Rio Le: Today's date is June 1st, and I will be interviewing Hang Le. So the first question I will be asking you is, where were you born and when?
Hang Le: I was born in the middle of Vietnam in a city called La Lang in 1967, when the Vietnam War was still happening.
RL: What brought you to America?
HL: What brought me to America-- so my wife is half American and half Vietnamese. So I think she doesn't know who is her father. I think the Vietnamese government and the US have the program to bring what they call “American kids” back home to America. So, my wife, she is half and half so she qualified for that program. So we marry in Vietnam, and then I just follow her to the US, in that program from the US government and Vietnamese governments.
RL: When you first came to America, where was the first place you guys settled in?
HL: The first place we settled in was Eugene, Oregon. So Eugene is our second hometown.
RL: Why did you guys decide to move to Portland?
HL: Why we decided to move to Portland-- after I finished the bachelor's degree at the University of Oregon. So I think by that time Eugene is not my job. I got my first job in Wilsonville, Oregon. We decided to move up to the Portland area because of a job.
RL: When you first moved to Portland, what was the difference between Portland and Eugene?
HL: What is the difference between Portland and Eugene? Of course, Portland has the bigger Vietnamese community here. They have supermarkets here. That is why we went up to buy the grocery, maybe one summer or maybe sometime when we feel bored. We went up here twice a month just to go to pho and buy some groceries. Yeah, I think the difference is more jobs in Portland and a bigger Vietnamese community.
RL: Was it hard to adjust to life in America?
HL: Of course, yes. You know, the language barrier. Even the assistant teachers in the Philippines for six months to help the Vietnamese before they settle in the US, to learn the English and American culture. I still have a hard time to settle. It is really hard to communicate with the local people. Maybe I think Eugene, in the university it’s okay, but outside of the university, it is a hard time communicating with people.
RL: Do you miss Vietnam?
HL: Of course, yes. I think the first few years we always talked about Vietnam. We miss Vietnam a lot. We wish we had a chance to come back to visit Vietnam once in a while. The whole of my family is still back there, so that is why I am wishing.
RL: Now that you are in Portland, are you a part of any groups or organizations for the Vietnamese community in Portland?
HL: Yes. I am involved with several Vietnamese organizations. First, I am involved with the Van Lang Vietnamese school for over ten years. I start helping in-- we can call the education department. I am helping there and start with that. I start -- help to do substitute teaching. Then my last position in Van Lang school is the principal. I believe I contribute a lot and help to set up, how to organize the program, or maybe an activity in the school. So recently after I resigned from the Van Lang Vietnamese School, I think I helped with the Clark County Vietnamese community and the Oregon Vietnamese community. For kind of like the big events like Tet or the Mid Autumn Festival. Sometimes we still hold, not celebrate, but kind of like memory about the fall of Vietnam on April 30th every year. I would say, you know, yes the Vietnamese community recognized me. I think that is what I have been most involved with the Vietnamese communities.
RL: You mentioned that you were the principal of the Vietnamese school. Did you send your kids to Vietnamese school?
HL: Of course, yes. So before I was involved in the Van Lang Vietnamese School, that is what I intended to do-- to send the kids to the Vietnamese school. Then I see somehow the school needs some help so that is why I started. I come and see if I can help. Then when I joined I think they thought I could do something and then that is why they assigned me to be the Vice Principal for my first position at Van Lang.
RL: Do you think it is important for Vietnamese Americans to attend Vietnamese schools?
HL: Of course, yes. I think even now a lot of young parents, they don't speak English well. Then if you don't go to school in Vietnamese I believe the communication between Vietnamese kids and Vietnamese parents will have a difficult time to talk to each other. I believe it is because Vietnamese kids need to go to Vietnam and Vietnamese schools. So you can learn the culture, and there are a lot of activities every year so you can see how beautiful your roots. The Vietnamese culture is generous. It has been over four or five thousand years to accumulate so I think it is a very rich culture. The kids enjoy and then they will be proud to be Vietnamese when they learn Vietnamese and the Vietnamese culture at the same time. They should be proud after they understand why they should go to school. Later on I believe if they understand the Vietnamese they can visit back to their parents or their homeland and see how beautiful Vietnam is. I will say that is the part that any other ethnic kid should go to their school. We all learn from home, learn from school. Later on, in the future, you never know-- the Vietnamese government and US government may have some kind of better plan between two countries. So you can have a chance to go and maybe you can contribute what you learned in the US back to the Vietnamese homeland. I would say that should be when the Vietnamese kids should go to the Vietnamese school.
