E.J. Carter: This is EJ Carter and Hannah Crummé. We are interviewing Dao Ngo on November 6th, 2018, at Lewis & Clark College. Thanks for joining us today.
Dao Ngo: Thank you, it is my pleasure.
E.J. Carter: Could you start by telling us a little bit about your life here in Portland?
DN: Life here in Portland? Do you want me to start at the beginning? My journey to come to America? Or just in general?
Hannah Crumme: However you like. I will show you our list of questions, we are going to start with a couple questions about—well first we will hear whatever you want to tell us about your life—then we will start by asking you a little about the war and your immigration, then we will ask you about Portland, then we will ask about how your career has developed. And then we will try to elicit how you engage with the Vietnamese community, but also just how you have built—
DN: The community?
HC: Well, the community, but also how you have built your life, just so that we can have a recording of that experience.
HC: So, just whatever you want to tell us to start out. Whatever seems most important to you.
DN: Okay. So, why don’t I start out in the beginning, my journey to come to America, then how I ended up in Portland.
HC: Sure, that would be great.
DN: It has to begin with my parents, after the fall of Vietnam in ‘75. Before that, my dad—he was from a city, Rach Gia, Vietnam. It is a small town, not very small, but smaller than Saigon. Their family, they grow rice, they have many, many acres of rice fields. He went to the city of Saigon for college. That is where he met my mom. They decided to stay and settle in Saigon. After they got married they had children there. During that time, he served in the military. After the fall of Vietnam, he tried to get away from the reeducation camp. He went back to his hometown. After not very long they could still find him, and put him in jail and the reeducation camp; I think he got tortured and beat up. Not very long after that, my mom can be able to give them money, to the jailkeeper, and rescue him out of there and send him to the hospital. Shortly after that he passed away. Before he passed away he wanted my mom to get us out of Vietnam. He said he did not want us to grow up in communist [control]. How they were treating him, [he said] “Don’t trust them,” you know? He did not want us to grow up in the communist control. After that, he passed away in ‘84, and after he passed away my mom was so busy raising the children, and working to support our family, and taking care of the family business. In ‘87, that was when my mom was able to get my two brothers and my uncle—[who] was about the age of my oldest brother, sixteen at the time, my older brother was sixteen, and my second brother was fourteen—she wanted to get two of them out of Vietnam first by escaping by boat. They made it [to] Thailand, and since they were minors they got one of the churches from the United States to sponsor them to Virginia. One of the families that were taking care of them, at the time of the because they were under eighteen. Then, in ‘89, that is when my family, along with my mom and four other children, tried to get out, way out of Vietnam by escaping by boat. I remember that night: We were all on a very, very small fishing boat. It was about thirty-two people. We were escaping in the middle of the night and you could not let anybody know about it, even the grandmoms living with us. My mom was taking care of my dad's parent, so we had to not let her know even though she was living in the house. So, in the middle of the night, we are just trying to get out of the house. Where we were living was right on the river, so we could just hop on the boat. Then they would cover us with sheets and vinyl to pretend like they are shipping stuff out and it is not like there were people on the boat. So, we were on the boat, and the boat that we had had two generals serving in the military at that time. They were very good at English, and they could navigate the directions to go. But then, because it was such a small fishing boat, we did not have a lot of food to last us that long, and we had three days on the ocean. We completely ran out of food and we were just in the middle, we were just way far from where we wanted to be, we were just floating there, and suddenly there was a white ship coming toward us. I remember, for three days I was sick. No food, no drink because I got sea sick. I could not even eat anything. My mom was just holding me, and she said it was almost like a dead body in her hands.
EC: How old were you at this time?
