EC: OK this is E.J. Carter and Hannah Crummé, we're with Bick Huynh on February 25, 2019. Thanks for being with us.
BH: Thank you for having me.
HC: First, would you start by giving us a summary of your life here in Portland—what you do, how long you've been here, where you live, that sort of thing.
BH: My name is Bick Huynh and I—first [am] a transplant for over twenty-three years since '96. I got married to an Oregonian immigrant. So he became a citizen from Vietnam—he is Vietnamese American—and he first came to Oregon and I'm a transplant from, originally, Minnesota for about a few months and then went to California and been to California for fifteen years and then got married and came up here in '96. So I would call myself an Oregonian for twenty-three years [laughs]. I first lived in Beaverton for ten years and then the rest of the time I lived in Portland and it's quite different and I love it. I love [that] it's more accepting. My experience in Portland tend[s] to be more accepting than other cities, you know, more of a suburb of… political beliefs of how other people are in Beaverton, Hillsboro and you got Lake Oswego—they're all metropolitan, but Portland in the heart of it. I [have] live[d] in the Hollywood district for about ten years now, and then other times [in] Northeast Portland. Other areas but this is more of a stable place where I first had my first son who's twelve, turning thirteen next month. He went to Providence Montessori which is in Portland as well and that was a private school, preschool and now it's Portland Montessori. It changed. Then I had my younger son [go] to the Bible Christian Church over in the Rocky Butte, you familiar with that? If you go all the way to Rocky Butte you see those domes. So he went there for preschool. And then I had to find a good school, like a good public school which was supported by the neighborhood, the parents, which my kids now go to by Beverly Cleary schools and it's K to eighth and we pretty much live across the street, we're blessed in that sense. I bring 'em hot lunch [laughs]. I cook and I mean they're the only kids that actually get hot lunch brought to them. [HC: That's pretty nice.] [laughs] I try.
I think incorporating with the Vietnamese culture I was raised with very little physical affection as hugging and kissing go. I mean, it goes to a certain age. They do a lot of that before you're five or six, you're not supposed to remember a lot of that [laughs] or something, I don't know what it is. It's like if you remember that you're going to become a naughty child because you would be spoiled and have things your way and you won't be a contributor in a cultural sense of speaking. So even though I am Vietnamese American,I came to the States when I was almost eight and y'know seven, I still remember a lot. But I love Portland, the longer I'm here I love everything about it—in terms of people, in terms of how we resolve certain problems—we don't go and take hose and hose people down [laughs]. Well, those days are pretty much over anyways.
HC: So it sounds like you came here, first you came to Beaverton—what were some of your initial impressions of Portland, and of Beaverton, of the area you moved to when you first arrived?
BH: It's a newer city, compared to Portland where my house now is 1911, over there, because it was a wetland, and you know constructions were quite new over there, so a lot of electricities and wiring is underground and it's very, in a way, clean and serene but everything's clean and serene goes with that, too. So it has the side of me where I came from Southern California and I can actually see that as a good transition. I think Beaverton is Portland's metropolitan area, but the people there are very… I feel they're very to themselves a lot, they [HC: Private?] they're very private. They're not, like, the ones that knock on your door and say 'do you have butter, a lemon', or y'know 'I can bring you something'. My sister lived there—who just recently passed away of cancer [HC: I'm sorry.] Yeah, thank you. It was just last month… [HC: That's awful, I'm sorry.] Yeah, thank you very much. She's thirty-one but she was born here, but she lived in Beaverton. She lives in that cul-de-sac that it's multi-families and the kids are young and they play with each other so people are more sociable and they're more interacting with each other when the kids go back and forth and play, and eat each others food, and so the parents tend to be more closed knit in that sense. But if you don't—I didn't have kids for a long time. I didn't have my kids until I was [in my] thirties, so I see in my experiences people actually don't actually know their neighbors so much. And they keep things to themselves. Even friends that [have] been living in their house for a long time, they don't know too [many] of their neighbors either. And they're like, born Oregonians they were here for forty, fifty years they still don't have that interaction [How did that—] like Portland.
HC: How did that compare to the community you were coming from in Southern California— was that similar or different or…?
BH: Well, it depends on what level and what area you're at and which part of California you're from. I was from Southern California, was more of a beach girl at high school and part of college over there, and people are quite friendly there. They behave a little bit more like Beaverton, so that's what I was saying. It's a very close transition from Beaverton and California, but I feel like Portland is another world of its own. It's almost as close as Portlandia [laughs] in some sense. Of how—I mean that’s a little bit too… putting everybody in one basket—but in a sense of interacting and people asking questions and they're very into their health. Y'know, 'where is this chicken com[ing] from' or 'where is this meat com[ing] from' or 'where is the vegetable'—[laughs] It's real! I see people doing that. I see myself doing it too. Yeah, we care. There's a lot of things we care about.
HC: When you were in Southern California, did you participate in the Vietnamese community there?
BH: Yes. I was the president of the VSA—Vietnamese Student Association—at the high school level and some part of college that they want[ed] me to be a part of it [at] UCLA. I just had to let the college part go, because I was more of helping my mother raise my two siblings which were nine and thirteen years apart from me. So with that responsibility… and I play sports, and I compete in sports and practice and with my work, school, siblings…
HC: But what sports did you do?
BH: I played badminton, it's pretty—more popular, in California. It's safer, too and you get a lot of workout on that, lots of fun.
HC: How did the Vietnamese community compare in Southern California to that that you moved to in Oregon—are they similar?
BH: They're different. [HC: How so?] For sure. Well, you know, it's pretty much the element—I feel that what I learn in life, how people really behave is pretty much the elements of the weather, and the standard of living. So the standard of living in California, the costs of living I should say, is really high, and it kind of turning to almost semi- New York, because people don't have time to socialize and so they judge them really quick, like a really quick photo of you, and split and splice and everything that judges what you're worth—in California. So, I think from knowing what purse you carry, what shoe you wear, what car you drive, people even walk—yeah, after a meeting, even relatives or friends or friends of friends, they want to walk you to your car, y'know I don't see that here. Y'know people don't care. But they really want to know what car you drive, and—and then I've seen people who live and share room and they have two kids—a husband, wife, two kids—they live in one small little room that they rent out and they would drive Mercedes and nice SUV Lexus and things like that so, I would say there's a difference in that. Then there's a lot of physical appearance that is judgmental and the way people dress and… a lot of chest augmentations if I say [laughs]. A lot of plastic surgery, I've noticed… [HC: And that's true in the Vietnamese community, as well as in California in general?] Oh, oh, yeah! I mean California, it's not only a certain ethnic, it becomes almost everyone. Because that's where Hollywood is, that is the expectation… It's nice and warm, you shouldn't have an excuse to be fat and ugly. Ugly's not an option any more—or I wouldn't say ugly, it's like underpar is not an option any more. They don't really celebrate the uniqueness… I mean, I love the slogan that we have in Portland, is to "keep Portland weird". And that slogan itself is to send a message that we are more acceptance of your uniqueness.
HC: So your husband was already in Portland when you met him?
BH: He's my ex now, yes. We were married for quite some time.
