Azen Jaffe: Hello, my name is Azen Jaffe. I am here with E.J. Carter. We are in Beaverton, Oregon, and I am speaking with Chi Jones. Thank you for being with us. Could you start by just introducing yourself and maybe telling me a little bit about yourself?
Chi Jones: OK, yeah. My name is Chi Jones, fifty-nine years old, I guess [laughs]. I have lived in Portland for the last twenty-five years. I am originally from Chicago. I immigrated from Vietnam back in 1970 when I was ten, and lived in the Illinois area until 1995. Then I moved here to Portland and lived here ever since.
AJ: You said you immigrated in 1970?
AJ: Why did you move to Chicago?
CJ: My mother married an American G.I. and we came over and we adopted the name “Jones.” Back then it was because of the war, you could get drafted, so if you had boys you would do as much as possible to get out of the country and come over here.
E.J. Carter: Where did your parents meet?
CJ: My parents met—my mother is originally from the North, and she immigrated in ‘54 when the Indo-French War [First Indochina War] ended, so she immigrated to the south and she met him in south Vietnam where he was stationed in, I think, Long Binh base back in South Vietnam.
EC: Is that near the coast?
CJ: No, it is near Saigon.
CJ: Yeah. Saigon, which is now called Ho Chi Minh City.
EC: And what kind of work did she or her family do?
CJ: My mother back then? Various types. She ran a bar one time. You just do whatever you do, there is no such thing as corporate work, you know? You sell stuff, street vending, you open a business. So I think she had a bar at one time. I do not remember what all else she did [laughs].
AJ: What was it like moving to Chicago at ten years old?
CJ: So, I did not—when [I was] ten, I came over to Springfield, Illinois, first. So we went there and when we took the plane over here that was our first plane we had ever taken, you know, because I came from a small village, where we lived. So our first plane flight was on a Pan Am. We went over the Philippines, Hawaii, San Francisco, and then to St. Louis and then drove up to Springfield. So, I lived there for a while and then I went to the university there in Champaign-Urbana [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]. Then I moved to Chicago afterwards.
EC: Oh, I see. Did you have any siblings? Or was it just your mother and…
CJ: There are three of us.
EC: Three of you.
CJ: So I have a brother who is one year older and a sister who is three years younger.
AJ: And did you all speak any English?
AJ: Did your mom?
CJ: My mom did a little bit. I actually took night classes in Vietnam, took some English classes. So I knew some, but not very much.
EC: So how did you find living in Illinois? Was it hard to adjust?
CJ: No. The community back then was very interesting, it was very friendly. It is so different from what it is now. Everything is safe, you are out on the street, you make a lot of friends. The community was very receptive to us. Remember, back in ’70, the Midwest, there were absolutely no Asians, and the community was very receptive to us. I remember Halloween, thousands of kids out on the street [laughs], it is packed. You come home with a grocery bag of candy. You did not worry about people poisoning candy and you [did not] worry about kids getting kidnapped and all that stuff. It was so different back then [compared] to now. And this is no computers, you spend all day outside.
EC: What part of Chicago were you in?
CJ: When we moved to Chicago, we stayed in the suburb, [the] northwest suburb. Mostly the whole time because I worked for a company after I graduated, worked for a company called Teradyne out in Deerfield, Illinois. So we stayed there for a while and worked with another company before we got bought out by a company here in Portland. We moved our whole family out.
EC: But there were no other Asian children around when you were growing up and going to middle school or high school?
CJ: None. The closest was a Japanese girl I liked, and she was half Japanese [laughs]. That was it. Until ‘75 when Vietnamese refugees came over and our family sponsored almost five families.
EC: Oh, really.
AJ: Most of the people we have spoken to arrived in the United States after 1975. I think you are the first person we talked to that [came] before. Do you remember that time well? When…
CJ: In Vietnam?
AJ: In sponsoring families.
CJ: Oh yeah, I was very active in it. So, when the families start coming over, the Lutheran Church would contact us. They would need interpreters. And at that time, I kept my language because I had to write letters for my mom all the time. She dictated them and I transcribed them, so that is how I kept the language. Besides the two Vietnamese cassette tapes that we had, I listened to the same music over and over. So anyway, I can translate. I would spend a lot of time at airports welcoming families. Then at that time, our family, we also started sponsoring families just from people that kind of knew us. One guy, he was a student, a foreign student on a foreign scholarship, years before the war ended he was here and he knew us, so when he escaped he told a family that he knew us in Illinois so they contacted us, so we sponsored them.
