Lana Co Interview: July 27, 2019
Interviewers: E.J. Carter and Hannah Crummé
[The interview takes place in the common area of the Midland Public Library. Patrons can be heard in the background going about their day]
E.J. Carter: This is E.J. Carter and Hannah Crummé. We’re at the Midland Public Library and we are speaking today with Lana Co. It’s July 27, 2019, thank you for being with us.
Lana Co: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this project, I am so happy to share my story.
HC: That's great.
EC: Can you start by just giving us a quick overview of your life here in Portland.
LC: So my life here in Portland is very good right now. I'm surrounded by family and friends. I have a job which is good, it pays the bills [Laughs]. I do have the chance to travel here and there and just pretty much hang out with family, friends, and volunteer for the community whenever I have the chance.
EC: What year did you move to Portland?
LC: I moved to Portland in 1996, April 13th, that is on Friday. When we got here, they said, "You fly on Friday the 13th" and we said, "Well we ok, hope we get there safe!" [Laughs]. Because my aunt lives here, and she is the one doing the sponsorship, that is why we settled here. We went through a program called ODP, Orderly Departure Program. My aunt, she is the one [to] first escape out of the country after the war because her husband was a professor and he studied the war, took English. Then after the war, he could not go back to the country so he was stuck here. Then, of course, the husband and wife need to be united and so she had to escape. She escaped and was able to arrive to the Philippines but that is what I heard my mom say. For this project, I know that she escaped but I did not know what island she arrived or the country that she arrived [Laughs]. So this is it, my mom said that she arrived in the Philippines and she was able to connect with her husband and then her husband was able to get her over here. But of course, she had to work and establish citizenship and then sponsoring our family. My other uncles, we have a total four including my dad is five, also escaped as well. But they went separately. Two of them are here in Washington and one of them is in South Carolina. So three of them here, so two in Washington, one in South Carolina and one in France. Here we have [our] grandmother, but then she already passed away in January.
HC: Oh, I'm sorry.
LC: Thank you, and my other aunt is here, so my dad's family is here now -- my mom's family is still in Vietnam. So when we got here, we were united with all of our family from our dad's side. This was very overwhelming, happy after a long separate time. For my grandma and my aunt, their paperwork, the wait time was five years. For our parents, our wait time was ten years because of the brother and sister relationship. But -- because at that time if you're not married you can still go with the mom -- my aunt was able to go with my grandma, only waiting for five years. And then we waited ten years and after ten years united.Then, of course, they went to escape the country before that, so they did not have time to -- you know hang out or be together. So yeah...
EC: How old were you when you left Vietnam?
LC: I left Vietnam when I was twenty-years old and my brother he going to be twenty-two, twenty-one. But then we were doing the interview with the US Embassy or Consulate -- that is how you go through the interview process -- the interviewer told us that he looked up my parents paperwork. At the time you have to go through the health exam before you can clear to come to the US. So then my dad's paperwork did not arrive to the Consulate yet. So only three of us, my mom me and my brothers have the paperwork. They said, "Well, we can not let all of you go." My brother was going to be turning twenty-one and if he turns twenty-one he can not go with us. So he [consulate worker] told us "Well you three can go first and then the husbands can go later when the paperwork clears for his health." We said "Ok!" and then we let my aunt know that that is what happened after the interview. My aunt said, "Ok so we can get you three out." And then after that, a week or two weeks later the paperwork arrived and then my dad was cleared. [I thought] "Ok released! We all can go together!" And that is how we came here.
EC: What were your first impressions of Portland when you arrived?
LC: Well from the airplane looking down it’s very pretty. You can see the beautiful houses, the tiny tiny and then the trees. "Oh that is very nice!" It is like when you go for some sort of exhibit and they have the small model. "Oh that looks exactly like that!" [Laughs] It is very green and it is so different and I said, "Wow it is so huge!" [laughs] When we arrived the air was so fresh and everything was so huge to me. The first thing that was my impression at the airport -- I did not see people that tall and big because we do not see that in Vietnam. I think at that time when I was there, pretty much [I had not seen] a lot of foreigners. So it was kinda like "Oohh ok!... Oooh ok!" [Laughs] That was the reason when we [left] we said, "Oh that is how the people -- all the people of American look like."
HC: You came to Portland to join your aunt, what brought your aunt to Portland as opposed to some other US city?
LC: Well because, I think the husband was here. Then I think the sponsor of my uncle [ … ] I think that for the immigration, you must have a sponsor. I think those sponsors are here and so then that is why they came here. For my other uncles -- because the sponsor was in South Carolina -- then that’s why I think he stayed in South Carolina. The other uncles and my aunt were able to get [sponsored] here so then they stayed here.
