Dustin Kelley: Good morning, my name is Dustin Kelley and I am a librarian at Lewis & Clark College's Watzek Library. Today is Wednesday, June 30, 2021, and I have the privilege of speaking with April Eklund via Zoom. April, would you just begin by stating your name and telling us a little bit about yourself?
April Eklund: Hi, everybody! So, my name is April Grace Eklund. I am forty years old and I was born in Portland in 1980. My mom was the first refugee sponsored by the Catholic Church to come to Portland, Oregon, in April of 1975. I have been in the Vietnamese community my whole life, and we watched it grow and be huge. My mom is still living, and she is still very connected to the community. I have a father who is a native Oregonian, who is from Lebanon, Oregon. They met a few years after my mom got here, so I have had a very rich life growing up knowing some parts of my Vietnamese culture and having a caucasian family here. I do not know what else to say about myself. Currently, my work is energy work, but I have spent a lot of time working for my mother. One of the things we did together was for twelve years—well, it is still open—we have a Southeast Asian restaurant in Portland called Jade. That is part of what I have done, and I am really proud of my Vietnamese culture so I am excited to talk about whatever Dustin wants to talk about.
DK: Thank you, we are excited to hear about your story. So, growing up in Portland, what are some of the neighborhoods you have lived in?
AE: I have an interesting upbringing with the Vietnamese part. My mom really felt the need to assimilate, so we did not live near anybody Vietnamese. I always lived in Southwest Portland, so I lived part time by Gabriel Park area when I was really young, and then we moved closer to the west hills when I was [in my] high school years. I am very familiar with all the neighborhoods in Portland because my mom is a pastry chef, and so she, starting around 1982 or '83, made pretty much all the Vietnamese wedding cakes in Portland. So we were going to every single event in‚ at that time it was ... I cannot even remember the names of the venues, but they were pretty much like three or four places where it would be big restaurants where the Vietnamese would have weddings. I was on 82nd a lot. The restaurant—I cannot remember the name right now—but it is where PCC is on 82nd and Division. That was part of my life, and then also for about five years in the late ‘80s, my mom had a grocery store off of Halsey and 56th or maybe 58th in Northeast Portland. There is a place called Halsey Square which is kind of a lower-income apartment building. At that time that is where all the Vietnamese people were living. So I got to know that area, and I am here now and I actually live in Sellwood and that is where our business is, Jade Bistro, our Asian restaurant. So I have been around Portland, love it though.
DK: What was the name of your mom's grocery store?
AE: Sedona Market. That's the name of a river, I guess, in Vietnam. It was your typical Asian market. People mainly came for groceries that were—or produce—that was Southeast Asian things. That closed and she opened a restaurant thereafter and then retired for about four years and then we opened our restaurant in 2008.
DK: How did your mom come to be the primary wedding cake maker for the Vietnamese community here in Portland?
AE: Well, she has a lot of skills. She is a professional pastry chef. And then it was the need, you know. She was one of the very first people here and she made one person a cake and then they needed cake at home and then it just went on and on and on. I was going to submit some photos to you guys—I actually pulled out a photo album because they are very fun, they are very ornate and the cake was made with something called Pandanus leaf, which is a palm leaf that kind of has a vanilla-like flavor. Since they did not use things like chocolate, they never had that before, this is what you flavor pastries with. So the palm leaf gives green color and it was like a multi-tiered thing where there was puff pastry, cream, and then this Pandanus leaf cake and it was very inspired by the French. My mom was born in the ‘40s where France was still colonizing Vietnam, so she really had these interesting nuances to the way she made things, and people loved it. She was very successful at that and then I think it just became too much work so she thought a restaurant would be easier but it actually was the opposite.
DK: Fair enough. You mentioned growing up and getting to attend a lot of these celebrations. Can you describe what those celebrations were like?
