Lucy Hamill: Hello this is Lucy Hamill at Lewis & Clark College interviewing Anthony Truong over the phone on May 30, 2019. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Could you start by giving me an overview of your life here in Portland––when you got here and where you moved?
Anthony Truong: Yes, so my family, we immigrated from Vietnam in 1980. I spent my whole life here in Portland. I went to elementary and middle school in North Portland. Then I went to high school at Benson High School. I went to Oregon State [University] in Corvallis for five years, where I got my pharmacy degree. Then I met my wife and started a family here in Portland. We technically live on the west side of town, but it is still a Portland address. That is where we are at. We have two children. Is that kind of what you wanted?
LH: Yeah, great. So how old were you when you immigrated here?
AT: I want to say… almost four?
LH: Could you describe the neighborhood you grew up in a little bit more?
AT: We moved quite a bit in the beginning as my family got situated, until we found the housing that was appropriate for us. Both of my parents did not speak English and there was me and three other siblings. With my parents, that is two, and four young children between the ages of three and eight. The first place we rented, we stayed there for maybe six months. It was a quiet neighborhood. The next place we moved into was an apartment, with a lot of Southeast Asian people: Laos, Hmong, and Vietnamese people. Then we stayed there for about a year or two before my parents bought a home in North Portland. It was a quiet residential area, middle class social and economic-wise. The apartment that we lived in prior to that, I guess is what you would call lower income. As my parents tapped into resources it helped them learn the language and helped them get a job.
LH: Great, do you remember exactly where that apartment was?
AT: It was in North Portland… it was off of North Fessenden. I do not remember the exact address but it was off of North Fessenden, and I do not remember the name of it or anything like that.
LH: Yeah, that is okay. Great. What part of Vietnam was your family from?
AT: From the south.
LH: When and how did your family decide to leave Vietnam?
AT: My father was in the army. He was in the military police for the southern army. Then after the war ended, my parents knew that they would have to leave. So we started the journey and went to the Philippines first. From what my parents told me, we were there for about six months to a year before a Chinese Christian organization sponsored us for our family to come to Portland.
LH: Do you still know or have any contact with the people who sponsored you?
AT: My parents do, but I do not.
LH: Then to circle back to your life in Portland… You grew up here. Could you describe your experiences with Portland schools, your elementary, middle, and high school what that was like for you?
AT: Yeah. Elementary school and middle school, being in North Portland, there was not much diversity. Out of whatever grade I was in, I was probably one of maybe a handful of students of color. Now that I am older I can actually think about it and reflect on it. At the time it did not impact me because most of the friends I had, I was just their friend. I never experienced any overt or severe racism. There were incidents here and there, but nothing where I was shunned or seen as an outsider or as an outcast. Then when I went to Benson, it was a more diverse school, so there were more students of color and everything. In terms of my school experience from elementary to middle school, I think I had a normal experience. I had friends, classes were great, I got an education.
LH: Great. Was it important for your parents to continue the Vietnamese culture in your life, even though you were in an area that did not have any culture from Vietnam at all?
AT: Yes, it was very important to them. From all the cultural holidays, to lighting incense, and honoring the ancestors and whatnot. For a while, my parents wanted us to only speak Vietnamese at home. They said that we spoke English all day at school, so to keep that [Vietnamese] language, that was something that we did. Probably up until about middle school, for me, where we only spoke Vietnamese at home. It was super important for my parents. They felt that it was something that they wanted to pass down to us and hopefully, when we became adults and parents we would pass down to our children.
LH: Is it important to you that you remain connected to your Vietnamese culture?
AT: Yes. We are definitely American, but we are Vietnamese American. I just feel that it is best if you have a little bit of everything. That is my perception.
LH: Are there specific organizations, or events in Portland that you are a part of that help you remain connected to your culture?
AT: Yeah. Like the Vietnamese Community Organization of Oregon. Whenever they put on their New Years Festival––it was at a convention center for a couple of years, and now it is at the airport Holiday Inn––it is something that we always attend. My wife and I and now our children do. Our children are dressed in traditional wear. Also growing up, through the temple. Being raised as a Buddhist, we would go to the temple on holidays and certain events. That was definitely a way to connect and to keep in touch with our roots.
LH: What is your perception of how the Vietnamese American community has changed in Portland as you were growing up? What is your impression of the Vietnamese American community here in general?