HC: How did you meet—
BH: Through my mother. [laughs] Sounded like an arranged marriage but, you know, I could have stepped out. I was just kind of too young, and he was twelve years older even though I was twenty one he was thirty two, or thirty three. And he was quite an exception; he worked for the government. He was very GQ-ish and it makes my mom happy. I just didn't expect to be married at twenty one. [laughs] I was very much into education, I was very much into self care. I love children, so I knew I wanted to have children later on. So we were very careful about not having children early. But I didn't realize he never wanted children. When I was ready to have children when I finished college—and that's part of the agreement—you want me to have to marry early or you're gonna have to wait until I finish school. And I won't ask for any of your part of the money for my education, but I can't be contributing anything personally too. If you want to marry me, I need to finish school. And so he agreed upon that. Otherwise he'd probably lose me to someone else and I think that was his most worry. But later, my mom moved in—he and my mom are like buddies because they kind of arranged me and I was invited to my own wedding. [laughs] I didn't know what's going on. I didn't know how to plan things. So, that's more of a norm in an Asian culture way is to have your parents be happy who you're with and I think it’s more validating and keeping the peace in the family and I guess it was her best friend's kid, so yeah.
HC: So you moved to Oregon at that time and your mother came at the same time, or…?
BH: I moved to Oregon at twenty one, but we did have three weddings. I didn't know we were going to get married—the year before we got legally married, I thought we were just going to take a vacation to Vietnam. It wouldn't be my first time, it would be the second time I've [gone] there. I thought we were just, at most, gonna be engaged, but later my mom got invited, and my sister got invited, or my brother got invited. They came and… "Surprise! You know we're here for your wedding." I'm like, "Oh! I guess I'm having a wedding. I don't know!" So it was more of a cultural thing.
I still wasn't legally married. Then after that I said well I kinda don't know… I mean you're my first, I haven't really gone out and date[d] anybody. I don't even know if you're really the one for me. And he gave me about six months to a year, almost, to discover myself, to go and date other people and see if I find anybody better, then I don't have to be with him. So that was quite generous and kind of him and so because of that he got the kudos. After a year I did agree to get married and move up here, but then three months later my mom brought her kids and we lived together. I was OK, I kind of felt like I was in heaven one time. Where, "Gosh, I have my mother, I think I spoke too soon." But it's OK to be appreciative. Every moment that you have the moment to say, "Gosh I have my loving husband, I have my loving mother, my siblings… I couldn't ask for anything more. I'm going to school, I'm investing in my future", so I did many times, I feel very blessed. And those are the moments that I feel… and I'm very blessed right now, too, even though I'm a single mother of two. But I feel that in Portland, I wouldn't say it's still exceptional… the Vietnamese community I think it's not well..over there we have international cultural and we do have it here, but I don't know how big it is and the Vietnamese like, international cultural where we get involved and we represent, there is some at the community college and the Portland State University and we have Vietnamese association, you know Vietnamese Student Associations, and we do have an Oregon, and you know, the parade [HC: The VNCO] Yeah, the VNCO. So I'm part of that and I'm part of the Clark County [community] as well.
HC: When did you get involved with Vietnamese organizations here?
BH: Well, I would say the last 15 years. After my divorce I dated an attorney that was part of the, he was the vice president of that club, of the association. He created the 501 C3, he was the first one to create the 501 C3 for them. And I see myself volunteering at the parade, putting flowers on and stuff, and being part of the culture. I think there is something I see a big difference even the Vietnamese in California and the Vietnamese in Oregon. There's patriotism. I understand they're… and I was too, but now that I… it's kinda almost like Cubans in Florida. They're so against Cuba's… you know, and make sure they still have that punishment or whatever of the embargo. But it's just a vicious cycle. How is that gonna change anything if people are not going out of the country and other people are not coming in to open the mind of everyone else.
HC: So how do you see that resistance to Vietnam manifest in the community?
BH: I see that it brings consensus to people who—[HC: So, brings people together?] Yeah. It brings people together but I don't comment too much about it on my Facebook in terms of people putting the old flag up, and standing and putting, again, so much of Communism, I mean it doesn't dent anything. It's great that you feel that way but it doesn't influence, and it's not gonna bring anything to the table over there.
HC: So you see it brings people together on social media. Are there other ways it's uniting the community or is it just a rallying thing that brings people together?
BH: It brings the community together in the sense that while we have to leave our country, and we're here together, and we should embrace each other, I think that whole idea of bringing comfort but "don't forget, there's Communist people here too!" They come here for education, they come here to learn, they're coming here to observe. They're here too.
HC: I was gonna ask, how does that mean the earlier generations that immigrated interact with more recent immigrants, does that influence the relationships there…?
BH: There's a difference between recent immigrants which do have a mentality of… we call it brainwashed. You know, from the Communism way, which will soon learn how things are over here and the way you talk, bringing the political party and how people believe and think. We already know how they talk, and the way they talk is the way they were brainwashed and certain words they use we [didn't] use back in the old days. So, as an interpreter—I'm a qualified court interpreter for Multnomah County. Sometimes I do [it] for the federal courthouse too. There's the old language and there's the new language, and that's very challenging. I passed the written part, but when they did the oral, there's the northern accent, the central and the southern, and it's not only the accents, there's words that are used differently but mean the same.
HC: What are the words, I mean the—
BH: Even from the spoon you eat. They don't all use the spoon. You have to know. So you have to continuously learn all the time.
HC: So that signals political… alignment?
BH: That too. I know a few words that I said, “What in the world?” and I asked my cousin who's still over there, I said, "Why are they… " So instead of saying they're “searching for something" now they're… what do you do when you put at the airport where they scan things… So instead of saying "searching for something" they say they're "scanning for something." So it's just a different word and a lot of them we don't think it makes sense to us here and I think a lot of it is to show… like when war and in the other country, when they take over they tend to change the words a little bit just so when people use it it's almost like… I don't mean to bring religion in this but people make certain signs, they wear certain clothes, it's to represent. [HC: It's [to] signal membership of the group.] Exactly. That's what I mean. [And is it—it's in North Vietnamese?] Same thing with orals too.
HC: It's in North Vietnamese dialect, or it's a dialect associated with the Communist government, or…?
BH: It's not a dialect, it's words, usage of words. So, they have different… I think there are dialect[s] and then there's a different whole language. We have a lot of tribes up there too, and so actually Miss Vietnam last year is actually indigenous. So that's the first indigenous ever in our history of pageant. [HC: That's interesting.] But she's probably the real Vietnamese. Because the real Vietnamese were, like genetically pure Vietnamese, actually their toe is like their hands. Yeah, so I wonder if Darwin was right about something you know. [laughs] But I [got] to see my relatives when I was younger, nineteen I think the first time I went back home. And he was showing me his feet. He was like, "This is the real Vietnamese." [HC: That's interesting.] Yeah, so I would say the Chinese colonized Vietnam for a thousand years. So the indigenous, the real Vietnamese were pushed away, or [got] killed, or mix[ed] in with the Chinese. And history is repeating itself now. So all of them are coming to Vietnam and marrying into because they don't have girls, so much. And I think Vietnam has already sold out the country to China and it's a hush-hush now because some part[s] of Vietnam, certain cities, are using Chinese currency. They're eighty percent Chinese. Nobody speaks Vietnamese. It's just like you go to a certain city in California and they don't speak English, it's all Spanish, wouldn't you be offended? Like they don't understand you, you don't understand them and this is the country that you thought that people would understand you.
