The interview takes place at Tigard Public Library. Kathy’s young son plays in the background with markers and toys. Occasionally he requires Kathy’s attention.
Azen Jaffe: Hello, my name is Azen Jaffe and it is June 10th. I am at the Tigard Public Library with Kathy Truong and her son Daniel. Thank you for being with us today. Could you start by giving us an overview of your life here in Portland?
Kathy Truong: Well we migrated here from Vietnam. Actually, we were sponsored by my dad's childhood friend back in 1979. So I grew up here in Portland. In North Portland in the St. Johns area for most of my life. I went to college here at the nursing school here in town. Then I got married and moved up to Seattle for a few years. I didn't like the life up there. It was too fast paced and busy. So we moved back here when I had my first child. I have just been here since. I am living and working as a nurse, and I am just busy right now.
AJ: Great you said your family left Vietnam in 1998...
KT: In ‘79.
AJ: ‘79, sorry. Why did you leave?
KT: I think my dad wanted a better life for us. Because, you know, way back then the United States was viewed as the place for opportunity. A place with a better life and better living.
AJ: How old were you at the time?
AJ: Okay, you said you were sponsored by...
KT: My dad's childhood friend. So he came to the States way back, I don't know when. I don't know how he got here. I guess way back then, to sponsor someone over here, there were much less restrictions than nowadays. So he was able to sponsor us. We were not even blood-related. I think nowadays you have to be blood-related.
AJ: He was in Portland, so is that why you guys came here?
AJ: Okay. Do you have any vivid early memories of Portland that you can remember?
KT: Well, we lived in the North Portland area. I just remember white people viewing us as different. I remember being called a chink when I was little. That is what stands out. Nowadays you know you can't do that. Well I mean people still do, but you know. So I think back then maybe us being here, like the Asian culture being here, was still kind of new.
AJ: It wasn't particularly welcoming?
KT: No not really. You know when we got here we were poor, dirt poor. But my dad was able to get a job, and we would shop at the Goodwill. We were on food stamps for a while.
AJ: Who else in your family did you move to Portland with?
KT: So my mom and my three siblings, so it was just us six.
AJ: Did you all go to Portland Public Schools?
KT: Yeah we went to public schools.
AJ: Did you know English before coming?
AJ: So did you learn it at the Portland Public Schools?
KT: Yeah I was in the ESL. I think it is different now, but it is English as a Second Language. So we would still be in the class but they would take us out to teach us more English.
AJ: How do your parents speak about that time when you first arrived?
KT: I think part of it was they were relieved to be in the States, versus back in Vietnam. Because it was post-war and you know it was a third world country, not so great. It is funny because we are full blood Chinese, but my parents were born in Vietnam. It is funny how there is still racial animosity between the same race, or I guess the same ethnicity. Like the Vietnamese people would be racist against the full blood Chinese born in Vietnam.
AJ: That, I guess, kind of leads into my next question. Which was, I was going to ask you if you felt connected to the Vietnamese community when you arrived?
KT: No, I don't think so. I don't remember, but I don't think so. The part of town we lived in, I don't remember seeing a lot of Asian people. There were more American people. Then again my parents were also -- you know of course -- they were scared. Because they were in a totally different world, and my parents didn't speak a lick of English. I mean, maybe my dad did, but probably just broken, very broken.
AJ: There was some racism from people in the Vietnamese community, you were saying, because of your Chinese heritage?
KT: Yeah back in Vietnam, but here it is different. I think here we tend to stand together, yeah because we are the minority.
AJ: I am sorry if you have already said but what did your dad, the job he got, what did he start doing?
KT: He worked at Siltronics, like an electronics company in the Northwest industrial area. It is German-based it is called Wacker Siltonric. They make these wafers for electronic stuff I guess.
AJ: Did your mom...
KT: My mom was going to school, and working in a Vietnamese restaurant.
AJ: Okay. What were some other challenges that your family faced when adjusting to life in the US?
KT: Well the language was definitely a barrier. Then, just learning the culture here is different. I don't think we ever had car seats back then. Because I was still young enough to require car seats and my two younger siblings definitely needed a car seat. But then you know we didn't have a car. So when we first came here we took public transportation.
AJ: Could the city or the schools have been more supportive?
KT: I think nowadays, compared to back then, there is more programs and help. But then I also don't really know. So I can't really compare. But I just know in school I was taken out of class to be taught English. Then going to a place where people speak a foreign language, I didn't know what they were saying. So that was scary.
AJ: How long did it take for you...
KT: I don't think it was long, because you know when you are young like that. Then all your peers speak the same language, you pick it up pretty quickly.
AJ: So you also attended college in Oregon. Where did you go to school?
KT: I went to the University of Portland, and then I transferred to the Walla Walla School for senior year.
AJ: What informed that decision to go to UP?
KT: Well my dad wanted me to go to school in town so that I could take care of Grandma.
AJ: Did you always want to study nursing?
KT: No [laughs.] My dad was going to med school when the Vietnam War started. So he is a very educated minded person. So everything is education first. So he instilled that in my siblings and I. He wanted us to follow in his would-have-been footsteps. So he wanted us to become doctors. I did start pre-med, but then my mom got sick. I was old enough to go to the hospital with my mom. I saw that nurses help the patient more than the doctors. So that is why I went into the nursing field.
AJ: Okay, do you currently participate in any community or religious organizations?
KT: So my husband is Catholic. I got baptized and so I am now Catholic. The St. Anthony Church, here off of 99th, that church is American, Hispanic, and Vietnamese. So through the church, I am more connected to the Vietnamese community. Because I think if I wasn't, then I don't think I would be so connected. I see myself as somewhat Americanized. But I still hold on to my cultural backgrounds and stuff.
