ZM: This is Zoë Maughan and it is September 15, 2022. I am in the Watzek Library and am meeting with Steven Tonthat via Zoom today. Steven, we are really glad you are here to share some of your story and I am wondering if you could begin by stating your name and telling us a little bit about yourself.
ST: Yeah, thanks for having me. My name is Steven Tonthat. I am an arts and culture reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. I've been doing this now for about four years since moving to Oregon. I moved up to Oregon in 2018, and before that I was working at the local newspaper in Hawaii, at the Honolulu Star Advertiser. I'm from Hawaii—I was born in California—but I was raised in Hawaii. I worked at the newspaper for about five-ish years before making the move up to Oregon and here I am.
ZM: Great. So you spoke to this a little already, but how long have lived in Portland and what brought you here to Oregon?
ST: I've been living here since 2018, I moved up here at the end of April, I think, so about four and a half years. I came up here to work for OPB. I was working at the newspaper and I realized that the newspaper I was at was going through a few layoffs, and I realized, eh, my time is probably up at that point. And so I started looking around, and I had always loved public broadcasting and NPR and the radio, and so I applied for this position at OPB, and I got it. So I made the move up here.
ZM: That's great. What were some of your first impressions of Portland?
ST: It's interesting because the weather obviously was the biggest change for me. Growing up in Hawaii, it's a constant eighty-five, and so it's really nice weather, sunshine and everything. So the weather was definitely something that I needed to get used to because you have actual seasons up here. And so when I came up to Oregon, the cold was definitely something I needed to adjust to but it was fine. It's funny because when I had gone through my first winter up here, I was chatting with a friend of mine in the newsroom, who was from Ohio, we were just chatting and he goes, "Oh, we had kind of a mild winter, didn't we?" And I was like, "Excuse me? I am freezing right now." So that was definitely a huge adjustment. But also at the same time, I had always heard good things about Oregon in terms of the people are always friendly, welcoming, and very nice. It's definitely different, but it's been good so far.
ZM: Great. What neighborhoods have you lived in?
ST: I have mostly been living in Southwest, because OPB is located in Southwest. I figured it was probably better to live [on] that side and not have to cross bridges or anything for work. It's mostly been in Southwest and I live kind of in the suburbs of Beaverton and that area now.
ZM: Gotcha. Do you have any observations about that area to share?
ST: About Beaverton?
ZM: Just like the Southwest area or maybe how it's distinct from other parts of the city, if you have any comparisons.
ST: I think the Beaverton-Tigard area is much more suburban and very family-friendly. That's kind of what I like, I like the more slow-paced, suburban area. The city is nice and everything, but I kind of like having open space, I kind of like having a yard, that kind of thing. So that’s what I like about it. But I will say, I do enjoy having a lot of really great Asian food coming out of the Beaverton area, which I find really great. Because so many people go to the Jade District in Southeast for good Asian food, but I'm like, "No, no, Beaverton and Tigard all have their great spots too!"
ZM: I actually live in Beaverton too, so I totally know what you mean.
ST: And of course now that I say that, everyone's gonna migrate over and all those spots are going to be gone. I’m like, “No!”
ZM: Switching gears a little bit to talk about childhood: can you tell me a bit about where you grew up? What your childhood was like? Maybe a little bit about your family?
ST: I grew up on Maui with my mom, my dad, and my brother. And we all lived in a house on Maui. It was great—growing up in a community where everyone kind of looks like you, you do feel a sense of belonging and a sense of safety. It's interesting because the Vietnamese community in Maui is pretty small, in terms of demographics, in Hawaii as a whole, it leans much more towards Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Native Hawaiian, and mixed, so the Vietnamese population is fairly small, but we are a tight knit group. I enjoyed my time growing up there, on Maui, it was wonderful. I don't know if there's really anything bad you can say about growing up in Hawaii, right?
ZM: Can you tell me a little bit more about your family? Maybe about your parents or if you have any siblings?
ST: I have one younger brother. He is a computer programmer right now, so that's really great for him. Growing up, my parents owned their own business. They owned a jewelry business, and they were selling jewelry while we were growing up. We were a typical, normal Vietnamese family and we would go out to eat phở, and have our favorite lunch spots, and favorite Vietnamese bánh mì places. My folks were in the jewelry business up until 2016, that's when they finally retired. And so now they're living on the mainland. They are living in Las Vegas and they're just having the best time of their lives.
