Dustin Kelley: Good afternoon, today is May 11th, my name is Dustin Kelley, and this oral history interview is being recorded via Zoom. Thank you for being with me. Could you go ahead and begin by stating your name and telling us a little bit about yourself?
Hoang Pham: My name is Hoang Pham, I was born and raised in Portland. I am currently a law student at UC Davis. I went to Laurelhurst Elementary and then Fernwood Middle School and then Benson High School in Portland. After graduating from Benson, I went to the University of Oregon and following graduation at University of Oregon, moved to South Los Angeles and became a teacher. I taught for six years in South LA and then following my time as a teacher I decided to go to law school and hopefully create systemic change in education. So, that is currently where I am at right now and will be graduating this Saturday.
DK: Wow, congratulations!
HP: Thank you.
DK: So, long-time Portlander. You just listed a lot of schools that are familiar to listeners, I am sure...
DK: Which neighborhoods did you grow up in?
HP: I grew up in Laurelhurst. I do not want to say exactly where I lived but where I grew up in is-- you know where Providence is, we were really close to Providence Hospital. So that is the neighborhood I grew up in. But, interesting enough though, I spent most of my time not in Laurelhurst growing up. Up until middle school, it was mostly the Laurelhurst area near East Portland. I think in high school, I really spent much more time in Northeast Portland like the deep Alberta, Dekum, MLK area because most of my friends were Black. Having an experience where a lot of my friends were Black, I was spending a lot of time in the Black community in Portland, and so that is kind of how I experienced high school. Also, a lot of the experiences I had with my friends are a lot of the reason I do what I do today.
DK: So, you have mentioned a little bit about what your growing up years were like. Tell us a little bit about your family and what some of your day-to-day experiences were like.
HP: So, with my family it was pretty structured to be honest, because my dad had us on a schedule, and it was: wake up in the morning, go to school, get picked up from school, we were not walking home, he would not let us. Go home, maybe we had a little bit of TV time and then as soon as he gets home at 4:30-- he worked at a Department of Human Services, which is down the street from us-- as soon as he got home at 4:30 it was turn the TV off and get started with homework. Either that or we were doing martial arts [such as] Taekwondo or Kung Fu, or we were doing some kind of music because he taught-- he played music, so he taught us music. I was playing either piano or the guitar. I say “we” because I have two other brothers, one middle brother and one older brother. After that we got home, you know, 7, 7:30 my mom would get home from work. She would make food real quick, we would eat, and then they would off to their janitorial duties. They both worked janitorial jobs probably all the way until I was fourteen, maybe fifteen in high school. I honestly do not remember when they stopped, but I know it was a long time of janitorial work at night for them. We would try to get into bed. I do not even remember what time I got into bed.
One funny story though is-- my parents, they really take care of this community. We had foster youth living at our house, we had an adopted sister living at our house, so space was kind of always limited. So, the three [of us], me and my brothers, we were in the same room and pretty much from third grade until the fifth grade, or sixth, or seventh-- I do not really remember-- I used to sleep on the ground, we had a bunk bed in our room. Oldest brother would get the top bunk, middle brother got the bottom bunk, and I was on the ground. That is what the little brother gets. [laughs] You know what, I developed a serious resilience sleeping on the ground, and it is funny, because when we would get up in the morning, my bed essentially was my blanket, so I would roll out my blanket at night-- that is what I would sleep on, I had a pillow-- and in the morning I would roll up my blanket because if I did not, they would walk by and kick it [laughs]. Just being the youngest brother, I developed a lot of resilience at an early age. That is what our schedule was like and as we got older, one of the things that got added onto our schedule was breakdancing. All of us were b-boys and the oldest one was the dancer in the family and he kind of put me on, and put my middle brother on, the younger one, so we ended up just tagging along with him every time there was a competition or an event, or something to go to. That was kind of what our day looked like.
DK: Resilience indeed. [laughs] That sounds tough.
HP: You would not think it, because Hieu seems like he is the nicest guy in the world-- I mean, he is a really, really nice guy, he is a great brother. I love him a lot, same with Huy, my oldest brother. But back then... [laughs] they did some mean things to me, and it is cool because I feel like they prepared me for the rest of my life.
