Dustin Kelley: Hello, this is Dustin Kelley and today is June 24, 2021, and I have the privilege of speaking with Elizabeth Dinh via Zoom today. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for being with us. I really appreciate you sharing your story.
Elizabeth Dinh: Absolutely, thanks for having me.
DK: Could you begin by stating your name and just telling us a little bit about yourself?
ED: My name is Elizabeth Dinh and I am a very proud Vietnamese American woman here in Portland, Oregon. Professionally, I am a news anchor and reporter, a journalist for KOIN 6 News, the CBS affiliate here in Portland. I have been doing this professionally since 2004, but I actually did a little bit while I was in college as well, back in Texas. So I am really passionate about journalism, and being in TV news has really helped to continue that passion for me, which is to share really important news and information of the day for our community. So I have really had a wonderful chance to be all around different parts of the country, and that has led me to here in Portland, Oregon!
DK: How long have you lived in Portland?
ED: I have lived here since February of 2016.
DK: What first brought you here?
ED: I had a wonderful opportunity to work at the FOX affiliate, so FOX 12 KPTV. I was hired as the evening news anchor there and did that up until last summer of 2020. Yeah, just like I said, having been a journalist for all these years, my career has taken me—if I start, then I studied college [at the] University of Texas at Arlington, that is my hometown area, at the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I was working for the Fort Worth city cable there learning how to be an anchor and reporter while also learning that in school. I had an internship at the NBC station in Dallas-Fort Worth and then I got my first full-time TV job after I graduated in Amarillo, Texas, as a reporter, and then later on I was promoted to be the weekend anchor and reporter. There, I learned to do so much, and that really helped me a lot. No one in my family that I know of was in this industry, and then with my parents being immigrants from Vietnam and they had different professions, it was a lot of learning along the way. It was really exciting with that first job because I learned how to be a reporter, to produce—sometimes I was not on air, I would help produce newscasts—I learned how to edit my own stories sometimes, I got to go on live shots, I also learned how to be almost a manager when I worked on weekends. There was so much that I had never done before and it was a really exciting time as a young journalist out of college, and it was the first time I had ever left my hometown area. So Amarillo is about 360 miles away from Dallas-Fort Worth, about a six or so hour drive. That really opened my eyes too, because like I said, born and raised in Irving, Texas, I really spent much of my life in that area and even college. It was such a big learning curve for me. But being the children—myself and my brothers—of immigrants who really started anew from Vietnam, my parents have always been so supportive of times like that in my life, about starting over. Any time I have been scared, which has happened, they have been really great about, you know, "You're gonna be okay," and, "You can do it!" I think that has helped me a lot too, in that I get that from them and I get over that being afraid part and just trying to start anew.
So I was in Amarillo for about three years, and then I had an opportunity to go to Tampa, Florida, and similarly was a reporter and was filling in anchoring there, and as a journalist. It was a very exciting time because I learned a lot about breaking news and it was a bigger city. I had never been in Florida before! All of a sudden I am living in Florida and the climate is different, the news is different, and I grew up a lot there. After that I went to Seattle, completely different area, across the country, again different climate. After Seattle [I] went to Dallas, back to my hometown for an incredible opportunity there and [to be] closer to family, and reporting in cities that I had known and highways that I had grown up driving on. [I] was there for a few years and then this opportunity here in Portland just was really tough to turn down, so having been in the Northwest before, my husband and I felt like we knew this area pretty well, and Portland is not Seattle but we know a lot about the climate and how beautiful it is here, so it was tough to turn down so how could we say no?
I came here for that opportunity, and it has been really great to be able to grow as a news anchor because I spent a lot of years as a reporter in the field. So most recently I am usually at the anchor desk on set, however I also go out on occasion for reports as well. I really love that about my career and my job-- is that in a few hours of work I can help inform people with what's going on and let them know what is going on in their community, the latest weather, if it is gonna affect their families and their livelihoods. We also have fun and we have lighthearted stories to really brighten people up and help them smile, and that helps us too. Then when I am out in the field and I am working on a story that is really important to me and to our station I think I get a sense of pride in that as well, that I am not glued to the desk so to speak, that I am able to get out and about in this community and to meet people. So as you see, I am a Chatty Cathy [laughs]. I like to talk as well, but I love to share information. So really I am very blessed that I get to do what I do, and in this community too. I am constantly learning a lot. So, this [is a] long answer to your question, but [laughs] my career kind of brought me here and it has been really fantastic to be here in the Portland community.
