Chau Huynh Interview: March 19, 2019
Interviewer: Azen Jaffe
Azen Jaffe: My name is Azen Jaffe, I'm with Chau Huynh, did I pronounce that right?
Chau Huynh: Yeah.
AJ: We're at IRCO. Today is March 19th, 2019. Thank you for being with us, first of all. Could you start by giving us an overview of your life here in Portland? When did you arrive?
CH: So I start coming to Portland since June 1997, under H.O. program, it's called Humanitarian Organization. So that means my father used to work for U.S. army before 1975 and then after the fall of South Vietnam he was in the prison and then after that, the U.S. government granted for those political prisoners to come to America under H.O. program. So that's why I came here and the reason we landed to Portland? Because I have my older brother, he escaped Vietnam in 1989 and then he landed to Portland before us. And then he kind of settled down in Portland and then that's why we landed to Portland. And since then we very love Portland and then we stay here since then. We did not move anywhere else.
AJ: Okay. What part of Vietnam are you and your family from?
CH: So we from Bình Thuận that's the middle, I mean close to Saigon, Ho Chi Min City, but in the middle, it's called middle part of Vietnam.
AJ: Were there any organizations that, or family members -- I know you said your brother -- that helped you and your family establish yourself here in Portland?
CH: So we came here, when we first started I think IRCO is the agency who help us to settle down with the same time with the other refugee families. So we are one of the families from that time under IRCO program. So they help us to settle down by helping us to find a place to live in, I mean basically the apartment. Help us to get the… it's called vocational job training and refer job, refer job workforce. All my older brothers and sister, they got job through IRCO agency. And I was the one that decided to go back to school. So I went to Portland Community College to restart my career.
AJ: Okay. What did you study there?
CH: I started with software engineering. But after that I changed to computer information system. Then I got the AA degree through PCC.
AJ: Cool. How was your experience at PCC?
CH: So it's good, so I got some support. I mean somebody came here first and actually somebody related to us they came here first and then they helped me with the FAFSA, financial aid, back then. Then I got the financial aid and then I attended PCC. Yeah, I like it there.
AJ: Cool. Sorry, I'm going to backtrack a little bit. So you said your brother came to Portland in 1989? Do you know why he came to Portland?
CH: He was one of the boat people. So why he came to Portland?
AJ: Specifically, here.
CH: Because before he came we got somebody we know from the community, they came here first during 1975. He know that person and then there's some connection then he want to come here to live with them. So that's why he got here and we just follow him to get here.
AJ: What were your first impressions of the city?
CH; So the first impression… When I first came to the States, the first impression, because back in Vietnam we don't have a lot of green trees on the street. The first impression about Portland was when I just arrived to Portland I see the whole city was green during the summertime. It's green, and the fresh air, and the people are nice. So we never thought to move somewhere else since then, because the environment, the people around us and…
AJ: Where did you move? What neighborhood did you move into?
CH: So we first moved to the one on 68th and Broadway, Northeast 68th and Broadway. We stayed there for five years and after that we moved, we bought a house we moved to Southeast Portland. But we love the neighborhood there too.
AJ: Great. Can you tell me a bit more about the programs you were involved in, or that your family was involved in with IRCO when you first arrived, the vocational training, or how IRCO helped with housing?
CH: Yes. So I think that's called new arrival employment or whatever, the name changed since then, but I don't remember what's it's called. But I remember, we have the people from IRCO job training staff involved with us. Help us to go through the training to get some basic skill because when we just came here, language was one of the most challenges we got. For me, I learned English back in Vietnam, but my brother and sister they had a hard time. So IRCO provided training, basic skill, basic language to get the job, to help with the resume and how to apply for a job. So IRCO is a big agency, they helped us when we just started.
AJ: Great. So now you work here at IRCO? What do you do here and how did you become involved?
CH: I think that's interesting story too because when I first came here I speak some English and I wanted to help to translate for the other group. They need to participate in some job training or Trimet training, so I volunteered to be the interpreter. And then, I don't know, when I helped them I feel like, "I wish I can do some other job to provide direct service to those people. They just came to the country, they don't understand language and culture." There's a lot of things and I wish I can be that person to directly help them. And after I graduate from PCC and I come back to volunteer for IRCO again and then when the job posted I applied and I got it.
AJ: Which is what job?
CH: Back then, it's called family support worker. Under the healthy family, healthy start program in Washington county. So that program under IRCO but then the job we partner with the Washington County in Beaverton Aloha, Tigard, Hillsboro.
CH: And then I got full time job there but I transport between IRCO and Washington County daily. But I love it.
AJ: And you're still doing that?
CH: No. So my job change gradually since then. So very soon after that, I got promoted to be the supervisor for Success By Six program. And then I got the city funding program and then healthy families and now I am working with youth department is called P-3 Program. That is with the family who have kids from zero to third grade and stationed at the school, Lincoln Park school.
AJ: Cool. Sorry, I'm kind of all over the place right now. [CH: That's okay.] But I won't--it's my first time doing it all by myself [laughs]. So I wanted to go back to before you arrived in the United States you said you knew English in Vietnam, what were you doing in Vietnam before?
CH: I was a teacher, English teacher in Vietnam. But when I came here, my English helped me to move faster. But I could not use that English to go to work yet because I need to get the degree.
AJ: Do you see language as a challenge that a lot of refugees face, is there a barrier in the language?