DN: I was eight years old when we escaped. My dad, he passed away when I was just three, and my younger sister was only one. So, when we escaped I was about eight and my younger sister was about six. But, the boat was so small it was actually the size of a minivan. So, just a very small fishing boat and there are thirty-two of us on the boat. When we came across that ship—I remember even though I was so sick—everyone on the boat was praying. Just all they would do was pray. The chance that you would come across a pirate was really high. Most of the time you would come across a pirate because they are out there looking for gold and boat people. During that time so many people escaped. When people were escaping, they would always bring some jewelry with them or some gold. But luckily, when the two generals were speaking to the people on the boat in English—we only halfway understood what they were talking about—after that, the two generals came back and told us that all of the ladies and the children get on the ship. We refused to get on the ship because a lot of time when [they say] get on the ship that is when they are going to rape the women and they are going to kill them and take all of their gold. So, the women refused to get on the ship and he said, "Don't worry, they are a fishing boat. They want to get you on the ship because it's larger and you can rest there and they can cook you some food." We got on the ship, and luckily they are really good people. They cooked food for us to eat. We feel a little bit better on the big ship than the small fishing boat that we had.
They had a rope to pull us to Malaysia. That is where we wanted to go. This was a fishing boat from Thailand, and we said we wanted to go to Malaysia, so they helped us by pulling us to Malaysia. Then we got to Malaysia, the year is ‘89, that is when they closed the door. They do not want any more boat people to come into Malaysia. So when you get there you have to go through a long process. You had to go through an interview and all that, just to see if any country wanted to take you. I remember, we were in Malaysia for three years. The process is a long time. After our ship got there, there was just a hoard of many other people trying to come in. But then they only accepted a certain amount, and then after that day and night, we heard gunshots. They were shooting all the boats trying to come in. They had to turn around and go back. They would rather see them dead in the ocean than try to save them because they want to stop people from escaping. So beyond that they would not take anymore.
Then we had to go through an interview. The refugee camp in Malaysia—I think it is called Pulau Besi—for that refugee camp, only 10% of people will pass the interview. You have to have a very strong reason why you are escaping. So, my mom, her reason was that my dad had passed away from the torturing at the [reeducation] camp. But then, still, the first time she did not pass. You meet up with the person and then they have an interview. My mom, maybe because she did not have it strong enough, and they failed her the first time. My mom thought we were going to die. She risked her children, her whole family life on the ocean to come here for freedom. You are looking for freedom, but then they were not going to send us to any countries. So, were they going to return us back to Vietnam? Which meant our life would be done there because when you escape everybody thinks that they are going to put you in jail for life when you go back. So, the second time it was a written interview, so my mom wrote an interview about it, about our lives and our journey. Then we passed the second time. In the process, while we were waiting to go, I saw so many people fail their interview. They were hopeless and so they would jump off a cliff to kill themselves. They would rather kill themselves than have to go to Vietnam. There was a group of people who wanted to protest, they wanted to protest because they wanted to save the rest of the people. They wanted to have their voices out, so people [would] feel sympathy and they saved them from going back to Vietnam. So, there is a big group of people. They are very strong and they are very committed, and they are willing to kill themselves in order to save everyone else in the refugee camp. They draw out names, and whichever name they would pull out they would stab themselves in front of the immgration house. So many big groups of people were doing that, so that is why immigration said, "Okay if you aren't willing to go to Vietnam then we will find a way to get you to a different country." So that helped the protest of people killing themselves. By doing that they want to speak up and they want the world to open their arms to create a safe space for refugee people.
For us, since we passed the interview, they sent us to the Philippines. We stayed in the Philippines for about six months. After six months they tried to teach you about the culture of America and they taught you English. Then, when I was about eleven, in ‘92, we came to Falls Church, Virginia, because that is where my two brothers were living. They were a little older, so they moved out from the sponsor family so they could have their own space. When we came to America we were living with them in an apartment. But Falls Church in February, the winter was so cold, and we are from a tropical place. Then, my mom could not find work because we were, like, the real minority. There were not many Asians, it was exclusively White or African American. Then, my mom could not find a job and the winter was too hard on us. So, we have cousins that live in California, so we moved to California by Greyhound. I was sick again on the bus, so it took us many days to get to California. With the little money that we had, we rented a house with two bedrooms and one bathroom, and all of the family moved there. Along with my uncle, the six children, and my mom we all moved to California. The house was two bedrooms and one bath. I remember the boys had to sleep on the couch, they had the one bedroom that all the boys had to share. Then me, my sister, and my mom had one bedroom. Then we also tried to save money by one of the girls, she was an international student and she needed a place to stay, so my mom let her share the bed. So, she was sharing the bedroom with half of our closet, and at the time I think my mom was charging her $100. She was giving her a place to stay and feeding her and everything. We worked so hard to save some money to get a bigger house. So, when we were in California we were living in Orange County, Westminster area. Then, after that, we moved to a bigger house in Buena Park. After five years, my mom worked so hard and was not able to save a lot of money, and it was a really hard life in California, to try and save to have a better family. Crime there, it was just a little higher. It was not a really good place to raise a family. My mom visited her friends who traveled on the boat with us in Oregon. At the time, in ‘97, she visited a friend, and she came back and immediately she decided to move us all to Oregon. In the summer of ‘97 when we moved to Oregon. We hated it because of the rain, and that was the summer the year after there was a flood or something. There was just so much rain in the summer we hardly saw any sunlight. We are from a nice warm tropical place, you know. Why were we moving here? But, my mom said it is a better place for us.