AT: I feel that it has gotten bigger. Not as big as other cities that I have visited, but there is definitely more outreach from various organizations. Whether it is through your religion, your family, or through certain organizations, there is a greater outreach. It is easier to connect with people who have a Vietnamese background. Growing up where I did in North Portland, the only time I saw other Vietnamese people were either family, friends of the family, or whenever we went to the temple. But now, going through college and connecting with the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) there, and also the one here in Portland at Portland State… Also keeping the connection through the temple, and friends. Now with the Vietnamese Community Organization of Oregon, I definitely feel that it is more connected, than it was growing up.
LH: You talked a little bit about the Vietnamese Student Association, at Oregon State. Could you talk a little bit more about your time in college, and what the experience was like moving away from Portland? How was the Vietnamese community different there than it was here?
AT: There really was not one except for just the students. I knew of maybe two families that were Vietnamese that lived in Corvallis, and one of my friends grew up in Corvallis. So it was a treat for him to go to college and see so many Vietnamese people. At school in Corvallis, there was not much. Just being with other students we put on a VSA night where we did traditional dance, storytelling, and foods––that was one of the events that we did down in Corvallis to try to introduce Vietnamese culture to school and the community down there. In terms of beyond that, that was pretty much it. It was nice that Portland was close enough to Corvallis to be able to come home every so often to reconnect and see family and friends, and definitely the food.
LH: What impact on your college experience did the Vietnamese Student Association have? Like what was the significance of being able to have that community on your college experience as a whole?
AT: Impact like a positive, negative, or no real impact?
LH: Yeah either way. It is okay if this question does not have an answer, but yes. Negative or positive. What was the significance of having that set community at such a big university? A university in a city that did not have a community otherwise?
AT: I would say it was positive for the most part. It would be very similar to a sorority and fraternity except we did not live together. It was a bond that can be formed with other members, a bond almost like family. It was definitely a bond of friendship and brotherhood with the other members. It was definitely something nice to have during my time in Corvallis.
LH: Could you talk a little bit about how you got into health care? It seems like you have done a lot of work with health care. Could you describe your work a little bit?
AT: Yeah. Being at Benson back in the early nineties, they had a health occupation track––I do not know if they told you or not. I was a part of that and I just always liked health care, so I decided that was what I wanted to do as a career moving forward. I decided to do pharmacy. I enjoy that aspect of it, and also talking to patients. After I graduated from pharmacy school, I got a job as a community pharmacist working at a retail store, and helping out patients there. It was nice whenever I ran into some Vietnamese patients to converse with them in Vietnamese to help them bridge that barrier, if it was a barrier for them. Then after doing retail, I went into long term care pharmacy with the elderly population. Which sparked my interest in the various health fairs that are put on by various Vietnamese and Asian organizations. So there are some health fairs that are put on during the New Year’s celebration. I would take part in it as a volunteer to talk to Vietnamese people about their medications and about certain aspects of their health. I have been really involved with that. Some of that. I have not done as much now with young children at home. I would definitely like to get back into it once they grow up a little bit.
LH: It seems like a lot of your health care work is also really closely connected to activism or organizing work in the Vietnamese community. Was that always a goal of yours when you went into health care?
AT: No, actually it was not. I definitely had one idea, or a thought of what I wanted to do going into health care, but once you do a rotation, or you experience something for the very first time, it gets you going. It gets that spark going, or the juices going. It was just something that I was asked to be a volunteer for. Just to be a part of it, and just to see the appreciation from the patients and the community, it gives you a good feeling, and [it is] a good experience which encourages you to do more and to help out more.
LH: How do you see the relationship between Portland––and the health care system in general––interacting with the Vietnamese community? How do you see yourself situated in that? It seems like you have acted as a bridge for a lot of people. How do you think Portland serves the Vietnamese American community?
AT: I think… Portland does well based on what I see. Traditionally with the Asian community, and also the Vietnamese community in particular, family is always there to help. I remember with my parents, growing up, when they would go to the doctor's office, having an interpreter was never an option. It was never brought up to them to either of my parents. So, therefore, one of us kids would always go with them to interpret and to help them navigate whatever they would come across during their health appointments. But now, in talking to a lot of the patients, they tell me that at every hospital or a lot of the health clinics, if an interpreter is needed, one is available or the option is always there. And not just for the health side, but also for the financial and the insurance side, which I think is a big plus.
