Azen Jaffe: Hello, my name is Azen Jaffe, it’s August 1, 2019 and I am at Watzek Library speaking with Andrew Phan.
Andy Phan: I go by Andy.
AJ: Andy Phan. Could you start just by telling us a little bit about yourself?
AP: My name is Andy Phan and I am a dentist here in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been practicing for the last thirty-two years, so right here in town. I came to the States in 1975, right after the war. The war was over on April 30th or something, and I was here on June 2nd [laughing], so right after the war. And I am grateful to President Ford, who gave us a chance to settle in the States. So let us give the credit where the credit is due. President Ford allowed us to settle in the United States. And that was the first wave of between two hundred and three hundred thousand – the number is debatable right now – and that was the first wave of political refugees right after the war. Most of us came in from the south. So we came by boat, by air, by whatever means we needed to get out. So that’s how I got to the United States, and I have been settled in Portland ever since. But we came via Camp Pendleton. There were a couple camps, it depends on availability. We lived in the tent city for a couple of weeks, and they closed by the end of October anyway, it was too cold anyway. So they closed down camps and we were at Camp Pendleton for the Marines – that was in San Diego. And then from there we got distributed, we got kind of spread out, all over the States, depending on who sponsored us. “Sponsor” meaning “help us initially to integrate into life, find an apartment, get groceries, go for the first couple week or two and then find yourself some kind of work.” So that’s what the sponsor’s responsibility was. We came from such a big family and not too many small communities can handle big families. So we end up with an entity called USCC. It means the United States Catholic Charity, and they helped our family settle. So that’s how we got to Portland.
AJ: OK, great. So going back just a little bit, how old were you when you came here?
AP: I was fourteen. I remember being fourteen, and I had a summer so I did not do anything except going picking berries, earning a few bucks [laughs]. Yeah, that was great.
AJ: And where in Vietnam were you and your family from?
AP: We originate from Saigon, they have changed it to Ho Chi Minh City now. But that’s the city where I grew up and at age fourteen or fifteen, I have some memories of the school and friends.
AJ: Yeah. So why did your family come here in 1975?
AP: That’s a fair question. My dad – only my dad was working to support the whole family. My dad used to be in the army, up until my birthday [birth], like 1960, and he thought then he would turn into a civilian job, but he knew quite well how the Communists treated other people. We anticipated a blood bath, under different names. They had different names for different eras. In the north — if you’re really a good student of history — you have to look at how the north turned the whole northern part upside down with things called “redistribution of lands” in 1956, all the way up to about ‘57. They had things called “redistribution of lands” and during that era, they killed about a hundred eighty thousand people. They labeled them and they separated them out and they sent out men and then they put a death sentence on them and summarily executed them. It was kind of like a puppet trial, “kangaroo trial,” we called it.
AP: It killed about a hundred and eighty thousand people. My mom and dad knew so well about that, and they would not let anything happen to them, so that’s why we left, fast.
AJ: Do you remember Camp Pendleton at all?
AP: Absolutely! OK, Camp Pendleton, there was like three areas of any type of housing. So we ended up in a tent city. The tent city was really amazing, it was set up like overnight. I mean it. The marines were very efficient at setting up the tents, and getting the water running, getting the whole thing sorted. I was there for like three or four weeks. And then we flew up here from LAX. I remember that well. And there were a lot of snakes [laughs] and it was bitter cold at night. We were sleeping in the tent out in the middle of nowhere, so the weather was cold during the night and it was super super hot during the day, so we had to find a cool spot. And those cool spots, we had to share a space with the snakes. [laughs] You see, it was not fun at all, that was roughing it out camping, roughing it out, whatever you call it nowadays. But man, [after] three weeks of camping, I had quite enough. It was a lot of rice [laughs]. The marines, they had little competition to see who could catch the most snakes, who caught the biggest one, who got the longest one, who got the most, it was fun for them.
AJ: So do you know why the United States Catholic Charities sponsored you to move to Portland?
AP: Because historically they had a pretty good experience with the past immigration waves, like from Europe. They had Polish people, they had, you know, Czechoslovakian people from World War II. They helped those people to settle after World War II, and they did a pretty good job at that. So they had experience. Then even if they wanted to take us, not too many people could take us because the size of the family mattered.