DK: No that is great, and there is not always a quick answer to a question like that, it is all connected. So when you first came to Portland to work, what were some of your first impressions of the city?
ED: You know, I obviously research every place I go to, and what is the community like, and where am I gonna live? My husband and I really love food, and we love dining out or when I am cooking at home. My husband is Vietnamese American as well, so Vietnamese food is comfort food for us, and I will say that was a big plus. Many communities in America these days have quite the Vietnamese presence if you look, but it did help that looking here we already knew of some places we could go for Vietnamese food and Vietnamese communities, and that was a really big plus for us. Like I said, because growing up where we did, there was a very large Vietnamese community and lots of restaurants and churches, community centers, that kind of thing. So having access to that is a nice plus. It was a little heartbreaking to see Chinatown though. We had first visited over a decade ago when we were in Seattle and we came down and remember seeing Chinatown on the map. We used to visit Chinatown if we would go to San Francisco, New York, Chicago and so coming here we realized that Chinatown was kind of a shell of itself, and having lived in Seattle we know that the international district there is not just Chinatown, there's a Little Saigon, Little Tokyo, so it's all Asian communities together.
So we obviously know now that the Jade District in Southeast is one area, there are restaurants and communities in Beaverton, you go to Happy Valley, you go to Clackamas, so it is here, it just is not in Chinatown as you may compare it to San Francisco. So we learned that really fast, and it was not anything that was obviously a turnoff for us, we just learned the lay of the land really quickly. We also just love how beautiful this is, but I have got to say the top thing is really the food. We love exploring the city, we love walking in the city, so I think the city life was nice that we can live in the city and walk around. That was really nice that during the day, when the 10th and Alder carts were still around, we lived in the Pearl District and could walk over there during lunch and he would get something, I would get something different, and we would walk back home. We had exercised and I would get ready for my evening shift. So that was really cool to be able to do that, and each day we were eating something different. That personally was a big draw for us.
DK: That is awesome. I want to back up a little bit and talk about your childhood and what it was like to grow up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Could you start by just describing your childhood and telling us a little about your family?
ED: I was born in Irving, Texas, and one of my brothers was born there as well. They actually named him Irving—I love sharing that fact—and my parents loved the city so much. They met there in Texas, so they came from Vietnam separately, or they did not know each other in Vietnam. Then they met in Texas and were resettling and they fell in love and had my brother and I. I have other brothers who I met later on who came over from Vietnam. Growing up in Texas, we were born in Irving, and then another suburb of Dallas is Grand Prairie, and that is where my parents lived for, I think, two decades, and then they moved to nearby Arlington, which is next door.
So pretty much in that school system and everything, and in the Arlington-Grand Prairie community, my parents are also very active members of their church, and so that was a very big church that I remember. I just remember always speaking Vietnamese and hearing Vietnamese in my household, and as a child I do not think I really questioned it until on Sundays we would go to Sunday school and learn about the Bible and learn about religious studies and we would have Vietnamese classes, and that was just part of my routine on Sundays. And then Monday through Friday [I would] go to school to learn American things [laughs]. So it was just like my complete norm, but then I remember just not really understanding why I had to learn so much Vietnamese because I did not have to use it anywhere else and then that struggle that I just had to. As I got older, I realized that my parents really just wanted us to maintain it. If we ever spoke to them in English they considered that as talking back to them. We learned to speak [Vietnamese]. I called my version “Englamese” because the one time I got to go back to Vietnam in high school with my family I would insert English words the way I speak to my parents. My Vietnamese relatives would not know what that was [laughs], so I had to figure out what I was saying.
To this day I kind of joke that yes, I speak Vietnamese fluently, but I think that the level of vocabulary may not be the highest because I do not speak it, for example, on a professional level like I do for work. My parents always had us speak Vietnamese at home and we always spoke Vietnamese to them, and we were taught to be very well mannered—if somebody came over, we were very respectful—and this is also part of how my parents are as well. My parents are originally from North Vietnam so our accent is a North Vietnamese accent, whereas my husband, his family has a Southern Vietnamese accent or dialect, so we say words a little bit differently in Vietnamese. We kind of poke fun at each other. Yeah, my parents were originally from the North, and when the country split my parents' families— as they were younger—fled to the South but they still maintained their northern Vietnamese dialect and accents and that is what I was taught and that is what I still speak to this day. So that is kind of how my childhood was. My parents worked a ton. My dad worked at Dallas Love Field, and he was a cabinet maker for a long time up until he semi-retired. My mom did that for a little bit, she had other jobs as well. They would also pick up two to three part-time jobs, so I just remember them working a ton and when we were younger our next door neighbors would help babysit, we would stay over there. When we were old enough to care for ourselves and know not to let strangers in, that kind of thing, my brother and I would be home alone some nights until my parents got home. That is part of my memory too. They were just very hard working.