AJ: Is it important for you to pass any of that down to your children?
KT: Yeah it is. My two older kids go to Vietnamese school. It is a part of their Sunday school. So they learn the religion and they learn Vietnamese. My oldest speaks someVietnamese, Daniel not so.
AJ: So they learn that in school? Do you speak Vietnamese in the household too?
KT: Yes I try to. But you know, I have been here almost forty years of my life already, so English just comes out so naturally. But I do try to speak Vietnamese with them, as much as I can.
AJ: While you were growing up was that important for your parents too? Was there a retention as you were learning English?
AJ: Did they want you to continue to speak Vietnamese?
KT: It is so funny because we are Chinese, but my parents speak Vietnamese to us. When my grandparents were still alive and living with us, we spoke our native Chinese dialect. That seems to have died and faded when they passed away. Then I went to a Chinese school in high school for a couple of years. I picked up some Chinese words here and there from watching Chinese movies, kung fu movies.
AJ: You mentioned that people called you racial slurs when you were growing up. Do you still feel racism or oppression today here in Portland?
KT: Yeah I do. I think that there always will be regardless of twenty years from now, or when he [motions to Daniel] is an adult living his life. There will always be racism in different degrees.
AJ: Do you think that the Vietnamese community today is different than what it was like when you were growing up?
KT: I think so. I think that people outside our culture, they seem to embrace it a little bit more. Because people now, even before food, they seem to like our food a lot more. You know like the beef noodle soup. When I was growing up I would walk into a Vietnamese restaurant and you would see ninety-five percent Vietnamese or Asian ethnicities. But nowadays you walk in and you might see half and half.
AJ: So another question is what social and economic issues do you think are most significant in the Vietnamese community? But I know that you also said that you don't feel too connected. Mostly through the church right?
AJ: Are there any issues that generally come up in these circles?
KT: What do you mean by that?
AJ: Are there things that people would like changed?
KT: Oh I don't think so. I know the Vietnamese people that are a part of my church group, the ones that have come here when they are older seem to keep the culture and enforce it on their children more. Then for someone like me who has been here for most of my life. So in some ways, I feel that I more Americanized than the ones that have come here much later in their life. But, I try to make sure that my kids don't forget where they came from. Even though we live in America and this is the America we live in. There is also our culture and I think it makes them a more well-balanced person if they intertwine both cultures.
AJ: Do they excel at that? Do they like doing that?
KT: Yeah, okay. We don't just eat like Vietnamese food. I try to introduce my kids to like different types of culture, and they seem to embrace it. Like they are just wow, like this is good or this was fun.
[Daniel interrupts the interview temporarily]
AJ: Have you been back to Vietnam?
KT: No, no. My husband has but I have not.
[Daniel interrupts the interview temporarily]
AJ: I remember that I did want to ask. You said you moved up to Seattle for a period. Why did you move there?
KT: For my husbands business.
AJ: What business is that?
KT: He and a friend work for this company to find workers. Like a temp agency.
AJ: You didn't like it as much in Seattle?
KT: No it is too fast paced.
AJ: Is Portland more your speed?
AJ: Okay. Well, I certainly rushed through this.
AJ: Is there anything else you think we should cover? Anything else we should talk about?
KT: So what is the project really? Is it just to talk about the Vietnamese community then versus now?
AJ: Yeah basically we are interviewing as many people of Vietnamese descent that we can. Like a diverse range with the older generation and younger, not depending on when they arrived. We are putting that into an archive database so that their history, stories, records, and experiences can be preserved. This can be used both in the form of research, but also a place to collect that. Because Portland has a diverse history, but it is not really written about as much. The narrative history of Portland is generally pretty homogeneous. The focus is not so much on people of color, but on the white history. Our archives, the college archives specifically, when you look at it, it is a lot of like Lewis and Clark, the explorers, the colonialists.
KT: Oh I see. Oh is that the college?
AJ: Lewis & Clark college, yeah.
AJ: So that is what we are trying to do. By speaking to people and hearing their stories.
KT: Growing up, like any cultural event like the Chinese New Years or the Moon Festival stuff like that, I feel like my parents were more into it than I am now. I think maybe because I am just -- it is not because I am more Americanized -- but I think it is because I don't have time in my life. Because, with the Chinese New Year, there is preparation that goes into it. But I do see some of my friends get more into it. They will have their children wear the traditional Vietnamese áo dài. Then the flower that goes with the New Years and stuff like that. Whereas for me, I just hand out the money. But back when I was growing up, my mom would like do spring cleaning because the New Year starts with everything clean. On the first day of New Year there is no sweeping, because that sweeps away the luck. There is no cutting because you are cutting the luck and whatnot. But nowadays -- for me -- I just don't remember any of it. I don't think of that. That is one of the big differences
[Daniel speaks up]
AJ: Would you say that it is similar for your siblings?
KT: No I think they are a little bit more into it then I am. Maybe because I am the breadwinner of the family. Half the time I just don't have time. I am just tired.
AJ: Did they all also go to school and college here in Portland?
KT: Yeah. It was important to my dad that each one of us had a degree. I think that is one thing though that I do instill in my children, is to do good in school.
KT: Yeah so both of my two older kids, they do extremely well in school.
AJ: What are your children's ages?
KT: My oldest is fourteen and my daughter is eleven.
AJ: Okay well before we close is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
KT: No I think that is pretty much it for me.
AJ: I think we worked through them...
KT: Pretty quickly [laughs]
AJ: Yeah I am sorry.
KT: It is alright. I just hope I gave sufficient answers for you. Because I don't want to waste your time driving out here.
AJ: No, it is great I really appreciated it. Again I am Azen Jaffe speaking with Kathy Truong on June 10. Thanks so much.