AJ: How big was your family?
AP: We had like eight kids. Eight kids and then only one kid was married away. One kid was betrothed, was engaged. So theoretically we had six left, and it was a big number, six plus mom and dad is eight, so we kind of split up a little bit afterward. And my oldest sister, she was already married, so she moved with her husband to somewhere in the east, Kentucky. And the engaged one moved to Germany. So the rest of us are divided between California and here, north.
AJ: So some of your siblings went to California?
AP: Three of them. And then two, only two other kids, two of my sisters are here.
AJ: So were you one of the younger [siblings]?
AP: I was next to the youngest one. I am number seven, so…
AJ: What were some of your first impressions of Portland?
AP: It was a clean city, very clean city. We settled into this apartment in the Northeast — I will take you guys over there, later on — and it’s clean, but it’s a little cold. We were used to like, humid, ninety degrees Fahrenheit all the time, all year long. And all of a sudden we are doing like, thirty-two, and under forty, fifty in the evenings. It’s a little bit chilly, but we managed. After Camp Pendleton you could handle anything.
AJ: So you moved into a Northeast neighborhood?
AP: Yeah, northeast neighborhood. All the kids there were sponsored under the USCC, the Catholic Charities. So for the sake of convenience, like administration, medical care, dental care, they put us all in the big apartment complex. And so everyday, they had a big bus come down and grab us to go to different appointments.
AJ: Was this Halsey Square?
AP: You’re right! [laughs] How did you know that?
AJ: I’ve done my research.
AP: It’s changed, it has been changed to something… something. Yeah, Halsey Square was like... yup, that is it! [laughs] You got it, you did your homework, alright!
AJ: So there were a lot of other Vietnamese immigrants who had come in 1975 when you arrived?
AP: The majority were settled in Halsey Square, I would say. And very little scattered all over the city, but from Halsey Square, we know a lot of each other. And in my kind of work, I have been able to see some of them, some of the originals who came over from ‘75. Kind of like rekindling some friendship.
AJ: That’s great. Did your family speak any English?
AP: We took English as a second language, but not Mom and Dad. Mom was totally only monolingual, and dad spoke probably French. He read everything, he was educated in a French system. As kids, we took classes and we took supplemental classes in English as a second language. But you know, immersion, total immersion, is the only way to learn a second or another language. You can study all the books that they throw at you, but you still cannot speak. I hardly opened my mouth for like two years. I hardly opened my mouth for two years. I used up all of the dictionary, I got to look things up. I think I went through like two separate dictionaries, very flimsy one, used it too much and it was all gone. And I remember I wasn’t as talkative, all the way until after dental school, and then I felt confident, and then comfortable enough in English. And yes, I speak more English than I speak Vietnamese nowadays. It is funny. [motions toward Tad] Tad, you are quiet!
Tad Kumasaka: I’m more of a notetaker—
AP: OK, no worries. This guy does the job, you know.
AJ: So what did your parents do when you first came to Portland?
AP: Fair enough, my dad used to be a civilian servant in Vietnam, and my mom was a full time housekeeper back then. But when we came to the States, we could not afford to sit around and wait for the government handout or anything. So I remember that vividly. I think in June we came here. In August my mom and dad both worked for Saint Vincent Hospital, the janitorial department. And it was a big setback for them but they took it in stride, because they said “Hey, we’ve got kids, we’ve got a couple mouths”— four kids back then — “four kids, four mouths to feed here,” and we were all underage, high school age. And they said “OK, we have to go to work, and they took it in stride.
And mom never had to work outside, never. My mom never had to work outside, until she came here. But she took a job there, and she worked for like two years and then she moved out to California and there was a big wave of electronic assembly jobs back then. There were so many. She was able to get into that line of work, and work all the way until she retired in 1992. So she worked for like seventeen years. And my dad was able to sign up for some job training program and he worked as a machinist all the way until his retirement at sixty-five, I think. He retired at sixty-five. We never worried about— we took any job. We were not very choosy, this is how. We remembered the statement back then, “We cannot be choosy,” or something like that [laughs] so we took whatever. And Catholic Charity and the USCC and the Saint Vincent Hospital have some sort of connection. So they needed like four or five janitors, so they just came and scooped us up [laughs] and no one turned it down. So it was amazing. It was a big change, a life changing event, kind of shocking too. But I have to give my parents a lot of credit. They took — no question about it at all.