DK: Thank you for sharing that. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about your Vietnamese school education and talk a little bit more in detail about what that was like for you.
ED: Yeah, so my parents are part of the Vietnamese Catholic church, and to this day it is there and it is one of many that are still there in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. What I remember was that we just had these little books and we learned kind of like how you would in kindergarten here in American schools in elementary or kindergarten, right? I remember learning how to write the vowels and in Vietnamese there are the marks that denote the intonation, so we learned how to do that. The vowels can have a hat mark or an up mark or a question mark over it and we learned to pronounce it. The teacher would put it on a chalkboard and we would repeat it after her, and then we would progress to spelling simple words, and then we would progress to knowing how to write sentences, and we would speak them and we would read them. Then when they integrated the Bible studies, then we would learn how to read them out loud and things like that.
DK: Aside from your church community and from Vietnamese schooling, did your parents overtly or non-overtly try to encourage you about Vietnamese culture and tradition?
ED: Yeah, definitely my dad and mom—probably more my dad, he is very prideful [of] our culture. It has always been part of our life. Like I said, the speaking, there was a Vietnamese radio station [and my parents] always listened to it. When cable access got better I remember them watching Vietnamese TV, some Vietnamese channel, there were Vietnamese newspapers. A lot of it had to do with the access that we lived in our community, that in the Dallas-Fort Worth area there were a lot of Vietnamese immigrants who kept that going with newspapers. My dad would write poems or stories and submit them to those magazines and show me. I regret that my reading and comprehension of Vietnamese is not great, but he would show and he is like, "Hey look, this got published!" and I'm like, "Oh, that is really cool, dad." I did not understand at the time that that is really cool.
Little things I think back to my childhood. If my mom had a long day and she was not going to make it home in time to cook rice, my brother and I knew how to cook rice, so they were like, "Hey, can you go put the pot of rice on." So you would know how to rinse the pot of rice and measure it to here using your finger and this is where the water goes and have it ready to go. If I had to run to the store when I was old enough to drive, my mother would send me to the Vietnamese grocery store and they would recognize me because I look like my mom, and then she would give me a list of things to buy. Those are little memories of mine. It's funny talking about this now—for example, soybean milk and this canned soybean milk was one of my favorite drinks. It is very sugary but really good, and I remember packing that for lunch for school in maybe third grade or fourth grade and my friend asked about it and I let her try it and she hated it, and I was really shocked that she didn't think it was amazing! So little things like that, or eating shrimp chips. Shrimp chips are such a delight, and I realize to other people it's kind of stinky and gross [laughs]. But these are things that my parents would eat and we would eat.
A lot of my life, like I said, it goes back to food and drink memories too. My parents really—I don't know if a lot of it was with intention or part of it just like they continued to keep their culture and their lives, as much as they loved American culture. Like, my dad is a big football fan, and basketball, and he loves the NBA, and he loves the Dallas Cowboys. So as much as they did that—we would get the Dallas Morning News newspaper. They would read the newspaper every single day. They watched news a ton and so I think that—I don't know that it was intentional for us, but it certainly soaked into us as the kids. Those things like I said, the food and having the culture around. It wasn't until recently that I got back into listening to some Vietnamese music and Vietnamese pop music. I didn't really know much about it, but my parents watched these variety shows called Paris by Night, and back then they would get the VHS tapes at the store and it was this variety show and it had all the best singers and performers. They would also watch and listen to Vietnamese opera, which is called [unclear], and my brother and I could not stand it, we thought it was like they were howling, we could not understand it but my parents loved that. Little things like that we did not really grow to love but we knew this was what mom and dad would do. Another thing is my parents loved durian, so they would get some fresh durian from the grocery store and cut it up and put it in the freezer and it was so expensive, and it was good, and I would come home and it was like, "Oh my gosh! What is that smell?" and they were like, "Oh, we just got some durian! You want some?" I’m like, "No, I do not want that! Why would you eat that!" Those are some of my memories. Again, a lot of it goes back to food, I guess [laughs].
