that Portland is really at risk of losing that, both Vietnamese communities but also I would say other refugee communities as well. Because it is not as welcoming a home. I mean, we were able to settle in Oklahoma because housing was really cheap there. We were able to buy a house, And we sold our house for sixty thousand dollars. And you know, that's like a down payment here. [laughs] But it kind of is like a foothold to stability, and middle class life. I would say displacement is the biggest urban planning challenge. Also, I mean climate resilience and climate adaptation. How do we move to a hundred percent renewables? How do we get people out of their cars? Into insulated, weatherizing homes? And making sure we're getting off the fossil fuel economy?
EC: How optimistic are you about changes to forestall climate change?
KP: I try not to think about things in terms of optimism or not. I think that my actions are rooted in a deep love for people. Gosh, I mean both my love for my daughter and also my love for people of Vietnam, and just people shared in circumstances around the world. I don't think giving up is an option, I think that you will fight for the people you love and that is all you can do.
EC: Do environmental issues resonate with the Vietnamese American community, Oregon refugees more generally or people of color more generally? In a lot of these interviews, when we ask people what their first impression of Portland, people who have come here from Vietnam often say the landscape reminds them of Vietnam. They notice that it was so green and that helped ease the transition. Does that, in your experience, lead to heightened environmental awareness among ordinary people within the Vietnamese community?
KP: I think the Vietnamese community is so diverse. I think there are some people who grew up on the farm or even at least regularly coming home to their home family village. And then other people that grew up, like younger Vietnamese who grew up in the cities with technology, pretty disconnected from the life cycle and all the impacts. You know, they grew up with all the images of Western consumerism and that as a norm and as a progressive ideal for civilized life. So I don't know, it's hard for me to generalize about the entire Vietnamese community, but I think there is definitely in the culture, like the word quê, like where's your quê hương, where's your village? I think that deep connection to your roots, like where your ancestors were born. There is at least the kernel of that in our culture. And so much wisdom about how to live in balance with the earth that we can draw on. So I would say that there is that. It's just a lot of us are disconnected -- including myself -- are disconnected from the wisdom of our culture that has captured how to live in balance with the natural world.
EC: And do you see part of your current role as recovering that sense?
KP: I mean at a personal level I do try to. My housemates -- two of them are Vietnamese -- and I think I try to garden and things like that. My job right now is more about … I guess I do. That's not true. The Just Transition framework we use is holistic and tries to connect people to the traditions we come from, our histories...
EC: This is at OPAL?
KP: Yes. And because we organize people of color primarily, I think that is a big part of it. Though, the systems change more. I think there's other groups like Zenger Farm, getting people in the dirt, you know working on farming and stuff. We're focused on how do we shift systems and shift power to improve the conditions that are impacting our members and our communities the most.
EC: And do you see that happening through legislation, or what are some of the goals of the organization?
KP: It's all kinds of policies. Like we helped pass the low-income fare at Trimet -- which is not legislation per-se -- but it's definitely...
KP: Yes it's policy. And winning tenant protections, winning the Portland Clean Energy Fund. It's not like state legislation, but it is policy that's going to raise fifty to seventy million dollars a year from billion dollar corporations to fund a Just Energy Transition. Those are the kinds of things that we are working on. I don't think it's only through policy, I think also in the future with this fund, we're hoping that we can have a land base and start to practice what it means to learn earth skills and things like that but right now that's not what we do.
EC: So, by a land base you mean you'd create sort of a community out of the organization?
KP: We'd like to. We'd like to. I think owning your own space, owning your own land is a really important first step to being able to build a community. Make sure you establish roots and can't be displaced. We have been displaced once and we're in the process of being displaced again just through rent increases. So I think owning your own land, to be able to have a center -- kind of a movement learning center -- is one of our goals.
EC: Would that be in the vicinity of Portland, or further out?
KP: Oh it'd be inside Portland. Yeah, not rural.
EC: It wouldn't be rural.