EC: They would stay with you? They would live in your house for a while?
CJ: Yeah, so sponsor means that they would live with us, initially, until they could get an apartment, so that the church can set them up. So, typically, the family would come over and would stay with us, and then the church would find housing for them and all that stuff. So, typically, four or five months later, they would move out and then the next family came in. So from ‘75 to ‘81 every summer we had a family or two living with us.
EC: Did you tell us that your grandparents played a big role in your life? Is that right?
CJ: Yeah, so my American grandparents when we came over here, so Vivian Jones and Chester Jones. They actually, even before we came over, they were sending us Christmas presents from the Sears catalog. We used to go through the Sears catalog when we were over there, tell [them] what we wanted and they would send it over. Yeah, we came over here and they were very receptive to us. They wanted to introduce us to everything in America, like our first department store, Zayre. You ever heard of Zayre?
EC: Oh yeah [laughs].
CJ: How do you know about it?
EC: I am from Illinois as well.
CJ: Oh, OK [laughs]! So Zayre and Woolworth, you know. Woolworth was my favorite for the kids back then. We would read comic books and all that stuff. We would go shopping and they would buy us bikes and all kinds of toys and all that stuff. We grew up and we picked up English really fast because English was the only thing that was spoken in the family.
EC: But your grandparents lived close by then?
CJ: So my American grandparents at that time, we lived with them initially. The first two years we lived with them, because when my step-father came back he had nothing. He was just out of the army. So we lived in the house there for several years before we moved out.
EC: What kind of work did he end up doing?
CJ: So, he came over here and he ended up being a car salesman, initially, and then he worked for the state, the state of Illinois for a while.
EC: Did your mother work?
CJ: My mother babysat, so she watched a lot of kids and that is how she made a lot of money. She made as much money as he did at one time, too. State workers back then made like $12,000 a year [laughs].
EC: So what was high school like?
CJ: High school was good. The first school I started here was in elementary school. First year, that was tough. No English spoken and everything, but the school was very receptive. Middle school was a little more rough because back in the ‘70s there were a lot of race issues with Blacks and whites. The first middle school I went to was Jefferson Middle School. There were Black and White issues back then, and we used to have police with dogs up there to keep the riots from happening. We used to get cornered all the time by the Blacks and the whites saying, "What color are you?" You know? "Are you white or Black? What side are you going to pick?" Right. I am a yellow man [laughs], I don’t pick either. So middle school was pretty rough, and then by high school it settled down because by then our English was much better. But there was a lot of discrimination back then. We were called “gook” and all that stuff. So we got in a lot of fights. Me and my brother got in a lot of fights.
EC: You were pretty close with your siblings?
CJ: Yeah, yeah. My brother and me, even though he is older, he is a little bit slower mentally, so he would get into fights too and I would get called down to the principal all the time and say, “Hey, translate some.” This is in sixth grade, which is the second year we were here.
AJ: Do you think part of that discrimination was related to the Vietnam War?
CJ: I think so. I think kids being kids, and they have never seen Asians before. We were being called everything from “chink” to “gook” and all that stuff. So even when the refugees came over in ‘75, there was a lot of discrimination, there was a lot of fights and back then. It was high school. I remember a lot of kids that came over, they… I had to mediate a lot of them. We had one big fight break out at McDonalds [laughs]. And the kids, the Asian kids, one family, everyone was [a] third degree black belt. They were gonna kill the other kids [laughs]. So, I am over here trying to stop them, [and] said, “Don’t fight, you could beat them up but you’re going to get in big trouble with the law here.” But yeah, back in the ‘70s there was lots of discrimination. People were just not used to all the Asians, especially in the Midwest. There was not much here. Especially when whole influx came over. Yeah, we went through a lot then.
EC: What did you study at the University of Illinois?
CJ: So, I studied computer science with a minor and double in electrical engineering.
EC: What drew you to those fields?
CJ: Well, I like to do something technical. I did not want to do electrical because I was afraid of electricity because of [a] bad experience in our country. In Vietnam, the electrical system is not very safe. You go through the house and there would be bare outlets, and I have got myself zapped several times. So I said, “OK, I want something technical, ” so I did computer science instead. And we were required to do a minor, so I did a minor in electrical engineering. But pretty much it was because English wasn’t too strong yet. So a lot of my colleagues, a lot of Vietnamese, that first generation class of ‘78 to ‘80 at University of Illinois, they are all technical because all of their English was weak. So, there were forty Vietnamese in the University of Illinois, and thirty-eight of them were technical degrees and there is one MBA business, that’s it. I think the language barrier dictated what major you could do back then. Now, it is totally different. Now kids get whatever they want.