LH: You mentioned this briefly just now, but could you talk about the differences you saw in your experiences immigrating here and growing up in Portland versus your parents’ experience immigrating here?
AT: I am amazed––now that I am a parent myself––of what my parents had to go through and the strength and courage they had to exhibit to travel thousands of miles away, to land in a new country, and to not speak much of the language at all. Then to also have four young children in tow, and to be able to connect and find resources to help them learn the language, and also get a job and to provide and give us a better life to where all the children, all four of us were able to have the ability to go to college and to graduate from college, to have successful careers and also to start our own families. I know that my parents sacrificed a lot––working-wise––to give us a better life. I know that sounds kind of cliche, [laughs] but reflecting back on it… I mean that is what it really is. From all the examples I can give, from them working extra hours or extra shifts, my mom learning to take multiple busses to get us to childcare back then––which was basically some lady’s house that she dropped us off at before she would go to work––or my dad finally getting his driver's license, saving enough money for a car. So yeah, things like that. Definitely their experience... I would guess “harder” would be the right word. Yeah I would say it was harder. I could not imagine myself going into another country and doing the same. I would do it if I had to, but yeah it would be very difficult.
LH: Does your whole family live here? Your siblings and your parents?
AT: Yes, except for my brother, who moved up to Seattle. But family is big for us, and for a lot of Vietnamese families. They tend to stay close––either in the same city, state, or time zone. We have extended families like aunts and uncles that are up and down the West Coast primarily.
LH: That is great, that is wonderful. Could you circle back to your work? It seems like not only in terms of your career, but you have volunteered quite a bit. Could you talk about the different organizations or projects you have been involved in?
AT: Starting in pharmacy school, doing the health fair at the Tết festival or the New Year’s festival for the Vietnamese organization here in Portland. That was kind of the beginning. Also with my wife who is a nurse, and a professor––[she] got connected with APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon) and various organizations, like the Asian First Health Service Center. Just through them doing various health fairs and health screenings, and things like that.
LH: In your biography that you sent us, you talked about the Data Equity Bill. Could you talk about that a little bit?
AT: Absolutely. I was more in the background with that. In terms of advocating and going down to Salem, that was primarily my wife. I offered support for her and the others involved by lending my voice and lending my story, so the legislators down in Salem can see that it was something that was needed. Not just for the Vietnamese community, but also for the other Asian communities and other communities of color.
LH: What exactly is the Data Equity Bill?
AT: Oh, the Data Equity Bill was something that I believe APANO and various health organizations, and other health advocacy groups here in Portland were pushing for. It made sure certain data was made equitable for all groups of color and all communities of color. So that if patients went to the doctor they would be able to get whatever information that would be required in their language. Any information would be available in a language or in a way that would make it more accessible to them so that they would understand it.
LH: Do you know anything about what impact the passing of that Bill has had on the Vietnamese community or any community in Portland?
AT: I have not personally seen it, like the actual numbers. I am assuming that by making health information more equitable for any community of color, that they would be able to get the information. With that information, they can make the best-informed decision about what is best for their health. In terms of vaccinations, for example, with what is going on recently in the news and people not vaccinating their children. Getting the correct information, and especially in a language that they are native to would definitely help that.
LH: Other than health care, are there any other political issues or social issues that are important to you or the Vietnamese community in general?
AT: Political and social-wise, just about inclusion more than exclusion, I guess, would be very important. Especially in this current political climate that we are in, everybody is so divided along political lines. Even in the Vietnamese community. For example, I voted for a Democrat during the last presidential election, but my father voted Republican. He has been a Republican for all of his life. Just talking to him and talking to other people in the community… We talk about how there is a divide among political lines, for the population in general, but, I am surprised to see it in the Vietnamese community and in the communities of color. Typically most of us vote Democrat because it is more about inclusion, but there are some that vote Republican. It is just interesting to see how that divisiveness or that divide also pertains to the Vietnamese community too. Just having a voice is very important to the Vietnamese community.
LH: What do you think contributes to that divide, what creates that divide?