EC: Was the sponsor an organization or an individual?
LC: To be honest, I have no idea. I think probably went through the church or some sort. [00:07:45] Nowadays, a lot of churches still sponsor the immigration. I think that through that, but I did not ask too much you know, about those people -- are you going through an organization or not? No, I did not ask.
EC: What part of Portland did you live in when you arrived?
LC: My aunt, she has a house in the Hollywood district area and she has another -- because that is just her office, not a house, we can’t live there. We stayed there for two years, then all of us went to work and working very hard. Anytime that we had we just worked and earned money. After two years, we moved out because we bought a house and then moved out, to be independent.
HC: Where did you work when you first arrived?
LC: When I arrived, my first job was working for Jantzen. It is because Sandy Boulevard and down the street, I think on the 15th or 12th, the whole area there is Jensen's company. We went there because my aunt, she has some friends that knew the manager there and then when the four of us arrived, "Ok so it’s a job, and then it is an easy job so..."[laughs]
HC: What is the job?
LC: Sewing swimsuits.
HC: Oh I see. Oh Jensen, yes I know.
LC: So I have no experience, and they said "Well they will train you, as long as you know to follow the instructions. I said "ok." Three of us did not know how to sew at all. My mom is the only one that knew how to sew because she sewed clothes in Vietnam -- that was her side job. So we go, we all four went for a test and then we just followed the instructions and my mom on that day forgot her glasses. So when testing, because they ask you to punch a hole in the paper, she couldn't see it [laughs].
So three of us got hired and she did not [laughs]. We were all crying, "How come? You are the one who knows how to sew?" [Laughs]. [Mother says], "I forgot my glasses, I’m too afraid to ask them to let me take out my glasses." Because we were all afraid. "Just follow the instruction." Then she did not get hired. So that was my first job, working for Jensen. I worked there for like for -- we arrived in April, so I didn't obtain the green card until a month and a half later. When my parents arrived, after a month their green cards arrived. And then me and my brother, the green card did not arrive until a month and a half. Then after that we able to work. We worked there for three months during the summer and then went to Mount Hood Community College to study English, of course. I obtain my associate degree there as well. Because I love travel I said "Ok, what major should I study?" And then my aunt said, "Oh hospitality and tourism." I said "Ok! that is what I will do." So yeah, I got my two-year degree. There after graduating, I wanted to get some experience. Because if you got a degree and you do not have the experience, you will have a hard time getting a job. So I found a travel company and work for them for a year, and then after that, my goal was if the company has the program for paying for your tuition -- I will continue to work but then when I worked there and I found out that they did not have that program, I said "Oh ok... time to go back to school." Of course, I wanted to get the experience, so I worked there a year so I can have that on my resume in case later I needed [laughs]. Then, I went back to Portland State University and then I obtained my bachelor's degree there for business, it’s supply and logistics management and then add in international business management. Put it all in there.
HC: Great. What did you end up doing after you finished at PSU?
LC: So after PSU, I got an internship with the State of Oregon, for the lottery. They have their office in Salem. Which means that I had to move to Salem ,but I did not want to move because it was only a three or four-month internship. So then at the first week, I travel back and forth. Then after the first week, it was really exhausting and tiring because of the commute. Then luckily, my dad, he has some friend who lives in Keizer. So then he connected with him and said, "Can my daughter stay in your house for a couple of months since she working with the lottery?" He said "Oh yeah." So I was able to stay there pretty much the whole time. Every weekend on Friday, luggage, going home. And then on Sunday night, let's go back to Keizer. Then after that, I didn't want -- because my families in Portland -- so I did not want to stay there and they keep asking me, "What would you like to do after your internship?" Do you have anything in Portland? [Laughs] Because I would like to be in Portland. “We do not have anything in Portland, so it is ok then if the internship ends?" Ok, bye… Yeah...
So after that, I traveled. I went back home, visited my grandma and grandparents and from my mom's side, aunts and uncles. After, I came back. I find a job with another travel company because of my experience [laughs] -- it becomes useful. So working for that company for three years and then Wall Street collapsed. The travel company that I worked for -- I was working for the account that sends financial consultants to other companies that need it. Because Wall Street, of course, they can’t consult, how can you consult? So then I got laid off and able to obtain the job with the state. When I went for the process the lady ask me, "So what would you like to do?"
