Rio Le: Today is June 3rd, and I am Rio Le interviewing Jennifer Le. First, can you tell me where and when you were born, and give us a brief overview of your life in Portland?
Jennifer Le: My name is Jennifer and I was born in Eugene Oregon in 1992. We moved up to Portland in 1999 after my dad got his job after graduating from the University of Oregon. I have lived in various places around the metro area. We lived in Tualatin, Hillsboro, and now the Beaverton-Portland area. Growing up being Vietnamese American, it was a different experience than most kids around me. But I would never trade it for anything else. I love living in Portland, and being able to be a foodie, and being able to explore what the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
RL: When you were younger did you go to Vietnamese school?
JL: I did go to Vietnamese school, I actually went to two. From fourth grade to sixth grade I went to Vietnamese school at my local church, the St. Andrew Dung-Lac Church, and I went to Trường Việt Ngữ Văn Lang which is the Vietnamese school at PCC’s southeast campus. From there I learned a lot more about my culture so I am grateful for those two schools.
RL: If you didn't go to Vietnamese school do you think your life would be different than it is now?
JL: Of course, not going to Vietnamese school I would have had a lot more time on my hands. Especially because I basically was doing seven days of school-- more than I think a lot of people can imagine. So I had church on Saturday then I would have Vietnamese school on Sunday for a good three years. So my life was quite busy, but because of that, it taught me a lot of time management skills. Really being able to plan ahead of time in order to fit everything I wanted to do in my life, and so I wouldn't trade it for the world.
RL: You mentioned that you went to school at a Vietnamese church. How has that church played a role in your life? Are you still part of the church? How are you still continuing that?
JL: Being at St. Andrews Dung-Lac, I was part of the altar service. I was part of Dòng hóa, which means it is a more spiritual dance for Mother Mary or Jesus. So I was part of those groups when I was younger before we actually got our real church. But as we got older and in high school, the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement started at my church. And so from there, it’s been about ten years now, and I have been a youth leader there for about ten years. Because of that, it’s kept me a part of the church. I continue to help at the church on a weekly basis. I am currently serving my second term as president of the Gabriel chapter. So because of BEYM, for short, or TNTE I have learned a lot of team-building skills. I have learned a lot of skills I feel like I wouldn't have gained if I wasn't a part of this group, or had an opportunity to hone in my leadership skills as well.
RL: Do you think that your involvement with your church helped you meet Vietnamese people all over Portland?
JL: Yeah, in some ways it did allow me to meet different Vietnamese people around the city. I do think that it limited me a little bit because it was only the Vietnamese Catholic community. But for myself, I did go to temples when I was younger. So they are called chùa and so I would go to … Minh Quang and … Ngoc Son. So that actually helped me expand my network of Vietnamese people, on top of being part of the Vietnamese community itself. So that is the VNCO organization as well.
RL: Why do you get yourself involved with the church group?
JL: So the reason why I was involved is-- first, when I was younger I was really into the Vietnamese culture. So my parents always instilled in me that keeping my Vietnamese culture and the Vietnamese language was important. So they always played Thế trẻ which is the young generation videos. That is where I learned Vietnamese songs. Eventually, I listened to, like, Watch Paris by Night and Asia Van Son, those were Vietnamese productions that helped me stay with my Vietnamese roots. I guess with the Vietnamese church it just helped me get involved even more because I love performing and I love giving back. So it was just a two in one where I can help the younger generation learn why their parents came to America. I can also learn more about my Vietnamese culture through the older generations and it’s all there as an access in my church community.
RL: Being part of all these different Vietnamese communities, what events do you like the most that the Vietnamese community put up in Portland?
JL: So my favorite holiday is definitely Lunar New Year. It has been my favorite holiday since I was young. Because back then we used to have Lunar New Year for the Vietnamese community in the Oregon Convention center and I’m distinctly remembering being able to perform with my Vietnamese group from Van Lang. Also being able just to like see other kids enjoying the Vietnamese culture, like yourself, and being able to be more involved. So I have seen our Vietnamese community grow since I was a little girl, ever since I was about eight or nine until now. So it has been almost twenty years since that growth, and I hope that we can continue to make the event grow as itself. Being able to get more involved and being able to get it to a place where other communities can come and enjoy it as well.
RL: Next I would like to talk about what different social or economic issues that you think the Vietnamese community face today?
JL: So a lot of Vietnamese people still face a stereotype from the Vietnam War. A lot of non-Vietnamese people that are out of the Asian community, I feel like all they know is the Vietnam War against America. Their perception of it is very-- I don't want to say just one-sided-- but because of the documentaries, the books, and anything that’s written out there, it’s always from the American perspective or North Vietnam's perspective. But there is not a lot of resources that really hone on the South Vietnamese perspective and so there’s a lot of misunderstanding from that. So a social issue point is that in the future it would be nice to have those covered in a more-- either in a VSA setting, or even in the classes. Like when the professors teach about southeast history, they actually see it from all different points of view. As an economic issue, Vietnamese people have always been hard working. There hasn't been a huge economic issue, but there is a difference between classes. And that’s an economic issue between any type of group, especially in the Vietnamese groups. Right now it’s a very-- either you are really well off and you make a lot of money doing various things, and you are really successful through education and whatnot, or you are really struggling. And the people that are struggling don't necessarily know where to go to find help. If they do know where to go to find help, like IRCO, or APANO, or even the city of Portland. It is only a select few of them that really know how to get that help. So it would be nice if we can get more help for the people that are struggling in our city who are Vietnamese and also other minorities as well.
