Azen Jaffe: Hello my name is Azen Jaffe and I am here with EJ Carter and Phil Duong. It is June 5, 2019, and we are at Watzek library. Thank you for being here with us. Could you start by giving us just a brief overview of your life here in Portland?
Phil Duong: Sure, I am forty-four years old and I live in Lake Oswego. I live there with my wife, Jessica, and she is also a Lewis and Clark graduate of 1996 which is the same year that I graduated. We have two children, one is eleven and the other one will be nine next week. A boy and a girl, the oldest is the girl and the son is the youngest.
AJ: When did you move to Portland?
PD: My family and I moved to Portland I believe in ‘79 or ‘80. I was really young at that time. We moved from Hawaii. So let’s actually go back all the way to how we left Vietnam, because that will then get to Portland. We left Vietnam during the Vietnam War, in fact, we left one or two days prior to the Fall of Saigon. It was during the mass evacuations. We weren't the helicopter evacuees, because my mom was able to get to an airport. The reason why we were able to leave was because my father was in the Vietnamese Civil Engineering Core. Somebody helped him avoid the infantry unit, and got him into the Civil Core Engineer unit because he was an architect by training. That then gave him the opportunity to go to the East-West Center in Hawaii He just had the opportunity to take some exchange course that the military and the government was doing. Because they didn't know when the fall was going to happen. So he happened to be in Hawaii at the time. That then gave my mom, my brother, and I -- I was six months old and my brother was two -- that gave us the credentials we needed to be a dependent. I don't know what the exact term is. Somebody who was associated with the South Vietnamese government, the US military, or the US government who then became a risk if they stayed. So that gave them an easier way for my mom to ask to get out. So we did that, they flew us to Wake Island where we were processed. Then we ended up in Hawaii. We had a sponsor, her name is Mary Lee. She is still alive and I am friends with her on Facebook. My mom stays in contact with her. We lived in their two-bedroom apartment for about three to four months. At some point, we had enough money, and my father was able to get a job as a security guard. He did speak the language, but the credentialing for architects doesn't go international even today. So if you were a French-trained Architect you can't practice here, you have to go through the process again, so he had that problem. Anyways, they started to build a new life in Hawaii. We were granted refugee status.
We ended up leaving Hawaii because one it is really expensive, it is just hard to start from the bottom and try to work your way up in a tourist environment to begin with. I think there was also -- this theme will come back later on, and don't know how strong it is, my parents have talked about it, probably in a joking manner -- they didn't want us to pick up the local accent, the haole accent. So we moved to Portland. I think I asked my parents why we moved to Portland instead of California. Because most of the refugees were going to California instead of Portland. I don't actually remember why. When you are a refugee you go through the refugee resettlement program you are placed in the country that will take you. We were given the option of either going to the United States or going to France. France would have been really good because my parents both speak French, culturally France would have been a little bit easier language-wise. If I remember correctly we didn't go to France because of the economic turmoil at that time. The United States seemed like a much more stable place than France or Europe at the time. So that is just an interesting quirk in your fortunes, you never know where you go.
Anyways we left Hawaii -- we lived in Honolulu -- and the first apartment we moved to was on 33rd and Killingsworth. There was a little apartment right across, it is really close to the New Seasons. In fact, those brick apartments are still there. I don't really know how long we were there. Then we moved to a house on 31st and Alberta or Killingsworth. It was just a couple of blocks away. Then we lived there for a long time, and I went to Meek Elementary School. Which closed down a couple of years ago, actually wait it's probably now ten years ago. We walked to school and we were just normal little kids. Sometime in the third grade, we did the urban flight to Vancouver. There was a lot of gang violence at the time, there was a rise in gang violence in Northeast Portland. My mom became an accountant, she got a bachelor's degree. My father got a bachelors and an MBA, and he was working in telecommunication engineering. He switched careers, he decided that architecture was too much of a boom or boost and it still is. He just didn't want that kind of instability, as we were building a new life here. So at that time, he was working for a Telecom company. We were doing well and so we moved to Vancouver. We moved to Cascade Park out by I-205, which is just east of I-205. At that time it was this brand new suburban neighborhood, and the Evergreen school district was flushed with money. It was quite nice, it was a brand new high school and a brand new community. It is just that classic, we are just going to go to the suburbs where the schools are better, the amenities are better, and taxes probably factored into it as it always does. That is where I went to high school and middle school. I had most of my formative years there.
