Dinh Mai Interview: November 5, 2018
Interviewer: Hannah Crumme, Azen Jeffe
AJ: I'm Azen Jaffe, I'm Here with Hannah Crumme in the Midland Public Library. We're interviewing Mr. Din Mai, and we have Tanja Nguyen from IRCO International Language Bank helping us. It's November 5th, 2018.
AJ: Could you start by telling us where you were born, and a little bit about your life here in Portland.
DM: He wants to say that it's on the bright side to make an interview with you guys. He wants to say everything in Vietnamese language. It's easier for him. It's a freedom. He feels free to say and share information in Vietnamese language rather than in English, because it is a limitation.06:56 He said that he lives very close to here in the south area. He is retired now.
[side conversation between the interviewers and the translator about whether or not the translator should translate what Mr. Mai said in the first, or in the third person]
DM: I was born in Vietnam in 1941. My hometown is Thu thanh kiem song ninh binh North Vietnam. In that time my document about my birthdays was October, 10 1944 because of the wars. I have to say my birthday is three years younger than my real birthday. It's easy for me to get into school at that time, because I have to move from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. It was really really hard for me to get into school if I was older at that time. I escaped Vietnam in 1975. First I came to [UNCLEAR] and then later I came to Arkansas, and then New Orleans, and then Houston, and then I settled down in Portland in 1989.
AJ: That's a lot of moving, where in Portland do you live now?
DM: I live very close to the library. Very close to [UNCLEAR], I can take a walk to the library to borrow a book, and to read.
HC: Are there a lot of other Vietnamese Americans living around here?
DM: There are a few Vietnamese people living around this area. Most of the Vietnamese live in Beaverton. Not this area, closer to Lavang catholic church on Sandy. There are a few Vietnamese that live around this area.
HC: Has he always lived around here? Is this where he settled when he came in 1989?
DM: Before I lived in the north area of Portland, but I moved out to Southeast.
HC: Why did you move?
DM: At first when I moved from Houston to Portland, I lived in the north area. I rented the house over there. After I open my own business grocery store at Fremont and 57th, I decided to move down to southeast. It is easier to get to my own business.
AJ: Do you participate in any religious or community organizations here in Portland?
DM: I was a participant in the Vietnamese community in Portland with the position as the vice President for the Vietnamese community in 2010 and 2012. Now I still participate in the Vietnamese community as a consultant for a young resident who is in the position right now. As well, I attend the catholic church, and I am a very active member over there. I am in the family group, and I still in the [board] council of the church. Very active to consult and to do that in the church.
HC: What type of activities do you do with the church? Can you tell us more about how Our Lady of Lavang is as a community?
DM: I actively participated in the catholic church in three groups. First is [UNCLEAR] group. This group focuses on the family. The second group is knights of Columbus. In this group I take the position as the financial secretary, and the next one is the senior groups. That is all the elderly people in the church, so we come together once a month.
HC: How have you seen the church change since 1989? Has the community there developed at all?
DM: In Portland start from the a very very small Catholic community. The Catholic people at that time, they gather together in a small apartment to start. Later the members increased, so they bought the property in Sandy and 57th with a very generous donation from a member of the church. With the financial help from the ? church, The Vietnamese catholic people bought the property, and built the church in 1982. The community of the church from seven hundred to one thousand people. And right now the member of the church is over six thousand with fifteen hundred families.
HC: That's really big. Were there any important people who helped the church develop?
DM: I'm helping to develop the church, or to improve the church organization. 32:36 Invite organization to democratic election for the board of council, and since 2003 or 2007 before this year the church had a formal president. He came to this position by choice, and everyone just said he's the one that can stay in that position so he kept that position for a long time until 2003 when he believed that he should step down and let the young people take become the board of council, and care of the church later. I was the one that helped organize the election. People come to vote for the board of council in the church. Right now the board of council consists of fourteen people. All of them are young, and they are very active. I help them to develop the community, the church.
HC: Are there any events that bring the community together?
DM: Now the members of the church has increased significantly, and there are ten services on Sunday. As well, the church opened a Vietnamese class for the young generation. For the young children to learn the Vietnamese language, so that's another activity in the church. There are one thousand two hundred children that attend the Vietnamese classes. They do grade one from grade nine in Vietnamese classes. Right now the church has three sections. [UNCLEAR] we can say it is essential for the big event. In the [UNCLEAR] we have many small groups for a prayer group. And another section for Vietnamese classes. The services in the church start from 6pm on Saturday, and on Sunday there are five services. One service at seven, one service at nine, one service at eleven, one service at one, and the last service at six. There are four priests, and one is the senior priest, and the other three are associate priests, and then one deacon because the church size increased. There are many many members in the church right now. The largest service is on Sunday at about nine o'clock. There are two places for this service. One in the [UNCLEAR,] and another in the chapel.