HC: So it sounds like international political issues influence the Portland Vietnamese community here quite heavily. Are there other political issues that bring the community together? Do local or national U.S. politics affect the Vietnamese community?
BH: You know surprisingly, just so you know, because Vietnam, Vietnamese came from a political situation where it's a country, it was before communism [it was] a republic, so thinking it's a republic, people associate that with Republicans. And it's actually Republicans that were supposed to help Vietnam finish fighting the war like Nixon had promised. But the president after that—I think it was Carter or somebody—no. Ford? [HC: Ford.] Ford withdrew everything that Nixon promised and it was signed at the UN. Did you know about that? [HC: Yeah. I've heard that the Vietnamese community here and throughout the U.S. often align the Republican party because of the Vietnam War and because of a general resistance to socialism, and the Democratic party is more socialist or more public services oriented than the Republican party, so a concern over anything that looks socialist has led the Vietnamese community—] Yes. It triggers. [laughs] You know? But I think Vietnamese people, the friends I went to college with that [were some of the] first immigrant[s] in Oregon [have]… most of them picked strawberries in the summer. [HC: That's what my father did.] Oh, yeah! So picked strawberries in the summer, even brought a bunch of kids to do that and you save money that way. That's how a lot of Vietnamese that—and then they build up this umbrella—the pool of money. It was kind of dangerous but it was about trust. A lot of it was about trust. It was lending. It's a way of lending money without having to go through [a] bank because nobody had credit at the time. So we knew how to make this group of lending where if you're gonna do twelve months, let's say for twelve thousand dollars, and let's say it auctions off like OK, I needed a thousand—a, like, twelve thousand—I have to pay throughout the month of twelve thousand. So you would divide that almost like four hundred dollars a month. So I would put four hundred and sixty dollars. If somebody put four hundred and seventy dollars and four hundred and thirty that's seventy dollars when. So the leftover stays with the last person. So the last person not only gets twelve thousand but they get whatever bonus that other people auction for [HC: That's interesting. So this is a—]And actually, twenty percent of it goes to the person who organize[d] it.
HC: So this is a community lending structure?
HC: That's interesting, that was built up through their mostly agricultural savings.
BH: It's not only agriculture, it's anything. The Chinese [do] that too. It was very much based on trust. This is how banks didn't make their money in Vietnam [laughs] so much unless you decide to make big building and big businesses, but to buy a cars as like… A lot of like my friends are Americans like "I don't get it, like… how does a lot of Asian people who barely make minimum wage drive nice car, where did they get their credit, they just came, how did they build their credit and how did they have the money?" Well, there you go. [laughs] [HC: That's interesting, that's really interesting.] And they can buy [a] house, and things like that.
HC: And, are the structures still extant within the community in Portland or was that mostly the early days?
BH: It is, but it has—it still exists, but it's very… more either extended family who's doing that, or very close friends, or now that people are smart because people run off with that money and didn't, you know. So you have to put collateral. Either your vehicle or your house or whatever. A lien on that to make that possible for everybody. So I think they know how to do it smarter now but when you have nothing, and you came to another country, that's the way to go. And you can avoid banks and all that stuff because they're gonna like, "Hah! you're a refugee. You [have] got nothing to contribute to us, and we have any history and records of you, where we want to lend you money.” So that's the only way to survive and thrive, is [the] trust of a community.
HC: Right. When did you move from Beaverton to Portland?
BH: When I got divorced and I stayed in Beaverton for three, four years after that. So I would say… 2005, 2006. Actually 2006.
HC: Were there specific occasions when you noticed a cultural difference between Portland and Beaverton?
BH: I would say 2005, yeah. It's an easier transition from California, just to see how people are, but they're not close knit, I would say. And it depends on some area in Portland. I think in Portland some area[s] are not uniform. Kind of like the whole… construction buildings would buy a bunch of land and build similar house[s] like Happy Valley or something like that. So it's different in terms of every house is pretty unique in the urban area and we become more—there's neighborhood watch. People do actually know each other in Portland and people do say hello. I talk to my neighbors. [HC: That's nice.] Yeah, and I know there's a neighborhood association where we meet together and we keep up the information and now that we have [the] Nextdoor app, we're more interacting in that sense. So I see that's that, but also I do have people who do come from other states or other areas and when you're [in] an affluent, higher echelon neighborhood and you're not doing well, people tend to be very judgemental. So you either go with the Jones, it's kind of like you better have your health and your stuff together all the time. If you ever got sick and you slide down that slope, you get looked down at and it's pretty much almost everywhere that that is. If you live in a neighborhood, and I have experience I lived in the… near Killingsworth area like six years, seven years, nine years ago. The people were kind of middle class and [a] little bit below middle class, tend to be less judgemental and tend to help each other out more. But you go into a higher echelon, the Irvington, Hollywood, Grant area, people, like, "get your stuff together." It's like, they look, they're more judgemental, and—
HC: Are there specific occasions on which either you felt judged or you've seen other people be judged?
BH: I felt judged. Because I decided… I'm a Harvard grad and I do it online, so I am expected to do one semester at Cambridge at the campus in Harvard. One of the semesters, but right now I'm doing online so I can be with my kids and do my mommy duty and work minimal, and—
HC: What do you study?
BH: I study—I'm trying to get my graduate certificate because I can't afford the whole graduate, you know, master's. But if I get a sponsor I probably could finish it. A master's certificate, a graduate certificate on nonprofit management. [HC: Oh wow.] But I'm studying, right now, I—first class was system thinking, and then the second was government and nonprofit accounting, which I had to drop because I had to take care of my sister who had cancer. So I'll probably have to repeat next fall. So I'm taking—which I've been looking forward [to] for a whole year of the breakthrough of innovation with blockchain. So I'm trying to design a system that converts cryptocurrency into currency that can be donated to nonprofits. It's currency actually that could be traded off for product in terms of bidding and auctioning off that product to sell and get currency for the nonprofit. [HC: That's fascinating.] Yeah, so I'm trying to create systems, and lots of government system[s] that—you know I want to patent it, because it's pretty much like… I wouldn't say a completely white canvas right now, but all the banks and everybody's trying to patent it. But once blockchain comes in I can see there's no need for banks anymore because everything's gonna be a ledger and transparent and so the days that they're going to charge people thirty six dollars just to notify the other person electronically, not, you know, human, that there's no money in the account, and [to] charge that thirty six dollars just through electronic communication is pretty brutal. Those are the days that are just gonna be over.
HC: So how did your work, as a student, lead you to feel judged by the community?