AJ: Great, thank you. So as you were growing up in Portland did you feel connected to any sort of Vietnamese community? Were you and your parents involved with that?
PD: The interesting thing is; no. I think that was because of my father. I don't think my father had much interest in being highly integrated with the Vietnamese community. For one we moved to Portland instead of California. We weren't very in touch with them, other than religious gatherings. There wasn't a large Vietnamese community here at that time. Part of it was, they taught us to speak Vietnamese so I know Vietnamese. Meaning I know when my mom speaks to me in Vietnamese. I don't speak it myself and that was a deliberate decision that they made. They would not speak English to us in the household after we went to school. So I went into school, and I think I was in ESL until second grade. Then after that, I wasn't in ESL. So I didn't learn Vietnamese and that actually influenced how I interact with Americans. I would also include how I interact or am perceived by the Vietnamese community. Because I don't speak the language I am looked at as an outsider, as an other.
E.J. Carter: So you spoke it until five, and then you sort of lost it?
PD: Yes. I mean I know when my mom tells me to go clean up my room, to go set up the table, or if she is angry at me. But, I don't understand conversational Vietnamese. The interesting thing is, for the most part, I don't have to translate it in my mind. I don't have to translate the words into English. I know exactly what they mean. But I don't have the grammar, and I can't speak it myself because I don't have the right accent. So when I speak it, I speak it like an American would speak it. My older brother is the same way, his Vietnamese skills are bigger than mine because he is two years older than me. He also went to PSU which had a much larger Asian community. He also found himself shunned by other Vietnamese groups. We were looked at as outsiders, not trusted as much. I think that is not as much of the case now, because now you have second generations that are almost completely Americanized and enculturated. I think we were very odd because we were first generation, but we were acting like the second generation. Even a lot of our choices in life were decisions that a second generation would do. For instance, I went to Lewis and Clark and I got a theater degree. I didn't go the science route, I went the liberal arts route. That caused a lot of friction both in the family and I don't know if it caused friction in the community. But it definitely caused a disassociation from the community.
AJ: Was it important to your parents that they passed down any sort of tradition or culture? Also just to clarify, you did or did not speak English after you started school in the house?
PD: We did speak English inside the house. Both my mom and my father had college degrees prior to the war, and both spoke English and French. I have heard it many many times was that they understood as an immigrant, was that one you are starting over again from the bottom. They firmly believed that the common language was the path to prosperity in the new land, in addition to education. So you can have an education but if you didn't have the language then your lack of language would limit you. You can actually see that in a lot of the sciences. So a lot of immigrants go into the sciences or engineering, and there is a really good reason for that. There is less of a reliance on language skills in order to be good at those jobs. But the problem is you are still limited because at some point your advancement into management or advancement above a certain level becomes dependent on your language skills. As good as you are as an engineer or a scientist you will still hit that barrier. I think that is really what they wanted. They feared that we would have an accent if they spoke Vietnamese to us at home. We all know now that that is not going to be the case. We have lots of examples of second generations who are bilingual, and speak perfect English and speak the native tongue. I don't think my parents had access to that data. I don't think America itself was attuned to that or had that much exposure to Non-European languages or immigrants that were kind of enculturating the United States. So I think it was a very big fear. They took a gamble. They made a calculation, and in hindsight they didn't have to do it but that is what they did.
AJ: You mentioned that you took part in religious organizations here?
PD: Yeah. Well, very superficially, I would call myself Buddhist, similar to how a lot of Jews will call themselves culturally Jewish as opposed to religiously Jewish. So there are certain things in the Vietnamese culture that are religiously based. For instance, worshipping your ancestors on New Years -- just very basic things like that. Those are the things I remember us participating in is just New Years celebrations and worshipping ancestors. But from an organized church standpoint no, we weren't really involved. I was always told -- and I haven't really figured it out for myself because I am not overly religious right now. I have heard this, but I haven't proven it or I haven't explored it for myself, but Buddhism is a religion that is really more practiced actively by older people. It's not really a religion that needs to be practiced by the young. There are a lot of cultural and a lot of morals that are passed down, but they are not religious things you have to do. Except for respect for adults, elders, teachers, and things like that. We weren't very religiously connected, so we didn't have that. We didn't have a lot of Vietnamese friends. We had a couple of relatives, very few relatives. But we primarily just kind of kept to ourselves.