"I would like to find a job that I don't have to go through the layoff, like a permanent job, that is secure. I don't want to go through this." So the lady said, "Well the state has this job, do you want to apply?" Ok. So then I applied and I got it.
HC: What was the job with the state?
LC: It is for the Employment Department and pretty much you’re helping people with their unemployment benefits. It is a tough job. Well, if you like to help people then it is very rewarding. But of course, sometimes people do not like the state -- the government -- that much. [Laughs] because we have rules and laws that we have to follow. So yeah. I have been working this for about nine years already.
HC: Do you enjoy?
LC: Yes I enjoy it. It is helping people. The only time I do not enjoy it is when people are yelling at you or cussing at you. That is when I do not like it [laughs].
EC: So you’re explaining to people their benefits and how they apply and thing like that?
LC: Yes, how they apply, their eligibility, they need to meet the requirement if they do not then you have to go through another depart to determine your eligibility. A lot of times they say, "Why? It is my money!" No, it is not your money, it is the money that your employer paid to you but you have to meet the requirement in order for you to draw it.
EC: What kind of your did your parents end up doing? Did your mother ever find a job in sewing?
LC: Yes, she was able to obtain a job with a family friend that has a shop -- also doing sewing. So then my mom was able to work for him. They have been working for him for so long now -- until now. My dad was able to work at the same company -- he only lasted for like two months or something [laughs.] Because he probably old, you know. Then he was able to obtain work for that same company as well. They have been working together since. They still working now but less hours. I have been telling them -- my dad he is I think seventy -- he born in ‘46, so seventy-three now. He will turn seventy-three on August 5th, so he seventy-three now and my mom is sixty-seven. So they already retired, but they still to continue to work, just less hours. It just keeps them busy because I am still working and nobody is home and I am not married yet so no grandkids for [them] to take care of [laughs]. So they need to work, so they still doing that.
EC: How has the transition to Portland been for them, have they made many challenges or struggles?
LC: Yes, we all struggling. Especially with the culture and the language. Especially for my parents, language is the hardest for them to adjust. Culture, they can adjust. For example, Americans, we always asking, every time we see each other, "How are you, how are you?" And my mom says, "Why they keep asking how are you, you see me here, that means I am fine. Why you keep asking" [laughs]. Then I explain to her that is the culture. It is just friendly, they just want to know how you are doing" She was like, "Ok..."
Also another thing about the culture -- we do not use eye contact at all. When you are talking to an adult we have to look down. So if you look straight to the eyes it is like disrespect -- that is for the Vietnamese culture. But in America, you have to do eye contact. So that is why I have a hard time, "Oh I have to look people in the eyes!" Sometimes I still have to make sure I look people in the eye. Eye contact! That is the culture difference though, we have to adjust. And the language of course and the weather. In Vietnam, it is all hot and humid. Here we have four seasons, so we have to adjust to that as well, yeah.
EC: What about the community, do they interact with the Vietnamese community in various ways?
LC: Well, at that time, I did not know that the community exists. And besides 1996 -- at the time I think the community was too new and did not know as much as right now. So pretty much when I get here, I just concentrated on starting a new life and going to school and learning English. For our culture, we always encourage you to get an education and that is why my parents work hard -- to let us to go to school and obtain the degree because they say, if you do not have a degree, you will have a hard time finding a job. If you want to do a better job and better life, you need to have a degree. So we have to do that. And my parents sacrifice. They say "Oh I'm too old. We came here just for you two, the [next] generation because we is done. So that was that. What is the question again? I forgot.
EC: Well were there restaurants that you went to where you would meet with other Vietnamese people or that your parents would? Or where there organizations that they joined or religious institutions that they attended?
LC: Yeah ok, so they did not join any community But at that time, I heard my parents say that there is a Vietnamese community, because they read in the newspaper that there is a Vietnamese community. He got connected with the president of the Vietnamese community at that time. He hand wrote a letter to him, appreciating all of the work that the community is doing and maintaining a community. And that is how the president knows my dad. We still keep in touch right now and I was the one staying at his house when he lived in Keizer [Laughs]. That is was just the community at that time, and at that time I did not get involved with most of the community. All I did, just go to school, go to work. Until I think in 2009, that is when I started getting involved because my parents talked to me. "Ok, so now you are already done with school and everything, so why don't you help the community?" I said, "What community are you talking about?" Then she introduced me to the former president of the Vietnamese.
EC: What's his name?