ZM: Can you speak a little bit more about the Vietnamese community in Maui and if you were connected to any community organizations, or churches there? Things like that?
ST: Again, the Vietnamese community in Hawaii as a whole is generally pretty small, and in terms of organizations, there weren't really a whole lot. I grew up Buddhist, my family and I are all Buddhists, so we would go to temple. That's where we would hang out with all the Vietnamese kids and learn Vietnamese and stuff. That's really where my connection with the community was, it was through that. But it wasn't until I got to college, where I got to hang out with other people who are a little bit older in the Vietnamese community. Kind of getting together and having fun, and things like that. Again, though, it was very few and far between.
ZM: Did you grow up speaking Vietnamese as well as English?
ST: Yeah. So my first language was Vietnamese, then I started speaking English, and then that kind of took over. The Vietnamese slowly dipped away and I kind of wish I was still fluent in it, but sadly I'm not. But I can still speak conversationally, I can understand when people are speaking to me and I can speak back. But growing up, I spoke a little bit of Vietnamese and I spoke English. I also remember going to Vietnamese language classes and stuff. It's funny because I had only gone maybe a few times, and I just remember hating it. I was like, "Why am I here? This is so boring." Looking back on it now, I kind of wish I stuck with it a bit more. I kind of wish I stuck with it more just so I could be more fluent in it, just so that I can actually communicate better with my peers and with my other family members. But, I will say that for a while I was living with my Grandpa, who only spoke Vietnamese. And so that was a big help in helping me get better at the language. I can speak it, I wish I was a little bit more fluent, but at least I can speak the language.
ZM: As a child, did anyone encourage you to learn about Vietnamese language, culture, and tradition? And how did they encourage that?
ST: Growing up, it was always just a big part of our house. We celebrated the Lunar New Year every year, we celebrated Tết every year. And so the Vietnamese culture was always just there. I remember during grade school, there was a Christmas pageant, and the theme was different cultures around the world. I remember my parents made a very simple Ao Dai in blue, I was the only kid who wore it, and I'm pretty sure there's a picture of me somewhere, I don't where, I have got to look. But yeah, the Vietnamese culture was always in my house. And it was never someone that explicitly said, "You must learn." But because it was around, it was just what I was a part of.
ZM: Yeah, that makes sense. What were some of your interests as a child? I always think that's a fun one.
ST: Let's see. I grew up in the nineties, so I had… Growing up in the nineties, what did we have? You had like Saturday morning cartoons and things like that. And during the summer, we had summer baseball. My dad was really big into playing tennis, and so I would play tennis with him as well. His brothers, my uncles, would get together every couple of days and play tennis on the weekends, and sometimes they would drag me along to play too. So that was always a cool bonding moment. Not as much as my brother, my brother loves tennis way more than I do. He's the one who has way more knowledge about it than I do. Growing up, I liked to read a lot. I loved watching movies. I was very shy as a kid, so I wasn't really as talkative. I liked to read, I liked to watch movies, just kind of being in my own little world a little bit. It took a while to get out of that shell. Growing up, very typical [experience] growing up in Hawaii. Going to the beach, hanging out with friends.
ZM: Did you attend high school in Hawaii? And can you tell me a little about that?
ST: Sure. I attended a high school called St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School. It was a very small private Catholic school on Maui. And my graduating class was only twenty-two, just to give you an example of how small it was. It was only twenty-two. Going to high school there was fine. It was a typical high school. When I was there, I was on the tennis team, and I did a lot of really great activities, I made a lot of really awesome friends. And a few, I still keep in contact with. One or two of my graduated friends I keep in contact with via Instagram, social media—thank God for that. Because otherwise, what is everybody doing? I went to a private Catholic school and I was on the tennis team. It's funny because the school—we weren’t really known for our athletics [laughs]. It's a small school, you're not really going to be known for all that. But I do remember playing tennis and being really proud of the fact that I made it to the top of our school, it was a lot of fun.
ZM: That's great. I'll transition a little bit to college and career: how did you decide to attend the University of Hawaii?