AJ: What did you do after graduating college?
CJ: I went straight to work in Chicago.
CJ: Yeah, and then I worked there for a while and then around 1987, my wife… well, we had a kid right away, so [much for our] big plan for [her to] work… and she had a degree in finance. She never got to use it [laughs]. But anyway, she opened up some business. We opened up Subway sandwich shops. We own a lot of Subway sandwich shops at one time, five of them in fact, in [the] Chicago area.
AJ: How did you and your wife meet?
CJ: School. She was a senior in high school and her sister went to University of Illinois. She came by and saw me. So we met then.
EC: In college were you part of a sort of a Vietnamese Student Association? Or was there…
CJ: Yeah, so U of I was one of [the] very first in the country that started a VSA, and I was pulled into it because by then my Vietnamese was just really bad, I could not speak any. The reason I joined was because my wife was there and I was trying to hit up on her [laughs]. She was a newspaper editor, so I helped her with the newspaper and as I started picking up Vietnamese, you know, I typed everything that she wanted me to type. Back then, there was no computer, typewriters. I still have all the newspapers that we did. So, we started VSA and that was forty of us, and it was a pretty closely knit group back then.
EC: Had you forgotten a lot of your Vietnamese at that point?
CJ: I did.
CJ: Yeah. I learned…
EC: You had to re-learn it?
CJ: I re-learned a lot of them then. And then even when I came over here and started the language school, I re-learned a lot.
EC: So your mother would speak to you in English after you moved here?
CJ: No. She speaks Vietnamese still, and English. I still remember more than any of my friends did. There were other families that came around the 1970s. Within two years, zilch. They had forgotten everything. I did not because of my participation and all these things like translating for the refugees and all that stuff that helps me, but still not fluent.
EC: Still lost a lot.
CJ: Yeah, yeah.
AJ: What brought you to Portland?
CJ: So, back in 1995 a company bought out the company I work for and they gave us the option to come out here. At that time, we had a lot of businesses, we were actually making good money, but could not spend time with the three boys. We had a nanny that watched them. So my wife was saying, “Well, I’m gonna stay home and watch the kids.” So it was a good opportunity to help us sell the house and they helped us buy a house and they helped us move. And then my wife could stay home and watch the kids and I [could] just concentrate on work, so that is why we just came out here. We sold all the businesses and everything and came out here.
AJ: Where did you move?
CJ: From there we move here to the Bethany area of Portland and we [have] been there ever since. Pretty much the same house since we bought it.
AJ: And your kids, were they young then?
CJ: Yeah, so in ‘95 we had… they ran from three years old to twelve.
AJ: How long was it before you became involved in the language schools?
CJ: So around [the] year 2000, which [was] five years after we [had] been here, we decided to look for a language school just to teach him Vietnamese and all that stuff. So we went to the Lavang School—not the Van Lang—the Lavang, the Catholic one. So we took him there, that’s in Northeast Portland, and we did not like how it was too religious because we are not Catholic. So he lasted like a day. It was really crowded, too. It was like hundreds of kids in one room. So then we went over to the Van Lang School. And the first day we went there, we did not like it either because they were picking on him because [of] the fact that he spoke all English and did not know any Vietnamese. And they were expecting him to know Vietnamese already, which does not make any sense. He came there to learn Vietnamese. So then the oldest one would not go, but then the younger one, of course, the younger, they did not know any better, so they started taking class online in 2000.
EC: That was in Beaverton at that time?
CJ: No. So Van Lang started in Beaverton in ‘92. Sometime before 2000, they moved over to Northeast Portland at Madison High School and that is where they went. It was around that time, about a year after I had been there, they asked me to take over the school as the president.
[Someone walks into the room] That’s my wife. So then we were there from 2000-2004, running that school. And during that time, the school moved from Madison, we moved over to PCC [Portland Community College] Southeast.
EC: So you had stopped working for the tech company at that point?
CJ: No. It is just strictly volunteer work.
CJ: Yeah, yeah. Everybody at all the language schools, except for Lavang, is unpaid. It is all volunteers. There is no salary or nothing.
AJ: Why did you do it?
AJ: You were president right? I would imagine that is a lot of volunteer time.