LC: His name is Binh, B-I-N-H, and last name H-U-Y, if you need his contact, I can give you his contact information because he was the president there. For me, when I got elected, I am the youngest one to be elected for president and the first female president. I said "Really?" Pretty much I really do not care, all I need to do is just -- want to help the community because my mom told me that. I saw people every year on April 30th, that’s the memorial day. We call that Black April and that is a sad day for us and that is also the reason that we are here. Since all the elders, you know older people, going around and hanging our flag, South Vietnam flag, our heritage flag on the street of Sandy. [My mother], she saw the old people still doing that, maintaining that heritage. She said "I see those old people helping and then you still young, why do you not help them out because they [are] getting old" So then when I heard my mom saying this I said, ok fine, I will help them and start going out to the community and get involved more and help them out whenever I have the chance. Of course, when I help them, I realized that there was a generation gap. That is why I also continue helping them because I want to reduce that gap. I am kind of in the middle [laughs] between the older and the younger. So that is why I am trying to bridge them together and work together. And that is what maintains the culture and heritage for the next generation. Also, it helps them work together because they will be the ones maintaining it. The elders are aging… and probably going away.
HC: What are ways that the generation gap gets bridged?
LC: Well the thing is, the old people, they have their old way of thinking and sometimes its hard for them to change. And the younger generation -- and they still do things like -- I am sorry to say this -- but the Vietnamese way. When a kid grows up here, they doing what you call the American way. And of course the technology, they know the technology and the old people do not know much of technology. There are certain things that the younger generation can not understand. The older generation, what they went through and why they are making decisions like that. The whole time that I lived in Vietnam, I did not know anything about the war. Pretty much they just brainwash you. They just teach you how they conquer the Americans, the glory of the communists. When I came over here, I find out that that is not true. So for example, the Paracel Islands in the Pacific, that belongs to Vietnam. And the Chinese took over the island for a long time and they built a military base and of course I think it is on the news all the time that the US convinced the Chinese to stop building [on] the islands. So when I was at PSU, they have a workshop talking about Vietnam, so I say, oh curious. What they were talking about? So I went to the workshop and I found out that those islands no longer belonged to Vietnam. I said, [shocked] wait, what? When I was in school in Vietnam they told us that those islands belong to Vietnam and not the Chinese. So then I was so upset. When I got involved with the community, I was able to talk with the South Vietnam veterans and then they shared their stories during the war and all that I learned from school was totally not true. So that when I said, "Ok I need to learn more, learn the story because what I'm learning is not true." So that was also another reason for me to get involved with the community. I listen to their stories because they were the ones that were there experiencing all of that so they just shared their stories. Did I get sidetracked? [Laughs]
HC: No. Are there things that bring everyone together? What are those things?
LC: My experience is that when they want the youth to get involved -- they do want the youth to get involved -- and when the youth gets involved, they will not let the youth experience growth. So that is why when you get involved, "You ask me to come and help but then you do not let me do the work and then I am just wasting my time. Why am I being here?" They also have a mentality that -- because when you are young -- because they always use the status to order you to do things. But then that is wrong. You can not order me to do something that is not consistent, efficient, or effective. Then why? So that is the generation gap, and then they are also afraid of working for the adults. If something does not go right, they always get upset. You have to teach them and talk to them and explain to them what is right or wrong and that is how they learn. You can not just, you know, [sternly] "Oh you do this wrong!" No. It does not work that way, it will not go in [Laughs]. So that is the thing that they are afraid of. I do try to understand them because the two need to work together. They both have to compromise, they have to find the middle ground in order for them to work together. That is my job to find the middle ground.
HC: How did you find the middle ground?
LC: I did find the middle ground, but then, of course, my term was only two years. That is how they set it up.
EC: What years were you president of the VNCO?
LC: 2014, 2016. Now the current president is -- he running for two terms already. You know him right? Thao. When I done, I pass over to him to maintain that and keep that. So I don’t know whether he continuing that because everybody have a different way of working. But my goal was at times all focus on just the youth and bringing them to the community and let them help.
HC: Are there anything like language or food or anything that brings everyone together?
LC: Yes. We do have that. Every year we do have the Lunar New Year celebration. During that time, we host that event at the Oregon Convention Center. We were able to get the the senator, came to our events. We have the representative Earl Blumenauer?
HC: Earl Blumenauer, yes.
LC: I have a hard time pronouncing his last name [laughs]. Yeah, he was able to attend and the senator, what his name? Craig something... I forgot his name. He was able to --one of the senators here, one is Ron Wyden and the other one is...?
HC: Right now its Jeff Merkley.