BH: I feel that people don't—and it brings me back to the flashback of California as well. And at the same time, California also has the same structure of, if you live in the lower income people tend to help you out and [are] less judgemental. You live in the middle class, they don't expect you to be home during the middle of the day, and if you're working from home, sometime[s] they don't know but they see that you dress well, you have a car, they see that you've got your stuff together. And higher level is having yachts and planes and golfing all day, things like that. So there's different levels, but the lower income is all across the board of anywhere you live. People tend to come together and support each other, and knowing that they have bad days—you'll come and help them too. And it's not like an expectation but it's a community that has that mentality, because we really count on days that we have good and bad, it goes up and down so therefore you help each other out and when you're a higher middle class you're supposed to have it figured out and planned. So being a student doesn't give me a lot of—and a single mother, at that—people are just probably wondering why and why I even bother to choose to be a student at this age.
HC: How have the schools done for your children? Have they had a positive experience in Portland schools, or negative experience, or…?
BH: Well, because I'm a student I know that I'm trying to provide a lot for my kids. The Vietnamese community there's two types of people that I've known, it's very specific. Either you invest in your future and you do whatever it takes, you eat ramen noodles, you live barely surviving, if you need to go [to] food banks, you do. You just have to hope to get somewhere in your life and you're doing something for yourself, and then later for the community. And then there's the people that say, "Oh my god I want anybody to judge me so I better go and make fast money. And then I can acquire all this—make payments on the car, have nice cars and that way nobody has to know where I live, and then buy jewelry and wear 'em. So that's how they judge you back in Vietnam is based upon when you're outside the house nobody knows where you live. So it's not like you can go and look up somebody's house with Google nowadays, you know. But why does that even—is relevant anymore but habits are hard to die, and the same thing it's not only Vietnamese, I've known that a lot of other culture[s] judge you [by] your exterior. To me, I've learned and not only, I have my own characteristic that makes me so different from my family and also is I did have grandparents that took me in that they're Caucasian. [00:39:10]
They're originally from Minnesota but they moved to San Diego in their early twenties. And they—my grandpa passed away at eighty six or something, or eighty nine that's 2011. They took care of me when I was ten and they taught me the American culture, mannerism, etiquette, independent thinking, not imposing religion on me. My grandfather that was agnostic, my grandma was a diehard Lutheran. Where she taught Sunday school at her church for thirty years, and volunteer at the blind center, my grandfather volunteer at the animal shelter for over thirty years and he patrolled the neighborhood so there's a lot of community contribution but that's me connected to that family and my aunt their, kids they have two kids, one is the younger one, Aunt Susie and she married a Samois[?], and that's you know more of a kinda Asian aspect of belief too, so I transitioned very well and they loved me very much and the other one married a Colombian, I think… [HC: OK, they're all very international.] Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah! So their kids are kinda mixed and I grew into that family even though it was just for a year. I came back and visit them and we send cards and so it's been a big part of my life. They didn't like—they influenced me by example. They never tell me how things are or how things should be.
HC: Were they why you originally immigrated to Minnesota?
BH: No. [HC: OK.] No, they coincidentally came to California before we even came to Minnesota, which is a very coincident. But I said the Midwest people are lovely people as well. They—they're not confrontational and they're not high on conflict and need to be confrontational, they're very low-key and very lovely people. So I enjoy that side of them and I got to experience a little bit of Minnesotans when I was there, I was young but I observed. But they were a big part of who I am.
HC: I want to ask you a little bit more about your life in Portland and then I'll go back to asking you about how you came to America and your story [Oh yeah that's a big part, yes.] getting here but I'll just round out talking about Portland first. So I wanted to ask how [has] your children's experience in the Portland public schools been? Have they, have you found it adequate, or?
BH: Well, I have a child that is, the school thinks English is his second language so they put him in ESL, but he's half Caucasian, so my ex-husband is—you know he's full Caucasian, and he's no longer here he lives in California for nine years. So I would say we're struggling, my son doesn't hardly speak Vietnamese, he understands it but it's too bad. I mean, I tried to speak Vietnamese to them. I think it would have helped if I had Vietnamese station channel TV and they can watch that more and they can understand.
HC: Why does the school think that English is his second language? If— [BH: Because—] It seems like you're very fluent, and if his father—
BH: Yeah I'm fluent, but I don't know… see that's the problem with the public school. They don't actually ask, they just—it's more convenient to put all eggs in one basket in thinking it's this way. It's categorizing people without actually saying, "Well, the parent seems to speak English pretty well, the father is Caucasian, you know, born American and mother speaks English." But they just say, "Oh, if the first language you speak is Vietnamese, or your mom speaks Vietnamese to you, first language is Vietnamese then English is your second language." But that's only 'till he was two, three years old.
HC: Right. Do you think that's affected the trajectory of his education?
BH: Yes! It's interrupting his education, they pull him out of class, which I think contributes to part of the IEP too.
HC: It's interesting that they would have classified your child in that way, since—
BH: It's one child. The other one they didn't, so I don't understand it.
HC: Yeah, that's very surprising.
BH: They're both English is their second language, if that's the case.
HC: Right, but… well that's interesting. I also wanted to ask, when you lived in Portland or when you lived in Beaverton, do you feel you experienced racism from the white community or any other community here?
BH: Oh, there's always racism.
HC: Can you talk about a few instances?
BH: People don't talk about it. They don't interact with you the same as they would with their own race. And you do feel left out. You do feel a little sad. I mean, we're here as a community and looking at— with each other as a community… but children, if you never taught them to know the difference, they don't know the difference. They play with each other. If you observe them they don't know the difference. Children are taught to know the difference, and that's why adults behave the way they do. And that's what we call racism.
HC: Do you think there is more—is your experience of racism or acceptance in Beaverton or in California or in Portland very different or is it ubiquitous, is it all the same?
BH: I think they're all the same but to a different degree. And different degree in a sense of categories in different class[es] as well, different class system[s]. And I'm not saying class system like an India class system, I'm talking about low, middle, and high, you know, standard of living, lifestyle. But I would say that people tend to be tight knit in their own community is because we can't seem to break that. I would say the segregation way of feeling I don't have a problem, and I don't force or hope or expect somebody to be like me. I'm exposed differently. My mother and my siblings were kind of—my sister is more open-minded to everybody else. She's actually more American. She can't interact with her Vietnamese community too well, because she can't speak the language very well. So she kind of let that go, you know that kind of went to the side and just she kind of had all kinds of, more of American friends, she kind of made a certain… Because it's not a diverse community, so most of her friends were Caucasian and a little bit, like one best friend's Russian, and some of them are Hispanic, but that's the normal big minority, I mean minority besides the Caucasian.
HC: Are there any specific occasions on which you felt particularly badly affected by people's reaction to your race?
BH: I don't feel that way because I don't see the difference. I think—
HC: But have you felt people doing something—their attitudes towards you?
BH: Oh yeah, I felt because they would gather among themselves and talk and didn't include you. That's kind of evident. I see that other race[s] around my neighborhood would have this bodily expression that's very open to other people with their own ethnic than me. You know people are saying that's natural, which… if we come to accept that that's natural, then we're not going to make [an] effort to actually improve, to include people into it and… even so the slogan says "Keep Portland Weird," not everybody feels that way. And we do have liberals which, the liberals that are more accepting to everything and liberals that are liberals in a certain philosophy but everybody else is excluded. So those, the, you know, a separate, liberals not like back in the sixties, everybody a hippie and we're all loving each other and high on [laughs] LSD or something.