DK: That's great. What were some of your interests as a child and a youth? Were you involved in any organizations?
ED: Yeah, I did a lot. I remember being a cheerleader already in second grade, and I begged my parents and they let me do it. And so I did that every few years, I think I did it again in sixth grade and junior high, and then my senior year of high school. It was kind of pricey, for them, it is things like that where they would just kind of wonder, "Gosh, all of this costs money." But again, my parents were never like, "You cannot have that." They just would make it work, and as long as I maintained good grades and tried to be a good student I think they saw the benefit of it. But I personally did a lot. I think part of it is my personality— I like trying different things, but I think my parents also encouraged it—they did not discourage it. So if I name all the things I can think of, I did cheerleading like I said, I remember doing that already at second grade. I ended up playing the flute in junior high, I played tennis for a little bit, I was in Girl Scouts. My mom told me that she was in something that was the equivalent of Girl Scouts as a girl. So I did that from age eight to eighteen. Also we were part of a youth group at church too, which was called [unclear], and I believe it is a Catholic youth group and it is kind of worldwide. We would wear these bandanas, so similar to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts if you integrated both of them, and so they incorporated learning about the Bible, but also we went on camp outs and we did group events and we did games. As we got older, as I mentioned, Sunday classes evolved from learning the language to we were now doing these youth group events and learning about our studies, but also just working together and working as groups. So that is another one that we did. I did other clubs, like I remember doing student council, French club, probably did some other things too [laughs].
DK: So, [in] college you studied journalism. I'm curious, how did you become interested in studying journalism?
ED: So, it was kind of not a direct route. My parents were hoping I would be a doctor or a nun [laughs]. Those seemed not like what I wanted to do, so I went from thinking I was going to study biology and maybe become a doctor like they wanted, but I was not really into chemistry and biology. I remember being scared to tell them, because I wanted to make them happy but at the same time, I knew I just was not passionate about the studies and that it was going to be tough for me. So I looked into public relations and that was not something I was really interested in. I have always loved fashion, so my college had interior design and architecture, and I thought that was really great, so with loving fashion and loving design I also loved interior design and it just seemed really great. As I studied it-- I did that for three years-- but by my third year I really again felt like my passion in this was not really there. I really liked it but I wasn't loving it and I wasn't waking up thinking I really want to do this, and I was struggling. For the first time my grades struggled, and there was that pressure because it is college, we are paying for this. I was dating my now-husband at the time, and he encouraged me to look into broadcast communications, and he saw it in me, and I guess I just had not thought of it.
At that time it correlates with—I was doing a lot of pageant things, so I was finding more confidence in speaking on stage and just speaking in public. I think he saw that as well. I took his advice, looked into it, and never looked back. It was the right decision and he knew it before I did. So I started studying it. I broke the news to my parents, but they were accepting. I loved it. It was one of those moments where I knew, where I went from really pushing myself to study to I did not have to, I was so excited. And then when I got my internship, like I said, at the NBC DFW station, I was super excited. Even on the days that were grueling and were tough, I still enjoyed it so much. I just knew this is what I was cut out to do and it was a feeling I had not felt before. Everything clicked and I have never had a doubt about it since then.
DK: What have been some of your favorite aspects about being a journalist?
ED: My favorite aspects are being able to feel that moment when you feel that you have helped somebody, or when someone opens up about something really tough, because that is a tough job. A lot of times it is tragedy, it is heartbreak. But when someone opens up after that, I think that is very human of all of us, just not everybody tells their story on camera. I think that when our stories can help, or when I tell someone else a story and their story helps other people save lives, get help for themselves, get help for a family member, make life easier because they have been doing something the hard way. I get a sense of this is a service to our community, and to me that is one of my favorite parts about what I do. I am also very curious, so I love that I am constantly learning, and it ties in with [that] I love to share information, so I am that person who, "I know this, now I want you to know as well!" "Oh my gosh did you know this, you gotta hear about this, you gotta see this." So I think that that is really what I love most about what I do, is being able to constantly share and inform people about what is going on.
DK: How do you prepare for the stories that you report?