AE: It was very interesting, because I was a little kid—my sister is a year older than me—we would be hiding under the tables watching from afar what people were doing. They always had ... so they are very formal because you invite all the family, and I remember that they would do dances where everyone would be in a circle. And when I say 'they' it is kind of interesting, I actually do not speak Vietnamese, so there is this part of me that is kind of like, I am them but I am actually not, you know, so the people that would be attending these parties would always do this dance where they would be in a circle and they would do something very graceful. I really liked it because the old people and the young people all knew it and it was very pretty. The people were always looking their best. Everyone knows the look of the Vietnamese dress: a collar and silks, so I remember as a young kid seeing all the beautiful dresses and the bright colors, and they are very into metallic threads and beautiful beading, so it was very pretty. They would play games that would be kind of like silly games. I remember one game that was really funny is they put the groom on a table and he would sit on a chair and everybody would be around him, and then they would make the bride take a hardboiled egg and run it up his pant leg, across and down. It was just kind of a silly thing that was just a wedding tradition. I remember they also were really big. My mom told me that in Vietnam you would never have a wedding and just try to invite fifty people, you actually would invite the whole village. So the wedding ceremonies—well, I would not actually go to the church part—but those receptions would feel like it was immense, it was really beautiful. What else can I tell you about them? There was a lot of pride going on because some of these families were so new to Portland, they came to the new country, that they really were an opportunity for them to show their family's wealth that they have accumulated or really look wonderful. So they are very fun and exciting in that way. That is kind of what I can remember. It has been so long––so, so long [laughs].
DK: What else was your childhood like? Do you have any other stories you would like to share about your time in Portland?
AE: Well, my mom had the grocery store in around, I think starting in '87 and maybe ended in 1990, '91, something like that. I remember that gang activity was starting to become kind of an issue at that time, like there would be people who were part of gangs who would come, and there would be little things going on in the parking lot. The grocery store actually ended because my parents got held up by some people they do not know, but they kind of assumed it was gang activity, so that is why they closed it. That was part of like, "Woah," really a big deal for me to witness because I was over in Southwest Portland going to a small private Catholic school, nobody's parents there were having any experiences like that. It was a very sad thing. It was the right time that they ended the business, but they went through something that was kind of traumatic and they were fine, but that was something that was interesting during my upbringing here.
Another thing that is interesting is that there is a lot of Vietnamese here compared to other places I have been and traveled to, so the community is very interesting. There is a Catholic church on Sandy—well actually they just moved—but it is on Sandy and 58th, I believe, Lavang [Our Lady of Lavang Parish]. They just moved to Happy Valley area. People would really go to that church. They would have to have like six masses a day and that would be packed, the whole parking lot full. So it was really interesting to experience that because I did not have other friends, and most of my friends were Caucasian people just because of where I was from. [I] did not like have people that were that passionate about their faith, and it was really cool to see because it is really equated to their gratitude for being able to get here, that the Catholic church sponsored them and that they got another chance at life after war, so it was really exciting to be in the energy of people who were so into their faith. So that is something we have here that is really really special. I do not know what they are going to do with the grounds there, the church, because they just moved out of it on Sandy, but I encourage people if they are in the area to stop by. People are very kind and nice, you can tour the grounds and see what it is like. If you go during the Lunar New Year they like to open it up to the public and put a big stage up and do the dragon dancing, and they have girls performing wearing really pretty dresses and do some traditional dances. The community is here and we are lucky, so if people are curious that is a great way to get involved.
DK: I am curious what schools you attended as a kid.
AE: I went to the same school up until eighth grade, it is called Saint John Fisher, it is a Catholic school across from Gabriel Park in Southwest Portland. And then I went to St. Mary's Academy High School in downtown. It is an all girls school. And I graduated from Oregon State for college. But my mom really wanted to assimilate and fit in with my dad's family so they tried to raise me as White as possible. I do not have a Vietnamese name, I was not taught the language, and education was really important to her that I went to Catholic school because it is part of her—it is her community. She was sponsored by monks from Mt. Angel Abbey when she first got to Portland and they helped send her to PCC, her first job when she got here was a key puncher, which is kind of like a data entry thing they were doing in the '70s, it was kind of specialized. So that is part of her roots here, and it is kind of interesting, my mom was on Operation Babylift and that is a handful of planes that were basically rescue missions to the US that were primarily bringing orphans to the US. My mom was, I believe, on the second plane, and at the time she was working at an orphanage because there were a lot of babies that were orphaned during the war and she had a one-year-old son and on a very—I do not know what word to use—but she was, one night, told by some of the nuns that were running this orphanage, that she needed to grab her things and her child and be very quiet and go outside. And she did and they loaded them up on a plane and flew off in the middle of the night without any lights on because they were escaping war.