Now I love Oregon, but at first I hated it. All of us were like, why did mom have to move us here? My mom, I am so proud of her. By herself she raised six children and her brothers. She worked so hard. At first she did the cleaning at a restaurant at night, then she worked at another job packing food at the airport the next morning. She said the only time she would get to nap, sometimes at red lights, she would just park her car and close her eyes. She worked so hard and she had to be home when we got home from school. So, she had to take care of us, cooking and all that. She was working so hard, she did not need support from the government. She did not get any food stamps, and she raised all the children on her own. It is because my mom worked so hard that is why we are working hard. That is how we got here today. So, since ‘97 we have lived here. Actually, my older brother, at the time that we moved to Oregon he decided not to follow us. He moved to Las Vegas because he found a job at a Las Vegas convention center. So he stayed there, and the rest of us are here. My uncle, because my mom raised him, he completed his college. He got an engineering degree, so he moved to San Jose for a job. Along with five other kids we are here. I think my mom worked so hard, that is why we work really hard, and we are very successful today. My older brother is working for the Las Vegas Convention Center; he is a supervisor there. My second brother, he is the manager for an engineering department. The second one, he is a CNC machinist. My third, my older sister, she has a masters degree in business, so [she] owns four different businesses right now. Myself, I own a hair salon. My younger sister is a financial advisor. So, we all have very stable lives.
I think the key to success is hard work. It is really blessed when [you] get the intelligence, but we work so hard. That is one of the things my mom always said. Even now, she says all of my kids work so hard. I say, "We all get that from you, Mom." When we moved here to Oregon, we had a very strong Vietnamese community. We have a really great big church that we are very heavily involved in, which is Our Lady of Lavang on Sandy and 57th. There are about 6,000 members at the church. We have a great big Sunday School for teaching Vietnamese and the Bible. My kids attend Sunday school there from nine until four o'clock. All day long we send them there because we want them to be there to know about the culture. Then learning the Vietnamese and Bible, and interacting with other Vietnamese kids. So, we keep it in the Vietnamese community.
HC: Have you been involved in the church since you got here in ‘97?
DN: I always do. When I was young I joined the choir, but in a smaller church in North Portland. At the time we were just living in North Portland, then later we moved to Beaverton. I was involved in the church in Beaverton, which is St. Anthony. Then, after I got married to my husband, we are in the area of Our Lady of Lavang. We are very involved with the church there.
HC: Were the other churches you were involved with Vietnamese?
DN: Yes, they were Vietnamese as well. But they are just a tenth of the size of Our Lady of Lavang. It is part of Our Lady of Lavang Church because the preschool goes there.
HC: What role does the church play in the community? It sounds like it is a place for the children to learn. How else does it affect the community?
DN: They used to help out a lot with immigration, then people who need help. If there is a natural disaster in the country or in Vietnam we always get people to fundraise and help in any way you can. People are very generous to give back, and we never have problems with the budget. There are always plenty of people out there who are very generous to donate what they have. With everything, time, money, and talents.
EC: You said when you first moved here you settled in North Portland? How did you end up there?