ED: I will read up on it, if I have time [laughs]. Sometimes breaking news comes in really fast so we do not have a lot of time, and when we do have time for bigger stories for something that—so if it is breaking news, obviously we are getting limited information, so I will start with that, that is something that is coming right at the moment and we will just keep going as we go. If I am on air, then I can only give you as much as I can. Then say I get off air later, I will continue to look into it and my colleagues and I will continue to look into it more. Is there more to investigate? Why did this happen? Did something go wrong? For example, there is this building collapse that we see in Miami, I imagine those journalists are doing the same. Was there some kind of building code that was not looked at? Or was it looked at? So then you go back and research a bit more. When it works in reverse, where maybe it is not breaking news but it is a big story—for example we did our "Is Portland Over?" series, and for my part I focused on the restaurant industry here in Portland, which is a foodie town, and I researched a lot about that and that also looks into the history of Portland, and even though I do not include all of that in my story because I just do not have the time, but obviously maybe people do not know, but they will find out when they research. James Beard, who is very influential, was born here in this area, and there is the James Beard Award, and looking into how many restaurants there are and reaching out to an organization about how many restaurants closed. So depending on the nature of the story it can take a long time to prepare, but I definitely will do that. It goes from making phone calls to having interviews like you and I are doing, just to have a preliminary chat with someone about the topic and kind of get a feel for them. Are they comfortable with talking? If not, are they able to just at least relay some information that I can use to report on and they just do not want to be on camera. So, that is how I prepare as far as content. And as far as the on air stuff, just being obviously well-rested, well-fed. I know that may sound silly, but just like any other job, being good mentally and physically sound, those are ways that I also, as I get older, I realize are so important to my health.
DK: Can you say more about the "Is Portland Over?" series that you have been doing with KOIN 6?
ED: Yeah, what do you want to know?
DK: For anyone who may not know about it, maybe just a little bit of background and some of the types of segments you have done?
ED: Yeah, "Is Portland Over?" is something that we did a couple months ago but we worked on it for many months. So, my co-anchor Jeff Gianola and myself—Jeff has lived and worked here in Portland for almost forty years, and some of my other colleagues as well, other anchors and reporters, we each worked on different aspects of looking at Portland's reputation because in the past year to year-and-a-half, not only has the COVID pandemic really hit our country, our world, hard, we are looking at Portland as well. I think if you take a step back to before all this, Portland is beautiful, Oregon is beautiful, I mentioned it is known as a foodie town, it is a tourist destination, for those who live here you can go to the coast, you can go to the mountains, you can go north and south and it is also just as beautiful. So we have such a beautiful area, and then you look at the downtown area where I work and a lot of my colleagues also live too. It has definitely changed, there is no doubt about that, from where it was bustling to post-pandemic and then there were the George Floyd protests and some nights became riots where there was broken windows and destruction. So the city has changed, there is no doubt about that.
We were looking at how do you tell that story about where we are now? About Portland's reputation? About Portlandia for example, it is a funny show but there is some truth to it where in that show they talk about this is where young people retire and it is their dream of the '90s and you can work if you want, you can chill if you want, and you know there is coffee shops, you can work in the food industry, you can be an artist. Like I said, I mean it is not completely false either, but at the same time that dream of Portland, that was the question. "Is Portland Over?" is more like, is that dream, is that ideology of Portland over? Most people answer no, it is not over, and there were some who said yes, but that was the whole point, was sparking that discussion and showing everyone, whether you live here or elsewhere, about what is going on in Portland, especially in the last year or so, and then looking ahead. So, I know that is a long response as well, but it looked at the protests, the pandemic, it looked at the destruction, it looked at businesses that have closed and looked at businesses that have opened, it looked at the real estate market, it looked at homelessness, it looked at the rise in gun violence which unfortunately has happened, and our police department which has been impacted as well, and the history of protests which goes way far back beyond this past year. So very fascinating as you probably know, Dustin, that the history of Portland is very intriguing and this was just kind of the latest chapter, and asking are we at this turning point in Portland's identity?
DK: Well, thank you for sharing that. I am curious what especially it has been like to report on the pandemic and also on the protests after George Floyd. What was that like in real time when you were reporting on these very serious issues?
ED: It was surreal. I think for both of those, for both the pandemic and for reporting on George Floyd. As a journalist, I try to be fair and to let you know what is going on and you can decide from there what is going on. But we are human, and sometimes it really is tough to see someone hurting and to tell people, to tell you that people are dying. I think that that was tough in being strong and, no doubt, I think it just affected all of us because this is our country and we are seeing so many changes and this is our world and we are seeing and feeling changes, so it just reminded me and my colleagues about that self care that I was talking about. People who are not in this industry I think realize it much more that yes, do a good job at your job but also try and be a good person to yourself. Take that day off and make the most of it and rest, and really do what you need to do to recharge.