LC: Oh Jeff Merkely! There you go [Laughs]. He was not able to attend but then he sent a representative to our event and we got a mayor attending. At that time it was Tom Potter, he was able to attend and some of city council. I do not remember their name, some of them were able to attend and then we even got the mayor from the city of Beaverton as well. So, yeah! We invite all of them to come to the events. And yeah, everybody comes together -- that is for every year annual festival. We also have the Mid-Autumn Festival -- that is for the kids [Laughs] and that is how the kids get together -- hanging out and then the cake. And then Black April, that is the one that is a memorial day for us. Every year we have the Rose Parade. Sometimes we are able to make a float and sometimes due to the helper -- sometimes we just marching and sometimes we have a little float. It depends on the year and if we get help to build that because that is a lot of process and a lot of work. That is about it for the events. But then during my time, I also have volunteering. Besides what we are doing for the community, we also do for the American. With the potluck in the park, and we make the Vietnamese sandwich. So serving the people in need downtown. So we collab with them several times during my term because they want us to do it more often. I said, "We want to but we have our hands full with all the events for the community. We can only do that once a year for them."
EC: Was that your initiative? Was that a new program that started while you were president?
LC: Yes. Before we did not have that so than during my term I said, "Ok, you know we will also do things. You know, the Americans are helping us, so why don't we help back and give back to the community. Not just our community. So collaborate with other communities as well. For example, Tibet, they have rallies, "Ok we can help support because we are all having the same issue with the Chinese." Then ok, we can help out the protesting, rally, just create awareness to help them.
HC: Are there local political issues that affect the Vietnamese community?
LC: What I have heard, yes. The communist, the Vietnamese government, they always want to disturb the community over here. And that happens more in California than here. Because I think the community in California is stronger and they have a lot of people. Here we do get some because they just disturbing and creating misunderstanding within the organization, so that is what they always trying to do.
HC: How do they do that?
LC: Things happen. For example, this incident that happened right now. There’s one person, he used to be a South Vietnam veteran and then after the war he go to the re-education camp. And when in there, he is the one working with the communists, recording any movement of other members. And that is the truth. And they all do not like him. So when he came over here, he was able to be... it’s not a priest at the church, it is just the person… the name is like..
HC: Like deacon or...
LC: It is not a father, it is like you are just helping out. This is what they explain to me because I am not catholic so I do not know what exactly they do, but they explained to me that he just helping with the ceremony in the church. Because he married, so he can not be a father…
HC: Some kind of leader.
LC: Yeah. So then, there was an event, at an art gallery and his portrait -- big portrait of him hanging next to the Dali Lama. I said "What happened here?" Then the member of the community was standing and taking a picture of that. So when they saw that… Why this guy, the picture? They call him a traitor. Him next to the Dali Lama, who is a spiritual leader. And he is not that compared to him. Side by side with Dali Lama. So that is causing turmoil in the community. When they told me about that I said "Ok, so we have to question why the people who organize that, hang the picture next to the Dali Lama?" There is some questioning of that person as well, because if he knows him, then he should not be hanging that and then asking some of the community members to stand right there and take the picture. So he has a purpose and then they trying to find out how to resolve that. That is something that is causing the community -- talking about, discussing, dividing, you know? That is what they do. Sometimes a lot of people do not understand, they say, "Oh you keep talking about the communists, they have nothing to do with this." Yes, they do. They internally. When I was talking to the South Vietnam veteran they say, do not ever listen to the communist, they are just liars. They tell you one thing, but then behind your back, they are doing it. They say, I am not doing it. But behind your back, they are doing it.
So the example that you can see, during 1954, the war, the fight in the meadow -- they call it Dien Bien Phu -- during the new year. They both agreed that they not fighting and they signed the peace agreement, not fighting and that happen in the central of Vietnam. So then on New Year's Day, they assault and then killing on all the people. So that is an example right there. Even when they sign the agreement, but behind your back they do something else. I think like the same thing with China right now. “Oh yeah yeah yeah" but then they do something else… [Laughs]
EC: What was it like being the first female president of the VNCO?
LC: I really was humbled and pretty much did not think too much. I said, okay so if I am the first female president then okay, no big deal. I just wanted to help. I wanted to step up and take the role.
EC: You were treated the same as any other president of the organization?
LC: Ah, there is some you know… sometimes… I can sense it, that there is some sort of… not quite sure if it’s discrimination, but they treat you a little bit different. And besides, I am still young [laughs]. But the majority of them really respect. But just you know a few people they just treat me like I am not old enough to take the role. But if you think that way, so be it. I am just helping. I really do not let that affect what I am doing, helping out the community.
HC: Have you encountered discrimination anywhere else in your life in Portland?