DN: My mom's friends were living there. They really wanted us to stay close to them so they can help us to settle. So, we were living there, and I went to North Jefferson. Jefferson was not really a good school, but it also depends on whether you want to focus and to learn or not. They have really good programs. I was in the biotech program at the time. I never thought I would become a hairdresser, I always wanted to be a nurse. Then, my mom, when she was in Vietnam, it was different because the nurse is such a hardworking job, you are taking care of all. So, she encouraged me to do something else. Jefferson had that good program and I would be able to do my internship at the hospital. After high school, I went to Portland State [University] for about two years to do my undergrad. Then my mom said, "Being a hairdresser is not bad. You can just take off a year and then go to school to get a certificate in hairdressing, then you can continue school at that time." My mom, she worked so hard, but growing up I had nothing. Basically, she worked so hard to give us food to eat. I did not have much at all, but I really appreciate the experiences I had in my life. You will value what hard work is. In every single money that you work hard for you do not waste it. That is why I try to teach my children what hard work is, and not being wasteful. They have not gone through what I have been through. It is just really hard for them to understand.
HC: Do you have any key memories from Jefferson High School? What was that like?
DN: I remember that I worked so hard. I was in a biotech program, so they set up a schedule for you every quarter. It was like you would go to school, go home, and then I worked. My mom was so strict, all of my time was just school and then go home. I did not have a lot of social friends around because she tried to keep me safe. Being a girl, she did not want me to have so many friends, and she is very tight about curfew; at 10 o'clock we had to be home. So I did not have a social life outside of school. Just go to school and focus on school. Jefferson at the time had a good basketball team. The group that I stayed with from ninth grade to twelfth, they were a very good group of students. They were very focused in school, and we worked together. We were in the same class from freshmen in high school. We had to go with the program, we stayed together the whole time. Then we did interns[hips] outside of school, like going to the hospital and do your intern[ship]. As I grew up—I know that Jefferson is not a very good neighborhood—as I grew up, I did not feel that way just because I would go home and go to school so I did not look at the surrounding area to see how. After high school, we moved to Beaverton on Walker and 173rd, close to Nike right there. I loved that neighborhood. Until I got married.
EC: Were there a lot of other Vietnamese kids at Jefferson?
DN: No. Very [much] it was a minority. In my graduating class there were probably three Vietnamese: me and two other girls.
EC: Were you friends with them?
DN: Yeah, I was friends with them.
EC: So, you attended Jefferson for four years?
DN: I attended Jefferson for four years until I graduated. Then we moved to Beaverton.
EC: Did you stay with your mother's friends when you first arrived, or did you have a house or an apartment?
DN: No, we rented a house when we first arrived because our family has five. Actually, we rented a house from my mom's friend's brother. We rented a house from him that I think was a four-bedroom house. He had one of the bedrooms for himself, and we just rented the other three bedrooms. Shortly after that she was able to save money and put a downpayment on a house. She bought a house around the Jefferson area. After that, my brothers worked and she worked and they wanted to be in a better neighborhood. They moved to Beaverton.
HC: What was the social dynamic like in Beaverton and when you were at PSU (Portland State University)? What are your key memories from then?
DN: In Beaverton, I just lived there. But then when I went to college at PSU, most of my friends were around the PSU campus. Some of the friends were from high school, but I guess because we are Vietnamese we tended to gather with other Vietnamese friends. Those are the friends that we still keep in touch with today.
HC: That is nice. So your friendship group there was mostly Vietnamese?
Dn: Yeah, mostly Vietnamese. There was a much bigger group of Vietnamese students at Portland State at the time.
EC: When you were in North Portland, besides the church and your mother's friends, were there other ways that you interacted with other Vietnamese people?
DN: High school. Sometimes there was some kind of gathering of friends. I do have some Vietnamese friends, and sometimes at birthday parties we gather and that is how we met other Vietnamese friends. I know that Madison at the time had a lot of Vietnamese students. Jefferson, it was one of the minorities, not many.
HC: How were your interactions either in high school, college, or Portland more generally with the non-Vietnamese community? Do you feel like people are welcoming or did you experience discrimination?
DN: I do not see that. I do not know, I just do not feel that way. I do not feel that way at all.
HC: That is good. It could be worse.