I think that is what it reminded me of because some days you might have a series of very heavy news. Like, I look back to some breaking news stories like the Eagle Creek fire. Days and days of talking about this fire. But for the pandemic it is day after day, and for the protests it was day after day after day, so even if your time of meant that little time to go home and sleep and rest, recharge as best as you can and get back to it so that we are being our best selves and being really good at our jobs and doing a good job for you. That is what I think that taught me. Because it was tough, it was a very tough time because we were seeing a lot of emotion and a lot of scared people. Then especially when no one really knows what is going to happen with the pandemic in the early stages, it felt surreal to go to work and I realize everyone else is at home, I am still going to work. No one is on the highway, this is so eerie. But also feeling similar when there is, for example, snow coverage. Everyone is at home, here I am going to work. It feels like just an empty world right now. But I also feel a sense of duty. There is a reason I am that lone person on the street right now because I am hoping that what I can do when I get to work will help people.
DK: I am curious what it is like to be a news anchor specifically in the city of Portland. I know you have been a journalist in several parts of the country. What is unique to the experience in this city?
ED: What is unique about this… Gosh, I am trying to think of something that really really stands out. I just know that I have been very fortunate in that I will get handwritten letters from people, which in this day and age is rare, from viewers. Whether it is to note a correction that they felt needed to be noted, or they are really just very kind about being a viewer and they really love what they see. I think that I have seen more of that here, and so I do not know if that speaks to Portlanders and to this region, I have really noticed that. I mean I get emails and things as well. I know that our viewers in our community are very thoughtful and I think that is also part of that. They will hold us accountable if we do not. So they really want, that was not enough, can we get more, can we get more. So I do feel like that. It is not always just enough, so that holds us to a high regard. I find that being an anchor here, I have noticed that a lot more.
DK: I am curious if there are any challenges to reporting in Portland that is a little different than what it has been like in your other cities you have worked in, and if so how those might have even changed since you first arrived in the city?
ED: I think one of the challenges is that not as many people watch TV news as compared to other cities, or they have so many options so they may just watch on occasion, or they are a radio listener or podcast listener, they will check a website every now and then— they get their news from so many other sources. So that is kind of interesting in that sometimes I have to let somebody know what the topic is and then we have a conversation about it. It is kind of a mix, as I tell you we have those who are super hyper-informed, but then you also have those who maybe they kind of choose and select how and when they watch. They are not watching avidly and every single night all the time. So I think that is really interesting. The nature of the news here—I will say, I think the weather has been a little bit different. Where I grew up and then in my first market in Amarillo, I mean there are tornados every spring and then we had snow in the winter, and then being in Dallas we had tornados as well, and hail. So the weather here has been not as—with the exception of this heat that we are going to get—that has been different because we are not chasing tornados obviously, a tornado is such a rare occurrence, and being in Florida there are hurricanes and things like that. So the nature of news is different because of the lay of the land.
DK: You spoke to this a little bit when answering about the "Is Portland Over?" series, but I am curious about how you perceive the trajectory of Portland as a city.
ED: How do I see the city? I see the city as going through changes. I think that love it or not, the city is definitely going through changes. You can point to the protests, the pandemic like I said, and there are so many factors. I mean, businesses have struggled. Businesses may have been struggling before the pandemic as well. For example, like stores, a lot of people are buying things online. It is multilayered. Definitely that the city is changing, there is no doubt—that food cart area that I loved, it is not there—but the city is reopening another spot soon and they are, just like a lot of people are hoping it will be successful and people will come. And now a high rise hotel is going up where 10th and Alder is at. So, just like any city it is going to change. I know any time I go back to visit my parents in Arlington, it changes. So that is inevitable, and I honestly think that it is going to be okay. I think that this is just stemming from my own personal experiences. When we go through something tough and painful as we all do, just immense heartache, it definitely hurts, but after that part you get back on your feet and you go forward. I think that is what this city will experience as well. Because, and that also comes from talking to people who have lived here a lot longer than me, and they sense that as well, that sure, there will be people who will be turned away who will leave and who do not like what is going on, but it goes back to kind of who I am and to the people I speak with. My parents had to start anew in a place they had never been before, and the home that they called home completely changed. While they still have family there and they visited, it is not the home that they knew. But you look forward with hope and you know that with your own personal strength things will be okay. It will not stay the same, but it will be okay. I think that the people make that, the people here have immense pride. The majority of the people I have met, they really love this region, they love the city, so I think that also speaks to other people here too.