LC: Knock on wood [knocks on the table] no, for now. But then at work, I do see that, you know? But I think it happens everywhere. It's just hidden and people do not want to talk about it. As a minority, you will not have a lot of chance to get a promotion and there is always a bias and that happens everywhere. If you bring that up they say "Oh you know..." they give you another reason and that's just B.S. [laughs] sorry.
EC: Are there other current challenges facing the Vietnamese community in Portland? Other issues that are pressing or that you would like to feel addressed more?
LC: The challenge that the older generation, they need to encourage the children to get more involved with the community. This is what I see personally. So you can see that a lot of people, they would love to volunteer and contribute to the church to the temple because I think that is their enlightenment after life. But for the community, because we're not that spiritual, so we did not get a lot of help, financial aid, and we did not get a lot of help from the state agency and government agency to help the community. So that is the thing that I see. But then they did not realize that the community is the one going to be maintaining the culture and heritage for the next generation, so they will not forget their roots and the reason why we are here. So they do not see that, so that is why the older generation needs to talk more with their kids to encourage them to get more involved. That is the challenge that I am seeing in the community.
HC: When you first got here, or in the years just after that, how did you develop a friendship network?
LC: Just through going to school, and that is how I connect with friends from school. I still maintain that relationship with all my friends from school. And of course, when you are at school, you have to find the right friends and hang out with the right groups. You do not want to hang out with the wrong groups. So I found a couple of good friends. That I still keep in touch with. When I went to PSU I met new friends, so networking. My boss from Portland State, because when I was there I was also doing work-study and my boss, I still maintain a relationship with her. And friends from work, that is how I the network and get real friends.
EC: Besides the VNCO, are there other organizations that you are involved in? Or projects that you are involved in?
LC: Pretty much I just work in the community. I do go to temple sometime with my parents and then hang out with friends and family, that is all I do.
HC: Which temple do you go to when you go?
LC: That is a little bit odd here. So we first went to a temple, it’s called Linh Son Temple. And a picture of my grandfather is there and then when my grandmother passed away, her burned ashes were placed at the temple in Vancouver, Bửu Hưng temple. I said, ok? For the past ten or twenty years, every New Years, we went to the temple on Division, Linh Son temple. And then since my grandmother passed away and because her ashes are there so we go to Bửu Hưng. So those are two temples that I know. Then sometimes I do go to the other temples right on 82nd, Ngoc Son temple. And then sometimes I do go to the one in Beaverton. It depends if I have time or the time allows I say, ok, that temple, let’s go there. And I do not have time then I just go to the other one. So I have choices.
HC: Are they all Vietnamese temples?
LC: Yes, they are all Vietnamese temples. But we have a lot of temples.
HC: Are the practices in them similar?
LC: They are all similar. It is just different leaders running the temple, that is all.
HC: Why were your grandmother's ashes out in Vancouver instead of the temple you regularly attend?
LC: Because of the changes in the Linh Son Temple. So then my aunt... because she is the one that normally goes there and then we just follow her. Now she no longer goes there but we do go there once in a while because my grandfather's picture is still there. And now my grandma is there, so we just go there because she passed away and every week, we have to have a prayer for her after she passed away. Every weekend we have to go there and pray. We have already done all of that. Next August we are going to bring her ashes to a sea burial for her. Because that was her wish to do a sea burial. So then our upcoming trip in August, all of my uncles and aunt will be in Florida. We joins the cruise and then we will do the service for her at sea.
HC: What were the changes in the temple that made your aunt switch?
LC: You know, she did not talk much about it. It is just like the internal, the way that they run the temple... she disagrees with it, so that is why she just leave.
HC: Does religion bring people together in the Vietnamese community quite a bit?
LC: Well I do not see that. It is just like the people who are spiritual with religion, then they come to the temple. At the time that I was president I do come to the temple and let the leader knows that the community has events, so tell your people to come to our events. [Laughs] So they were able to do that for us. But we do not keep track whether it was effective or not, there is no way for us to tell. But we do have connections with church and temples, "Hey you know we have an upcoming [event], tell your people to come." In a way, it does, but I am not sure if there is a lot of them going or not, there is no way for us to prove or tell.
EC: Do you continue to go back to Vietnam occasionally or regularly?