DN: I guess there could be, but I did not see it. That is why I always tell the kids that it does not matter how people treat you, you just be nice and kind. By your kindness, people will love you the way you are. I just do not see the negative, just looking for the positive things around you. When I grew up, I did not feel the racism just because I am the minority. I did not feel that way at all. But now, grown up as an adult, I hear more people talk about it. Then, maybe you see it because you hear more people talk about it. It is like, huh, I did not feel that way at all growing even though I am the minority group.
HC: Now that you are an adult do you encounter it or do you just hear about it?
DN: I do not know, because I do feel a little bit, but then not so much. You still say hi to people even if they do not say hi to you back. You just give them a smile. The next time, when they come across you again, you give them a smile [and] they will smile back to you. That is how I feel.
HC: That is great.
EC: So when you first went to PSU were you still planning to study nursing?
DN: At the time I wanted to do dental hygiene. There was a group of five of us, five girls. We were in the same program together. We took one class at OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) to do hands-on cleaning, and just to get a feel of what the job is like. After that class, there was only one girl who remained in the program. The other four, some do other classes like the x-ray, and one is a nurse. I became a hairdresser. I did go back to college because I said, "I don't want you to become a hairdresser. We are here for a better education." Then I said, "I just love my job, and I love what I am doing." So to make my mom happy I went back, but I decided I wanted to do something quick. I got into a pharmacy tech program, so I completed that in a year. It was a twelve-month program, and then I worked for Costco. But then I compared the job. Even though I like Costco, because I know the pharmacist is the one who got me the job. I know the people there, but I did not enjoy being a pharmacy tech. That is when my mom let me do whatever makes me happy. I told her that what is important to me is that you got to love your job, and you have no stress because you are happy with it. I found a job that I love. Every day I am excited to go to work, instead of waking up and feeling stressed that you have to go to work. Then when you are done with your day you can walk out and not worry about it.
HC: That is great.
EC: So you went to cosmetology school at that point?
DN: Yeah, I went to the cosmetology school downtown in Belmont. The program was by hours, so it would depend on if you were to take full time. Mine, I did the whole thing, so it took me about a year and a half, for nails, facial, and hair everything. Then I just focused on hair. I really appreciate my job because I just come across different life experiences from the customers. They will tell you the story of their life and their experience. I learn a lot from the customer, and I think I am a people person. I love being around people, and I love to listen to their stories. Even the good or the bad. People come, like, things happen with their family or in their lives and they share it with you. Sharing it helps them feel better. I always encourage them to speak up if they are not happy about something. When you are able to share, you are going to feel better. So, I hear all kinds of stories from customers.
EC: Did you open your own business right away?
DN: No. After I graduated from beauty school I went to work for a friend for about four years. It happened that I was in Lake Oswego, [and] I ran into one of my friends who has a nail salon. We ran into each other at a restaurant, and she asked me if I was interested in opening a hair salon in Lake Oswego. I had no idea what Lake Oswego is like because I just lived around the Beaverton area. I never thought I would open a salon or anything that far. In my mind, I thought someday maybe I would. She told me to go down to Lake Oswego and check it out. So, that day my husband and I drove down to Lake Oswego and we checked it out. It was nice. I knew nothing about the area, the people, and the customers. My sister is the one who has a business—she has a hair salon—on Barbur Boulevard. She has a lot of customers from Lake Oswego. She said most of her customers are great people, they are very nice and kind. She said this is a very nice area. That is when we started it.
The day that I signed the contract, the next day I found out I was pregnant with my oldest son. I had no plan. If I knew ahead of time I would not have signed the contract. I did not want to start a business and be pregnant at the same time, that was really hard. We built the business, and that was in ‘97. A lot of my clients still remember my first son. I have four children now, and my first son was when I started the business. A lot of the customers have been with us since day one, until now. So they have watched me go through all four pregnancies. They are teasing me all the time [laughs]. Because, one of the customers, he came in and said that every time I cut his hair is around the same time that I go into labor. After my fourth time, he came back and asked, "Are you pregnant again?" Because I have my first three within three years, they just happened so close. Then four years later we were blessed with the fourth. We wanted just three kids, and then, by surprise, we had a fourth. He is a true blessing.
HC: How old are your children now?