DK: I am curious if in your time living in Portland you feel like you have made a connection to the Vietnamese American community in particular here?
ED: I hope so! I know I have met some [laughs]. I know that for those that I have met, and especially when I meet elders, I really love speaking Vietnamese to them to go ahead and test that out and continue my Vietnamese because I still speak Vietnamese to my parents and my in-laws. So I know that I have, and every now and then I meet, especially someone who is younger. I spoke to some students at Clackamas High School, and they have an Asian Student Association, and it was just so wonderful to talk with them and to hear that and to be reminded that I can be a role model and that there are young men and women who are [...Oops, hold on just a sec, sorry ... it looks like I am getting a call. Okay, do you still have me? Okay...] That was really endearing and really nice to know that I will hear those stories, or someone says, "My mom knows who you are and I told her..." So I do not always hear from them directly but every now and then when I do run into somebody who tells me that I think it is wonderful because I look back on my childhood when in Dallas we knew one Vietnamese anchor, and she is not there anymore in Dallas, but at that time everyone knew who that was and when I became a news anchor people would say her name. And I know that if we saw someone, an Asian reporter, my parents would point that out. It is someone who looks like me. When I do interact with people in the community and especially the Vietnamese, I know that when I get reception I am very proud of that and I tell them that too. I am really glad to represent that my life has taken me to this community that I did not grow within, but I hope that there are other children who are looking up to me and want to do the same thing, and that are proud of our Vietnamese culture too.
DK: I am looking at the time and I am realizing that we have been talking for nearly an hour—
DK: I have a few questions I would still love to ask, but I want to make sure that you are okay with that.
ED: Yeah, I can squeeze in a couple more and then I got to go [laughs].
DK: Sounds good. I am curious how you perceive Portland's Vietnamese community to be and how you might even compare it to your experiences in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
ED: I think that there is a Vietnamese community—for sure there is one here, and they have been obviously here for a long time. I know since after the war and some before the war who came here to study and who have lived here for a long time. It is a smaller community than what I grew up with for sure, because it is just densely populated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But I do know of, for example, there is a Vietnamese Catholic church and there is Buddhist temples, and I know that there is a Vietnamese immersion school I think that is connected to Portland Public Schools. So it is a smaller community, I think it may not be as connected as a result because it is a smaller community, but it is definitely here, and it is really enchanting when—I have several friends who are Vietnamese American who were born and raised in this area, so it is really great to hear their stories about how, like I told you, like in Chinatown they would go there all the time and then now it is kind of spread out, it depends on where they go now for food or for church or for gatherings. That is the difference for sure, is that it is a smaller community, but it is a smaller city than where I grew up in. So yeah.
DK: I am curious what differences you see between younger and older generations of Vietnamese Americans.
ED: I think that it is tough for the next generation—and it always continues that way—to maintain the Vietnamese culture, whether it is language and the history, and retaining those stories. Like anybody who has been through a war, it is tough for our parents to talk about that. It was not until recently that I started asking my dad questions about his childhood or even the war, and I do not know if it is just because I felt uncomfortable to ask him, maybe he never brought it up, but then why would he bring it up? That is just my personal experience. I know that that may be a factor and that it is very traumatizing and you think about how a lot of the Vietnamese came here. They had to start fresh and they lost their home. It was a war that was lost, many died. I can only imagine the trauma it would be to discuss that, but it is important to. I think that for younger generations—I am just one generation removed, but I know that for my nephews and nieces, I know it has got to be tough for them because I went through that phase where I am thinking, Why do I have to learn Vietnamese? Do I have to listen to Vietnamese music? I don’t need the Vietnamese newspaper! But then, in my twenties and after I started to realize I have so much gratitude and respect for my history, and [that is] why what you are doing to preserve this is important, because they are not going to be around forever so we have to retain these images and these stories.