CJ: It was… I don’t know. I mean, I was asked to do it and I like working with people, so I just did it. But it took up a lot of our time. The fact that school is on Sunday and we have to drive all the way over there, and there’s a lot of meetings that we do outside of those class times. So it was a lot of work.
EC: Why did they pick you?
CJ: So, why we did it… it was a lot of friends we had there asking us to help. The original founders, they are… even though they live there, they are still kind of not too integrated into American society and [they do not] understand things like setting up an organization, basically. My skill set of owning multiple businesses before, I know how to do all the paperwork, that is one reason they asked me to.
CJ: [It] definitely was not for my Vietnamese. [It] was not good. But I think because I am just a go-getter type and I like to organize things and I lead people, so they asked me to do that pretty much.
EC: What were the differences between the Van Lang School and the Lavangs? Or the…
EC: Lavang, yeah.
CJ: So, the Van Lang is non-religious.
EC: OK. Religion is the main difference?
CJ: [laughs] I have trouble on that word. That is pretty much it, because in the Lavang School there’s two hours… at least fifty percent of class times devoted to religious stuff. And the community is a lot of Buddhist non-Catholics here. Catholics are pretty strong too, it is a pretty large group. But also then, there’s a lot of Buddhists that do not want to do that. There are Buddhist schools also, there are Buddhist temples that have Vietnamese language classes run by the nuns, but very small. Initially they started, but then they kind of gave up. I know because I provided all the books for them. I mean, one of the first things we did at the Van Lang School was that we got a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust to print books. And part of our grant was to print the books and give them to other organization within the… develop the books and send them to other language schools in the city. So we would give them what we put together and for the smaller one, we gave them the books. We print the books and give them to them, but others would take our .pdf files and print their own books.
AJ: So, you wrote the books?
CJ: We put together books from different sources. There’s a lot throughout the country, like in San Jose they have teams that develop these books and they make available the source files. Like, we use books from the Texas Catholic Church. They made it available. They have a big team down there, they do really good materials. So like, at Lac Hong we take those books and we edit them, shorten them more or less, because the audience is a little bit different. The way we teach them… we teach Vietnamese as a second language. [We] do not try to make it into a primary language for them because we know we cannot. So we simplify the materials more and things like that.
EC: So, what is the aim or the purpose? Just to help people… help children be more fluent in their culture? Or is it to help them interact with relatives?
CJ: Our goal is to keep them connected, right. That is our first goal, to keep them connected to the… That is why in our school we put so much emphasis on the New Year event, the Moon Festival. By the way, today is the official Moon Festival day, it’s Friday the 13th full moon [laughs]. But that is why we put just as much emphasis on cultural days as the English classroom. So our goal is to make sure they stay connected and make sure they learn some of the basic cultural things, like respecting elders, respecting parents, and how to communicate with them in a certain way, how to greet them on New Years, that type of thing. And just knowing enough so they can have some form of communication with the parents and the family, but it is definitely not to make them totally fluent. If they can be fluent, great, but that is not our expectation. We do teach them both reading and writing, right? But still, you can only teach them so much with what our instruction is, like two hours a week times thirty. That is only sixty hours of instruction a year with the kids.
EC: How do you recruit teachers?
CJ: Oh, that is tough [laughs]. Usually it is the parents that come in. We usually… the parents of teachers. So, as the kids get older we tend to lose parents and then we try to get the new one in. So [in] every classroom we typically have a main instructor and we have multiple assistants, and then we train those assistants. But it is hard. And sometimes you have a retired teacher from Vietnam that comes in and likes to teach, so we have some of that also. Once and awhile we get people that do not have children that come in and help, but usually it is from parents of children that [are] going to school there. Which is harder and harder to get, because as the generation goes along, right, so the parents that [are] helping their kids now, they are first generation, right, they [were] born in Vietnam so they still have that language skill. But to get the next one that is born here, it is tough. It is tough. So, it will be interesting to see where all the Vietnamese schools are going to go in the future.
EC: Are they given a lot of leeway in terms of how they present the material or how they—
CJ: In Lac Hong school we do. Since we print the books ourselves, we modify the book each year as needed. And then the homework is—[alarm beeping] someone’s alarm? It will go off eventually.
AJ: Should I just… ?
CJ: Gotta press both buttons left and right together. Oh there you go, it’s off.