AJ: Was it hard for them?
AP: It was hard for them. Now come to think of it. And at the time they never complained, that is remarkable enough, it was a big step down but they never complained, they took it and we were never on public assistance, come to think of it. The government gave us a little... I think this was originally the deal: For every headcount USCC received like seven hundred dollars— back then that was a lot of money, seven hundred dollars. Two point one for minimum wage, you figure it out, you correlate, you extrapolate to today’s money. They allowed seven hundred dollars paid directly to USCC to help us out. And we never used that up. We were self-sufficient in August. We landed here in June and we became self-sufficient in August.
I remember really well— George Will, does his name ring a bell? George Will the guy who wrote editorials for the Time Magazine. He wears a bowtie, glasses, wrote editorial pieces for Time. He was pretty insensitive, the guy, he came into Time Magazine when the guy he replaced walked out. He wrote, the guy, the predecessor, wrote a scathing piece on the Vietnamese refugees. I mean, totally killing us all over the paper. He said, “Oh, why do we take these two hundred thousand? They are a burden to society,” so on and so on, and “Who is paying for all of this consequence we set on him here?” He wrote, you know, not very friendly things about refugees. So, George Will came in and said, “Jeez, you know, this guy has an axe to grind here. And what did they do to him? And he got so mad he wrote such a piece in Time Magazine.” But luckily that was the last piece he wrote before he left! So George Will kind of wrote, the first day on the job he remembered that, he remembered that. And just a few years back, he wrote something nice and on the back of the piece he wrote, for all of those poor people, you already paid your debts back— principle, interest, everything, no more, your debt has been settled. And that was very nice of George Will. I said “I don’t enjoy this guy too much until this piece, OK?” [laughing], but he recounted the story of the immigrants, the history of Vietnamese immigrants. He wrote the piece and he recounted that and said “Jeez, the first day of job the guy who walked out was like not too pleased with these two hundred thousand people coming in.” So what he was wondering, was why? He put the little question mark. So he kind of like, treated it like pet project, and forty years later he said “Ah, you guys paid your debt. Move on.” And that came from George Will, and I said, “Jeez, my goodness, what took him so long? You know, forty years until he wrote something nice about us!” [laughs]
So, if you track the Vietnamese immigration to the United States of America you probably will see a couple patterns. The original two hundred thousand [boat people], and then afterward the ODP (Orderly Departure Program) portion. The boat people turned the country around them upside down — so the ODP followed that, and Amerasian kids came next, and then finally in like 1992, the Humanitarian Operation — I will call it the HO —wave brought quite a few refugees, up until like 1995. ‘95 is like the diplomatic normalization, and you see a bunch of people go back there, get married and bring the brides over. That kind of thing. So those are the waves that I noticed — first of all, two hundred thousand, good — and then the boat people came next, and then the Orderly Departure Program, they called it ODP, and then the Eurasian kids got repatriated back here, and then the HO, and now it’s just everything, everyone goes back there and gets a bride, gets a groom or whatever and brings them over. [laughs]
AJ: So you were high school age when you came, did you go to public high school here?
AP: I started in the tenth grade. I finished ninth grade, I was waiting for the final exam in May and then the end of the war came a month too early so I finished about ninth grade, I started in tenth and I went to James Madison here. James Madison is out in the hood, we call it the “hood,” it’s a walking distance from Halsey Square. I remember every day, we came to the school at different times, but we always left at one or three, 3:10, and we would see a whole bunch of Vietnamese kids walking from Madison, biking — how did we know it was the Vietnamese kids? Because we wore the same jacket! [laughs] That kind [of jacket] was issued in Camp Pendleton. Before we left, they had to take all of the military stuff back and they gave us a really decent jacket. But it has only three colors and you got a bunch of kids wearing the same jacket, so you see a whole bunch of kids going back to the apartment complex [laughs]. So it was kind of like, “Hey, neat!”
AJ: How was Madison for you?