KP: No, no, no. We're definitely rooted here in the urban metro area. But a lot of our communities come from agriculture backgrounds and just histories of that and parents or grandparents and, yeah, we want to reconnect to that.
EC: In your thesis you talk a lot about the loneliness of older Vietnamese Americans. Is that still something you perceive in your work or encounter?
KP: [Laughs] I don't remember that part of my thesis, actually. What did I say?
EC: Well, you just said that a lot of older refugees were lonely because of the lack of...
KP: Oh, right. And that's how they would talk to me. I still feel that way. I would actually say even non-Vietnamese, I would say American society is really isolating if you're elderly. But it's like doubly so when you don't have the language necessary or just don't have the supports. Like if you didn't go to school here. And then it’s also class, you know? If you can't afford to live in a kind of resort senior facility or something, it can be really isolating. Yeah I'd totally forgotten about that, but a lot of the older men -- mostly men -- I talked to -- but also maybe a couple women -- too definitely.
EC: Like maybe you kind of described anti-Communism as a way for them to feel connected to something bigger?
KP: I don't know if I'd still feel … I don't know. I don't remember that very well but I would say that I think everyone needs to believe and make sense of what happened to them. [Sighs] Such a tragedy on all sides. I think the narrative of anti-Communism helps to make sense of it. And the story about Americans betraying South Vietnam and kind of running away and stuff like that, I think it is just hard to make sense of it. And there is just a different narrative that is more complex -- I don't think in my thesis I totally was able to pin down. It wasn't so simply black and white. Like you either, believe in the whole US intervention in Vietnam or you're like opposed to it. There is like a whole different narrative that I think I heard Vietnamese Americans trying to articulate that kind of tried to navigate with independence from both but...
EC: Like a third way?
KP: Kind of, but I would say I'm a third way, but they're not a third way [laughs]. Because there are still, like, I guess there was like a fourth way because I think it just doesn't make rational sense to me. Because it's like we don't want the US to be controlling us, but like I think there's no way that they could have even survived -- I don't know. Yeah. Ultimately I blame the US. The US is to blame for just intervening and creating and feeding these divisions when you pour billions of dollars and train hundreds of thousands of people to fight, I think it has created divisions within our community that still exist today.
EC: Are there other ways that the war still haunts people that you can perceive?
KP: I mean it's really private. I've been in listening circles with Vietnamese and in my own home and with more second generation and even like second generation Vietnamese Americans and just so many different stories. Like one of my friends, regularly when she was a friend growing up -- because she had tons of relatives living with her in Santa Ana in Orange County at the time -- it was just normal for her to have people wake up screaming in the night from nightmares. Just so much mental health stuff she just grew up thinking that was normal. But it's so private and not talked about. Particularly the Vietnamese American community I feel like I haven't heard as much from the Vietnamese. In Vietnam they seem like somehow they've been able to move on in a way that Vietnamese Americans still struggle with. But it's probably just because … I don't know. I bet that there's immense scars as well. I just haven't been able to be in those spaces, to hear those stories. Yeah it is so much private. I don't know if I've been able to see it outside of my own family I would say. And my parents were not interned or put in reeducation camps or anything like that. We were able to, my parents were able to escape in 1975. We don't have the same boat experience that I think other families, it was very traumatic. Even though my aunts and uncles had that boat people experience it has had a less of a direct impact on me. But I know a lot of families struggle with the trauma of those experiences and losing family members at sea and just horrific experiences that no one should have to face.
EC: So your parents came to Oklahoma as early as 1975?
KP: Yeah, they came in the first wave.
EC: Okay, wow. But they had met in Vietnam?
KP: No, they met in Oklahoma.
EC: Oh, really? Okay.
KP: Yeah, they didn't know each other.
KP: The Vietnamese community was very small in Oklahoma. I always joked my mom didn't have a lot of options in Oklahoma, [chuckles] but they're happy. They're happily married now. I mean there is some truth to it. I mean the Vietnamese pragmatism is you just kind of make the commitment if you're compatible and then love grows.
EC: How old were they when they arrived there?
KP: My mom was I think twenty five, my dad was thirty, or twenty nine, thirty.