HC: When you participate with the Vietnamese community, are there specific places where the community gathers? Are there restaurants that bring everyone together or events that bring everyone together, or churches?
BH: Yes! yes, yes.
HC: What are those?
BH: There are churches, temple, there's..the ones that are more Vietnamese community doesn't have a religious background so everybody comes from different religions background, there's Bahá'í here, we— Vietnamese is one of the largest Bahá'í in Vietnam, so not a lot of people know that.
HC: Yeah, I hadn't heard that before.
BH; Yeah, there's some Bahá'í in Iran and certain, like, Israel and all that, but nobody thought that Bahá'í's the largest in Vietnam.
HC: Do you participate in any specific religion?
BH: Well, I'd say I cheated theology through the relationships I have with my boyfriends and ex-husbands. My first ex has been, his family's Catholic. So I was more of a… agnostic, you know. Well, before that I was a Protestant because my friend brought me into church and I was more Protestant but I keep it, like, to myself so I kind of build that relationship with me and God on my own and not having to impose upon other people. And then my ex-husband was, is Catholic and his family's really, he's born Catholic. But people who are born Catholic [don't] have a choice, so their actions [are] still not reflecti[ve] of their religion or their beliefs so well. We were in the choir, Catholic choir, together and [HC: At Our Lady of Lavang?] I got to be baptized later.
HC: At Our Lady of Lavang? Or a different Catholic church?
BH: Immaculate Heart Church. But I go to Lady of Lavang a lot because some of our friends go there, there's weddings. So they have functions there and sometime[s] [if] I miss a mass [at] one place I go to another, I have later mass. And I got to expose, to that community and then the last husband, the two husband I, you know, one I didn't have any kids and one really wanted to have kids but then it was too much for him after work. [laughs] So then he's more confused. He think[s] he's Buddhist but he's more of a confused person. He doesn't practice much of what he believe[s]. He likes to believe certain things but, so there's a difference between one's philosophy and one's practice of their philosophy I guess. Or, one[’s] admirations for one philosophy and one practice it. And then the other is that I dated people later on. I supported another refugee that was Muslim, or is still Muslim, but he learned and I learned a lot about it and we dated, and then I got exposed to Muslim culture. Before I even met him in college I said, "I can't talk about Muslim because I know nothing about them. I don't want to debate on something that I don't know anything about." So very few Vietnamese ha[ve] the Quran. [laughs] And then, before I dated him, I dated somebody who, for two years, that's Jewish, I mean Orthodox Jewish. Yeah. So, I said, "Oh your mom sounds so nice on the phone." He goes, "You're never gonna meet her." I said, "What do you mean? I don't get it." "Yeah, you're not Jewish. You're never gonna meet her." It's like, "Oh, OK, never mind." [laughs] So he never got married 'till this day, and he's in his late fifties.
HC: So your first husband was Vietnamese, also, but your second husband wasn't.
BH: No, he's Caucasian.
HC: And it sounds like you haven't particularly tried to stay within the Vietnamese community.
BH: No, after I have kids, I don't bother anymore. It's not—I don't have anything against any ethnic, I don't discriminate anything about people, but here's the problem, is Vietnamese culture tends to be communal, type of people where families live with each other, and that same mentality, even if they don't they still live with each other in terms of going and meddling into other people's lives so much that they try to control, and influence. I say control, it's a little bit too much, but influence. There's a word in Vietnamese, that makes—I wouldn't say insecure but it makes me kinda…
BH: Anxious, not so much, but kind of holding back, of knowing my position. So I don't know if there's a word to describe. In my position, I have two kids. So for example, my first boyfriend that I dated after my divorce, my first husband's divorce, was [Omitted] who is actually a doctor here, internalist and now teaching at the University over at Lebanon city right here, but before that he had a clinic and I met him when he was a chief resident. And his mother, so he wasn't married and I was married, I didn't have kids at that time, and his mom is… she has three kids, three boys, and she's really all on top of what they're doing, who they're with, who they—so she went to my church, and she doesn't usually go to my church, she goes to the Lavang but her side of the family's Buddhist, she went by her husband's side, so she went to my church, went into my… befriend with my godmother went to her house, talk about me and wanted to know everything. I mean God, we weren't even serious, but [Omitted], she sees that [Omitted] express[es] that he cares a lot about me and I was divorced and I would be kind of like… used stuff, so unworthy of her son who's [a] doctor. And you know, and to me I treat [Omitted] like I would treat anybody else. He doesn't have that specialty doctor to me. As long as you treat people like human beings they'll treat you kind back. And I respect her as I would respect every other adult, and the way I talk, I do show respect, but not like she's that special. And her husband goes and flirt[s] everybody and even flirted with me, which is creepy. So that didn't seem to work out, but the fact that she went everywhere and kind of—
HC: Checked you out.
BH: Yeah and say, "Oh, she's divorced. What do you have anything to do with divorced—" Unfortunately, Vietnamese are still very… now they're a little bit opened up, but still ten years ago, very discriminative at minorities, discriminative of minor—which is kind of strange, but it is just very, it's on TV, the media, and the experiences kind of put African American in a bad light. So she was afraid of anybody—so anybody marries her son, should be, like, single, or even better, a virgin, you know? But later on, I wouldn't say karma, but he, after [Omitted], I dated [Omitted] who's an attorney, and had his own office and it was his secretary that married [Omitted]. And [Omitted] married her and she had mixed African—two kids, African American. And his parents are really big in the community where they work hard and donated, and to the parade and donated to many functions, and they make themselves very well-known. The church, the Buddhi- you know, they donated money. So, they make themselves very public within the minority Vietnamese community. So because she has half—and she's beautiful girl and she's very sweet. She has two kids that are half Vietnamese and half Black. And so his mother did not allow him to have a wedding here. He—they have to elope and—I wouldn't say elope but planned it out over in Hawai'i and just he brought his one brother, wh[o] was the witness and it was a small wedding. It was sad. I wanted him to be happy. And so [Omitted] became the president of the Vietnamese…
BH: Yeah, not the student but the—
HC: The VNCO.
BH: Yeah, the VNCO.
HC: That's fascinating.
HC: So you dated more broadly because you've encountered some…
BH: Adverse experience?
HC: Reaction to being divorced, and also just the closedness…
BH: And now I have kids, and, oh, it's even worse, I mean even if a person loves you, so the parents thinking, "So, not only that he's not only gonna be available for me as often, or what can I use her for. She's gonna have to go and get this and this for me, if she really loves him," or whatever. Or they say, "Oh, well, she's gonna—her kids are taking my son's assets that could have been for me, could have been saved for me." It's very calculative. In a sense like, "Oh, if he ever spends the money on vacation, and bring[s] my kids, then that money could have been part of for them, or could have take[n] them instead of my two kids." So there's that comparison and I say, I'm not gonna have that. And that is very much a Vietnamese thing. Eighty percent, and the brother and sister look at you weird, like you're in there to take their inheritance or something. And I'm not gonna have it. I'd rather be single for most of my life if I have to. I'm raising my kids. I don't know if I want to share time with anybody else, to focus on them. And it's a cultural thing. A mother that sacrifice[s] for her kids, and not to have external. I mean I can have a boyfriend just don't ever bring him home and don't introduce him to my kids unless we're gonna get engaged or married.