But it is painful and it is tough, and honestly it is a serious topic, so when you are young I do not know that you are always in a position to hear that. So I do not know if it is the next generation that they do not want to hear about it, but I think it is just that—and I am basing this looking at my nieces and nephews, for example—I just think that maybe sometimes it is tougher to have those conversations about grandpa's history. Now that I am talking about it, sometimes I think that you have to just introduce it at some point and just talk about it and document it. But that is the biggest impact, and I think that we have to remind the next generation of that, because when I have encouraged some of the nephews that I chat with most frequently and when they go through tough times I will give them the same rundown that I give to myself and that I give to you, which is like, "Hey, you are going through a tough time, you are going to get through this. Look at grandma and grandpa, they started fresh and did not know the language, they had no money, but they made it and look at them now." So I go back to those stories to remind them, and so I think it is just a generational thing, not necessarily cultural. I think that being born and raised here—I experienced that too, I did not really experience heartache until later, and so I had a lot of nice things growing up so I did not really have reason to reflect on what my parents went through until later, if that makes sense. Because they made sure I had a lot.
DK: Absolutely. As we wrap things up here, I am curious if there is anything we did not ask you or stories that did not come up that you would like to be preserved in this interview?
ED: There is like a thousand stories, Dustin, I am so chatty [laughs].
DK: Great, I am an extrovert as well.
ED: I—no, you were great. Yeah, just-- I am really proud of who I am and where I came from. I am so blessed that my life has taken me here to Portland. It is a beautiful, diverse community. As far as the outlook of the city, it is certainly changing and people are coming and going as you know. Like I said, I do not see that as a negative thing, if you just look at it as pain and growth and you look at it as a personal standpoint it is not the end of something—and if it is the end of something it just means that something new is coming, right? So, that is how I look at this city. As far as being Vietnamese in Portland and being a Vietnamese American, I am immensely proud of it, and especially as an adult now at forty, I am more proud than I was when I was ten years old. My parents really instilled a lot of that in me, so I am really glad that I speak the language and I have met people who their parents actually spoke English to them and wanted them to learn more English, so they actually do not know Vietnamese. I used to be envious of them and conversely they are envious of me because I know Vietnamese, so the grass is always greener. I am really glad for that, and I just hope there are more programs in schools that can teach in Vietnamese, because that is really tough. Not all families have access to what I did. So like I said, growing up in that community, I do not think I knew as a kid how lucky I was that the immersion was there to learn and to speak Vietnamese, and there are some who do not have that access—or someone who does not know anything about Vietnamese culture but they want to learn it. I do not know that Vietnamese is as accessible to them besides maybe an app or something, so it would be cool if we saw more and more of that. But I will say I am really grateful that in the last decade or so, Vietnamese food and culture is way more common and my upbringing with food is... you know, I can talk to anyone about banh mi and pho and I do not have to explain it, they know what it is. So I think that makes me really happy about being Vietnamese and being American, too.
DK: Before we pressed record at the beginning, you were telling me about a dress that your father designed for you. Do you want to talk at all about that?
ED: Yeah, sure. The Vietnamese áo dài is the Vietnamese dress, and so it has got a high collar similar to a Chinese dress and the traditional one is a very lightweight fabric with the high collar, it is long sleeved with long pants. In fact, young women, as my mom would say, would wear it as a school uniform. Then for weddings you might wear a very regal, well-decorated one and then you would have a headdress. So it is a very common Vietnamese dress, and I have many. I recently came across a picture of one and it just was fond memories. It was the first pageant I did in Dallas, it was called the Miss Áo Dài Dallas Pageant, and my dad designed it. It was yellow and it had Vietnam drawn on the top of it and then three red stripes to pay homage to the South Vietnamese flag. My dad was very proud of it. Though I did not place in that pageant I still have it. I think it is at my parents' house. I am really proud of that and it is one of many áo dàis that I have, and that's another thing that is part of my culture. There is no other dress that is like it. They are just beautiful. I think that is another thing where my dad—I do not know if he meant to, maybe he did—but it is also my dad, he is a very proud Vietnamese man so he has always integrated that in life lessons and in things that we do, so that is just another example of my dad having that touch.
DK: That's awesome. Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
ED: I think we are good, but will you let me know if there is anything else? This was so fun, and it went by quickly [laughs]. I'm sorry it was not in person. And let me see if I can find this picture real quick to show you. I just have it here on my phone.
[Dinh shows a picture of the ao dai]
DK: Oh, very cool! Yeah, that is really neat.
ED: [laughs] It is hard to see the outline of the country, but yeah, it is there.
DK: Well, let me go ahead and end the recording here. Again, this has been Dustin Kelley chatting with Elizabeth Dinh. Today is Thursday, June 24, 2021. Thank you so much for listening.