So that is kind of how she got here, it is very extraordinary and so much faith went into that experience so that kind of has been so much the way she lives her life in what she does now and how she raised me. And she is still working at—I do not know what her age is, but later seventies—and it is because she wants to give back, she still supports a lot of orphanages in Vietnam, and she likes to give to her church. So she is really active because after you have gone through all that, you cannot just sit around and watch TV the rest of your life, so she is a very exciting person who is very—I was thinking of the word "grateful" —but she is also really in her community, she really loves to be of service to people. And maybe we could ask, she will talk to you too [laughs].
DK: That would be excellent. We would love to speak with her.
AE: She has a short attention span because she is always busy at the restaurant so she will be like, "Okay, I will tell you one story," but you will see. We will try to work it out.
DK: Has she told you stories of what it was like when she first arrived at Mt. Angel?
AE: So she did not actually live there, that is just who paid for her. They first put her in a family, like a house, and I remember her really thinking it was so strange. She thought it was strange, the woman and the mom would smoke cigarettes inside the house and they ate cereal and peanut butter and jelly because she had never had things like that. And she was just really in shell shock but the people had good hearts. But eventually she kept asking the people like, "I want some more opportunity, I want to go to school," so that is how they kind of worked this situation out in Portland and were able to get her her first apartment, which I think she told me was on 37th or 38th and Belmont––the building is no longer there. But they put her into a place and she ended up at that time knowing two other women—another woman who worked at the orphanage, who got here three, four months after my mom—my mom got here in April of '75. And there was also a young woman who was a Vietnamese exchange student at PSU (Portland State University) at the time. So the three of them had an apartment and I remember she told me that the first car she got was a Ford Pinto when she had her job working as a key puncher at an insurance agency and she was looking into acquiring new skills and she saw an add in the Oregonian for a bookkeeping slash secretary position and they would teach the bookkeeping, and it ended up being an add for my dad's business. So my dad met her, hired her, I think a few months later they kind of realized they had feelings for each other and then they got married and then a year later had my older sister and then I was born in 1980. So yeah, in five years, that was her life, getting here and at that point having three children.
What else has she told me about? Hmm. I mean, my mom grew up super, super poor in Vietnam and my grandparents were in an arranged marriage and my grandfather was a mayor of a small town and he had a coffee plantation. He died when my mom was four, but she at that time had to try to help the family because my grandmother could not read or write, they lost all of their assets, their business. My grandmother was not able to keep a plantation going, and so my mom has always made food to try to sell. So she was a street vendor since, she said, about age six. So I have had all sorts of experience with all the little Vietnamese pastries and dumplings. When she is all here, she will tell you the thing I like the best, because sometimes I do not really remember what ingredients are in things. But one of the things she makes that I like is yucca root—it is a root you can caramelize—so she makes these little chewy pastries that are out of yucca root. And that was something that she sold when she was a child. Now, she still makes pastries, but now she really likes to bake baguettes for our restaurant here in Portland, Jade, and do Vietnamese sandwiches on them. So food has been a part of my life, in probably the biggest way I connect to Vietnam, primarily because I do not speak the language. I can kind of understand things but I cannot—it is a very hard language and I have not really tried, I guess actually, to try to learn it and I was not taught it. So I have connected through all those things and I really love the food and know it well. If you guys want to try these sandwiches you will have to come to Jade and have the fresh bread.
DK: I will add to the top of my list.
AE: Okay [laughs]. It is very close to Lewis & Clark, too!
DK: So you ended up going to Oregon State University—how did you decide to go to OSU?