HC: So when you moved to Portland, and now your mother came—was here, your sister was here, was your brother—you said you also have a brother?
BH: Yeah, so he and my sister were born here. They're both my half, but I don't know the difference. So I love them very much, it's just too bad we weren't raised in a family—my mother and her sister… her dad was in politics and he got assassinated. He was the commissioner of district number six or Go Vap, not six, but Go Vap. So that's the name of one of the district, like Beaverton is one district.
HC: Can you spell it, just because the students will—
BH: G-O, and the second word is V-A-P. We even have our own cemetery. The cemetery is double the size of this library, and everybody in the family that has that, you know, bloodline or last name [HC: Is there?] has reserved space. I have my space over there. [HC: In Vietnam?] If I want to be buried, I really don't care to—[laughs] I just like, oh, donate my meat to the animal at the zoo but I really doubt that's kosher. [laughs]
HC: Right. So maybe we should go back to asking about how you came here, and what your experience was in Vietnam before you came here. That seems like a good transition. So what part of Vietnam was your family from? This place, Go Vap?
BH: Yes, yes. Well, my grandmother, from my mom's side is really from the south, like, we call it Ben Tre and Ben Tre is kind of like… should I say, Salem area. But it's not, it's [a] much farther distance from that, I would say Medford if we're talking about distance-wise.
HC: Can you spell it just for the students who transcribe?
BH: Ben Tre, B-E-N and T-R-E. Ben Tre. It's a place where there's a lot of coconut trees. It's interesting where the girls are quite fair-skinned there, because the coconut trees cover the skin. So they don't get exposed so much, you know, sun.That's part of my family where I remember when I was in Vietnam every summer, we [would] go there for summer house. It cools down, and get away from the city, the you know… but the way our whole entire family—because of my grandfather on my mom's side and his dad has so much land and so much political position, we have a whole entire four blocks, almost. And then we have land other places to lend out for our farming. But when the communists came, they took everything, and spread it out. So there's no such thing as leasing it to anybody. You can forget about your income. They come to your house and tell you how much you should eat, and how—and how much they're gonna give you. So if you're a family of four they'll give you a pound of meat per week. [01:05:22]
HC: And it was that grandfather that was assassinated?
BH: Yeah, my mother's dad. And then he—she was too young, she was one and a half, and her mother was very young and she's not into farming, she's more of a city girl. So it was like a[n] urban farm. We farm not to sell, we farm to eat because for security reason[s], we don't want to buy things outside because we don't know if somebody wants to be malice and put something into our food so we have farm animals, fruit trees, vegetables. And we have our own farmland too, out in different cities.
HC: What city were you in?
BH: Go Vap. [HC: OK. Same city.] Yeah, I was in that city but they have farmland all over other cities.
HC: And when did—how old were you when you left Vietnam?
BH: I was seven, but I tried three attempts, all with my mother.
HC: Wait, what year was it, when you finally succeeded?
BH: '82? '82.
HC: OK. How did you—what were— how did you attempt to get out, and how did you ultimately get out?
BH: So, first we tried going to the train, and from Saigon we went to Rạch Giá and we tried to go south, but we go on a train to a small boat, and my mom of course has a Louis Vuitton or some fancy purse, because French took over and people still have nice stuff from France influence back in the days. And my mother was a model when she was younger and so she's pretty tall. I'm not very tall. I took after my grandmother. So we went on the train and I remember her holding onto this fancy purse and when we went through the tunnel the thief came and grabbed her and she fought with him and they took a knife and slashed her had so it was all ripped and bloody everywhere and I—a woman hold me back so they wouldn't cut me, and my mother screamed and it was bad. And then when we got off the train this woman felt really bad, gave us some money to go back home. Lost everything. [HC: How did you ultimately—] That's the first attempt.
HC: Well how did you ultimately escape?
BH: So, the second attempt I got imprisoned at the age of five for treason with my mother. When you try to escape, you're committing treason, is what the communists would call it.
HC: In the second attempt you were imprisoned?
BH: Yes, I was, the second attempt I was imprisoned. I know that one of the attempt[s], I wasn't sure, it could be the first two, that we went to a canoe to go out to a bigger boat and the canoe sank, kinda slowly sank or I don't know what happened but I know I was imprisoned. They want to put people in prison, it's not because of treason, really. It's because they want to get money out of you and get your family to bail you out. So that's their way of getting money. It was very scary for me, the prison—I wouldn't say all prisons are designed that way but I remember vividly that it would be half your—a doll height. It'd be about three and a half feet at most. I was five so I didn't have to stomp[?] but they had to squat to walk around. So all their—they're wearing white clothes and their hair is really long, some people's hair even drag on the floor. I guess they're not allowed to have scissors or whatever to get their hair cut. So the prison's—and then there's one toilet which stank. Oh, God, it's just really… I remember and this was when I was five, so—
HC: How did you get out?
BH: I think I cried a lot and I was the only child. So I think after four days, my mom's friend came to visit or give her some money or something, I don't know. I think some part of the money and then some part of the… food helped us too. And it was from, not prison food, it's like your family has to bring food or else you'll be eating like… I don't know animal, farm animal food.
HC: So how did you finally, successfully escape Vietnam?
BH: The third time, so after the four days, people were saying get her out, she's crying and making too much noise and blah blah blah. So the third time, we—when my mom came home— worked a little bit and gather[ed] some more money to buy gold and it's only gold that the captain will let you onto their ship, their boat. It was a small boat, it was about thirty five feet at most, and there w[ere] over sixty people on it. We were like sardines. I don't know, I mean we went out and after we went out and I don't know we were chased by Thailand pirates. It sounds like a story—like a movie story, but it's true. I mean we—Thailand knew that people were escaping like it was like a salmon run, almost. People were escaping everywhere and they just want[ed] your gold so they [would] capture you. So they chase us to a deserted island and that island some woman got raped. We hide in bushes and stuff and the captain thought the coast was clear and later he come out and then— they went back to their ship but it was so close that they saw us coming out so they came, and I was running one place, my mom ran in one place and I then saw her so I ran to her. The pirate picked me up. I was a little five year old, I'm not very tall, so I looked [like] I was four. I was very fair skinned. They saw me, they want to, for some reason put me down, and I ran to my mother but they would have taken me easily too. I almost got kidnapped, yeah. And later we went as they le[ft] and they got whatever they needed, the gold or whatnot and we went out in the ship and later there's no water, nothing. People were hungry and thirsty, we were out of water for over a day and a half to two days. I asked my mom for water and she goes, “We don't have any, honey,” and she brought some cough syrup and she goes, I say, “I can't have that.” It's like, what? You don't have water? Look at us! We're in water! And she goes, “You can't have that.” I say, “I don't care. Please give it to me.” So she gave me some sea water and I drank and I seemed to be fine. It's like electrolytes even. It's just you don't drink as much. And then later that boat got a—was about to sink, and he sends SOS signal out there's a big cargo ship that picked us up.