ST: When I was looking through colleges, it really came down to price. Because college back then in 2006 was expensive—not expensive as it is now—but it was pricey, right? I looked at a few schools: I looked at the University of Hawaii, and I looked at Pacific University out here in Oregon as well. But then I looked at the price and was like, "Nah. Sorry, I can't do that." So I ended up going to the University of Hawaii to study English and journalism, and it was great. It was a great experience. I paid in-state tuition, which really helped a lot. And I feel like that's really where I did the bulk of my learning when it came to journalism. and when it came to really getting into what it means to be a good journalist. I was part of the newspaper out there, and I was doing all of these awesome things that led me down this path of: "Oh, maybe I could do this as a career." That's where the little nugget started, in college.
ZM: You just predicted my next question, which is, how did you become interested in journalism? So I wonder if you could share a little bit more about that trajectory?
ST: It's interesting. Growing up, I mentioned that I liked to read a lot, I liked to read stories. I always thought, "I'm going to write the next Great American Novel" or something, but it turns out I was not disciplined enough to actually sit down and create a world, and create characters, and make them interesting. I would try, but it always ended up being an offshoot of some other story. Or I would start a story and be like, “I do not know where this is going,” and then I would just leave it. But I found out that I actually really enjoy telling other people's stories. So when I was trying to figure out what major I wanted to study in, I figured I wanted to tell other people's stories—it was way more interesting than anything I could come up with. And so that's what led me down to work at my student newspaper for a little while, and I really enjoyed it. I started out as a sports reporter for a little while, so I would go to the games, and I would talk to some of the athletes and stuff, and that was really, really fun. That started me down this path of: "Oh, I want to talk to people." I think their stories are way more interesting. I studied English and broadcast journalism at the same time, and when I graduated in 2008, that was when the big recession hit. I was like, "Well, there are really no job openings, I'll just go to grad school." I went straight into grad school, studied for about two more years, and then when I came out, things got a little bit better. So that's really when I got my foot into the door of journalism, and took off from there.
ZM: Where did you attend grad school?
ST: UH- I attended at the University of Hawaii.
ZM: That's what I was thinking. Can you tell me about the different places you worked as a journalist? And maybe how they kind of compare to each other?
ST: When I started, I started at my local television station—KITV. I was only there for about ten months, I was there part-time but I was working as an associate producer. When I was there, I realized that I didn't really like commercial television—local commercial television. It just wasn't really for me. It was really fast paced and if you didn't complete the stories by a specific deadline, it wasn't going to get on air. So I thought, "Hmm, that's a little too fast for me." I found full-time work at the newspaper and that was on the online department of our newspaper. And that was much more my speed, and much more my style. I didn't necessarily like being in front of the camera, but behind the scenes I'm totally cool with. I can totally talk to you behind the camera and stuff like that. So I worked at the Honolulu Star Advertiser in their online department for about four or five years, doing breaking news. While I was there, we were finally implementing video, so I got to use my broadcast degree a little bit and go out and shoot film and shoot video and help increase our digital presence. It was a really great time there, I learned so much from all of the reporters and the editors out there. Those skills that I learned eventually led me to work at OPB, where I'm at now, which is completely different because OPB is a radio, so it was a different skill that I had to learn. But the foundational skills that I learned at the newspaper and in college about good reporting, about what it means to ask questions and ask follow up questions, those things really helped me when it came to being a reporter out here in Oregon and at OPB.
ZM: What does a typical day in the life look like for you at OPB? And I know that is a big question [laughs].
ST: It kind of varies from day to day. Some days I'm really, really busy covering stories and other days I'm preparing for interviews, and preparing for other things. I'm not only just a reporter, I also work on the show Oregon Art Beat as a producer on that show. So I am responsible for coming up with segments, interviewing artists, going out in the field and reporting, featuring those artists, and putting a script together. It's all of these different things that come together and coalesce to encompass my day. It kind of varies, and I like that. I like waking up and going, "OK, what am I doing today? Who am I talking to today?” And if I'm not talking to anybody, “What am I preparing for the next story that I’m working on?" Because of the nature of what I do, it’s easy for me to work from home. I can call people up on the phone, or I can do my writing here. I don't necessarily have to be in an office.
ZM: Did you work from home before the pandemic?