DK: So you mentioned a little bit about-- you listed the schools you attended-- can you speak a bit about your experiences in Portland Public Schools?
HP: So, I talk about this experience a lot because I think it highlights what everything else was like. My third grade teacher was-- being at Laurelhurst, it is predominantly a white school, I mean there are students of color there, but it was predominantly white. And there are not-- at least that many other-- I mean, I think I can count with one hand how many other Vietnamese students there were at Laurelhurst. Me and my brother, Hieu, who is only a year older than me, and maybe like three or four other people. I actually ended up being in a third grade class with another Vietnamese student who also spoke Vietnamese. We spoke Vietnamese at school because it was the only time we actually were able to use the language that our parents taught us. One day this student told on us for speaking Vietnamese and the teacher called me up to the front of the class and basically said, "At school we speak English. If you want to speak another language, do it at home.” I think at eight years old-- I think that is how old I was-- you just feel ashamed of yourself, your people, and you notice something different about you.
I think that experience kind of shaped how I thought about school going forward, right? So I got suspended in fifth grade for getting into a food fight, suspended in high school for running into a teacher in the hallway. So, there is the story of exclusion, of "I cannot really be who I am at school," so I really do not want to be at school, I do not necessarily want to go to school. I think school is mainly more socializing to me than anything else, [I am] just here to socialize with my friends. It was the same at Fernwood, because [of] similar experiences. I think high school really went... I would say I had two teachers who were like, "You could actually go to college, and you can do more than just go to high school or graduate from high school. There is this idea that you can reach, you can do more, you could be a really brilliant kid." So they really encouraged me to go to college. Obviously I had two brothers that were already in college so that kind of helped, just knowing that that was a possibility. So I ended up applying, I got into University of Oregon. I did not get in anywhere else, Oregon was like the only place I got in.
Honestly, at the time I was like-- in my mind, it did not make any sense to me why I would want to continue going to school because I had been in school for twelve years and I did not like it at all [laughs]. So, the disconnect was real, I was like, "Why would I go to college?" But I ended up going, and actually two of my friends ended up going with me. We just happened to be at different high schools, but no one else came with me, so that was the hardest thing, knowing that most of your friends were not going to college with you. And the friend that did go to college with me found out in June when we started freshman year. At least those two teachers at Benson believed in me enough to push me to actually think about college applications because we did not really talk about it in my family. I think it was just like, "Yeah, you should go to college," but it was not like, "Hey, here is how you apply, here is how you get scholarship money," it is all the information that most first-generation families did not know. Even if I had brothers in colleges, they had their own experiences trying to find some way to go to college. A lot of us just did not have that knowledge, the information that we would need, but the teachers that I had, they were like "Yo, you really have a level of brilliance we think would be valuable if you continue your education." I believed them, and here I am.
DK: You mentioned some of the activities you participated in, from music to martial arts. Can you tell us a little bit more about the details, names of some of the institutions and organizations and what some of those activities looked like in terms of scheduling and such?
HP: So Taekwondo was the first thing we did-- back even before Taekwondo, my parents put me in swimming, and me and my middle brother actually were the ones who were doing swimming. It was just like, "Get them involved in something, anything after school, so they’re not just in the streets running around doing crazy stuff.” There were a lot of, "You guys need to be involved,” and none of us were like basketball players, or football players, or tennis players, any of the traditional sports you would get involved as a kid, [like] baseball. It was like, "Okay, let’s try swimming," and we would go swimming. I think a part of that story about swimming, or at least connecting the dots around something is like they spent time on boats escaping South Vietnam after the war, and so on the refugee trip that they had to make to Thailand they went there by boat and a lot of what they needed to know how to do was swim. So they were like, "Okay, we are going to teach our kids how to swim too," so we learned how to swim.