DN: My oldest one is eleven. Then the second one is ten and the other is eight-and-a-half. Then the youngest one is four.
HC: How do you keep them engaged with the Vietnamese community, or do you try to?
DN: Yeah, we try to through our church. We have a lot within our church, like every Vietnamese holiday we try to have a show or something to let them know about that event.
HC: Is your husband also Vietnamese?
DN: Yes, he has a similar story. His family escaped by boat, but he might be worse than mine because his dad passed away on the journey. They got to Thailand in ‘86. At the time they were not accepting any refugees into the country, so they built a [floating platform in the ocean]; it was like a ferry. They were in the middle of the oceans, they kept them really far from Thailand. They were there for three months, and then one day one of his brothers dropped a sandal into the water. They would swim—that is how they would take baths, swimming and hoping for rain to wash. He said that the salt water really dried the skin out, and there was no shade or anything. They were just on a ferry. Then, they would just bring out food and water every day for them. One day, his brother dropped his sandal in the water, so [his] dad just jumped in the water to get his sandals, but somehow he did not come back. Something just pulled him away, farther and farther and he just disappeared. It might have been some sea animals. He did not scream or cry out for help because he did not want other people to die jumping in and saving him. That is how he died.
HC: That is awful.
DN: At that time, he said it was really hard for his family, for his mom. Because of that reason, after he passed they rescued that group of people. Because of that story, they get them to land. Then, shortly after that, they sent them to the Philippines and then America. Because at the time he had his uncle, he left Vietnam in ‘75. He was in the war. He got on an airplane and flew to Oregon. Because he had family in America, that is why his family could come too in America.
HC: How did you meet him?
DN: Through school and friends.
DN: Not PSU, but my best friend was his brother's girlfriend at the time. We met a long time ago when I first came. Because, actually, we are both from the same town in Vietnam. We did not know each other because we left when we were really young. When I first moved to Oregon, through a mutual friend that grew up in the same town in Vietnam, he came to our house before. He said he knew how strict my mom was. She does not let any guy come around. Growing up, no guys could come to my house because they did not allow us to talk to guys. They did not want us to have any relationship. They want us to focus on school, so you could not have guy friends, you can only have girlfriends. My mom was very strict, so when he first came around my family he knew how strict my family was. So he waited until I was nineteen, that is when he decided to ask me out. I think the reason that my mom made it easy for him was because my mom knew his family. My mom was a friend of his mom. That is how he was able to come around my family. My mom was very, very strict on the girls.
HC: It worked out, her daughters are successful.
DN: Yeah [laughs].
EC: Does the Vietnamese community provide any support for small businesses? Was there any kind of network that helped you when you were establishing your business?
DN: No, because I am just too far from the area. When I started the business a lot of Vietnamese people came to me because they like the way that I serve them. They are happy, so they keep coming back even though they are far away. But, because I am in the area, it is quite a drive from where the Vietnamese community is. So that is why we are serving the local customer more than out of the area.
EC: Do you think there are any particular challenges for Vietnamese small businesses in general in Portland?
DN: I do not think so. A lot of the time when Vietnamese people start a small business they do not focus on the Vietnamese community. They want to serve everybody. Unless it is a Vietnamese grocery store, then they will focus on Asians. All of the merchandise that they carry is more catered towards the Asians. Other than that, I think all the small businesses are focused on serving the whole community. Like, not just focus[ing] on the Asians or the Vietnamese.
EC: In terms of financing, for example, are there organizations that you can go to that will help you establish a small business? Help you get loans, for example, or help you navigate the banking system?
DN: We all just go to the bank, or we can get help from people who know. Like a friend or people from church who have experience, they always teach you how and show you how. They are very helpful about that.
EC: Did you have anybody to help you with that?
DN: My sister is the one. My sister, she has a business degree. Since we were young she has been very smart in business. I remember when we first came to Oregon, she was only twenty-one. She was able to come up with $20,000 to open—it is almost like a Blockbuster but they do Vietnamese and American DVDs, they rent out movies—when she was only twenty-one years old she started her own business with her own money, which she borrowed from families around. She came up with the money and she opened her own business when she was twenty-one. At that time she was in college until twenty-one and then she was done. After that she kept going, she would just take an online class. She would just go to school and work. She is very successful in business.