AP: Ah… quite the distance. During those three years I kept my nose in a book, kept busy. I was able to catch up after the first year. The first year was like a shock, I did not do too well in one class. I got a C in one class so I dropped out of the class. I had to repeat that same class in my senior year. But in the second year and on, I was on a roll for me, all the time. And I came back there, recently— as recently as last summer. I went back for the fortieth reunion. I stayed at the reunion for like twenty minutes. I didn’t belong [laughs], the jocks still rule everything, and then I just happened to say hello to one friend, one casual friend, we were in the same school and she was in the same hospital, and I was there so I ran into her like two or three times. I just happened to say hello to her and then I left. So as I say, it was cool— polite— but distant.
AJ: You did not make many relationships with students or teachers?
AP: Only one teacher. My very first English teacher who happened to be one of two women who could pronounce my name correctly back then. So my first — my sophomore English teacher — was the one that I kind of liked. I kept up with her only recently when one the email came back, you know? The school emails and they start looking things up. And so my teacher, who happened to have a master’s degree in Stanford — mind you, in Stanford — and she was like, very in-tune to this specialty. No one knew what ESL meant, we did not even have that word way back then. So all of a sudden there were a bunch of kids with special needs dumped in her lap, and what did she do then? I came back there and I thought, “Poor little woman, she just got out of school, man!” And now she has like ten or twelve kids, and apparently we cannot keep up with Romeo and Juliet, and Shakespeare, you know [laughs] and King Lear and all of that. “What the heck! What do I teach these kids?”
And so she had to come up with a curriculum on the fly, and it depended on how much English these guys were exposed to, and kind of like tailored it on the fly. It was hard for her, and I remember that class, there was one from Cuba, one from Korea, one from Vietnam, and there were like two or three more kids— kind of developmentally [delayed] or something? I do not know what the classification is, but apparently they could not be kept in the regular class. So, they tossed me, they tossed us into that massive classroom and then each had a little corner, and she had to come up with a different curriculum for all the kids. I think she did remarkably well. Nowadays we have ESL and ENL and all that non-English speaking program for the new people who come here, but back then it was a huge effort. So I feel kind of sorry for her now! So that was the first year, but the second year there was no refuge, I had to deal with Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, like the regular class. But I was brave and I was a trooper and braved it out. Hung in there, fought tooth and nail, I do not know how I survived [laughs].
AJ: Did you feel connected to the Vietnamese community while you were growing up here?
AP: I would say only semi-connected, in what sense. I work as a dentist so I speak Vietnamese and work with a large segment, a big slice of my — I would say, half of my clientele speaks Vietnamese. So I am glad that I have the language and some cultural similarities with those people so we can communicate. But as an active member I am lazy, I am not a good model to look up to, and in that sense I still have to work on that. Mary Nguyen is a better example in that sense. She is involved with the Vietnamese community from building it up to maintenance, the culture, the language. So, more in music and so forth. I am not in that segment. I am too focused on my work. That is my shortcoming.
AJ: When you were growing up do you feel like there was a network of support for your parents or for you?
AP: No, not officially. We are pretty much a family network. Our safety net would be family — immediate family and uncles and cousins. That is our unofficial support network. We draw a lot of strength from that network, but not officially from the community. The Catholics work a little bit better, they go to church every Sunday so they have a secondary [network], that is kind of like a safety net, but as non-Catholic, non-Christians, we do not enjoy the same benefits.
AJ: Is your family religious?
AP: Mmm… we are not Christian, we identify more with the values of Buddhism and Taoism, but we do not practice them. We do not practice religion devoutly. And we are not agnostic either. I do not know what the hell we are [laughs]. And we do not go to Christian churches in the sense of Catholic or Protestant or Lutheran or Baptist. We are not affiliated with that. We identify ourselves a little bit towards Buddhism, but we do not go to the pagoda for years at a time. I don’t know, we are agnostic, yes.
AJ: Can you talk a bit about after high school, what you did?
AP: Absolutely… [sighs].
AJ: [laughs] it is a lot.
AP: To make a long story short, I signed with Oregon State — and back then there was only one tech company, Tektronix. [This was] back in 1980 or ‘78 or so there was only Tektronix up over in the Beaverton area somewhere. There was no Intel, there was no Xerox, there was none. And I said, “OK, electrical engineer is fine,” and I signed up with Oregon. I found the application, and someone came along, and my mom said, “What’s the plan here?” I said, “OK, I am going to become an electrical engineer. I am pretty good with math and math does not require a great deal of English. I will survive.” I kind of avoided anything that has a lot to do with communication, you see, and my mom just said, “Have you ever thought about dentistry?” I remember that statement, that conversation until today, and I thought about it, and I said, “Hmm that is interesting, but if you like to, I can switch schools. I know Oregon State has a good science [program], but they are geared more towards turning out engineers — practical stuff. After four years you get a job at Tektronix. You are set.” And my mom just said “Why don’t you give it a try?”