But eventually we stopped that and then we started Taekwondo at the U.S. World Class Taekwondo Association, which is still around. I am pretty sure it is on Sandy right across the street from Snoop Dog’s cousin’s barbecue joint. I do not remember what it was called, I know there was a fire there though, the fire that burned it down and they had to rebuild it and bring it back up. But yeah, it is on Sandy and before that though, it was in a couple other places-- but that is where we did Taekwondo and we would go there usually two, sometimes three times a week, Tuesday, Thursday. We would have our one hour class that we would do there and then Friday usually was a sparring day and if you wanted to go spar you could go spar there, and sometimes me and Hieu would go do that. And then we ended up starting Kung Fu as well. Kung Fu, I think we really started in middle school and that is something that we started with my oldest brother. So me, Hieu and my oldest brother, we all started Kung Fu together. We did it at the Chinese Kung Fu Association. If I say his name, Sifu Minh Tran, and people know him, they will know who I am talking about. He is like a legendary Kung Fu dude in Portland, Sifu Minh Tran. I do not even know if he is around anymore [laughs]. And we did that the other days of the week, so it would be like Taekwondo on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Kung Fu on Mondays and Wednesdays or something like that and we would get through the week like that.
Eventually, we started breaking too, and I think with breaking, it was just an opportunity for us to move-- to me it was an opportunity to liberate yourself, your freedom of expression and movement was held up B-boying and because of the world told you you could not be who you are, it is [for] youth, kids that feel they are ostracized at school, they latch on stuff like b-boy culture and Hip-Hop because they identify with the roots of Hip-Hop which comes from brown and predominantly Black youth in New York City and around the world who have felt that way [and] needed an outlet to express themselves. So we felt like we identified with that. That is kind of what kept us close together, was being able to dance together. We did that, I think it was never scheduled. Whenever there was a practice or an event or something, we would just go, but we would work that around our other schedule. Eventually things started tapering off. Stopped doing Taekwondo, stopped doing Kung Fu, and the only thing we ended up doing and continuing was actually breaking.
DK: Were your parents involved with your breakdancing as well, or...
HP: Oh, hell no! They did not want us to dance. I think that is the thing about immigrant parents, they want you to go to America and do one thing. That one thing is going to school, get a good job and make the money they could never make. That was the one thing they wanted us to do. I was like, their vision of success for their children in America was, "They go to school, they do great at school, and somehow they are going to get a job that makes hella money.” Dancing was an aside, it was like, "Why are you guys going to breakdance, no, we don’t want you to breakdance." They did not come to a competition of ours, I think they have only been to one real competition of ours.
I mean, they support us now much more than they did back then, because back then they did not understand it. They were like, "You guys need to focus on school, why do you keep going to these breakdancing battles, what are you doing?" But over time, when they started seeing that we were successful at school and dancing was a part of our success, they started realizing the importance of having dance in our lives, respected it, and started supporting it a lot more. Definitely at the time, our parents were like, "We need you to focus on school, we need to know that you guys are going to be okay, we need to know that you guys are going to go to college.” Honestly, the thing about first generation immigrant parents, just put it like that-- they, just like anybody else in the United States and maybe in this world, have been susceptible to the dialogue around what does it mean to be successful in the world, what do you need to do, what can you say about your kids that then will make you feel that you are a successful parent? The conversation for them with us would be just, "Go to college, go get a good job, get paid a lot of money, have a nice house and a nice car," and it is all rooted in essentially capitalism, so it is until you start thinking about where does that all come from. I respect my parents for how they raised us, and how much they pushed us, and I think they also respect us now for how we pushed them and how we think about the world, and as much as my parents did not support us with breaking, eventually, they understood why we were b-boys. In large part, it is also because of their story, their story of exclusion and their story of assimilation in the United States and being new immigrants here.
DK: Early on, you talked a little bit about speaking Vietnamese in school and with some of your friends-- how did you learn the Vietnamese language? Did you have any formal Vietnamese classes?
HP: I did, yeah. It was first taught to me through conversations with my parents because that is the only language they spoke at home-- my dad spoke Vietnamese, my mom spoke Vietnamese. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was in third grade or fourth grade, and she spoke Vietnamese to me all the time. She still does, she never speaks in English to me. That is how I acquired it initially, so conversational, and then in middle school was when I started getting more serious lessons in Vietnamese, with other things that helped me how to speak and write Vietnamese. It was actually my half-sister who was living with us at the time who ended up teaching me Vietnamese. It was me and Hieu, [who were] the ones who learned it.