AT: Just talking to my father, I asked him why he felt like he had to go that way. He just said that, that is how he feels, and he feels that the Republican candidate can give him what he needs for himself. In talking to my father and some of the other Vietnamese elders, I came to an understanding that Vietnamese people, especially the elders that immigrated over here, are more conservative in terms of religion and in terms of a lot of political things. They are very conservative, for example about sexual reproduction and sexual health they are very conservative. Therefore they would not support or vote along those lines. My generation that grew up here, or immigrated when they were young, or was born here, we have––I guess––a more progressive way of thinking. It is interesting to see that clash between the more older and conservative generation and even some of my friends who were raised in very conservative and traditional families that influences their view too.
LH: How does that clash of beliefs or political aligning impact the unity of the community?
AT: I think with any group, at the end of the day we are family and we are all a community. We may not agree on some things, but we all do agree on the human things; about taking care of one another, about doing the right thing, and about being there for each other even though our views may be different. Of course, there will be certain individuals and certain exceptions to our community. In general, what I am still able to do is actually have a conversation about certain topics without being shunned from the community. Which I think is a great thing. Because without discussing and seeing a certain topic from both sides, it is hard to be called a community if you do not allow everyone to have a voice.
LH: Great. You talked a little bit before about the Vietnamese community having a voice. Are there specific people, groups, or organizations that you feel effectively represent the Vietnamese American voice in Portland?
AT: I think it is good to have multiple voices. I understand the old saying of, there are too many cooks in the kitchen or too many captains of the ship. But, I think in the time that we live in and the country that we live in with multiple generations from different backgrounds… I think that having multiple voices––whether it is from the Vietnamese Catholic community in Portland, or the Vietnamese Buddhist community, the Vietnamese Senior Association, or the Vietnamese Student Association––just having all those voices and being able to sit down and talk about certain things that affect the community as a whole, I think that is needed. To have one organization, and then have them represent the Vietnamese community as a whole, I think it would not be an accurate portrayal of all the Vietnamese community. I feel that there has to be multiple voices from multiple parts of the community.
LH: To talk a little bit more about your family, could you talk about your kids’ relationship to Vietnam and Vietnamese culture?
AT: Yeah, I have two children. They are twins and they are five. We definitely introduce food, we try to introduce language as best as we can. It is kind of a trouble sometimes because growing up, we lived in a poly-generational family unit. After we immigrated here, my grandparents moved in with us. We sponsored them to come over. So there were three generations, and my grandparents did not speak any English and I had conversed with them in Vietnamese. Therefore, I became fluent a lot quicker. Not having that structure, my children have not been able to pick up the language as quickly. With me growing up here too, I am sixty-forty in terms of speaking English to Vietnamese. I do not speak Vietnamese to them all the time either. That is one of the struggles that my wife and I go through. Food-wise we introduce them to all kinds of food, especially traditional food. We definitely have them connect with their family, like their cousins, my parents, and my wife’s parents, just to give them as rich of a cultural and heritage experience as possible.
LH: What has your experience been communicating that culture to them, through the culture that the Vietnamese community has built in Portland?
AT: We take them to the New Year’s events, any of the events that have any cultural aspects like the August or Harvest Moon Festival. We took them to that. We try to explain it to them, but without an immersion program... I guess there is a Vietnamese pre-school immersion program now in Portland that started just recently. That is something that they could have attended, but… I hope that answers your question.
LH: Yeah, it was also a long-winded question. What is your relationship, or in general the relationship of the Vietnamese community in Portland, to Vietnam?
AT: A lot of my family has been back to Vietnam, and a lot of my friends’ parents, family, and friends have been back to Vietnam. A lot of us still have family back there. In terms of the relationship between the actual government over there to the community here, it is not talked about. Or if it is something that is talked about, it is something that, especially the elder generation that is here in Portland, they do not speak of much. When they do, they would rather speak about the craziest government system when they were back in Vietnam, in terms of that relationship that is pretty much the extent of it.
LH: Great, well that was all the questions I have. Is there anything else that I have not asked you about that you would like to discuss with us?
AT: No, I think that is everything.
LH: Great. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. It is the middle of the day on a workday and I understand that life is busy, so thank you for talking to me. Again, this has been Lucy Hamill at Lewis & Clark College interviewing Anthony Truong over the phone on May 30, 2019. Thanks, Anthony.
AT: Thank you, Lucy, and have a great day.
LH: You too.