CJ: So the homework depends on the teacher. They can also modify and print it on the fly, and then at the end of year we go, “Oh, what did you do? Should we make changes?” A lot of changes are typically related to region: north Vietnamese, south Vietnamese. Sometimes we catch… remember I told you about a certain word we feel that, quote, “came after the war.” People notice it, we need to remove it and change it just to be politically correct, OK. Some words are sensitive to northern and southern dialects and we want to make it more common so the kids can understand it, so those types of changes we do. But every year we have a group that would look at the whole thing and say, “Hey, is this too easy? Is this too hard? Should we teach this and that?” And now we are starting to have a class called… teaching about morality. We have an instructor that—he is really good at storytelling, so he is teaching that to all the class once a week or every other week, fifteen minutes. He comes in and tells a story about morality and how to treat certain people, any kind of topic, and it is actually pretty good. And because the kids have to listen both in Vietnamese and English, he goes back and forth. If you feel they do not understand what he is saying, you go and switch to English. But it keeps the kids connected and they like it from what I understand. So that is something new here. I do not think it is done at other schools. So we are very open to things like that because we have the budget. If we have any volunteers that want to teach kids about finance, we will support them. That is our philosophy.
CJ: My organization—just to give you a little bit of background—Vietnamese Science & Cultural Society of Oregon [VSCSO] is our parent organization, that is what I created. It is a 501(c)3, and my goal there is for that organization to help other groups if they need money. There was a Boy Scout group here that needed sponsorship, Vietnamese, since they do not have a 501(c)3 they do not know where to get their money. So we would get money through Nike for them, for example, and give them the fund. So, VSCSO runs the Lac Hong school. It funds it, so we provide the money. We get the principal a budget, we do not tell them how to run it. I control just the budget. They may come and ask me for [an] opinion. When I said here, they tell me how much they need to spend, this, this—OK, fine. And we support all the VSA [Vietnamese Student Associations]. Any VSA that comes and asks us for help. Three-hundred bucks? No problem. And we write them a check. A lot of them do not know that they can do that, but we do not publicize it. But a lot of VSAs like UP [University of Portland], because my daughter goes there, they come and ask us for help every year.
AJ: So where does the funding for the VSCSO come from?
CJ: Initially we got it from grants like Meyer Memorial Trust. Throughout the year we get funding from volunteers that volunteer like Nike and Intel. We get money from Intel, ten thousand dollars a year. We used to get a lot of money from Nike in cash, but they decided to give us footballs and soccer balls instead, so I have a lot of those. But I [am] thinking now they are going to go back to cash, so hopefully we get more funding from them. If we have a project that feels worthwhile, we will write a grant and ask for it. So, one project was we had a group of Vietnamese students from Madison High School. They wanted to do a leadership conference. So we went and applied to the Spirit Mountain Community Fund and got the money for them, for that type of thing. I have not gotten much lately because I am getting lazy, for one, and also we do have a lot of money already.
CJ: We send out a lot of cash, so we do not feel we need to go raise much more money. But if there is a project [that] comes up, we go. There is a lot of funding in the nonprofit world. There are a lot of foundations that would love to give money, and they—kind of like you guys who said you need to cover the Vietnamese community—same thing with the funders. They do not feel like they are giving enough money to the Vietnamese communities, and I do not think enough [people in the] Vietnamese community apply for them because a lot of them do not know how to do it. But there is a lot of money. We had an offer from the Department of Education. The assistant to the Department of Education was here, and they were asking me if I wanted to set up something because they have a program that they call, at the school, Language Immersion Program, and the restriction [was] that you got to do it in a school. OK? And the funding was half-a-million dollars for three years, but I did not want to take it on because it would be a job [laughs], so I turned it down. But she said if any Vietnamese people apply for it, they will get it. I am mad, because no Vietnamese in the country applied for it. Chinese have done it a lot. There’s a lot of Chinese schools in Detroit, Louisiana, and all those places where they apply for those funds. So basically all it is, is instead of teaching our Vietnamese classes on Saturday, teach it at the school, at one of the elementary school, or high school, or middle school. But then there is a lot of money. The Meyer’s Foundation is very big with local charity, if you guys ever look into it. Find any project you want to do, you can also go to them, too. They fund a lot of people.
EC: Could you describe how you left Van Lang and started Lac Hong?