EC: Were there other Vietnamese kids in your elementary school or families in your neighborhood?
PD: I think there was only one other. Then when we moved to Vancouver there was one other in Vancouver. Yeah there wasn't a lot. It is interesting because I don't know where they were in Portland. I know they were here, but they were not in our neighborhood. I know eventually, they started to cluster on 82nd and they started to cluster in Beaverton. Back in the early eighties, I don't know where they were. I mean I was really young.
EC: Was Halsey Square an area you were familiar with or was that a little bit further out?
PD: I think it was a little further out yeah. The name sounds familiar. Especially when we moved to Vancouver, it was very white. I think that was also part of my parent's plan. Not only was it moving to a more affluent area with more resources and better education, but I think it was also to enculturation us much more strongly into American culture. I look at my experience at Lewis and Clark as being very similar to my cultural experience in Vancouver in the suburbs. Lewis and Clark at that time -- I don't know what the demographics are right now -- was very typical Portland at least it is very white, it's very homogeneous. There were a lot of foreign exchange students, but not a lot of American minorities in the school. I've stayed in Oregon most of my life so in a way my parents succeed in terms of enculturation. So I move around different legal and technology circles, and it doesn't occur to me that I am a minority. I don't act like I am a minority I don't present myself as one, unless there is an issue. Dating is the same thing, it doesn't really cross my mind. Now that I am older and as I started to grow up, I know my mom started to regret that decision. Because it created a gap between my experience and her experience, and her expectations of me as a son and my interactions with relatives that came after us, who are much more first generation than we were. Because they grew up Vietnam and they were able to come over through sponsorships in the early nineties. So I am very different from them. Even though we are pretty close to the same age. I am talking a lot about my mom because my father died in ‘96. He was in Saudi Arabia at the time working for Lucent Technology which was a division of AT&T. They were building infrastructure for Saudi Arabia's telecommunication system. He had a heart attack while he was over there, and he died.
I don't know a lot of these questions, because I think a lot of the decisions that were made, were made by my father. In terms of how we were going to be raised, and what we were going to do. It was only until after my father passed that I realized that those did not align with my mom. Because once my father was gone, my mom -- I think -- was free to revert back to what she really wanted to be. Which was to be very close to the Vietnamese community. She moved to San Jose, she remarried, and she probably spends most of her day speaking in Vietnamese now and being very attuned with the Vietnamese culture. Which is the very antithesis to us. When I say us I mean my older and younger brother. We are all very similar, we are all American. All of us have married American women. None of us married Vietnamese women. The funny thing is they don't teach boys how to cook. They just assume you are going to marry a Vietnamese woman, and that is how you are going to continue on with food. That never happened, so I have actually had to teach myself how to cook Vietnamese.
EC: So did your parents get these extra degrees while they were working?
EC: How did they speak about the time when they were first in the United States and then Portland? How do they talk about that time?
PD: You know they don't, they haven't. In fact, I am at this point now where, and as my mom has gotten older, I have asked her to rely stories. Like, tell us the story about leaving Vietnam. What was that like on that day? Just tell us things. That is just not something they talked about. I think that is fairly typical of a lot of refugees and soldiers. It is just something they won't go into. I get bits and pieces of it, yeah not very much.
EC: How did you decide to come to Lewis and Clark?
PD: Well it was a couple of things. One was that we grew up in Vancouver and then my dad got a job with Alascom the telecommunication company, which was bought by Lucent Technology -- which is how he ended up in Sadi Arabia. But at the time my father was living in Alaska, and the family was going to move to Alaska. So in my senior year, I decided that I was going to apply to colleges in the Northwest. I didn't really have that much interest in going anywhere else. Ultimately it came down to the fact that I got into three schools, one was Pacific, Lewis and Clark, and Western Washington. Ultimately, I went to Lewis and Clark because it was a private school and the amount of money they gave me would have been the same output as if I had gone to Western Washington. I didn't want to go to Pacific because I knew I was more liberal than conservative, and Pacific is a religious school. Also, I think it was because my family was leaving Portland. They were leaving my home, and I didn't have a home to go to. I think there was probably a part of me that was like I want to stay here because I need that stability. So I came here.
AJ: You studied theater?