I have been to Vietnam three times-- once when I was very young, like four years old, once when I was in middle school with Hieu and my older brother, and then just recently in 2015 with my now-wife, and their now-wives and then my dad. Every time we would go to Vietnam, that is when it would get solidified or at least built on, the language itself, having to use it, having to talk to people in Vietnamese, I think that was something that helped me learn and actually continue the skill. It is hard to hold onto the language because if you are living in the United States, English is the dominant language. It is expected that you would know it in school. It is what is expected that you would know it everywhere, and when you are going to school, as I am getting my law degree right now, nothing in law is in Vietnamese, except from plaintiffs’ and defendants’ names. So, for me to become an expert at the law, or even in policy, I need to be an expert in English because laws and policies are all made in English, and they derive from the English language way back when this land itself was colonized by the English. When we talk about language and what my experience has been with it, it is a struggle every day because you are still fighting up-- even if it is a personal fight, nothing stays within an institution-- I am fighting to continue to learn my language. And now I have a daughter, I need to make sure she knows how to speak Vietnamese, and I am trying my best to speak Vietnamese to her all the time. We will see if it actually works, but it is a continued uphill battle.
DK: You mentioned attending the University of Oregon-- how did you end up deciding where to go, and can you talk a little bit about your experience there?
HP: I decided I should go there because they were the only ones who said I could go to their college. I applied to Portland State [University], and I am pretty sure I got into Portland State but I never got an acceptance letter. I also applied to-- here are all the schools I applied to: I applied to UC Davis, I did not get in. I am pretty sure I applied to Georgia Tech because me and my friends who were applying to college were like, "Oh, Georgia Tech sounds like a good school," because we watched them play in the NCAA March Madness tournament that year, I was like, “They did great, and I want to go to Georgia Tech!” I applied to the University of Memphis, same reason, and then I applied to the University of Oregon and I think that was it. Oregon was the only school that accepted me officially with a letter and they also gave me a scholarship. At the time I was like, "What does this even mean?" because it was essentially a diversity scholarship that was full tuition, and I was like, "They are trying to give me money to go to school, oh yeah, I’m going to go there!" It was not like I had a choice, it was like, "Okay, you are going to go to University of Oregon, but where else is going to give you money to come here?" It was not like, "I got into two schools, man, decide between the University of Oregon and whatever other school there is. No, you go to the University of Oregon and yay, they are also giving you money.”
When I got there-- it is not called this any more but at the time it was called the Office of Multicultural Academic Support-- and basically this program takes in low-income students, first-generation backgrounds and their goal was to get them to graduate from college. I was able to get in a freshman writing class with a teacher whose goal was to ensure students can see themselves and what he was teaching and to use our stories as academic leverages for learning how to persuasively write. It was probably the first time I ever saw myself in learning, saw myself in academia, and saw myself in a way where I did not have to remove who I am just to be a part of the school and the institution. That challenged me to think about, "Okay, now I am kind of passionate about social justice” because we were talking about a bunch of social justice issues, and the question was: "What do I want to do when I graduate?” I did not know what I wanted to do and this idea about teaching kept circulating around me as far as I think it would have give and provide the same type of new experience with students in K-12 education, particularly for Black and brown students who have the most underserved outcome that we could imagine in our education system, predominantly Black students. So I decided to go teach as a vehicle for racial justice and social change, I moved to South Los Angeles, and became a teacher. I can talk a lot more about my experiences at University of Oregon but I think that one is probably the most profound experience that I have had.
DK: That’s great! Anything else you want to talk about as far as how you ended up in Southern California or anything about your teaching career you want to highlight?
HP: Nothing that is important-- I mean, it is important in the sense that everything has shaped a bit of me, but I do not know if it is relevant in terms of the Portland Vietnamese history. I can talk a lot more about Portland in general and anything else that you want to ask me about that. Because if you ask me about teaching, we might be here for another hour or two so I do not know if you want to do that [laughs]...