Very fortunate that we got picked up and then brought to Thailand of all places. But they have refugee camps over there so we went in there and we were in a roof with three walls. There's no fourth walls. So thank God it was summer and it's not, what do you call that? [HC: Cold?] Monsoon or anything, yeah. So we were all lying down like sardines and they gave us cabbage soup, water and cabbage. It was like, very minimal and my mom ha[d] to go to the market and ask for fish heads where they toss it out anyway. So you cook and hopefully get some of the vitamins from that. We were there for, I don't know if it's three weeks or a month, and after that we went to Indonesia. I don't remember if we flew or we went on a boat to Indonesia, but Indonesia is more of a… almost like a last resort. It's where I understand that immi—and it makes all the sense—any immigrants are supposed to go to any country during the refugee time are supposed to be quarantined. So we were there to learn English while we were being in quarantine. As much as, as a refugee I understand that that makes sense. Who wants to bring diseases like Zika or, you know… is that what [it is] call[ed] Zika? Zika? [HC: The Zika?] Zika. Yeah. And go from one place to another and it'll, it's not like one person to, it's like rapid, rampant of people. So it's good that we have that, and Indo— there's Indonesia. There's a lot of countries around that do refugee camps to quarantine people. And we were there to learn English and they, there's a budget there to help people with their numbers and get interviewed and everything in, is a very very well designed process. So that makes me, gives me a different perspective about people at the border just wants to come in, and illegally. And we didn't get to do that. We were quarantine[d]. We followed the rules. We had numbers. People, some people stayed for years, like six years even. We stayed, I think almost a year. Nine months, over there.
HC: Where did you come to when you left Indonesia?
BH: Singapore. So Singapore was the last place we flew to, and we were there—it was nice, it was more of a—even though they, it was within the camp, the camps were really nice, nicely designed and back, you know I tell my friends, "Oh yeah I've been to Singapore," "O, that's nice!" "Yeah, as a refugee!" and they start laughing! But we got a tour, it's a very clean city, people were very nice. I wanted to go back there and visit again but Indonesia was a beautiful serene, the water's clean at the time and it's a beautiful island we were on.
HC: And then you came to America?
BH: Yeah. After Singapore, [we] went to Minnesota where my mom's very close friend's family live[s]. So you have to have a sponsor, and if you don't you have to wait for one. And sometime the Catholic sponsors, and if you're not Catholic I don't know who sponsors, I really don't. I don't know why it has to be religious. But that's, I guess that's how it works.
HC: Were your mother's friends also Vietnamese?
BH: Mhmm. [HC: So they had immigrated earlier.] So they came to the U.S. I think in '74 when they lost the country and they create[d] a restaurant. You know, a very few first restaurants in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Then my mom—and the winter time is very cold and it's very hard for her to find jobs and so she flew down to her old neighbor in the neighborhood that she'd lived in. Her neighbor kind of—and then there's kind of like a Catholic charities and one of those things that paid for the airplane tickets so we just paid them back later. That place, and then in San Diego and we stayed there for six years. When my mom established a business and everything where I met my grandparents and their kids and I had a wonderful life there and then went to Long Beach.
HC: Had they—they're your father's parents?
BH: No. They just took me in because we lived in the neighborhood for a short time.
HC: They're not genetically your grandparents.
BH: No. They're caucasian.
HC: Oh, OK.
BH: Well, I'm mixed one-eighth French, so, you know. But that's neither here or there. But my grandparents made life really wonderful for me and it's just going to always be a great memory. After six years we went to my stepfather, went to go to Long Beach and got [a] job there or something so my mom went up here and then we, I went to junior high and high school and part of college in Long Beach because we were there for ten years. When I was under my mom's care, I lived just eight blocks from Snoop Dogg before he got—he started getting popular. He was just, not exactly popular yet, but as you can see it was kind of, he mentioned a lot about Longbeach in his song but it's very, little bit ghetto-y, not so ghetto-y as in to Compton or… because it was kind of close to the beach, it was only about a mile from the beach so it's just kind of weird, it's almost like a fine neighborhood was just practically blocks from each other, and then you reach in a few blocks and you're just into a different class right away. So even though I bus, I lived in the neighborhood so my mom everybody's saying go bus to Stanford so my junior high I bus like seven miles out in a suburb area where we're not, we kind of live close to downtown, like a mile and a half to downtown, but I go and public school bus where I bus out seven miles out to a suburban school.
HC: That was better? Or?
BH: Yeah, I would say more safe, and better. I went to Stanford for junior high, and California in Long Beach, and then I went to Millikan High, and that was close by each other to over there.
HC: And then to UCLA?
BH: I went part UCLA but I went to community college too. And then I went to UCLA for one semester and left.
HC: Was your stepfather Vietnamese?
BH: Yes. He's more Chinese. He's actually, bloodline he's Chinese, but he's born in Vietnam. It's like my sister is like, Vietnamese-Chinese-American, you know, kind of like…
HC: So your mother remained within the Vietnamese community when she came here?
BH: Oh, yeah, she wouldn't know how to be any other way. It's too bad. I mean it's funny, her kids, my brother, sister and I, we have friends from different—and my brother brought friends that are African American but my mom had bad experience like, she got her purse robbed a couple time by African Americans so it stays in her mind. Not everybody is like that but it just kind of, it curved the way she thinks about or judge about certain ethnicity, because of that experience.
HC: Is your brother in Portland?
BH: He lives with me. He used to live with my sister, but now he lives with me.
HC: What does he do?
BH: He's schizophrenic and he's on Social Security.
HC: I'm sorry to hear that.
BH: Yeah, yeah, I'm sorry too. It starts a lot of young men in their early twenties if it starts at turning twenty, usually. I don't know if you heard about that, but…
HC: I've heard some, but not that knowledgeable.
BH: I don't know why a lot of psychiatrists told me it's, it usually starts at twenty years old for a lot of people. So he works since he was fifteen, you know summer jobs, and then he kept on paying taxes and he continues to work and so the judge, base[d] upon his contribution of tax, the judge did give him a very fairly, a good amount of Social Security to live on. It's just not enough to go into a group home, if it's to pay for group home, but he doesn't want to go to group home because he likes to smoke cigarettes and that tend to be out of the budget for a group home, to fund that. So, we're dealing with a little bit more of an issue, too, but I do the best I can, based upon what's going on right now. So we tend to be very supportive of each other.
HC: That's good. That's—it's very good that you have your siblings near you and available.
BH: Yeah, one thing I would say I would take in from my culture that I don't see American culture is the individualism got confused between a family responsibility. But at the same time it has to start very early. Like we eat together, and we pay attention to each other. If the person doesn't have too much food, we would pick it up or we would take ours and share it with them, regardless if we like it or not. To show and express love, and sometime[s] a mother decide[s] to give it everything and she'd get nothing and her kids experience that, see that. But I see even in this country it starts very young. This is my portion, this is your portion, and you eat your portion, don't be asking for mine, cause you have your part. Everything is very divided up and you're on your own. So that mentality tends to, hey, I took care of myself, your job was to take care of me, now I take care of myself, and you're supposed to plan until you retire, or however. And people don't tend to take care of their parents or their siblings, and they don't have the budget to or they don't know how to make it work.
HC: Is your mother still here?
BH: Yes. Yeah, she lives pretty close right now, but I think she's gonna move to Southeast later.