PD: Yes my original intention was to get a poli-sci degree. Then I went through the course handbook and I marked all the classes that I wanted to take. It just happened that when I did the math I thought I might as well get a theater degree too. I came close to getting the poli-sci degree, and I could have minored if I had taken quantitative research. I could have majored if I took an extra term. But I got drawn to theatre because when I was a kid in sixth grade I did a book report and I couldn't do it. I just had terrible stage fright, and I ran from the front of the room. So in middle school, I took a theater class. I think I took it because my friend was taking it, and I kind of liked it. So this goes back to that language part, and it connects all the way out to law. So I started theater and I got interested in the newspaper. I was in newspapers from middle school all the way to Lewis and Clark. I actually ran the Pio Log here. So there's that language part. I was writing a lot, I was doing theater, and getting more confident and learning. I think psychologically I enjoyed taking on different personas and doing that. In high school, I did speech and debate, and I loved speech and debate. That is where most of my friends are from, was from speech and debate team. I also did theater in high school. I did mock trial in high school and I really enjoyed that. By the time I got to college, I had this idea that I was interested in journalism, law, and theater. Everything that was only possible because of the language skill that I had accumulated at that time. Because of the decisions that my parents had made. But the interesting thing is, my mom didn't understand my choices. They had given me this opportunity to explore new things. Different things than traditional first generation children could do.But, literally we fought every week through college about my decision to go into poli-sci and theater. Then I think she was really disappointed when I only ended up getting a theater degree and getting out.
AJ: What would she have wanted?
PD: Oh she wanted me to go into science. I mean that is just the typical why don't you go into this. I was like because I would be an awful scientist. Actually, I would have been a good scientist. I didn't realize until I got here that I had dyslexia, which was impacting my math skills. Basically, I wasn't good at math not because I didn't understand the concept, it was because I couldn't do basic arithmetic. So now that I look back at it, I actually could have gone into science, because I understood theory. Anyways, I graduated from college and I became a graphic designer. While I was in the newspaper I taught myself desktop publisher. That was the advent of moving away from wax and exacto blades, and moving towards desktop publishing. I was always interested in computers. Desktop publishing turned into graphic design. I did graphic design at the theater, so I was doing theater posters and I was doing that a lot. Then when I got out, my dad had just died and I was burnt out. I didn't want to go to law school immediately so I became a graphic designer. I did that for six years in Portland and Seattle. At that point, I decided I had also gotten over the depression from my father dying. I met Jess who was a graduate of Lewis and Clark. I knew her while I was here, we went to London together on the abroad program. We didn't date until after college, and she helped me through my depression. I was at this point in my life where I was like okay I want to be a graphic designer. I am a self-taught graphic designer, but if I want to go on I want to go to school. I want to actually get an education. So once again I was at that junction. I was like well I have always wanted to go to law school so I should just go do that.
So I went to law school in my late twenties. I just completely changed my path, and did that. I immediately got into criminal law and loved it. I loved trial work, which then goes back to the theater. I joke about that because a lot of people say well, of course, your an actor. No, it's not acting when you are on trial its storytelling. There is a difference. Because flamboyant attorneys get laughed at and they piss off the judge. But good storytellers, that is different. That is what theater taught me. I really enjoyed it I had an acumen for trial work. Then I went to Bend and was a prosecutor down there for four years, and really loved it, excelled at it. Unfortunately I lost my career because the DA who had hired me was voted out of office. The new DA came in and wiped a lot of deputies out. Unfortunately, that was during the recession. So there were no positions for me to go to. I just couldn't get another job. Because I was always technological attuned to things I was able to just get a job at a technology company that was building a product for law firms. I did that and went through a lot of different roles at a startup. I have been there for about eight and a half years. Built an AI product about three years ago. I didn't build it, I don’t know nothing about data science. But I was a project director for it. So I worked with the data scientist. We came up with a concept, we came up with the solution. we built the product, we validated the data, and we took it to market. Then our company got bought by a New York company, because of what we built. That is where I am at now. So now I am a crossroads. Like what do I do now? Do I go back into law? Do I keep going into technology? I am not going back into the theater or graphic design.
AJ: What was the product?
PD: The product is called Manzama and it is a current awareness tool. Basically, it monitors and it brings in a very specific subset of news. So basically business news. Law firms need business news because they need to know what their clients are doing. If they know what their clients are doing they can advise them what the legal risk are proactively. So that these law firms can get more business. What our AI product does is we don't just deliver them the news we actually pre-process and analyze the news before we give it to them. We quantify it in a way that it gives them metrics. So instead of getting individual articles, you get a health metric that says there is negative executive news or events happening in this company. If you care about it great, here is the underlying event. If you don't care about it then we will never show you that headline, and you can move on. So it is just a different way of processing data.