RL: Alright, you said you have been involved with the Vietnamese community for over ten years now. How do you see the Vietnamese community in Portland-- how do you see it progress, like changes over time?
HL: I would say the Vietnamese community is up and down. Most of the time the people who are involved in the Vietnamese community are whoever serves or related to the South Vietnam government before. So very much are the people in our community the people who escaped from the communists, whoever is the Vietnam country now. I will say yeah, for the earlier, the Vietnamese community is very strong together. But a lot of people, some with many reasons, a lot of people have gone away or passed away, and to many, it is kind of like up and down. I would say recently the Vietnamese community is kind of like not really down but it is not really like before. We tried to adjust and then try to make it courteously so we can keep the spirit of South Vietnam. Or maybe keep the community so we can have a better understanding or leave for the next generation why we are here. We can see how the Vietnamese community is in the US. I would say the Vietnamese community is up and down. I think we still hold the organization because we want to teach back to the next generation that the Vietnamese are still fighting back for their homeland. To be the freedom or maybe to be the democracy someday.
RL: You said that you want the new generation to hold the Vietnamese culture. Do you worry about the new generation because maybe they might not learn everything that the current generation knows? How do you go about that?
HL: Speaking personally, I am not worried. But of course, I think if you want to keep continuously, for anything, I think you need to have the organization. So kids can look to that and then they can follow. Maybe I would say not to be afraid but I think that is key to keep the activity continuously. Instead of to have the lessons stop then the kid is wondering and they don't know what is going on. They don't know how or what to do. Maybe someday they may ask it back, why is it we stopped our Vietnamese community here? So I think it is to be the kid's generation to be continuously that is one of the roles that our generation has to do. It doesn't matter how strong or how weak we are, but we still keep the organization here and Vietnamese community here to let kids know we’re still here, the Vietnamese people are still in the US. So then we hope, but we are not afraid, we hope. The young generation, we keep learning how beautiful their ancestors or their parents’ culture is. That is our responsibility for the next generation.
RL: For kids and parents today, besides getting them to go to Vietnamese school, what other ways do you think they can be involved in their Vietnamese culture to preserve it?
HL: Of course there are many ways-- so now is the time of technology. To come to the Vietnamese community, it’s just the one thing. Right now on the internet, Youtube, Facebook, and a lot of social media, I think the kids can learn a lot. But to many [unclear 16.49] they may be lost, or maybe they start learning in their own way. I would say anything is with a lot of information you still need to have the good guy watching the information. Maybe how you absorb the information. I would say learning from the Vietnamese school, that is very important and very good for the kids to start to learn the Vietnamese culture. Besides that, I think after they are feeling like they can find their own information, yes, of course. There are a lot of ways to learn and preserve Vietnamese culture in different ways. They can self-study but of course if they can have the chance to talk to Vietnamese here or maybe whoever lives in Vietnam or who knows more about the Vietnamese culture, I think that would be the better source than just dig into social media on the web so they may be lost. I would say yes, there are many ways, but I think it will save the kid when they don't know much about Vietnamese culture-- better to come to the Vietnamese school or maybe the Vietnamese community to start with. Then later on if they feel like they can go on their own to research for. Yes, I think social media should be the last resort.
RL: Alright, that is all of the questions I have for you today. Is there anything you would like to say about the Vietnamese community in Portland?
HL: Before to answer that question, I say thanks for giving me a chance to speak up and talk about our Vietnamese culture or our Vietnamese organization, our Vietnamese community here in Portland, Oregon. I will say it doesn't matter how strong or how weak our Vietnamese community here, but our responsibility to keep, to teach, and preserve the Vietnamese culture to the next generations. I believe that any ethnic in the US should do that. That makes America to be the richest on the cultural for American. So to make America it could be more generous I would say, in general overall. Again I would say I wish all the Vietnamese kids or maybe the next generation, they should take on learning Vietnamese or Vietnamese culture is very important. So when they are old later on they don't have to regret that they miss on the part of their life.
RL: Alright, that is the end of our interview. I am interviewing Hang Le, and thank you.