EC: Did your mother work?
KP: No my mom was twenty four. My dad was twenty nine, something like that. Did my mom work? She did, she worked. When I was one and a half she started working. So my brother was born a year after me. So then she stayed just for six months while he was a baby and then got a job at the Department of Corrections. Partly out of just a sense of the job the job opened and so she jumped at it. Yeah they worked all throughout my childhood. Which is probably partly the disconnect. I was raised by TV.
EC: And they're still in California?
KP: They still live in California. In Orange County. Now we definitely have different politics. I think it has a lot to do with the Vietnamese language media. Also just the media in Orange County is very different from the media here.
EC: Is that hard to talk about?
KP: With my parents?
EC: With your parents.
KP: Yeah. Yeah, we try to avoid it. I try to talk about their granddaughter or other things. I just don't think it matters. I try to choose my battles and I don't think that they agree with a lot of my political views.
EC: They would be in the anti-Communist camp?
KP: Yeah, I definitely. That's why they didn't want me to go back to Vietnam when I was nineteen. They felt like I would be brainwashed by the Communists. And to a certain extent I think they probably do think I have been. [Laughs] But now I'm too old, so they can't change me. But yeah, I think my politics have probably always somewhat bothered them. I don't push it in their face or anything, so.
EC: And what's their opinion when it comes to, sort of environmental issues and social justice and activism?
KP: I mean, with environmental issues [ … ] we have little conflicts when they come here. My dad in particular thinks I'm just being, kind of extremist I guess. Like we try to reuse plastic bags. They just really like buying plastic and newspaper, you know like disposable things. Just really kind of a different ethic and so he's always like, "Argh, you're so extremist!" I guess how sometimes I see people who are like, "I can't eat honey, you know that's from bees!" [Laughs] So that's how they perceive me I guess. And my activism, I don't think they really know it, which makes me sad. I mean, I don't think they really know it. I don't think they really asked, so I don't really share. But I like, I really was instrumental to helping win this groundbreaking Portland Clean Energy Fund and they don't know anything about it. [Laughs]
KP: No [sighs.]
EC: Is it--
KP: I don't know what I would say, I'd be like, "Hey, by the way, mom..." I mean I could mention it but they'd just be like, "Oh, that's nice." I guess I could show them. I should. I was thinking about that. I should probably send them a link or something but feels like I'm too old to try to like...
EC: Impress them?
KP: Yeah! To try to get the … yeah. I don't know.
EC: That was when you were at APANO when you were working on the clean energy fund?
KP: That was when I was at APANO.
EC: Is there anything else you can say about that process?
KP: The clean energy fund?
KP: It was just an amazing opportunity. I mean it's something that I'll always remember, just having the opportunity to take something from like the seed of an idea to actually winning is something that I don't think many people get to experience. Especially activists who identify as radical, as leftist, I think through my lifetime, I've been on the losing side of a lot of things, and I think to win something, it was an amazing feeling. And I still, to some extent, am holding that. I still have a sense of -- I don't know if hope is the right word -- but I still feel motivated. I've tasted winning and it feels so good. A sense of the possible. I still do have a sense of like, there's still always a possibility, another world is definitely possible and I've seen glimpses of it and I want to be part of the side that is fighting for it.
EC: Is the Green New Deal the next big thing, either in Oregon or nationally?
KP: I hope so. OPAL is helping to lead this through the Oregon Just Transition Alliance, is leading this Oregon Green New Deal process, or one version of the Oregon Green New Deal. And I think we hope to engage enough stakeholders to really ensure that it gets at the many transformations that we have to make as a society if we want to preserve a livable planet for ourselves, for sure.
EC: Great. Well, I think that's all the questions that I had, was there anything else that you wanted to say that I didn't ask about?
KP: Nope, I think that's it. I just have questions about how, like, what happens to this, afterwards.
EC: Okay. Yeah, I can talk about that. Okay, I've been speaking with Khanh Pham on April 6th 2019. Thanks again for speaking with me.
KP: Thank you.