EJ: So it measures the appearance of certain kinds of words and determines if they are positive or negative from that?
PD: Yeah it is a natural language processing system. So it determines the subject, which is the company, then it determines the subject matter, which is litigation, executive movements, and cybersecurity. Then it determines valance which is different then sentiments. Sentiments are the opinion of the author as opposed to the effect on the subject. So we determine valance. So if you have ten thousand articles and five thousand of them are about executive movements and two thousand of them are negative and three thousand of them are positive. Then you would have a health score based on a plus ten to minus ten scale. That is basically all it is. We are basically quantifying unstructured data. We are structuring unstructured data, quantifying it, and then calculating the health scores. The future is because we have organized all of it and we have quantified it we can then start doing pattern matching. Once you do pattern matching then you can do predictive analytics. Which is based on the possibility of patterns and the emergence of patterns. Because we have eight years worth of data across thirty thousand companies.
AJ: Sounds complicated to me.`
PD: [Laughs] Yeah. You know I love this kind of stuff. I love big pictures and piecing together things. My wife is getting a Ph.D., and she is like can you make this for me. Just take something and quantify vast amounts of data that I have to look at.
AJ: So besides your wife you mention you have two kids. Do you have any other family in Portland?
PD: My older brother is in Portland. He lives on 34th and Fremont. He is an architect. I come from a family of architects, my uncle is an architect, my dad is an architect, my brother is an architect, and my cousins are architects. I have a younger brother, and I have not talked to him in over 14 years. He estranged himself from the family. I think it is because he is the youngest so he got tired of being bossed around and the family dynamics and not being able to change it. He just went off on his own. I don't know where he is now. I think he is alive, pretty sure he is.
EC: Is that usual in Vietnamese families?
PD: I think it is, yeah. It really saddens my mom. I am under the impression of, you know he is an adult. He can make his decision. I may not agree with it, but it is not my place to force the issue. Also, he doesn't talk to me so it doesn't really matter.
AJ: Your mom is in California?
PD: Yeah very traditional and it has caused trouble. Because one, I don't know what those traditions are. So it is interesting because as I have gotten older, and she has become more traditional, I don't fill those traditional roles. The nice thing is I am not the oldest so I don't have to fill a lot of those roles. A lot of those expectations fall to my older brother. It is funny because my wife does not follow those traditions at all. In the Vietnamese culture the spouses, especially the women, differ to the matriarchs of the family. Almost to the point where it's that old adage, “Where the king is staying it is the king's castle.” That is very similar to the matriarch in a Vietnamese family. When the matriarch in a Vietnamese family is at your house, it is their house, and you differ to them. We don't do that. We are a very typical American family. Where it is like you are a family unit, and it is your family unit that is sacred. Even in the face of grandparents, the grandparents are subservient in that relationship. So that is something that my wife has had to kind of assert, and I support her and she knows that. My mom also knows that.
EC: Was yours’ a family with a lot of debate or political arguments or discussions growing up? Did your interest in political science come from your family?
PD: I think it did, but in the opposite reason. Because there was no discussion about it. They didn't talk about it. They are of the opinion that expressing politics and religion will get you killed. I remember when I was younger -- in my twenties -- struggling with that. I am way past that now, and I just speak my political views and it doesn't matter. I remember being younger and being very uneasy, or at least knowing, that I was stepping outside of what I was taught. You don't talk about religion, politics, and money. So those are actually standard American values also. I think they have left American values much sooner. I think for my parents it is rooted in their life experience. Where your declaration of political officiation is a liability that could kill you. It is that serious. I sometimes wonder about that to. I mean part of the reason why I got fired from my DA was because I officiated myself publicly with the prior DA. So when that happened that lesson in life came roaring back. It was very devastating.
It was also very frightening that there was this potential instability in the reality that I thought America was. Ironically the election of Trump started bringing that back. I like to joke about it -- that Banana Republic kind of mentality. Let me give you an example of our platform, the AI platform we built, we have this area of business metrics that we call government. Politicians talking about companies, taxes, and then relegation. When we built this four years ago we trained the AI to recognize when a politician was talking about a company. The framework was, if a politician is talking about a company and is doing it in the positive, that is positive for the company. Because if it is negative -- they are talking smack about the company -- it is negative to the company. But we did that because in the press it was foreign governments that were doing that, it was the Middle East, Africa, South America, and China. We did that because we were surveying the news. We didn't know that we were building it and that it would then work as intended in the United States. To show the impact of how a mercurial politician can impact the fortunes of a company.