AE: Why... I think I felt like—it was going to be a really big deal that I was going to go to public school. I think my mom really wanted me to go to University of Portland, but I knew that was not the right choice for me, so that just left Oregon State and U of O (University of Oregon) and I liked that Oregon State was smaller. And then my dad also went to Oregon State and he grew up in Lebanon, which is like twenty-five minutes from the OSU campus, so I felt like it was just super special to get to know the small town feel and kind of know a little bit about my roots, and I really loved it there. It is a very sweet little community and a lot of the people that my family grew up with were in the timber business or grass seed, so I kind of got to see what that little country feel was like and it was nice. At that time, I was like, "I just do not want to be like my parents," because my dad was a CPA, so I do not want to be an entrepreneur, I want to work for somebody else and not have to live this full time entrepreneurial lifestyle. And I ended up studying business at Oregon State and after working for somebody else for a couple years after school, I became just like my mom and ended up working with her, which was a surprise, but it just kind of came into place and it has been really good. We are a good team, we have very different complementary skills. She knows everything about cooking and how to run a kitchen and we hired—most of our staff is Vietnamese. Well, a lot of people from Laos, too, and Thailand, but mainly Vietnamese. And yeah, it just kind of all melds together quite nicely because I really appreciate what she has taught me but she and I are very, very different, and we are primarily different because I have just had such a different life than she has.
DK: You mentioned this a little bit, but how specifically did you and your mom come to start Jade?
AE: I tried having a conventional job, a few things, and this was a few years after college, and I was like, Well, I think I am supposed to be an entrepreneur, and at the time, I was really into the tea culture. Primarily in San Francisco, there were a few places I really liked that were tea houses. I was like, Oh, I can bring that to Portland! So I told her, "I have this dream of a little tea house," and tea is something that we all shared. My grandmother, who passed away in 2001 in her nineties, she did not speak English and when she would connect with me, she would give me jasmine tea out of a little golden box everyone knows. So that was something we shared. My mom and I would love tea too. So I had this dream of having a tea business in Portland that could kind of be a retail cafe and then she had been wanting to go back to work since it had been four years since she had retired and she said it was very hard and the worst years of her life—being retired—because she needed purpose and to be busy. We came up with the idea, like, "You want to start a business," and "You want to get busy and start working again," so we created something. And of course, my idea is not going to be like the big money maker, it is not like you go gangbusters on selling tea, so that part of the business lasted for a few months, it was great with the college students like the Reed kids and the Lewis & Clark kids, but she really was ready for something big so she could really serve a lot of people. My mom actually really enjoys feeding families, she really likes making food with love. She wanted something bigger so over these last thirteen, twelve years, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger and remodeled to multiple, larger spaces to accommodate more cooking. It came about with my kind of dream and her dream and I am actually not working there right now. I help with overseeing some things but we have a big staff so all the things I used to do have been taken care of by other people. So yeah, that is how it happened, kind of crazy! [laughing]
DK: Can you describe what Jade is like inside? What is the experience of Jade like?
AE: It is very intentional. So we both wanted it to be a really nice gathering space, so it is very big and airy, lots of windows. We wanted to do counter service so you could kind of own your experience. So I kind of make the analogy to people, "Oh, it is kind of like the Asian por que no," where there is always a line, a high vibe, people are getting their own water, and lots of families, it is not like a formal thing at all. So we have counter service, it is a very big space, it has got two floors and an outside and it is in the heart of Sellwood on 13th Street. When we did the aesthetics, it was a bare building that we had, and so I wanted to have some of the feel of Vietnam but be really plain and modern, and so it has got some really beautiful woods, almost kind of some shoji screen shades and some bright verdant greens that remind me of the Vietnamese countryside and some of the tropical jungle-ness. We have a really big photo that is—I do not know, how many feet tall is it?—like, twenty feet tall, that takes up a two story wall, that is a really beautiful landscape photograph that my brother took. So when you go in, it is very "zen," it is very calm, but it is bustling. Something that I wanted [was for] people [to] feel like they came there for the experience and it is this community and that it feels really homey and relaxing and beautiful, too. That is the colors and the design, and the thing that you see when you first walk in is her pastry case. So she has a multi-tier cake and her pastry case where she makes her things. One of the things that people love is a sesame ball, which is a rice flour little puff ball that inside has a small little... little rolled ball of coconut and yellow mung bean. What happens is that you roll the rice flour around this mung bean thing and then you coat it in sesame seeds and you throw it in the deep fryer and it pops kind of big. It is kind of like a yummy donut consistency and yellow mung bean is popular in Asian desserts and it is nice because it is not very sweet but it is a little sweet and it has got a great flavor, so you will see a big mound of those when you walk in. And then she likes to make French macarons, so you will see all the colors of those and it is a very high energy experience, it is really pleasing to the eyes. And you will see a lot of people, because it is always full of people, because I think people really sense that she is putting love and great intention and really having a family-type relationship with the wonderful staff that comes through the food.