DK: All good, I totally get it. Let us transition back to Portland's Vietnamese community.
DK: What sort of connection, if any, do you feel to the larger Vietnamese American community in Portland?
HP: I am pretty sure Hieu would have mentioned this-- our dad is still a musician, and the Vietnamese community in Portland is so small that everybody knows each other, especially if you are a Vietnamese musician in Portland, definitely everybody knows each other. He would actually go and play at Vietnamese weddings, we would go and help by loading the van with the instruments, the speakers, loading and unloading. Every time we would go, we would have the experience of being at a Vietnamese wedding. So when I think about my connection to the Vietnamese community, it is really through my dad, because having a dad that was a musician, that was involved that deeply in the Vietnamese community, you just were going to be also involved somehow, shape or way.
Between my dad and Kung Fu-- I think that Kung Fu is the other connection we had deeply with the Vietnamese community, because a lot of people who were doing Kung Fu with us were also Vietnamese. Through Kung Fu, we would just build our relationships with each other and try to figure out what it means to be a Vietnamese kid growing up in Portland. Finding ourselves, finding our people, finding our friends and knowing that we always had each other's backs for whatever happened and whatever we needed it for. I think we still have that today, to be honest, with a lot of the friends that we made back then. Especially even in our breakdancing crew, Moon Patrol. For the other guys that are in our crew, who either identify as Vietnamese or Southeast Asian, we all have a close connection to each other knowing that our roots are from a very similar place and we had a similar experience of trying to grow up in a land where most of us were born, but we are still foreign-- that idea that you are foreign to the place where you were born, that idea of, "How do we fight back against them?" Breaking was a big part of our resistance, just having a dance that is about resistance, it is about expressing yourself. That is not what the dominant culture is. So that in a nutshell is what the experience has been like.
DK: In your mind, what role does being Vietnamese American play in your life and in terms of your identity?
HP: Everything. I walk outside and immediately, my first thought is, "I am Vietnamese. I am a Vietnamese person, a Vietnamese American living in the United States," because it is being forced. I am always thinking about the juxtapositions between my identity and White normative society. It shows up everywhere you show up. If I walk into a classroom it is automatically, if I am reading a case for class, it is not a story about me. Again, it is still like a language thing, the language is not mine, or at least my people’s. I am very cognizant of how I show up in the world because I am Vietnamese American, but I am also proud of it because the world is better with Vietnamese people in it. We do contribute so much to everything. In every part of society there are amazing Vietnamese people contributing thoughts, ideas, food, recipes, dance, art, music-- we are everywhere. That is where being proud comes in. Knowing that even if you are underrepresented in most of the places you exist in, know that you have a community of people out there that speak the same language and when you run into them, say something, say “Hi, bye,” or “How are you doing?” Show that you can speak Vietnamese, use your language when you can. I am even more aware of that now that I have a daughter who is half-Vietnamese because she is going to grow up in the world as a half-Vietnamese baby, individual, person eventually. The way I deal and cope and also thrive with being Vietnamese American is also how she will. So showing up. Being authentic, being your true self, being free in that, not feeling like you are held back or chained up because you need to be somebody you are not. And being a model for the youth. Everybody who is growing up and experiencing the same thing even if we live in a whole other decade than we did when my parents first immigrated to the United States in the eighties.
DK: I am curious when you have felt most at home in the city of Portland, and what you like the most about the city.
HP: When I felt most at home? Probably when I am hanging out with my people, either my family or my friends. Most recently, pulling up a recent example, there are two things: so if I am with my family-- me, my brothers and their entire families, and my mom with my dad, and we are just celebrating something together. If we are doing that, I will feel at home. We are usually eating some of my mom's cooking, which makes me also feel at home. She makes the bomb-est homemade pho ever. Family, new kids in the family plus the elders, that is when I feel at home. The other example I was thinking about was one of my friends, actually. His name is Dionte. I’m not as close with him as I used to be. I used to be super close with him. We used to kick it all the time, especially when I was in college because I was still in Oregon. But one of the things that makes me feel at home and why he makes me think about this, is because he is the dude in Portland where if you were by his house and you hit him up and he was home he will be like “Yo, come through, I am doing this and that, come kick it,” or “I am about to get some food, do you want to come with me?” or “I am going to go to Best Buy, do you want to come through?” He and his mom, where he lives, it is so familial, how they approach the community-- they bring everybody in. He is a barber that cuts hair out of his garage, he actually is Damian Lillard's barber. The fact that he is Damian Lillard's barber and still cuts hair out of his garage says a lot about him. I think that that is another place I feel like home. When I am home in Portland, I know I can always hit him up and even if I have not talked to him in six months, he will tell me to come through, and I think that is the other thing about Portland people and being home in Portland that makes you feel at home.