ST: No, I worked in an office. It’s funny because when I got here, when I had my final interview before I got the job, I came to OPB and I was in their building, looking around, and going, "Oh, this would be great. I get to work here! This is so cool." And then a month later when I got the job and it was my first day, I came in and they said, "Oh, this place is going to be remodeled. We're going to move you down to the warehouse down the road." And I was like, "Aw. What’s up with that?" But we were only there temporarily while they were doing the remodeling, and so we were there for about two years while the building was being remodeled. And then finally when it got remodeled we were able to all go back and were like, "Oh, this is so cool!" And then the pandemic hit. And I was like, "No!" [ZM: Worst timing.] Worst timing! We were only there for about eight weeks or so, and then the pandemic hit and we all had to work from home, and I was like, "No!" Hopefully we can come back to the office soon. But I think working from home is fine, it has its perks. I don't have to go that far, save money on gas. I can sleep in a little bit more. It has its advantages.
ZM: As we 're on the topic of the pandemic, did you experience any racial discrimination because of the pandemic? Has that been an experience for you at all?
ST: That's a good question. Thankfully no—knock on wood—nothing has happened. But I will say, that it definitely was on my mind. Given with what has happened in the past few years and with the rise of anti-Asian crime and hate last year, it definitely weighs on you. Right? Growing up, there are things you take for granted, and in my case because of the way I looked, because I grew up in a place where everyone looked like me, I didn't really pay attention to what I looked like, because everyone looked like me, everyone was fine and I could fit in. But moving up to Oregon, it was completely different: I went from a place where everyone looked like me to suddenly, no one looked like me. It was a huge culture shock too. It took some adjustment because I used to be able to go to my Asian supermarket like five minutes down the road, now it's a twenty minute drive. Going to a local Walmart, there's only a small section of Asian food. For the first time, when I moved up here, I really felt like, "Oh, I don't look like everybody here. I am very much a minority." And so I was very much more aware of that. And it definitely was heightened during the pandemic when you hear all of these stories about Asian people getting hurt and AAPI people getting hurt. There were definitely times where I was like, "Am I going to be OK walking outside?" And thankfully, where I live has a fairly decent Asian population—in the Beaverton and Tigard areas, there is a large Asian population—and so I felt relatively safe. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about that at all. I didn't think, "Oh, am I going to get hurt just going to the supermarket or going into town?" It definitely weighed on me. And also the Asian businesses were getting vandalized and a lot of Asian businesses were going out of business because of it, and so many people were getting blamed. I just thought, "Wow. This is scary stuff! What is going to happen? What's going to happen to me?" It definitely weighed on me. I think that is also why I've been trying so hard to tell more AAPI stories, and more stories from the BIPOC community because these stories need to be told. And maybe this is just one of those pressures that I put on myself, but I thought, "If I don't tell it, no one else is going to do it." Which is really unfair and it shouldn't be placed on really anybody. But, that is what I feel like I should be doing. And I hope I am doing a good job.
ZM: Did you do any reporting on the uptick in AAPI hate crimes?
ST: I did. The Oregon Crimes Commission released a study last year or earlier this year that said that crimes against the AAPI community went up 300% or something. So I did a story on the data and what this means to the community, and where people can go to get help if they need help. There is a specific hotline people can call to report on bias crimes, so I reported on that. It was a long report that I was doing, and it was something that I really felt needed to be told. Thankfully, it got out there. And the people that I spoke to were really wonderful and they really responded well to it.
ZM: That's great. On the other side, can you share more about some other AAPI stories that you have covered? Like you said, those stories are so important to share, and I'm curious if you could share one or two projects you have worked on.
ST: I did a really awesome story about a sign painter in the Lents Area named Nick Lee, and he does all of these really awesome signs, old school, hand painted signs. He does printed work too, but his specialty is hand painting signs. And what is great about that is that we did a story for Art Beat where we interviewed both him and his father, who were both sign painters. His father ran the business, and then Nick took over after his father retired. So this sign painting business has been in this family for decades, it was really awesome to hear their story. And they're both AAPI, which is great, they're both really wonderful people in the community. Being able to share their story in that way, as much as I report on the negative things that are happening to the community, there are also a lot of great things. And the fact that I get to do that and share their story is really wonderful and it’s something that I try to do as much as I can. So he's a wonderful story that we did.