EC: That is the sister who owns four businesses right now?
EC: Are they different kinds of businesses?
DN: Yeah, they are different kinds. She has two hair salons, two floral shops, she has a bar, and then she owns a commercial building. She is very business oriented. That is why my mom says we work too hard. She always tells her that she works too hard, just slow down. That is enough, you know, but then she got that from mom, so [laughs]. Growing up, she did not have anything. That is why she wants to work. To give her children a better life then she did. As for me, I did not have much growing up. Every year my mom could only afford to buy us one set of new clothes for the first day of school. That is all we had. We did not have nice clothes, we did not have toys, and we did not have anything. I really appreciate it, because I do not have anything to complain about in my life. I see that kids today have so much. They have toys, and it is like a full house of toys. That does not mean that that brings them happiness. Our siblings, we have been through so much. So it just brings us closer. We are always there for each other. We played with each other by finding things to do, finding things to play with, instead of having fun with your toys.
HC: Are there places that the Vietnamese community gathers besides the church? Are there restaurants, grocery stores, or places you encounter members of the community?
DN: There is a lot. My husband grew up with a very tight group of friends. Some of them are not Catholic, but we still gather.
HC: Where does that happen?
DN: Friends’ houses, we go to different friends' houses. Since we are heavily involved in our church, we have another tight group of friends from our church that we hang out with. Just like with families what we have. He has six siblings, the same as me. His mom has six kids, so five other siblings, and the same thing for me. So between his family, my family, and then friends from church we have so many gatherings on the weekends and holidays.
HC: How have you seen Portland change with the Vietnamese community or the city more generally?
DN: Oh, so much, there is just so, so much. I am not sure if it is good or bad. I think when I came here it was just so small. The community was small and the traffic was very easy going to get around. You do not have a lot of choices when you go out, there were not many things besides nature. I love nature, we loved to go to the beach just digging claims, just relax, and go on walks on the beach. Or go up to the mountains. But there was just the outdoors, but now Portland has become bigger and it has become more commercial too. Just more things to do, for food wise. The traffic is very heavy, traffic everywhere. When I moved here, I remember the traffic lights were still hanging on the wire instead of having a pole. Most of the traffic lights were like that until now. Things are changing a lot.
HC: Have the neighborhoods that the Vietnamese community is living in changed in any substantial way?
DN: They are pretty spread out now. They used to be gathered around our church, like in Northeast Portland. They are really spread out now; Beaverton, Vancouver, and the heaviest density is probably in Portland still. But the Beaverton area, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, Washington, they all have a pretty big community there.
EC: Do you send your children to Portland Public Schools?
DN: They went to a charter school, Arthur Academy, which I am very happy with. We love our neighborhood, we love our friends and neighbors, and we love our house. Nothing is wrong, it is perfect. But we are not very happy because the schools [are] so big and the academics are not very strong. So we found that charter school. We are very focused on our kids’ education. We follow the greatschool.org, and the school that my kids go to has a standard of nine out of ten—it is a pretty high rating. It is a lottery system, so I enrolled my kids. The first year they did not get in, but the second year we are lucky that we got in. Once one kid is in, automatically the rest of the children in the family can get in. All of my kids go there.
HC: Is that near your house?
DN: That is about probably fifteen minutes away from my house, but it is worth it because it is such a great school and it is a smaller school. All the parents are very focused on their children once they put their kids there. They set a high standard for the kids.
HC: You have liked it overall?
DN: I like it overall, yeah.
HC: Have you had any negative experiences with the school?
DN: Sometimes they have a hard time keeping the teachers because the teacher wants better benefits and a charter school cannot offer that. It is always sad to see that [a good teacher] left the school. The school has a very good system, so a new teacher comes in and they just follow the curriculum. The system, that is, how they teach, is followed step-by-step what the school has already set up for the teacher. So far, even though they have a switch of teachers, the kids are not far behind because of the new teacher.
HC: That is great.
EC: Are there challenges that your children face that you did not have to, for example?
