Refugee's Memories
Friday, April 29, 2005    Interviews by Audrey Pham. Photos by Benjamin Vu

Posted by


chu Alex


From right to left: Đnh Nguyễn, Khoa Đồng, and Ti L with their friend Huy Nguyen, a 17 year-old student from Westminster, Calif.


Hầu Phan


Cường Trần delivering phở to a hungry table of customers.


Kim Đỗ hard at work in her dry cleaning business named after her husband and children's first initials.


Tuấn Nguyễn and family ride a stone horse.


Tố An Nguyễn

The watershed day of the fall of Si Gn nears, and people are sharing what they think.

Of their escapes from their country. Of their longing for their homeland. Of the long journey they took to a new life. And of their struggles to adapt to this life.

Nguoi Viet 2 today brings you their remembrances, some emotional tales they told us while hanging out in the Little Saigon business district in Westminster, Calif.

- ch Alex, 66, Rialto, Calif.

In 1960, I went to the U.S. to study flying because I was a member of the Air Force. Then in 1974, I came back to Việt Nam. I was still in Si Gn in 75 and can remember that day, June 26. Because I am a French citizen, I went to the French Consulate to get permission and papers to leave. That was the year my family and I fled to France... Then we went to America and our family grew. I strongly believe in preserving our Vietnamese heritage. I tell my beautiful children, who are grown up and extremely successful, You can never deny the fact that you are Vietnamese. It doesnt matter what you think about the war, government or politics; if you eat nước mắm, you are Vietnamese. I teach them to be proud of themselves.

- Ti L, 16, student, Garden Grove, Calif.

I came over a year ago. I like it so far, although at home, we got April 30th off of school... Kids here are a lot different; theyre very spoiled and act arrogant. Theyre not too friendly.

- Khoa Đồng, 16, student, Westminster, Calif.

Ive been living here for three years. I think life in Việt Nam was better. Its so boring here, and it gets kind of lonely. In Việt Nam, I saw all my friends everyday. Here, we basically only see each other in school. High school is so easy, and we dont have to wear uniforms.

- Đnh Nguyễn, 16, student, Westminster, Calif.

Ive been here for four years. Its kind of hard making friends with the Vietnamese American kids. They dont want to talk to us, and they have their noses in the air.

- Hầu Phan, 50,
Westminster, Calif.

I left for Si Gn in 1975. I fled without my husband. He was in the sĩ quan, military. That trip to Si Gn with my sister was the worst. Here I was, a newlywed 19 year-old, driving a motorcycle with a tire so flat my knees grazed the road. My o di was completely black from the dirt and smoke, and my long hair was burnt at the tips. I dont even know how I got to Si Gn alive. My sister and I almost got killed so many times. I was so scared to the point that I didnt even know my own name. Then I came here in 1994, with Humanitarian Operation 16, because I was the wife of a former prisoner of war without legal counsel. I came with absolutely nothing, so I learned how to sew and then I cried and I cried everyday. My husband ended up in a re-education camp for eight years. Five years after he came here, he passed away. He had stress stress of the mind. The memories and experiences of the war just killed him. I dont mind telling my children about the war. I always tell them the stories of how I couldnt sleep because there were so many bombs going off in the air.

- Cường Trần, 22,
Westminster, Calif.

Việt Nam is more fun than the U.S. It was more relaxing there, more freedom. Im going to have to wait one year for my legal residency before I can start going to school, but Ive been taking ESL classes for two months. Back at home, we were taught in class that America is dominant, in a bad way, like imperialistic. I can see that the American-born [Vietnamese] kids here are more materialistic. I really cant tell how life here is now because its always hard for newcomers in the beginning.

- Kim Đỗ, 50s,
Westminster, Calif.

My family and I came here 12 years ago. My husband had been in (re-education camps) for 11 years. Im so thankful we got the kids over here in time to start college. Theyre in their 30s now and both are getting their masters degrees in engineering. We had so much luck. When we were applying to come here for the kids education, they got rejected. But then almost right away we were able to go with Humanitarian Operation 18. It was a miracle.

- Tuấn Nguyễn with his two daughters, 35, Seattle,Washington

I dont really remember much. I was about 10 years old, so everything is blurred. My family left Si Gn for Nha Trang after Si Gn was occupied in 1975. My family and I came here to the states in 1985. The first group in my family came in 1980. We dont really talk about it. Its not that my parents are reluctant to talk, but we just never happen to bring it up.

- Tố An Nguyễn, 32, Westminster, Calif.

I came to the U.S. in 83, when I was 10. I have absolutely no memories of Việt Nam, nor do I have any interest of going back. Ive been here too long; Im too Americanized. This is my home. Maybe one day in the future Ill go back just to see how it is. We still have some extended family over there. Since my days in California in 1986, I have seen business here grow a lot, especially ph restaurants and cafes. Theres more competition for our family-run phở restaurant.