I also did a story on a muralist named Alex Chiu. He has a really wonderful mural on 82nd—it's by one of the Trimet stops. I forget the address. It’s a mural on one of the Trimet stops. And it’s a really wonderful mural with him and his kids, and with so many wonderful people on the mural. It’s this wonderful mural! I got to talk to him about it, and he was really, really great, really insightful. He was also another really important person in the BIPOC community out here, because of all of the work that he has done promoting BIPOC stories, and just making us feel more visible in the community, so that was really, really wonderful.
ZM: That's really great, thanks for sharing. Circling back to some earlier questions: what is it like to be a reporter in Portland and do you see any unique challenges to reporting in Portland?
ST: That's a good question. I cover arts and culture news. It's not the same as someone who covers crime, it's not the same as someone who covers school and education. It comes with its unique challenges, because in covering arts and culture you want to cover stories that encompass every part of the state and not just in Portland. There's only so many times you can write about, “Oh, this is what’s happening at this theater, going on right now,” “This is what’s happening at the Schnitz right now.” But what's also really important is telling other stories about what is happening at the smaller theaters, the local theaters, on the ground floor. It can be a little challenging sometimes. In terms of covering arts, how do you cover as many people equally and as fairly? And how do you cover stories without sounding like PR? That's always something that I try to figure out: how do I cover this event but I don’t want to make it sound like I am promoting the event? I want people to know about it, but I don't want to sound like I am doing marketing, that's always an interesting challenge for me. How do I tell more AAPI stories as well? The thing I have noticed is that there are so many wonderful BIPOC stories, so many wonderful AAPI artists out there. I feel like their voices should absolutely be heard, and they should be elevated. So that's what I try to do. If there is an AAPI artist that is really interesting, I'm like, "Hey, let's talk."
ZM: What kind of community engagement efforts do you do to reach the folks you want to speak with?
ST: It's been hard because of COVID. [ZM: It's a real challenge.] But thankfully things have opened up to the point now where people are more relaxed to go outside and to talk. For me, I get a lot of emails from different organizations like APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon), for instance. They’re always saying, "Hey, this is a really cool event, come check it out." Or I'll talk to Alex or some other people that I know and be like, "Is there anything cool happening? Let’s talk." I've been trying to become more intentional about getting out there and being more engaged in the community, because that is something I discovered that I could probably work on more. It's always hard, especially if you work from home, you can't really go anywhere, how can you engage with the community? But now that things are opening up, now that I can physically go outside and meet people. Let's go out and let's just talk.
ZM: That's great. So a more big picture: how do you perceive Portland's trajectory as a city? I'm thinking particularly about how KOIN News did the "Is Portland Over?" series and things like that.
ST: That's a good one. How do I perceive Portland? What exactly does that mean? Where do I think the direction Portland is going? [ZM: Yeah.] It's hard for me to say because I've only been here for four or five years, so I don't really know. But I will say that given my time here so far, I have noticed that at least people are trying to make the effort to be more aware of the BIPOC community and AAPI community. That's a really tough question, I may have to think about that. We may have to circle back on that.
ZM: That's totally fine. So we can shift more into talking a bit more about community, which we've already been talking about. But, maybe we want to skip this question too; I'll ask it, but we have talked about it a bit. So what similarities or differences do you see between the Vietnamese communities in Maui versus in Portland.
ST: The Vietnamese community out here is definitely bigger. I will say that I feel at home with the Vietnamese community out here. It's very tight knit, it's very close knit, and it's wonderful. My favorite places to go to eat food are like the House of Bánh Mì in Northeast, or Portland Ca Phe in Southeast [ZM: That's one of my favorites.] Yeah! It's great! Kim, who runs Portland Ca Phe, is a friend of mine, so it's great having that sense of community. And on a much bigger scale, because on Maui and Hawaii as a whole, the community is very small. But here, it's bigger, but it's just as tight knit, I think. People look out for each other and people will care for each other. The Vietnamese community is very proud of being Vietnamese, which I think is great. Growing up in Hawaii, because it’s so small, there wasn't really a big community. So the big festivals were Obon or the Lunar New Year. There weren't necessarily huge festivals revolving around Tết. But here, it's different, you can really feel that pride, and you can really feel that sense of belonging.
ZM: I know that you were doing some reporting on the Mid-Autumn Festival and I was wondering if you could share a little bit about that.