LC: The only time I went back there is to spend some time with my grandfather on my mom's side. They both already passed away. So the most recent two times that I went back was for their funeral. Then after that, I have not gone back. Because when I go back there it is sad for me to see what the people's life [is like] compared to what I have here. And there are incidents that are always... When I talk about it is always showing them, "Oh, that is sad." I was on the bus, just on public transportation going to my aunt's house. On the bus, we pass a hospital and when we pass it, there is an old gentleman getting on the bus with his daughter and he sat right behind us. The daughter got food out for him to eat. And he ate so fast and I am looking at him and I’m like, "Why is he eating so fast?" Then the daughter keeps telling him, "Eat slow, you are going to choke!" Then the daughter explains to us that he had to fast since the morning. He came to the hospital to get lab work and they live in the countryside which means that they have to travel a couple of hours. And the time that I get on the bus is like noon or one o'clock. So image the old people like him, and he is about my grandpa's age, starving, they can not eat anything. Because the system over there is if you give them the money, you will be served first. And if you do not have the money, you’re poor. You can lay there until you die. [Crying] So that really touched my heart when I see that and I am crying. And no one has seen me cry. And every time when people are asking me [ … ] It is very clear that I do not want to see that. So that is why I have not gone back there because it is sad for me. And I can not do anything to help them [crying].
HC: It sounds like you are involved politically here in a way that could make an impact there.
LC: [Nods.] Whenever I have the chance because I do want to help the people there if I could. My family still lives there and they can’t do anything. For example, the time that the Chinese government wanted to have the oil drill right by the Vietnam water. That was an invasion and the Vietnamese government did not do anything. And of course the people in Vietnam had to protest and of course, the government pretty much blocked all the media and would not allow the media to know what was going on in Vietnam. So then we were able to know that because people in Vietnam telling us, so then we rallied in downtown to raise the awareness. That is what we can do and hopefully the world can be able to help Vietnam. That is what we hope and that is what the community always do. Whenever we have a chance, we always help them to raise awareness and raise their voice to the world. They can not do that themselves because the government blocks everything. So for example, I think the time that William Wing 54:27, he was there and he got arrested because he just joined the people rallying at that time. The Vietnamese government agreed to let the Chinese have three territories stationed in Vietnam for like one-hundred years. So that is when the people got upset and they start the rally. And William Wing was just there vacationing or visiting Vietnam and he saw the people doing that and he just joined and he got beat up, and of course, on the news. The government was able to get him back to the US. So over here we were also doing that, helping and raising awareness and we have the rallies for that as well. We really try in every way that we can to raise awareness to help the people in Vietnam.
EC: Do you think more Vietnamese Americans should get involved in politics? Like running for office and running for election?
LC: Yes, I think that we should do that and I believe that in California a lot of people are doing that, but not as much in Oregon because maybe our population is not as big, like California. That is the next step that I think the Vietnamese community needs to look into. Because if you want to help the country, the good way is to go through the political path to raise your voice in order for people to hear.
EC: Could you see yourself doing that?
LC: A lot of people keep telling me to do that. But I think that I am afraid, and besides I am not really like out talking that much and I do not see myself doing that. Helping the community, that should be good enough. I think in order for you to be a leader you need to have... To be honest, language barrier. So that is also another thing. If you want to run you better know how to speak the language. That is why I encourage the next generation that is born here I say, "Ok go to that path." I do have a friend that was born in Hawaii and right now she is in Vietnam teaching English. She went to Korea for one-year teaching English there and she studied political science at OSU. I said, "Come on! You can do it, I will be behind you supporting you. I will do anything that I can to help you!" She said, "I know that! I know I am getting there.” Ok, I keep encouraging her. And anybody that I know that has potential, I pretty much encourage them. But of course you know, I can not just do it myself. Other people will have to do that as well. It’s ok, let’s help local.
Like for example, when I worked for the state, at that time there was a president that was very funny. The state, they have the communist flag on the state website indicating that they have the Vietnamese language. When I saw that I said, "Oh no, that is not out flag!" And all the Vietnamese people hate that flag because that flag caused us to come here. So they do not want to see that flag anyway. I said, "Oh, this is not good." So then I would have to write and letter and find out who is the highest leader in the state agency and then I know them. And then I just have to find their name, write down the information. I sent it to the manager in my office, the director and all the big ones I send it to them. I can give it to them but no, I would like it to go through the process. You are the employee, you can not give them that letter directly. So I sent it to them. A week later, the big boss was in the office and he came by and said, “Lana, thank you for letting us know and you did a very good job handling this." And I said "yeah I know." [Laughs] Some of them said, “I’m very impressed with how you handled this.” So they removed it. That is my fun experience with my company [laughs].
EC: Alright well I think we have reached the end of our questions, thank you very much for meeting with us.