And those were the only two things she told me, and I switched over, filled out an application, and financial aid and all that jazz, sent it to Eugene, and switched over in the summer. So, four years goes by fast. [It was a] small town, not too much to do, I didn’t party too much... and had a broken heart once [laughs]. We all went through that, I’m laughing at it now! But I moved on, and those were the best four years of my life. I didn’t have a car, very little needs, only had to worry about tuition, room and work, and pocket money for pizza and coke and coffee, things like that. It was a very simple life. And a bicycle to work, to get around... So that was a very simple life for me. I did not have to work. And those four years went by very fast.
And back then, historically, back then, the timber industry was still going pretty strong, so right after that, right after high school, you could get into the timber industry and work like five times the minimum wage. I heard kids start out at like ten bucks an hour, I said, huh? And then here I am dealing with two point one, OK? Agh! So those were the things that I was dealing with. So college — not too many people headed to college unless they wanted to get high. You know, the hippie era was still happening, people were still smoking, [clears throat]. Nope! [laughing] OK, marijuana, avoided that anywhere and even wore print floral things and homemade tie-dye, OK? I did one or two of those, and smoked dope, and didn’t worry too much about my grade or class, that is the time that I grew up into. And I am grateful because no one wanted to go to school where I went to school, so it was not too much pressure.
Then when I finished in ‘82, I applied for dental school. And I have to say, if I applied to dental school now, I probably wouldn’t get in in ten years [laughing]. Because my nephew got better grades, got a better DAT score, and he is still on the waiting list somewhere. So it is a different time, a different era. And I was lucky, I was lucky to get into a good career, a good profession. Back then there was hardly anyone who wanted to get in. So it was a lucky time for me, and it has been a very good ride for me. Put food on the table, roof over my head, and so on.
AJ: Where did you go to dentistry school?
AP: Right here, OHSU. Back then, the school was not the beautiful building down by the river, it was a little unremarkable building way up on the hill, and now they have that line [gondola] that drops right down to the new building — I think that is pretty amazing! But I was up there, unremarkable place, and [I had] four or five years up there, and I made some wonderful, wonderful... I happen to know a lot of good people up there — a lot of people who are really into teaching, and they left some knowledge behind. Sadly most of them passed away. My advisor… there was some big name, the dean of the dental school... made a big, big change in my life. Motivated me when I was down and out — hit the wall, so to speak. After seven or eight years of school you might break, you need a year off. I urge every dental student to take a year off. At least a summer off, don’t look at teeth. Go do something crazy. If you can afford to travel, get out, get out of town. And so after seven years, I hit a wall, and the dean of academics helped me out a little bit and then kind of redirected my goal. And so that helped my career. I miss him a lot, the dean. Dean Van Hassle, oh my God.
The dean and my advisor, Clarence Pruitt, and then I went up there, I came back, then I had more time to burn, right? So I came back and found out who Dean Van Hassle was, who Doctor Clarence Pruitt was, and there was some little plaque, little life bio up there, and I read those things. I just, oh damn, I wish I knew, I wish I knew. But back then I was an idiot. Now if I ever signed up with anyone, I would Google them and find out who they are, you know? Do a little research, and then find out who your teacher is, who your counselor is, and so on, and what kind of work they do. Back then we did not have the internet yet, we were idiots. We were very idiotic! [laughs] Nowadays, with the internet, with Google, things are amazing! You want to sign up for a guitar class [with a] guitar guy? You Google the guy and see where he went to school and what kind of work he does. And it is amazing! You find... there is a lot of sand out there and you have to do a lot of panning to get some nuggets. [laughs] I’m talking to a guy from Colorado, OK? Telluride is where they do a lot of stuff like that. What part of Colorado, sir?
AJ: I am from Denver.
AP: And Tad?
TK: Arizona. Flagstaff.
AP: Flagstaff, OK.