ST: I did a little bit of reporting on it. The Lan Su Chinese Garden was having a festival called The Moonlight Market. And they mentioned, “Hey, we’re having this festival to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon festival, can you come and talk to us about it?" I was like, "Sure. I'll come talk to you about it." I went down there and I spoke to the people there and it was wonderful. I learned more about the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, the history, and the mythology and folklore behind it. And I thought, "I don't know if we've ever really covered this." I think maybe a little bit in the past, but not so much to the extent of someone actually going down there and reporting. I may be wrong. But in my head, I was like, “Oh, this is a great opportunity to tell this story." I thought this would be a really great opportunity to tell people more about this festival that is going on from the perspective of: the last two years have been tough for the Asian community, this is a really wonderful way to celebrate our heritage, celebrate our community, and to show that we are here. And that we are resilient, and we are strong, and this is part of our culture and our history that we think people should know about.
ZM: That's great. Do you participate in any religious or community organizations here?
ST: Not so much religious. But in terms of community—again, I am trying to be more intentional about that, just going out and being part of the community more. So not as much as I feel I should be, but it's something that I am working on.
ZM: When have you felt most at home in Portland? And what do you like about the city?
ST: Oh, when I have felt most at home? When I'm in my home, just kidding!That’s a really good question. On the one hand, I feel most at home when I find a good Hawaiian place to eat Hawaiian food, because you can't really get it out here, especially poke. This is going to be me being a gate-keeping Hawaii elitist, but the poke that I find out here is not that good, unless it comes from a Hawaiian restaurant. Anywhere else just does not do it well. That is one part of whenever I feel most at home, when I go to Roxy's in Beaverton—because they do Loco food very well. I feel probably most at home when I'm with my BIPOC friends and we are going to eat phở, or Korean BBQ, or ramen. Something we can be together, and be like, "Wow, look at this BIPOC people. Look at all these AAPI people hanging out." That's where I feel most at home. Because like I said, growing up, everyone looked like me, and so just finding those pockets of people to share that experience with is really, for me, how I feel most at home.
ZM: That's wonderful. We touched on this earlier, but do you have any experiences of racism or discrimination that you want to share?
ST: Again, not so much overt. But you do get the microaggressions and things like that. I've had people always try to guess what my ethnicity is, and they always get it wrong. But they always feel the need to ask, and I'm like, "You don't have to ask me every time?" [laughs] Or they will just assume what my ethnicity is. It's funny because there was one time I was at a food pod vendor—this was a little while ago—and I was just chit-chatting with one of the owners and he said, "Oh, I have a Filipino wife too." And I was like, "Good for you?" I think he just assumed because of my dark skin that I was Filipino, and he goes, "Oh, I used to have a Filipino wife." And I was like, "Thank you, good for you, can I just have my food please?" You don't need to bring that up, and even then it's way off the mark too. It's just microaggressions and things like that. I know they mean well, I know they don't necessarily mean to be hurtful, but you don't have to keep asking me, "What are you? Are you Cantonese? Are you Thai? Are you this? Are you that?" You don't have to ask me! Just talk to me!
ZM: It's that distinction between intention and impact. In your mind, what role does being Vietnamese American play in your life?
ST: It's a big part of it. I have definitely grown to appreciate my Vietnamese heritage much more out here now. Because I have become much more aware of the fact that I am Asian, and I am Vietnamese, and I want to tell those stories, and I want to be a part of this community. For me, whenever I try to find stories, whenever I try to talk to people, I always try to say, "OK, how is this going to help the BIPOC community as a whole? What can I do to lift those voices?" Being Vietnamese American is something that I am much more proud of, much more aware of, and it's something that I want to continue to help lift those voices up. I want to do that.
ZM: So just one final question, what differences do you see between older and younger generations of Vietnamese Americans?