CH: That's the biggest challenge they have, they deal with every day. Even currently, a lot of Vietnamese family they don't speak English, so they still rely on some organization or some support services to help them with the government offices or paperwork or documentation. So they still, there's some support from the community.
AJ: Okay. What are some of the other challenges that you see Vietnamese refugees contending with when they first arrive?
CH: So, as you know, if they are challenged with language it can cause challenge with jobs. And then it can cause their economic status, so it’s a link. For those family that don't speak language, that's the challenge for them. It can cause a lot of issues internally, I mean inside family and then go outside they don't feel comfortable, they don't feel confident to meet other people because they’re afraid that their language can be the problem.
AJ: Are there ways -- it sounds like IRCO's working to address that -- are there ways the state, the federal government could support refugees better?
CH: I think the state and government need to learn more or understand more about the cultural norm, cultural belief, and the cultural practice to serve the community better because we practice something that American people, they don't do. That's a big culture crash for us, because in parenting, in dealing with people in social gathering, we always practice something that is very traditional or cultural. Americans, they don't do that. It can cause some misunderstanding or can cause some legal issues.
AJ: Okay. Let me think about the next question. So, are you involved in any other organizations? Do you participate in any other sort of, like, you're involved in IRCO. Are you involved in any religious organizations or community organizations?
CH: Not really. So I am the Buddhism, so I go to temple but besides that I just work for IRCO. And then outside of work if the people know me, they can get some support some help I can do outside of the work. But not actively involved in any group.
AJ: So do you feel involved in the Vietnamese community outside of work?
CH: I do, I do. Like some big community event. So we have New Year's celebration and there is a lot. I don't really physically be there but I know what's going on. I can refer my clients or families or friends but not really actively, physically be there. Not every single event. But I know what's going on and then I can refer and I can follow up after that.
AJ: Do you think that the Vietnamese community has changed a lot since you came to Portland versus now?
CH: Yeah, of course yes.
AJ: How so?
CH: Very. Let's see… We used to not have a lot of Vietnamese stores or restaurants around as now. So now we have more, and more variety of food -- the food from our country. So we can make more food, as we was in our country. So convenience for customer and the community. Food and restaurant and the people. More people coming to live in Portland too. More Vietnamese people.
AJ: Are still coming?
CH: They're still coming. From somewhere else, some other states and other countries. I mean from Vietnam. More people coming from Vietnam. Recently too.
J: Why do you think they're coming to Portland specifically?
CH: Why? So I don't know. I love Portland so… [laughs] They come to Portland because maybe their relatives already here, and then their relatives see that this is a good place to live and safe for kids and not really a lot of bad influence for youth. So, yeah. This is a good place.
AJ: Have you experienced any racism or discrimination living here or working here? Going to school?
CH: Not really, no.
AJ: That's good. Let me see...Well, [laughs] we really rushed through that, I'm sorry.
CH: That's okay.
AJ: Do you think theres anything else that you'd like to talk about or tell me about your life or about living here? Or are there any questions that you think I should ask?
CH: So my life is very representative, very typical of a Vietnamese community member. Because we all come after 1975 because of political issues. And then we escape the country. And then we all have the same way of thinking about the communists and a belief of what we looking for and then what we hope for. And then we are always in the drive of changing and have a better life in here. I just say, for my opinion, and then I think it represents for the whole community. Everybody wants to be better in the country, improve themselves, improve their parenting, improve their family, and improve their financial status by working hard and teaching their kids to be good citizens in the country and do good things with others. I don't want to say that we ditch each other, but indirectly we understand that each person needs to work hard. Of course each of us come here, each of us have our own story -- why we come here and what drive us to be here -- so believe me or not you can interview other people you will hear other story, their own story, but the ultimate goal is to come here to have a better life.
So to get this point that is a long way for us. For me, I've been here for twenty two years but this a long way for me to keep working hard and try to improve my life every single day. Learning the culture, the language, and working environment -- learn from my coworker, my colleague, my supervisor, my team, my community. So basically, we have to learn and work hard every single day to get to the point that we want to be. Everybody try, after they graduate from school, they always want to settle down with their family, to get married, to have kids, and have a place to live. Stable housing and go to work, get financing to support the family to protect their kids, to be safe and fulfill the kids' wish by providing food and education. So that's all what we want to do -- I mean represent for the whole community. Do you have any other questions?
AJ: Well I guess -- we're going back again -- but did you come here with your family?
CH: Yeah I came here with my family. My father, my mom, and my other siblings.
AJ: And how many siblings?
CH: Basically my parents came first, because they got granted under H.O. Program. Back then we were older than twenty one years old and we were not allowed to go along with them while we were still single. My parents, they came here in 1996 and very soon after that John McCain, he helped the Vietnamese community and he voiced that those kids need to be here with their parents and then we were granted to come here while we were still single. So, yeah. My parents came first and then I came as a group of four siblings. And then I was the youngest one.
AJ: Does most of your family still live here in Oregon?
CH: Yeah. They all live here.
AJ: And what sort of things are they doing?
CH: My parents, when they came here they were old, so they retired. I mean they did not work at all since then. But my other siblings, they worked as assemblers in some company working in the production line. Yeah, most of them.
AJ: Okay. And they still do that?
CH: Some do, some retire.
AJ: Cool. Well, seems like it was a little quicker, but thank you again for meeting with me and for sharing your story
CH: You're welcome.
CH: Thank you. So I hope it helped some with your project.
AJ: Yeah, definitely. Again, my name is Azen Jaffe, I'm here with Chau Huynh at the IRCO center. It's March 19th. Thank you.