AJ: So, where do you practice now?
AP: Initially, right after school I worked for everyone, whoever wanted to hire me. I was just a grunt, OK? Do the work, sales, then punch in the card, and so on and so forth, for almost twenty years. When I hit fifty, it was kind of like, soul searching. I got burned out at the last place I worked in. I had been there for like twelve years already. Twelve years! And I said, “Hey, [if] I don’t do my own things [now], I will never do [them].” So, at the age of fifty, I said, “The best I can have is like seventeen or eighteen years left in my tank, so if I want to do something for myself, this is the time.” And so in 2011 I opened my practice on 82nd. And it was like on the fly. I didn’t do a very good job in researching the area and the people living around there. So there was a lot of drug dealing in that area. There were a lot of drug slickers, opioid slickers. In that area you should absolutely not be out after ten o'clock [chuckles]. And if you go to break after ten o'clock in that area, there are some interesting activities around. So, my day is over at six, OK? I set my alarm, lock the door, set my alarm — that’s the police department from six until nine until the next day. And that is since 2011. That is when I started there. And [it is now] 2019, [so] I have been there for almost eight years. Luckily to report to both of you, I finished my commercial loan, paid off my loan [laughs] I am a good guy with U.S. Bank. I’m a good guy! I paid off that loan four or five months ago. There’s some pressure… I feel less pressure to produce, OK? And then I do the things that I like to do. I do not have to do the things that I have to do, anymore. So, it’s a blessing. Plus I got myself a new truck— kind of a little reward, OK? I work well with a little reward, the stick and the carrot, so I gave myself a little carrot after that loan was settled.
AJ: So, what do you like to do? Do you mean outside of work?
AP: Outside of work there are a couple of things. I keep my life really simple. Walk, and practice a little bit on my chords and scale, on my arpeggio technique. I will try to come back to see Banzi, her name is Banzi. [laughs] OK? Now I remember! Look her up, she is a pretty good guitarist. A flamenco guitarist. She is way over my head, I had no idea what she was talking about when I tried out with her… I work on guitar… and then walk a mile around the track and watch OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting). I do not watch anything but OPB. I think it is very informative, very educational. I am done with NBC, ABC, all of those Cs. OPB is the one that I donated to watch. My favorite guy was Ken Burns, I think it was Ms. Ifill – Ifill, is that her name? Well, when Ifill passed away, I stopped watching.
AJ: What does she make?
AP: She is the anchor woman for OPB.
AJ: Oh, OK.
AP: I miss her too. And I like Ann Curry because she is from the University of Oregon [laughs]. She worked for NBC for a good stretch. And that is about it. Walk, and be with my wife, surf the net, work on playing guitar, and I am looking forward to my next vacation. When is that? [laughs] Those are the only things that get me going. And then next year, I will start the little bit more on implantology, for my career. That is the area that I want to polish up my skills in — placing surgical implantology and restorative works, is pretty… I thought it challenging. But placing dental implants is something that I would like to invest more time and energy in, and that is going to be one of the only things that I like to sharpen up and hone up my skills all the way to the end of my career. It was a good ride, guys. It put food on the table and a roof over my head.
AJ: Where did you meet your wife?
AP: She, well actually... I am not supposed to date my patients, that is in a gray area. She… well… she finished nursing school over at the University of Portland, and she came to the clinic a few times, and we kind of hit it off, but don’t do it [laughs]! Nowadays, that could be construed as an improper relationship.
AJ: When we were corresponding earlier, you mentioned that you grew up in what you called Viethoods?
AP: That is what Halsey Square was [laughing]. There were like... two-hundred and fifty-three apartment units in that, maybe two-sixty-four, I forget. Almost close to three hundred apartments in that area. And then it’s called Halsey Square, as you say, and it was totally filled with Vietnamese refugees. The owner of the place must be really happy, they told me they pay off faster than anyone else. So that’s the Viethood. If you’re a little kid, you go to Rye school — it is all on the Tillamook stretch — so if you’re a little kid, less than fifth grade or something, you go to Rye school, in middle school you go to Glenn Haven school. That east school was closed. It turned into some kind of hospital, and if you are a little older, you go to Madison. So it’s all local.
AJ: It seems like you interact with a good amount of Vietnamese Americans from your work. Do you see any big changes in the community now versus in the seventies and eighties?