CJ: Well, when I was over there… I don’t know. I think there were some people that wanted me out. You know? I am not sure [for] what reason. Maybe because they thought I was a communist, because of that other issue. To be honest with you, to this day I do not understand what happened. I was on a business trip and I heard my wife say, “You know they are calling you a communist over here and they are saying this and that?” And I think it all started because, when my niece got married, I invited them over to the wedding and on the wedding invitation it showed your parents and where they are from and live. Parents from Vietnam work at this company, while they work for the government, right? So, local city government. And they created [a rumor] that he is communist. And ever since that time, [a] bunch of people have started rumors about me maybe? I do not know. So they started all this type of rumor, and then I said, “Well, you know? It’s a volunteer position. Why do I need to put up with this?” So I was going to leave anyway. But Van Lang is the only place where they have an election. They literally have an election for you to vote on who. It is kind of funny, because on the election day I came and my intention was not to run. I was very popular—I would have won—but my intention was not to run. And I came in and it reminded me of an election, Republican. There were posters [laughs], you know? And there was this one guy who came in in his military uniform because he says I am a communist. So they came in and made a speech about his résumé and all that stuff. He invited parents to come in. I do not know who these people were that all showed up to vote because it was open voting. Anyway, it was very comical [laughs]. But anyway, I was not going to run anyways. Like I said, it was a perfect excuse for me to exit because it took up a lot of our family time. Every Sunday, we would drive there from nine o’clock and the school does not start until twelve. We would have to come there and prepare meetings. They demanded a meeting every day, I do not know why. It was not a fun job after a while.
So 2004, me and the whole board, the treasurer, everybody, we all left and came over here. Our intention was not to do anything bad. In a way, we were sick of the Vietnamese community because all of us were all technical. We were all engineers and all that stuff. We don’t need this. So we quit in May, came back, and then right around July we thought about, “Well, you know? There’s nothing around here in Beaverton.” We just thought about it, why don’t we start something. So everybody came to my house for a picnic and we talked about it. And then within four weeks we went and talked to the dean up at PCC Rock Creek and asked him if we could use [their] facility, and they were happy to let us use it. And then we needed money, so we wrote a one page grant to the Meyer Memorial Trust. They gave us ten thousand dollars, and we got school started within five weeks. So we started in 2004 with like forty students and then it grew from there. And our goal was not to build a big school like Van Lang. Van Lang now has six hundred students, but when we left they had one hundred and fifty, one hundred and eighty students. I’m sorry, they grew to four hundred students when we left. But, so our goal here was small class size, volunteers could spend more time with the kids, and to this day we still like that. We keep a pretty small class size. A typical class is less than twenty. You go to Lavang School, hundred kids in a class, right? And [at] Van Lang typically forty to fifty kids in a class. So over here we keep it pretty small and keep it pretty personal and make it fun for the kids who come to school. That is our goal. So, different philosophy. We also use more English instruction because we feel that the community has changed. We see a lot of adopted kids, Vietnamese. We see a lot of mixed marriages with kids, and we also see some second and third generation kids, right? Even the parents, if they are Vietnamese, they do not speak. So a little bit different over there.
AJ: About how many students total?
CJ: This year we only got like a hundred and twenty, but we have gone as high as 250. So we go up and down, but it has been trending down. But we made a major push to recruit students. Maybe they will this year. This year I am trying to retire and stay back, and we have a whole new group of people coming in, which is good. They have a lot of ideas. So a lot of the veteran teachers, we are all stepping back. Basically, we are back-up instructors. And we have a lot of young people doing it and we will see what they come up with, you know? They have a lot of new ideas and all that stuff. We will see.
AJ: What do you think the kids think about going to school?
CJ: Most of them hate it [laughs]. The older they are, the more they hate it. The younger kids love it because it is fun, you know? So we have seven levels of class. We go by level, not by age. The first three levels, they love them, three to four, but as they get older they typically get to around twelve, thirteen, fourteen. They do not want to go anymore. It depends, yeah. We used to have Lego robotics, so they love to go so they can go to Lego robotics classes. We may start it up again, I don’t know. One year we did it, we had a team [and] we went to the state and we won some titles and all that stuff, but it was a lot of work [laughs]. I had a team that went, and we were first in the rookie class of 2018. We were first, and it was so much work trying to manage ten kids from nine to fourteen to teach them how to do a Lego robotics program, and do that in a ten week period, and then go complete is a lot of work [laughs].
EC: So, throughout this period you also had the same engineering job?
EC: At the same company that originally transferred you to—
CJ: Different company. Yeah, I worked in the electro-scientific industry until 2008 and then everyone had those major layoffs. So then I took some time off with my wife and helped her start this business right here, and then I did some Intel work and a bunch of other companies: Lamb Research, now I am with Applied Materials—hopefully my last stop, but semiconductor equipment, pretty much.
EC: Do you find that work satisfying?