DN: My kids, I overheard them say some things about being bullied. Not at their school, but they were talking about their cousins or their friends from church mentioned being bullied at school. I thought, how did I not feel this way growing up? I do not feel I was bullied. Maybe it is just the attitude. I told them it is just all about the attitude. You do not feel that way, you do not think people are being bullied. If people are mean to each other, you should feel sorry for them. They must be miserable, they are not happy, that is why they are trying to put you down. So you should not feel bullied. It was not to them, but then they said, “oh my friend is being bullied.” Why aren't the schools talking about the kids who have been bullied? So I want them to stop using that word, I do not want to hear that anymore. That is what I told them. People bully others because they are not happy. They are trying to make other people miserable too, by negative things and hurtful [things]. Just ignore it and walk away from it, it is not worth it to fight back.
EC: Do you think your children have an appreciation for Vietnamese culture?
DN: Yeah, I think they do. We always talk to them about life and our journey to come to America, how much we appreciate this country, and we are so proud to be Vietnamese, too. We are pretty strong and hard working. We always tell them to be generous and to give back. We did, myself and my husband, we adopted two children in Vietnam from an orphanage. We wanted to help others, and we wanted to teach our kids it does not matter what you have, do whatever you can to give back.
HC: When you say adopt children, did they come to you?
DN: No, more like financially. You just raise them until they can be independent, like through college in Vietnam. You keep in touch with them. This is through a nun's organization, she runs this program. You sponsor one kid and you keep in touch with them, you are like their parents. You financially support them. In the holidays you send them gifts. They need to feel like they have someone who is there for them and [to] care for them. They have another family. So those children, they do not have any parents, they are orphans.
HC: Are you engaged with the country of Vietnam in other ways?
DN: You know, I left when I was so young, when I was eight. My family in Vietnam, most of the time I hear about [them] from my mom. Sometimes we video chat, and then I see them when my mom is around. I keep in touch with some because I have been back to Vietnam twice before, so I reconnected with some of the cousins my age. So, we keep in touch on facebook. Other than that, my mom is the one who talks to them all the time.
EC: Do you remain close to your siblings?
DN: Yeah, very tight. We are one of the families that is unbreakable because we have been through so much. To me, family is the priority. I will always be there, they come first. We are always together and we take care of each other. When I was young, my brother was almost like a dad to me because I do not have a dad. So he took care of me, and he is the one who is more strict than my mom. So I have one mom, but two dads. My older brother has always lived by himself. When we moved to Oregon he was in Vegas already. So, the younger brother is the one who was with us. He is very strict, he was just like a replacement for my dad. I really appreciate, now being an adult, what they have done for me. Watch[ing] out and taking care of me.
HC: Are there any political questions that concern the Vietnamese community or that concern you? Locally, the schools or anything like that, or on a larger scale.
DN: What is that again?
HC: Are there any political issues that the Vietnamese community is engaged with?
DN: Yeah, they do the voting. Of course, with church there are certain things they want you to vote for, for the rights of religion. They do encourage you to vote, they do not tell you which party you should vote for. Then they talk about how you should be voting. For Christians too, you vote for the right.
HC: Anything else?
EC: Is there anything we have not talked about that you would like to say?
DN: I do not know. I always tell my kids that we are so thankful that we have come to this country. The country has a better life and a lot of freedom. So we always have to work hard, and we do anything to contribute to make this a better place. We do not want to ruin this country. So that is what we are proud of. The people on my boat, everyone is very successful. Because I have to say, in general, most of the boat people who come to America are very successful. They are coming here from a hard way.
HC: It sounds like you contributed hugely to Portland and to America. Do you feel good about America? Do you feel any particular way about Oregon or Portland? Do you feel like your experience has been different than other Vietnamese communities, in California or elsewhere? Do you think it is similar?
DN: I think it is just more myself. Everybody is different.
HC: That is great.
HC: Well, I think that is the end of the interview. Unless you have any other questions? Thank you so much for meeting with us. It has really been lovely hearing your story. You are very articulate and it was a great story.
DN: Thank you very much.
HC: Do you want to say the EJ Carter, “blah… ”
EC: Yes, so we have been speaking with Dao Ngo on November 6th, 2018. Thanks again for meeting with us.
DN: Thank you.