HC: We're gonna switch gears a little bit, and ask more about Portland in general and how it was when you came here.
AJ: What were your first impressions when you came to Portland, of the city?
DM: There were at least two reasons for my family and me to move. At first it was my wife's side. Her sister lived in Portland, and they told us that my wife's parents were coming to visit us in Portland, and they might stay here in the U.S., in Portland. That was the reason we thought we should come see our parents, because that's a good opportunity to see them. The second reason was there was a downturn economy in Houston. In that time there was the oil crisis, so all the economy in Houston was affected. My own business over there was open for seven years, and was very successful. In that time, because the economy went down, my business was affected as well. So I was not making a lot of profit like before, which suggested us to move out of Houston, and move to Portland with my Wife's side of the family over there. The family reunion at that time was the reason we moved.
HC: What did he think about the city when he arrived? What was his impression?
DM: There were many things that impressed me when I moved to Portland. First, the weather. It was more comfortable. It was easier to live in this weather. The second is that traffic is light compared to Houston. It is so crowded, and there is a lot of traffic and we have to go around and around. Whenever I travelled I had to take the highway, the freeway, and I don't feel good about the highway. Portland downtown, or in general, Portland is small, and people here are friendly, so that made an impression. It's a very good place to live. Another impression about Portland is public transportation, and especially the MAX transportation. I love the MAX so much. When I did the [UNCLEAR] once into Portland downtown, and there was no parking lot, and it was really hard to find a parking lot. So, I took the MAX and I went into downtown. It was so easy to take the MAX back and forth from my house to downtown Portland.
AJ: How do you think Portland has changed since you first came here?
DM: There are two rivers here. One is the Columbia river, and the other river I don't remember the name. This area has developed very quickly. There are so many good high schools. The education is accessible for the children. My children attended Benson high school. This was a very good high school for them, for their future. I believe that Portland has developed well. One of the reasons for that quick development is the two rivers. One is the Columbia river and the other is the Willamette. I believe that there are very good universities in Portland. Private as well as public. Myself and my older son went to Portland State University. I have another four children that went to OSU, and one graduated at UO. I'm so proud that the University of Portland is a Catholic university. In my beliefs I am a Catholic, so I am very very proud of that. That the Catholic church can open a university for the people to come to. They have a very good soccer team at Portland University. I am very happy that when I moved into Portland that OHSU is a very good university with a specialty in the medical field. There are many many good doctors from that university, and I am very very happy and proud of those from OHSU. I have a diagnoses that my right eye is damaged, so had I not had an early diagnoses on that I might be legally blind. The doctors from OHSU found it, and noticed it, and they have something to help my eyes, and to keep it open.
AJ: How many children do you have, and do they live here in Portland with you?
DM: I have six children. I have three boys and three girls. God bless me. All my six children already done with the universities. I have fourteen grand-children.
AJ: Are they in Portland?
DM: One of them moved out to California with her boyfriend, husband. The rest live in the Portland area. My youngest daughter moved out to California. She is a pharmacists, so she works for a [UNCLEAR] pharmacy.
AJ: Was it hard for you and your family to establish yourselves here in Portland? Did you face challenges?
DM: At first I thought it was easy to open a business here in Portland, because I have experience how to open a business in Houston. In Houston I was the owner of a seafood store with live seafood. I thought that when I moved to Portland, I could start my own business. Whatever the Portland area needed, I could provide the services. But, it turned out that it was very very challenging for me. Most of my money when I sold my business went into this investment to start a business in Portland. I think I lacked the research on how the business worked in the Portland area. It was really really hard for me to open the grocery store in Portland. I changed from the seafood store to the grocery store. I lost a lot. After that I sold my business, my grocery store because it wasn't making a profit. After this failure in the business in Portland I decided to go back to college and take some courses. I ended up in the same college as my oldest son. We formed the student association in the university. My oldest son took the position as president of the Vietnamese association for a while.
AJ: We're going to change gears a little bit again, and ask you about where in Vietnam you are originally from, and why you came to the United States in 1975?