CJ: Yeah, I like it and problem solving, you know? It is tougher as you get older, all the technical stuff, because it has a lot of details. But it is just fun solving problems and working with people. That is my speciality. Been doing that for years.
EC: And then are there other businesses you have started in Portland besides this one?
CJ: No. Besides me and my kids, we buy townhouses for rentals and things like that. We have looked into starting another business. We might, but we like this business. In fact, when I retire I will be working here.
AJ: At Kumon?
CJ: Yeah, it’s a good business. We only open three to four days and three to four hours, and we have managers that can manage the place if we need to take off. It is very satisfying working with kids. I spend time with high-level kids with their calculus and things like that. It is a nice business. It does not make you super rich, but it is enough money to supplement, and it keeps your mind sharp. When you retire you don’t use it, it [makes falling sound] goes downhill, pretty much.
EC: What is your wife’s role at Lac Hong? Is she involved… ?
CJ: My wife used to be an instructor at Van Lang for many years. At Lac Hong, she also taught a lot. We gave her the title “Assistant Principal” because she is the one that goes through the materials. And because she has worked with kids for so many years, she also does the Kumon. She can understand the kids’ language issues. Things like when they can learn phonics and when they cannot, and how phonics [can] help them. She applied that experience with our school too, and how to teach. So, sometimes she does teaching seminars for the instructors, for the volunteers. Just help them learn how to teach, you know? Because a lot of people just look at the material and [say], “Oh, that’s easy,” but they do not understand that from the kids’ perspective, that certain things are just hard for them.
So that is where she helps, as far as that. Basically, an instructor and also help with the teaching materials. And besides that she will run a big social group. All the ladies get together. All our current circle of best friends here are all from Lac Hong, Van Lang. Remember I told you earlier, that was one of my goals [for] the school, was bringing the community and getting people to know each other. It is not like in Vietnam—people do not act like they act here. You might move into your house and you do not know who your neighbor is. Heck, the other day I found [out] my neighbor died and I did not even know he died two years ago [laughs]. It is terrible. I saw a for sale sign and I asked, “What happened?” “Oh she died.” and I was like, “Oh, OK.” I mean, our society here, we do not interact much, and so Lac Hong School is one thing that brings a lot of Vietnamese here together.
EC: Are there other ways that you are involved with the community besides the school?
CJ: I did work with APANO [Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon] at one time, a little bit, when we did a bunch of community things where they invited me to come and participate in a lot of hearing across ethnic groups. We do things like that. The Vietnamese Community Association, Mr. Thao there, he comes in, we help him. I also help him sometimes. I am doing less of that. Couple years ago, I was part of the VNCO. The Vietnamese Community…
EC: Of Oregon.
CJ: They keep changing the name. We had it different before.
EC: I think the “O” is for Oregon now.
EC: I think the “O” is for Oregon. Vietnamese Community of Oregon.
CJ: Yeah. There used to be another one. They keep changing. In fact, they changed their… Anyway, I used to work with the group. Part of the group that organized the cultural New Year thing at the convention center back when there was a two day event. So I used to run all the kids' stuff. Make sure I get sponsors and get people to come in and put up all those jump houses for the kids and all that stuff. Besides that, community-wise I help the temples. Most of the temples around here, they know me and I know them. I helped them financially before. Basically, get them a loan of money to personally get them going, but we are doing less of that now too. My wife and I are kind of backing off because they are pretty well stable now.
EC: Are there temples in Beaverton or are they all on the East side?
CJ: There are two in Beaverton. There are about four or five in Portland, and there are a couple in Vancouver, so there are a lot of temples. Maybe too many. The reason I say too many is that there are times where you do not have enough financial support because it is just so fragmented. But even within the Buddhist thing there is kind of like within the Christian, right? You have the Baptists, the Lutherans and all that stuff. Similar with the Buddhists. It depends on how they teach, how they interpret the scriptures and all that stuff. It is a little bit different. The chants are different. I am not an expert in it, but I know there is [laughs]. What else do I do? That is pretty much it, but I do not try to take on much more because I am just so busy. I do get a lot of requests to participate in this and that, and I try to stay away. I try to tell them where to get some other help. I recommend someone else.
AJ: Why did you step away from the VNCO? Just for time?
CJ: Just for time. And I was never really officially… I have been asked to be president many times and I have turned it down quite a bit, and for several reasons. To me it is a thankless job. You get a lot of criticism all the time. You get the community, you get the old generation, and typically the old generations are criticizing how you do. So you are always under a microscope.