RL: So now we are talking about the future generation of Vietnamese American. How do you feel about our Vietnamese culture being preserved as new generations come?
JL: So as a new generation comes up, me particularly-- and this is a personal thing -- I feel like a lot of the Vietnamese schools, churches and everything, they are doing a lot better at teaching. But nowadays because of social media, there is a lot of distraction and there is a lot more to do than when I was young. The younger generation doesn't necessarily need to know why they are Vietnamese. It does worry me a little bit but that is why I do what I do with VUIM, TNTE, the Vietnamese community, and with VSA. With all the groups I have been involved with, my one goal is to really let the younger generation understand why they even got a chance to even live in America. They are not living in Vietnam. Everyone looks at Vietnam right as this economic boom. That if you do really well in Vietnam you can make a lot of money. And that’s great, that’s not a bad thing. It is good to see that Vietnam is finally getting to where it should have been, before even the war.
But the next generation-- what I want them to understand that this history did happen. Like forty-five years is next year and the end of the war brought a lot of sorrow and pain. That is why so many Vietnamese refugees came to America, or found refugee in all over the other countries like Canada, France, England, you name it, and Australia. It was because they were trying to get away from something. Some government that wasn't treating them correctly. So when you have freedom of speech like this, you tend to forget. Not that the younger generation is ungrateful but they just don't know. It is not necessarily their parent's fault because we are going into the second and third generation of Vietnamese now. Where a lot of Vietnamese Americans can't speak Vietnamese, and I don't blame them. But if the next generation doesn't try to hone into what they think is important, which is their culture, we might lose it someday. We might lose the Vietnamese language someday because a lot of the younger generation feels like speaking Vietnamese isn't cool anymore. They don't think that it's something that they need to learn. They just need to do well in school and that is it. But just because the grandparents are now starting to be able to speak English fluently, it doesn't mean that we should lose the Vietnamese language. So I do hope that in our Portland community-- actually I want the whole community in America and other countries to preserve the Vietnamese culture, heritage, and history as much as possible.
RL: So you said you were worried about the younger generation. What can the younger generation and what can parents today do to help preserve the Vietnamese culture?
JL: So it does start with the parents-- I do believe that. Is that the parents have to want their children to love their Vietnamese culture. For instance, my parents were very well versed and they really made us know that we were Vietnamese. They always told us we were Vietnamese. They never let us forget that we were Vietnamese. Sometimes I think back and maybe it was a little too much at that time. But when I think about it now as an adult, where I can actually speak, write, and read Vietnamese, I don't regret a day of Vietnamese school. I don't regret a day of my parents yelling at me to speak Vietnamese. Because I am able to go back to my parents’ homeland and be able to survive. And be able to speak to my grandparents, aunts, and uncles and I’m grateful for that. So I do hope that my generation and the generations after me when they have kids, grandkids, the next thirty, fifty years, and 100 years is crucial to the Vietnamese culture here in America. Because if we aren't the ones that preserve it then it can get lost forever. So the programs that we have-- the Vietnamese schools, the two Vietnamese schools in Portland, all the churches, all the temples that have Vietnamese classes. I would say we need to continue to support them. Even though it takes money, everything takes money, but we need to know where it is worth. So I do hope that we can have more support for those programs. Especially the Portland immersion program of the Vietnamese language in the Portland public schools. That will help as well.
RL: Alright last question: what is your relationship with the country of Vietnam today? Do you visit Vietnam often? Do you still talk to your relatives that are in Vietnam?
JL: So my relationship with Vietnam is more like bittersweet I would say. Is that I love the country for what it is, it’s beautiful. It has a lot of potential to become one of the greats. Just learning about its history, and how the people are so resilient. I love our culture for that. That is what gets me pumped every day to be Vietnamese. Knowing that my culture had to go through so much and yet we were able still to preserve it. Even though all of the colonizations over the thousands of years, we still manage to keep our people together which is great. The thing that I guess is the bittersweet of it, the sad part about it, is that there are still a lot of people in Vietnam that are getting persecuted. A lot of people are losing their land without any warning. A lot of the churches are getting destroyed, temples, just because the government wants to take whatever they want. So that’s why. There is a lot of other things that are happening in Vietnam that are not neceserialy great, like sex trafficking or other things. And so that’s why I always want to be able to help-- I want to be able to bring light to it. But I do go back and visit from time to time. My last time was in September of 2018, that was six years. I always go for five or six years. Everytime I go back it changes so quickly. But I was able to see a different part of the country this time which is the central part. Da Nang is definitely a city that other cities should probably look to for the future. I love that my family is from that city. Originally, most of them live in Saigon now. But originally our family is from Da Nang. It is nice to know that that is where my family is from. Keeping in touch with them whenever my dad calls or whenever we have time. I always try to talk to my grandma and my grandpa. Even though my grandfather just passed away this past year. We still try to keep in touch with all of my uncles and aunts. We have a lot of family in Vietnam so it's good we have FaceTime now and Facebook, and modern technology to keep in touch than it was twenty years ago.
RL: Is there anything else I haven't asked or would you like to discuss?
JL: Yeah, so the only thing I would say is that having a project like this is really important because no one has ever asked about the Vietnamese community in Portland before. Everyone in California everyone knows about, and in Seattle. But I hope that this will help groups here in Portland to see how important it is to preserve the Vietnamese culture here. I hope that this will help the younger generation for years to come with this type of project. So thank you.
RL: Alright, thank you. I am Rio Le and this is June 3rd, and I interviewed Jennifer Le.