DM: I had big moves in my life. In 1954 we moved from North to South Vietnam. The reason for this move was that we were Catholic, and the communists took over North Vietnam, and they are no religion. They don't believe in anything divine. We are Catholic, so we should move, because we cannot live with that government that does not believe. As well, my father and my older brother participated in politics, so they took a position to protect the [UNCLEAR]. The reason we had to move was to be refugees and go down south. Because South Vietnam was the freedom area at that time. There was an agreement signed in 1954. The Vietnamese in the South could move to the North, as well the Vietnamese from the North could be South. My family decided to move south, so we could avoid prosecution from the communists. There were about one million people that moved from North to South in that time. While the Vietnamese in the south that moved to the north was very little. Until now I still say thank you to the former president in South Vietnam, because he welcomed all of us from the north. He opened anything to help us move down south.
HC: When you came to the US, which members of your family came with you? How did you immigrate?
DM: It is very interesting that we move from North to South, there were many many challenges on the way. For example, my father and my older brother went first to the freedom area and then my mom and the whole family, the rest of the family, stayed in the house, in the town where we were. A group of communist soldiers came to our house, and they do the education on us, and make sure that we stay in the North instead of moving down south. That was the challenges when part of my family moved down south, and that happened in 1954. The next move in 1975, my whole family had a big problem. It was challenging for us to move to the U.S.. We already set up the plan, because I worked for the U.S. agency at the time and they prepared a flight for our whole family, and another of my family members to all go together, but when we were waiting in the airport, waiting for the flight and the airplane to come pick us up it was very last minute, because it was the last day of the Republican government over there, and chaos happened at the airport at that time. So, my family, and all other families had to delay the flights. My boss at that time he was very good to us, and he tried to take all of the families and gather together, and try to escape the airport. All of the Vietnamese soldiers, or the U.S. soldiers at that time were on high alert. When it was a little bit stable, my boss took us to the U.S. agency, and at that agency we took a flight to go to...
There were many many challenges I cannot remember until now, because at that time it was very fast. The U.S. army had to withdraw from Vietnam, and all chaos happened. My boss was very kind to us. The plan did not work like we thought. Another thing, we left a little bit late because I tried to help other people. For example, the soldier’s wife was still there, they were there, they needed food, they needed supplies. So I volunteered to stay a little bit late to help them, and that turned out to put my family in trouble with escaping. It was the very last days, and many things happened in the last days over there. Finally we made it, I made it. It was a very very dangerous at that time in those last minutes, because we could see and hear about the communist soldier army as they approached to the towns to the city. As well, I saw the group of people to make a good area for the helicopter to land. That was a very very big danger at that time. At that time my children were small, my mom is old and weak, and last minute I had to only bring necessary supplies, because we needed to have enough room for people to come into the helicopter. I left all of my possessions, and everything.
We only had small luggage with the necessary papers and anything we needed. At first, I was supposed to take the first helicopter but because my mom was weak she couldn't walk as fast as we were, and I had the youngest children around my neck, and the other is around me because I had to protect my family so I was late for that first helicopter. Then I had to wait for a second. Finally we made it, and the whole family took the flight to the midway ship in the ocean, in the pacific ocean, and we had to wait. We were supposed to have the mid flight to go to Guam, and then from Guam we go to the United States, but the plan changed.
HC: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us? Either about your experience leaving Vietnam, or your experience emigrating to the U.S., or your experience in Portland?
DM: He shared about his life experience, how to live in a communist country, and how to live in a free country. He said there is so much difference. After the refugees from the communist government, he and his family had to move to the United States as an immigrant, so now with the new administration the immigration policy is so different. More tight for the immigrants. The President always says make America great again, but the immigrants do nothing to contribute to the country when they live in it. He said it looks like the new administration is against the constitution of America, and should be open-minded about immigrants. He said the main reason for immigration is for people to move to the United States. To use drugs to kill the younger generation, to make them weak so they can not raise their voice against the government. As a U.S. citizen right now I want to vote, I will raise my voice. At first if I have the opportunity to vote I vote against oppression and drug use. Right now the young generation, they use a lot of drugs and they become weak, so they cannot raise their voices. I think about the Vietnamese community in Portland, there are not as many as the California community, but at least approximately thirty-thousand million Vietnamese people here in Portland, and I believe they should raise their voices about what is happening in society in general, and what happens in the Portland area. They should be encouraged to vote. Few Vietnamese people come to vote, because they don't know what's going on. I believe that the Vietnamese people need to have support from the government to build up a strong community.