DK: You mentioned a little bit about this, I am mostly curious if you have experienced some challenges-- for instance, any discrimination, or racism?
HP: Yes, I think the third-grade example was one. Another one that Hieu probably would not bring up because it is something that happened to me and my dad. We were in line at Safeway or Fred Meyer, I do not remember which one, one of those grocery chains. We were trying to recycle cans and we were waiting in line, and then this white older man cut us and went to the next open recycling machine. My dad got upset and was like, “Hey, you cut us, go to the back of the line,” and he turned around and told him, ''Go back to your country.” I might have been even younger than when the third grade incident happened, I remember thinking, he yelled and screamed back at him, and they did not get into a fight or nothing, my dad just ended up waiting for the next one. But I think that interaction was one of the first times when I saw my dad get really upset at somebody but also heard and remembered somebody saying something like, “Go back to your country.” So what I was saying before about being foreign even in a place where you were born and how do you address being foreign? You show up being your authentic self and being unapologetic about it. “Foreign” is a relative term because when you think about “foreignness,” it is like, well everyone is technically foreign unless you are native Indigenous people to this land. The idea of being a foreigner as, “This is your country, not your country, go back to where you are from” is socialized for everybody to think that somehow we own where we live on, and we do not. So being in school, having critical conversations and challenging myself to ask this question, “What does it mean to be Vietnamese American in America?” has helped me grapple with the deeper ideological concept that undergirds our existence, both here but everywhere else too.
That has helped me a lot with understanding when something racist happens to you, or your people, or your community, your dad, your mom, your brothers, whatever-- how do you respond and how do you move forward? The trauma is going to be there, but healing is a part of social justice work. If you are trying to heal at the same time of moving the way forward, that is really what I have been trying to do, heal through doing the work but also having the conversation and understanding deeper what this all means. It is that one person, does not mean that everyone thinks that way but, it is also that one person, there was also harm done. My dad remembers it and never really talked about it with me or anybody, but I think it is one of those moments that does not dictate what you do but gives you a time and place that you can pull back on to remember where we are coming from, what type of experiences do we have that then drives everything we are trying to do now? My dad, I would be willing to bet that a lot of what would drive him to push me to do well in life is experiences like that. He knows that if I am pushing myself and learning and going to college, getting a good job, or doing at least something I care about doing, that I will be in a position to at least combat some of what is going on with the anti-Asian hate that is been going on across the country for the past year, and beyond that. I hope that answers the question.
DK: Absolutely. Certainly impactful experiences. I am wondering if you can talk about what differences you see between older and younger generations of Vietnamese Americans.
HP: I think, honestly, there are very few elders who are Americans-- they are all immigrants. There were these waves of Vietnamese immigrants after 1975, 1976, 1977, so the difference -- when we talk about elders-- the way how they think about things and how we think about things is [that] we are much more socialized in the United States. When we think about culture, what we think is important relationships even, school, the criminal justice system, everything that we think about in relation to life in the United States is relative to life in the United States. Their perspectives are relative to life in Vietnam. They are telling you, “You might think you are struggling right now, but let me tell you a story about what it was like to live in Vietnam.” The biggest difference really is the generational understanding of experience based on location and place-- you had growing up in Vietnam, shaping your life experiences, going through the refugee experience and immigrating, and then living in the United States versus growing up in the United States.