And you are also expected to do a lot of stuff. You are expected to go protest. I am not a big fan of protesting anything because I am not very political. I am apolitical. So being the president of the Vietnamese community, saying you need to be able to do that, and I did not want to do that. The group that I worked with was kind of apolitical, but they got a lot of criticism, so he quit. That is why I walked away at the same time. But I do not mind helping them on cultural events or anything like that or things for the community, but I do not want to go out there in the street protesting. And that is the expectation if you were on the board of the VNCO. You have to do all that.
AJ: Last time we talked you mentioned that as a leader you have had people come to you when they have been targets of racism and discrimination and asked what to do. Can you talk about that at all?
CJ: There is only one case where someone came and talked to me about it. Because they thought [that since] I am more integrated in American society I would know who to call, what to do, you know? It was a guy who came in and said his brother was getting arrested for no reason in front of their house and was being handled pretty rough by the Portland Police. I did not know what to say. I said, “You take that information. Maybe call a lawyer. Call somebody.” I really did not know what to tell him to be honest with you, but I was exposed to that type of stuff. When people came to me it was just because I was in a position. This was when I was at the Van Lang School. I do not see that over here in Lac Hong, because everybody is pretty white-collar. They know what to do, so they do not come and ask. They do not worry about things like that. We never run into anything like that. Yeah, that was about my only encounter with that.
AJ: Do you have any more questions?
EC: I do not, no.
AJ: Do you think there is anything more that we should ask or that you want to talk about?
CJ: [reading from a list of questions] So how would you compare the Vietnamese community of the ‘90s to the Vietnamese community today? I was kind of thinking about that. I have not seen that much, to be honest with you, much change. I tracked the newspaper. The newspaper tends to be less tame than it used to be. [There were] a lot more controversial issues in the paper back then. There are a lot less now. I think it could be maybe because the old guards are getting older. And the young kids, they are not very political anyway and so there is not much. Otherwise, the community, culturally its things have usually shifted. It used to be Sandy Boulevard was a center, now it is pretty much down to 82nd Street, down by Division and Powell and that whole area. Not much, yeah. So I could not think of much either, so when I saw that question, so…
AJ: You have mentioned a couple times that you are not sure what the future is for these language schools because there is some change as far as language, right?
CJ: Well it is because as we begin the second and third generation, every generation, the less Vietnamese is being spoken in the house, you know? And just, eventually… English is going to be all pretty much dominant and [other] languages are kind of secondary. So for example, we had an event. OK?
So everytime I had an event like New Years something, right? It used to be all Vietnamese spoken by the MCs. Now you got a little more… half Vietnamese and English translation. I am seeing pretty soon English [will be] the primary translation. And you can kind of see that as you go along, because your audience, they understand English better than Vietnamese. So I am seeing that transition. And that also translating into why we see lower attendance at the language school, at least at ours. I think at Van Lang and those schools they are kind of peaking, and I think it is going to start going down too. There are just a lot of Vietnamese living over there.
AJ: So, if you had to guess, what do you think the future of schools like Van Lang and Lac Hong will be?
CJ: I would be surprised if we can last another ten years, for example, here. We almost closed the school last year, right? Because we went and told the staff, I said, “Look. A lot of us don’t want to do it anymore. All of our kids are grown. They [have] gone to college and got jobs already. We are going to step back. Who’s going to step up?” I guess a group of people stepped up, so we will see. So this year we are fully staffed. I think Van Lang is having the same issue, getting instructors to do it. So we will see. I cannot predict. The things only going down, it is not going up. It is not going up. I mean there’s a need at our school, actually a need for adult instruction in Vietnamese because a lot of American parents [are] first, second, and third generation. We may start it up and with that we keep it going. That is something we are looking at, right? We did that for four years, and then we lost our instructors. I used to teach it, but it just takes up so much of my time. So if I can get a group or team together, we may start up and that may help because there are a lot of parents that want to take the class. Now the only other option these days is to go to PSU. They have a class there, but I do not know if they still do it now. But I know the person who used to teach it. But yeah, we taught adult instruction for a while and we [will] see. But it is something someone should look at and may encourage somebody to do that. But that is one way to save it. Otherwise, it is just going to fade and be like the Japanese Americans or some of the other groups.
AJ: Well, I think that is probably it.
AJ: Thank you so much, and again my name is Azen Jaffe. I am with E.J. Carter on September 13th, 2019, and we were speaking with Chi Jones.