HC: Is there anything else you want to tell us before we end? Is there anything else you think we should know about your experience in Portland?
LC: That is all the experience that I have. But I do want to mention my life in Vietnam, but you know when I was there I did not understand much and then when I came over here, that is how I found out the information. So for example, when I was little I went to the grocery with my mom and we have to stand in line waiting, buying grocery stuff. I said "ok" and then you have to give them the book, telling them how many people are in your household. And then I do not understand why. When I came over here, at all the gatherings, we were talking, and the veterans saying that during the time that they took over the country, the communists make sure the rich people become poor. And they call that the fight against capitalism and rich people. I do not understand what is that. So they make the rich become poor, so we have to go through the process to buy food and we can only buy a certain amount. Like for example, if you in your household, you can only buy five, you can not buy six or seven. I did not understand why and they said, “Oh, that is the reason that they call that the fight against rich people.” I said, "Oh that is what that means huh? Ok." Then at school, you can not talk about anything. But my parents had the videotape that showed the South Vietnam flag. I saw that video and said, "Oh, that flag! And the flag from school. How come it is different?" Then I ask, "What is that flag?” Then my parents explain to me, "Well that is the Republic of South Vietnam flag. The flag that you learned from school, that is the communist flag, when they took over the country." Oh ok. They just tell you and then you are just getting the information and then one time when we went grocery shopping, we walking, and I saw that building and that building we passed by so many times but I did not pay attention. But one day, on that day, I looked at the walls "Oh mom! That is the flag that we saw from the video, on the wall!" Then she said, "Yeah." And that must be the office that they were using before because that is the flag. And then, of course, my mom said, "Do not talk about this flag at school, because you do not want to get in trouble." Then a couple of days later when I went for groceries again and I look at the wall I said "Oh! That flag disappeared!"
HC: So your parents were not able to tell you about…
HC: Anything when you were there. Do you think it was a relief for them to be able to tell you when you got here?
LC: Yes, because if you say anything you would get in trouble. You just want to be safe in peace in Vietnam and that is for that protection for not telling us. When we have the gathering, they just tell us their life during the war. You see the time that they were wrong and how they escaped all the fights and then their life during the war. "Oh that is how I learn.” But then I never learned anything about the war. But when I came over here that is how I learn. So for example, I did not know about the re-education camps at all. When I came to the United States they said they pretty much torturing you. And if you survive then you are lucky, otherwise a lot of people get killed during that camp. I did not know that if your parents or relatives that served in the Republic of South Vietnam military, you would not be able to go to school, you are pretty much blacklisted. You will not find a job, even though you have the knowledge and skill. They will not use you. I did not know that. I was lucky that I was able to go to school because we have a small family business and to go to school you must have money. If you are a lower class, you will not have the chance to go to school. So those two groups are the ones that will not be able to go to school. Of course, the middle and the high, who have connections with officials, then they live good.
HC: Did it change your relationship with your parents when you could come here and they could speak more openly with you?
LC: Yes. When you are young you do not question your parents for anything. But then when you get older, you understand, you’re getting information and asking them why? Then that’s how they explain to me the information. Oh yeah, that is what it is. So it makes sense now. Before you do not understand what is going on and you just take it and then now you know, [realization] aha.
HC: Do you think it was an emotional relief for your parents to be here and able to speak more freely?
LC: Because they are not part of the political, we do not get involved much, in a way. We just have a normal citizen and working and just earn the living. Of course, you know my dad was involved a little bit with the military. He went through the training. My mom told me that he had to go through some sort of camp. But because his time serving in the military is not as long, he only went through that re-education for a week or something. Then he was able to come home.
HC: That is lucky.
LC: Yes, I did not know that. I found out that information when we got here. I did not know anything about that back then. Oh, ok. So my dad went through that. Ok. And he was able to obtain a job because he did not serve too long so he was able to obtain a job. Of course when they came here, they told me the information. He was unable to work that job. What he told my mom is that the communists, they were running the office but they have zero knowledge about what they are doing and [he was] the one that knows how to run it. They not letting [him] run it. [How] can you work in that environment? So my dad quit. [Laughs] Then he came back home and helped out with the family business instead of working for a leader that has zero knowledge. So that is the information I found out here, not back then.
HC: Is there anything else you want us to know about your life or your time in Portland or anything else before we end the interview?
LC: I do not know, I think that is pretty much it. If you have any questions please let me know.
HC: That is great. Well thank you for meeting with us, this was a lovely conversation.
LC: Oh thank you, I hope that you have enough information [laughs].
EC: Alright, thanks again