Privilege, right? We are privileged as young Vietnamese American children living in the United States because even though we might not have the best education system to serve us, even though we might not have the same access to opportunities of the experience of others in the United States, we still have-- sometimes, not all the time, but most of the time-- we still have some of the basic necessities that many other Vietnamese kids do not have access to living in Vietnam. It is not to say that Vietnam has not improved in its economy and the quality of life of the people living there, but it is to say that even when we feel that we are struggling with something, being empathetic and understanding of the experience of our elders will help us and ground us in why you still have the strength to get through whatever it is that you are struggling with because it comes from your ancestors. If they have gone through some of the craziest stuff that they ever could possibly tell you, you can probably get through this thing, you can probably get through this test, you could probably go to school and try to make it through, even if the teacher is racist. How do we connect the part of the generation of Vietnamese American youth to understand where their elders are coming from, and then the elders on their part. It is like we cannot ask much of them, but if we were to ask anything of them, it is to understand that we also are trying to figure out how to be Vietnamese American, because there is no definition for doing that.
DK: You mentioned some about your parents' story and going back to Vietnam together. What stories did they tell you about their experience of coming to Portland and setting up a home? What was that experience like and how did they convey that to you and your siblings?
HP: They did not tell us until we were like twenty-two. I do not know what Hieu said, because I know we really did not talk about it. We do not talk about their journey to the United States because it is too emotional-- they never want to talk about it. And if they get into it they are going to start crying, both my mom and my dad, they both start crying, it does not matter which one, so we do not talk about it. But when we do, and we have learned about it, they both have their different and separate stories because they met in the refugee camp. I will just try to go briefly with both of them. My dad's mom had saved up enough money for him to get on a small boat out of Saigon, where there is a bridge called the “Y Bridge” that separates two sides of Vietnam, the poor side and the somewhat wealthier side, and my dad was on the poor side. His mom had saved up enough money for him to get on this little boat to go to Thailand where the refugee camp was. So when we were there he told me, "This is the bridge, this is where we used to live, this is where I got on the boat." Just this idea that you had to leave forever and never come back and you are on a boat with very little belongings on you, it was emotional for him because he is leaving his mom, his entire family, and his goal is to go make money and send money back to his family, so they can survive. That is kind of my dad's story-- getting on this boat, he showed me where the boat would dock and getting on it and showing where it ended up going. After seeing it, you kind of wrap around the southern tip of Vietnam, and then you go over Thailand.
And now my mom's story. Her side of the family was a little bit wealthier in Vietnam-- they were actually Chinese immigrants to Vietnam and they had a jewelry business. So a lot of what happened when they were moving was-- they were able to get a boat-- the danger for her family was, at least for the women, pirates. Thai pirates stopping, raping and killing everybody. And she said that in their journey they did get stopped by a pirate ship, but they ended up only taking belongings-- did not rape or kill anybody. They were still able to make it to the refugee camp. That type of trauma that she holds on to, that my dad holds on to, is passed on to us, even if we do not experience it, I do believe we have the good, the traumatic, and the bad from our ancestors, and it is like, “How do we unpack that and continue to deal with it?” But that is essentially their story. They then met in the refugee camp in Thailand, they both got to the United States. My mom’s family was in New Orleans, my dad was in Portland. My dad flew to Houston and ended up marrying my mom in Houston, which is where my mom’s family ended up moving from New Orleans. And then, they moved to Portland and here we are.
DK: That iss great, thank you so much for sharing all of that. I have come to the end of most of my questions. We have unpacked quite a bit, but I am wondering if there is anything that you are hoping I had asked about that I missed, or if there are any stories that have come up afterwards that you kind of wanted to come back to. I just want to give you some space to...
HP: I do not really have anything, I really appreciate this space to reflect and think. I think law school graduation is kind of a big deal, and it is nice to sit, reflect, and think about all the stuff I have been through and my family and how proud they are of me. Going through this time when a lot of them have not been able to see me and have not been able to travel or anything, so I know they wish they could be a part of this more. But it is nice being able to actually reflect and be asked questions about my history and background and having it captured in some kind of way. I appreciate you taking the time to do this.
DK: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, we really, really appreciate it. This has been Dustin Kelley chatting with Hoang Pham, and today is May 11th, 2021.