HC: It's nice that she's nearby now.
BH: It is nice, it is nice. She called me three times [laughs] earlier but yeah and it's great. Now that my sister passed away I feel like I have loss of a family, a lost member of a family and it's quite sad, now I don't get to see my nephews anymore. My brother's not having kids. One is going to Hawaii because he had [a] different dad, and one is with a father who has… they say it's not addictive but he feel[s] like he has to do it every day, it's THC. You know, the…
BH: Yeah, the vape, yellow honey kind of thing that you vape—and he seems like he has to do that every two, three hours. So we don't have the greatest relationship because he wants to take care of a kid that he beats upon, that is not his kid and he's very lucky that the father doesn't press charge right at this time. I mean, it's all about money, it's too bad. This crisis that it left with my sister pass[ing] away, it just— it's just not resolved yet. [HC: I'm sorry.] It's going to be resolve[d], but it just divide up and I will miss my nephews very much. One I have a great relationship with, one of the father, but the second father—they broke up three years ago. I mean, I would take in my nephew in a heartbeat and I wouldn't ask for any money, but obviously, this guy squeezed blood out of a turnip if he could. He doesn't like to work so much, he wants free money. So that's not gonna be great around my nephew and having his vape around my nephew at a curious age. So that's one thing I have to worry about.
HC: I'm conscious that you have to get to your next appointment. [BH: Yeah, yeah, right before four.] Is there anything else I should ask you about your experience in Portland, or what it's been like to live as part of the Vietnamese community here?
BH: I guess, the Vietnamese culture is rich in itself and we get to share with other ethnics through food. And I know that people think it's kind of like, American, they stand for hamburger and hotdog but that's not all we eat, right? And then Vietnamese, it's pho! But that's not all what we eat either! There's a lot of in salad bowls and there's things like that and I feel that, in a way, that breaks through with food brings into culture, and now that there's a middle east community that's huge and Russian community in the Portland area—which you probably want to incorporate later—is their food. All of a sudden you hear kebabs and you hear, what's that fried thing, the round fried—
HC: Pierogi? Or…? Oh, falafel?
BH: Falafel. A lot of ethnic minorities are hearing falafels and they know what it is and they're requesting for it. And then now we're making, where near the movie theaters are available for falafel and things like that so I just think ethnic wise I think it starts with food.
HC: Are there any ways in which Vietnamese culture is being perpetuated in food, specifically in Portland or are there restaurants that are important, or grocery stores that are important, or is it all within the family, or…?
BH: Here's the thing about… I'm not even first generation, my kids would be. So I was not raised and taught even though I came here when I was young, I adapted to a lot of ethnic food, and I find that's a rich thing that contributed to my life, coming the the U.S. I get to expose myself to a lot of different ethnic foods that I love. But in Vietnam, understanding the same concept of using food as medicinal, and knowing, understanding your yin and your yang and your health. If it's really hot, you're getting pimples. When you're younger, you have to eat a certain type of food. Most of the ethnic Vietnamese people, and even Chinese, they would impose, "Oh no, it looks like you're having breakouts, are—your eyes are kind of red, you don't have enough sleep, you cannot eat this. Try to eat something else." It even comes down to the waitress and waiter, or food server. They would highly suggest certain food because it's so engrained, incorporated that we take care of each other, in a sense that, "Oh, that's good for your health, you can eat this but this one's gonna make you break out pimples more or this is gonna make you feel more tired." So we use a lot of vegetables and certain type[s] of food. If you had surgery, you stay away from beef, because it makes you have keloids, you know, and things like that. So it's thousands of years of Chinese, Asian, Oriental medicine that is incorporated in how we eat, and how we practice food, and how we incorporate our food and our way of caring for our community. It's very strange, I mean for an American to go, and even to even hear it spoken in English, you think, "Why is that person invasive or introducing food that you're not even interested in or you didn't even ask for?" But we, knowing of that ethnic part of us, we appreciate it, to remind us and we take care of each other in a sense. They can suggest, I can order whatever I want, but they can always suggest as a way of showing one caring. One remembers what one was taught: is sharing, and reminding you, "Guess what, oh yeah, I remember that!" There's a certain practices that we still practice in a sense of, certain type[s] of vegetables and herbs helps with certain digestions that comes, pair with certain food. So, you know how certain Japanese they eat those kind of almost like purple leaves, or… even the Koreans, because the herb helps with the parasites and we have Vietnamese cilantro and it has the same properties that helps with the parasites and things like that, that it pairs with certain foods. So incorporating a lot of medicinal way and healthier living is what I was raised. We don't eat too much sweet or rich food. And we're very aware and conscientious because it comes from that culture and even now people, the Vietnamese here, won't go and say, "Oh my God, you gained so much weight."
They used to do that back in the days cause we're still kinda new in the U.S. and now that everybody's learning the American way of being kind of very careful—but very close friends or especially family they're kind of brutally honest and it's OK, they do it with love. It's almost like an Italian family, they can get loud because they're very passionate about being heard and being, sharing information, oh you know and very animated. More the South. The North and Central, the Central can be a little bit animated but not as much, and the North is very close to China so they're more reserved. Like the British and the South is more American, we're kind of expressive and stuff and being funny, being funny coming from the North is really difficult, because they're very reserved and they're kinda sarcastic, and they have an intellectual way of insulting somebody and not having them knowing that, so. But I don't want to have negative connotation of the North, I love the whole country as a whole. But I think one thing that separates me now that I get older is what good is it to be so segregated to Vietnam, when you could've say or help or create a business or do something to help open the horizon of the people or to contribute and help out that country even if you're not gonna change the country you can just bring perspective. And I think that we're kind of ready for that.
What I really wish for Vietnam if I ever got into, like, my opinions on politics is that we would like to be adopted like South Korea. Because I'm sorry to say but of all the war we—I think the U.S. kind of owe it to us because they didn't—put Agent Orange and wipe out most of the genetics that has mutations, that has all kinds of birth defects for many generations because it went into the genomes. It mutated the genes and so people were born without arms, and eyes, and other things, and wiped out the forests' ecosystem and that was kind of an illegal part of the war. And then hiring a lot of prisoners who came to and wiped out the province, killing women and children, and it was just… they had mental illness as well and they were not subordinate. So that was another part that I felt like the U.S., and not only that, they, the U.S. kind of like, the Vietnamese Republic was kind of hoping that it went through with Nixon because it signed, you know, and then it got revoked, and it was in front of the U.N., and didn't know what happened. So if it's anything, right now China's trying to take over Vietnam and if we were ever to survive as even… to be Vietnamese anymore and not to be haven't…I think it's going to be taken over within twenty years. If we can stop that, I'd like the U.S. to adopt us and call it a brother, sister country, not like Puerto Rico or Hawaii or anything like that, but to be more like South Korea.
HC: Yeah, yeah. I'd better let you end there, because you'll be late to your next meeting but thank you very much [BH: Yeah, thank you.] for meeting with us. It's been fascinating talking to you. To restate for the recording, I'm Hannah Crummé and we've been talking with Bick Huynh on 25th February 2019. Thank you so much.
BH: Thank you. Thank you for having me.