ST: That's interesting. The difference I've seen is that growing up, I was always taught to go to school to be a doctor, or a lawyer. Because with those careers comes financial stability. For my parents and their generation, because they lived in a time of so much instability, financially, they came over as refugees and immigrants. For them it's about being stable, and being financially secure, and that meant being a doctor or being a lawyer or something like that. I think the difference now is that this younger generation sees so many different ways we can be financially stable. It doesn't have to be a doctor or a lawyer—we can be a journalist. We can be a teacher. We can be this or that. I can understand why the older generation would want us to be these high-paying jobs because it comes down to it’s much more stable, and you’re just more secure in that way. And that is what our parents ultimately want for us, to be more stable, and to know that we will be OK. I've definitely come to appreciate that more and I think my generation and the younger people appreciate that, but at the same time, we are also coming into our own, in terms of going out and finding our own voice. It doesn't have to be as a doctor, or as a lawyer, or as any of these things. We are making an impact in so many different ways. I think that's really powerful. [ZM: Yeah.] I feel like I'm rambling, I don't know if I made any sense. [ZM: No, I think that made a lot of sense, thank you.]
ZM: I realized that I said "last question," but I have one more question for you, which is: if you could share a little bit about where your family is from in Vietnam.
ST: Yes. My parents grew up in the central area in Hue. So I speak with the central dialect. Which is really funny because whenever I hear people speak with the northern dialect, I'm like, "Huh? What are you talking about?" It's really funny how a dialect can change depending on the region that you are in. My parents are from the central area. My dad came over in the late seventies, and then my mom came over in the eighties. So, they settled in California, I was born there, and then we moved to Hawaii.
ZM: Thank you for sharing that. I realized I wanted to ask you that earlier. In closing, is there anything we haven't talked about that you'd like to discuss?
ST: I'm trying to think back to our question ab out where do I see the trajectory of Portland. I came back from Los Angeles and San Jose, and I got to go to the Koreatown there and the Little Saigon and I was like, "Oh, this is incredible!" I came back to Portland and went, "Why don't we have this here?" Because going into Old Town Chinatown is very different than going into Chinatown and Ktown in Los Angeles, and I think, "Why can't we have that here?" But I will say that I went to a meeting of other BIPOC people who were very interested in restoring Old Town and Chinatown. Coming up with ways to really restore Old Town to what it used to be. All I know of Old Town is what it is now. But from what I've heard and read, it used to be a much more vibrant place. So just knowing that there are people in the community who care, and want to revive this really historic part of the community is really wonderful. And hopefully something will get done. But at the same time, I think people are becoming more aware of the BIPOC community and the AAPI community as a whole. I feel like our voices are getting more amplified, it's a slow process, I don't think it's going to change overnight. But I do think progress is being made. However slowly, at least it is getting made. Again, it’s a slow process. Do you remember the incident that happened on the Eastbank Esplanade a couple of months ago? Where a white attacker attacked an Asian family?
ZM: Yes, I do remember.
ST: I remember thinking, "Wow. I wish more coverage of this would be taking place because this wasn't the first time this guy has attacked an Asian person." Like I said, the process is slow. But I do get the sense that at least progress is being made. Maybe this me being a super, super, super optimist, and maybe I don't actually have my finger really on the pulse of what is really happening in Portland. But, I can't think too negatively about it, it's not good mentally. You try to look for the best, and that is what I am trying to do. I do think the Vietnamese community out here is very tight knit and very close. I can go to the Vietnamese bánh mì cafe up the road and speak to them in Vietnamese, and it's a very tight knit group and it’s very loving. They want to talk. I love the fact that I can go there and just have a conversation. It definitely makes me feel like, "OK, I'm at home.” I do feel like I belong in this community.
ZM: That's great. Is there anything else that you want to share before we wrap up?
ST: No, I think we hit everything, right? Was there anything else that we may have talked about?
ZM: Well, if you think of something, we can also meet up again.
ST: I think this was good. I really appreciate what you're doing and just sharing our stories and having a catalog of our stories. Hopefully I didn't ramble too much and hopefully I made some sense.
ZM: This has been great! I think we have some similar goals: uplifting AAPI voices and creating space for others is really important. That is a priority for this project.
ST: I think, "How do I tell stories about the AAPI community without harming other communities of color as well?" That is also a challenge when it comes to reporting and when it comes to being a journalist. You want to get to the truth obviously, and tell the story as truthfully as possible. But you also want to do it fairly. You don't want to attack someone just because. It's a challenge, but I'm learning, so we'll see how it goes.
ZM: I'll wrap us up and stop the recording—if we have any last questions we can talk about that. Thank you so much! This has been Zoë Maughan speaking with Steven Tonthat via Zoom, on September 15, 2022. Thanks!
ST: Thank you very much.