AP: Absolutely. Diversity. Diversity and some of the political winds are not necessarily to my liking. I will elaborate. First of all, when we got out, we just could not stand the Communists — like my parents. My parents were from the north, and they knew exactly what the Communists would do. So that is why they moved to the south in the first place in 1954. They got away from the Communists. Twenty-one years later, the Communists knocked on the door. They [my parents] said, “Hey, heck no! We are not going to deal with you guys.” So they left everything behind. My parents were well off. They had two houses all paid for. They left, not even thinking about saving the houses or anything. They said, “Leave, run.” And they dropped everything and they ran. And that was a big decision. That was a very big decision. And so initially, we saw a group that totally hated the Communist’s guts. Those hardcore Communist haters are like I am… I am not afraid to say that because I saw what my parents lost with my own eyes. Everything. They practically walked out with the clothes on their backs. Houses, motorbikes, cars? Pfft. Leave it! They left everything, they just walked out. Walked out to the janitorial job, two dollars and ten cents an hour. That was a big change. So that is one.
And then the second one is like people mostly from the south, born and raised in the south — they didn’t know what Communism was, until they tasted it. And that was life from ‘75 up to the boat people, whole bunch of boat people, people who could not leave right after ‘75. It took them a little bit of time to leave, but those from that range, we just intensely hate the Communists. Anything to do with the Communists, be it China, Russia, or Vietnam. We hate them all. And then after that, we see the Amerasians. They are less politically inclined. They have white parents or something, and so they look different. They don’t quite fit into the Vietnamese mold. So they get a little bit discriminated against — treated differently — so I feel for them. But then after that, the HO people were mostly soldiers, and former civilians, I can handle that.
But then we are seeing a wave of… I would say, opportunistic immigrants. In the sense that they say that, “OK, the Communists are not that good,” that after like twenty-five years, after ‘75, they found out the hard way and now they want to do it the easy way, to go to the west and they have all the money and all the ill-gotten goods, and they try to transfer all the ill-gotten riches to the state, and that part — that does not sit too well with me. Everyone starts from scratch, OK? Everyone starts at two dollars and ten cents an hour, and all of a sudden they come in with their million dollars. That puts a lot of pressure on the real estate market, and no one can buy anything because the price is being pushed up to the sky. It does not sit well with me. And so we have a complex group, and I hate to put on a little time frame, “Oh, this group belongs to this and this group belongs to that, and treat them differently.” I try not to do that. I will focus on what they come with, what the problem is, and I try not to let that affect my work. Sometimes I have to remind myself to focus on the issue at hand. Focus on the disease, don’t focus on the people. And I try not to run into that rut — discriminating against people, treating them according to when they came to the states. I try not to do that. Think of them like a clinical case — what would you like to treat? Heal the patient. Then I have to constantly remind myself of that. Sorry, I’m only human. I’m only human.
AJ: Tad, do you have any more questions? I feel like we have worked through a lot of this [indicating to the list of interview questions].
AP: And feel free to shoot me an email, should you develop secondary or tertiary questions. There is something, hey, you got a gap here, go ahead and follow up, have a follow up, I don’t mind at all. Give yourself a week to digest this and write it down, kind of like how long our memory is, right? We forget about fifty-percent of it in about twenty-four hours, so we review the material quickly, and write it up. That is the only way I remember. So, I work with this memory loss and it’s amazing [laughing]!
AJ: Do you think there is anything we should ask that we have not? Or is there anything else that you want to talk about?
AP: I’ll leave that question to the guy upstairs [laughing]. OK, and… I remember one saying: Let the guy who never sins pick up the first rock and throw it at the woman — it is like St. Magdalene, what is her name? There was a prostitute that was brought to Jesus and then back then, the Philistine law said she should be stoned to death. I remember, let the one who never sin cast the first stone, or something like that. I remember that. So, I try not to be the one to picks up the stone and cast the first stone at anything [laughing]! And I say be good to everyone. Be good to everyone. That’s the only way to say it.
AJ: Great. Well thank you for speaking with us. Again, it’s August 1st, my name is Azen Jaffee, I’m with Tad Kumasaka and we are talking to Andy Phan. Thank you so much.
AP: Ready to see the hood [laughing]?