Pamela Phan was born in Portland, Oregon in 1976. One of the first Vietnamese families to arrive in Oregon, Phan’s entire extended family left Vietnam as stowaways on a Navy boat in April 1975 and flew from Guam to Portland where they settled in the Crest Division. Her parents later decided to move the family to Foster and Powell. Growing up, she attended Portland Public Schools. She first attended Abernethy Elementary School and Hosford Middle School, then chose to go to Lincoln High School to study social services. She then attended University of Oregon where she became involved in the Vietnamese Student Association and Asian Pacific American Student Union. Since college, Phan has worked for the Asian Family Center and the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization, and she now works for CAT, the Community Alliance of Tenants.

In this interview, Phan describes her and her family’s experience of establishing themselves in Portland. She describes the United States’ immigration process of “accumulation,” and how that system led to her family’s arrival in Oregon. She recounts that individuals and churches helped her family lay down roots in Portland, and how those connections fostered a community that would support them moving forward. Though her classes were diverse, her education in the Portland Public School system was defined by racial hierarchies that are still present in schooling today. Phan describes moments when she and her family had to confront racial tensions and violence in Portland during the late twentieth century. Phan ends her interview by explaining how her family remains active in the community by helping new immigrants from Vietnam settle in Portland. She describes the mission of CAT and the work that she does for this organization.