So a lot of that started to come back. I have started to wonder, is the United States a safe place? Is a civil war coming? Am I looking at some of the same kind of early decisions that my parents had to make as war was coming for them? You know my son is transgender. So I have to ask myself: if I get a job in another state do I move there? In the United States is it even safe for me to move there? These are existential questions which most people don't ask themselves these questions. I started to think a couple of years ago, Europe is starting to look a lot more stable than the United States. But then the rise of the right in Europe is starting. So it is like where is the best place? Honestly, I have gotten to this place where actually the Pacific Northwest is probably the best place. It is the most liberal, its probably safer. If anything is going to happen it will happen slower here, and Canada is not that far. I mean, I don't know, these are things that a refugee thinks about maybe? I don't know if typical Americans think about these kind of things. I mean you can tell I have actually thought through these things.
AJ: Do you think that Vietnamese heritage has much of a role in your children's lives? Is that something you are trying to pass down at all or that they think about?
PD: It is funny because they are more ahead of it than I am. We did the really annoying thing where we gave them my wife's last name and my last name, we didn't hyphenate it. My wife's last name is kind of a middle name, but she just puts it on so it Currier Duong. We also gave them a Vietnamese middle name. Kind of to mimic what happened to me. We became American citizens when I was six, so a five year period. After being a refugee we became official American citizens. Which is really scary that they are reviewing all of those applications right now. Anyways, we gave them middle names because my primary name Phong became my middle name. My full name -- at graduation they really hated it -- it is Philip Phong Hung Duy Duong. So Phillip is my American name. Phong is my Vietnamese name. Hung is my father's name. Duy, if I remember correctly, is the subset of the village name. So you have the village name which is Duong and then you add Duy which goes before. I think that is how that works. Also in the Vietnamese language, the last name goes first. I don't follow that, but nobody does in the United States. So my children, my oldest daughter said she wants to go by May Linh next year instead of Madeline. I was like really that is interesting? Part of me is like don't you want to assimilate? Don’t you want to fit in? It is interesting because she doesn't. You know and she is mixed and so is my son. I don't know it will be interesting how they navigate that.
EC: Were your parents more conservative in their political views than you are?
PD: Yes and I only know that now because my mom has come out as a Trump supporter. I am just baffled by it. I think they were always… well I don't know about my father. He passed. And when you're in college, [motions towards Azen] so you're graduating, I don't know if you have those types of adult conversations with your parents. I never had that opportunity. My father died right before I graduated from college. So I didn't really get to that point where he would treat me as a man. Because he was always treating me as a son. So I don't have that experience. My mom, on the other hand, I never had that experience. To get to your question they never talked about the war and they didn't talk about their experiences. They didn't talk about their position politically. I don't know if my parents are conservative, at least in the eighties and nineties I don't know how they voted. I do now about my mom and it surprises me a lot.
EC: Have you talked to her about Trump and what appeals to her?
PD: Yes. Ironically, it is immigration. She is very against illegal immigration. I can see that. I mean as a person who has stayed within the lanes and done all the things they were supposed to, I can see that argument. I think it is a little cruel. Yeah. And we don't talk about that. We try not to talk about it too much.
AJ: You said that while you were growing up your parents sort of tried to give you more opportunities to be more Americanized, and you can kind of seized upon that. But it also seems like it was a source of conflict. Would you agree?
PD: It was a source of conflict with my mom. I don't think it was a source of conflict for my father. I think that it was always a part of his plan. But it was a conflict for my mom. But again, I don't know because he was a very typical father in the sense that he didn't say very much. He fathered but he was not emotionally available to us, at least that I remember.
AJ: You also mentioned that growing up you did not feel very connected to the Vietnamese community here in Portland. Has that changed at all?
PD: No I have almost nothing to do with the Vietnamese community here. I have cousins here and I see them every once in a while. But I am not close to them. Yeah, no. I don't participate in Asian community events. I think a part of it is I don't even think of it as such. Yes I know I am Asian but it is not something that is at the front of my mind. It is not a part of my identity. It is part of my subconscious identity, but it is not a part of my outward identity. Yeah even Stephanie Arnold, who was the chair of the theater department here, she did a play called "12-1-A" which was a play about Japanese internment. She cast me in it. But my involvement in that kind of cultural touchpoint was very limited to that play. Same with another play that I did in Portland. I was cast as an Asian son but it was very limited to that and once that experience was done I had nothing else to do with the Asian community. I mean there was outreach associated with the play itself, but that is it. It just has never been a motivation of mine.
EC: Would you say individual identity or individualism is something you value more than community?
PD: Yes that is interesting culturally I have a lot of community ways of thinking. But that sense of community and obligation is limited to family. Even there I don't measure up. I am constantly reminded that I am not doing things that a typical son would do or be obligated to do, by my mom.
EC: You don't have any connection to the country of Vietnam? I assume you have relatives in Vietnam.
PD: I have relatives. Never been back. The ironic thing is that my wife, Jess, did a three-month internship in Vietnam for her master's degree. So she has actually spent more time since I left Vietnam than I have. I haven't been back yet. We want to go back and I want to do while my mom still can. Partially because I want to experience that with her. But also because I am terrified of going back to Vietnam as myself, by myself. Because it is almost the same experience I have in Portland where if I go to a Vietnamese event I am the outsider. Like I went to a retirement party of a person I know who is Vietnamese. It was at a Vietnamese banquet hall and everybody there was Vietnamese except for two people who I knew because I had worked with them before, so I spent all my time with them because they spoke English. I didn't know anybody else and nobody else would talk to me.
EC: Your mother hasn't been back to Vietnam either?
PD: She has. She can go back, but her husband can not. He is a political activist so he is not able to. It is interesting because that Vietnamese community is very much like the Cuban exile community. The elder generations are fiercely anti-government and the younger generations are like yeah get over it. They are rabid oh my gosh they are. [Nervously] My mom is going to hear this [laughs].
AJ: Well I think that is through the questions we had written. Is there anything else you wanted to ask EJ?
EC: I guess just quickly I am not sure you will have an answer to this since you practiced law in Bend. How would you describe the relationship between the law or legal institutions and the Vietnamese community or refugees, more generally? Do you have any insight into that?
PD: I don't in terms of structure, but I do in terms of influence. Part of the reason why I am where I am and have done the things I have done -- I have articulated this to my mom many times -- is someone has to do it. You have to be at the table in order to make change. That is how I felt about becoming a prosecutor. Even though I am much more liberally-minded and often times align with defense council ideals. I also have a very strong understanding and I want to work within a system. I am not a person who wants to fight from the outside. I would rather work within the inside. The problem is, in almost every endeavor as I have grown up, and this is a generational thing, I am the only one amongst my peers. Now that is changing now with the new generation as the second generation grows and there is more diversity in the workforce. That is what I tried to emphasize with my mom. Part of assimilation and enculturation is also that participation. Because once you are at the table, then you have the ability to make change. Hopefully not get yourself lost and become part of the cog. But you have to try. People have to try. So for me, that is my role. That is the contribution I am making to the community even if right now I don't have any direct or active participation in the community. I also look at my children as that too. They will continue that thread. They will make being Vietnamese, Asian, minority, or transgender make it normal and not a thing. But to get there you just have to participate. You have to be there.
AJ: Is there anything else that we haven't talked to you about that you would like to discuss or any other stories you would like to relate?
PD: Let's see, no not really. I think we have covered a lot and I have talked a lot. When I read your first draft of the questions I saw that a lot of it, the questions, had to do with the immigration and the community. I started to write an email back to you to say you know I am not really that close to the community for these reasons. Then I got the updated list and I was like okay this is adjusted enough so that I can. You can probably tell that even though it is not something that I am involved in, it is something that I think about. It weighs on me. I hear it from my parents and I hear it from people around me because they always ask. I take pride in my Americanization and I truly believe that it has given me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. Because I lived in the suburbs and because I went to Lewis and Clark, I learned how to navigate American white culture in a way that doesn't draw attention to myself when I navigate it. I don't know how common that is and I don't know if that is just unique to me. Is that just a second or first generation thing? I am curious about that, myself, because I feel alone in that kind of endeavor.
AJ: So I am going to end the interview by saying, I am Azen Jaffe with E.J. Carter and we are talking to Phil Duong. It is June 5, 2019. Thank you very much.
PD: Thank you that was really nice.