DK: What has it been like to be a restaurant owner during the pandemic? Because this interview is taking place in the summer of 2021, and for the last thirteen, fifteen months...
AE: There is so much to say about that, Dustin! I have been trying to stay separated but my mom and I are very close, so she is asking me for help and I always want to support. It has been [since] like 2016 that I actually have not had a real active role in the restaurant, but I had to help with the closing and reopening during the pandemic. It really wiped out the community, because it all became to-go order and then instead of this place where friends and families are hanging out and leisurely eating and meeting at all times and enjoying being together, it has turned into people needing food to go and way less contact and interaction and community happening. It feels a lot more transactional and it is a real shame but that is what happened. It has been really hard to keep up with the staffing changes when you have to go from, "Okay, we can only do this little bit of to-go," and then it expands and then we get other restrictions. So it has been really challenging, there have been a lot of times when we have been like, "Are we just calling it quits?" We always leave it up to my mom, like, "So long as you want to go," and she—I do not know if she is joking, maybe she is not, I do not know—but she says she would like to go until she is eighty-five. But then some days, she is like, "I do not know if I can handle any more frustration!" It is what it is. We are day by day and I just tell everyone, just go now, we do not know, I am not saying it is going away but I am saying we do not know. I think she is seventy-seven years old—like the next day at work might not happen, and we are actually not set up, nor do we... I am not choosing to keep this going after she does not want to do it anymore. Whether my siblings want to keep it going or not, I do not know, but I just feel like whatever is supposed to happen is supposed to happen. We have learned a lot through the pandemic and we are very grateful that the people want to eat the food and they call they will wait forever to get their to-go orders because they are so patient and love us but it has been really interesting dealing with people only wanting to-go, because everybody calls at like 5:30 and all want their food at the same time, whereas before it was an experience of like, Okay, there are people that stay from three to four o'clock, and it would fill up the day, it was not on the staff who are sitting at the wok to be like, "Uh, everything in this short amount of time!" and the opposite during the other hours. So I really miss the eating-in part and we have a smaller situation with the restrictions of how much seating we could have, but it is not the same bustling feeling. So it is what it is and we have survived and I am so thankful for that, because I have so many dear friends and so many places I love that did not survive the pandemic.
DK: At the beginning of the interview, you mentioned that you are involved in energy work—can you talk a little bit more about that?
AE: That is a funny one. I say it is funny because I have been talking about this recently with friends, is that I really tried to hide that I do that kind of stuff [from] my family for a long time, because my mom has made it very clear what she thinks about things like doing hands-on healing. That it is not true, or that it goes against her religious system, which I do not really think it does, but... So I have always tried to be a people-pleaser, I guess, and did not talk about those things, but in 2005, had an experience receiving reiki and it really changed my life. I was like, "Wow, that just really is something I want to know more of," and it felt like a familiar thing to me, almost like a language I did not know. So since then, I guess for the last fifteen years, have taken—I am now a level three master teacher—but I have just gotten all the information that I could, found really cool teachers, and I work out of a beautiful studio in Sellwood and I combine it with some other modalities. I do something called biofield tuning, which is really interesting.
I work in the electromagnetic fields of the body, we all have one that is typically six feet around us. I use tuning forks to help with where there is dis-resonance stored in your bioenergetic field. And a lot of times it is stuck traumas or emotions and in the system I work with, I use a map and then find that people have certain emotions or things that are wounds, perhaps, that they have had from parts of their life stored in the same parts of their bodies. So I work with these tuning forks and I am able to re-tune the body's energetic field to its own resonance. And where there is dis-resonance, the body actually knows how to get back to the energy fields that it naturally produces. So I find what I do together is just super, super powerful because it is actually a palpable experience that you, as a client working with me who is on a table, hears changes in the tuning fork, they can hear where it sounds kind of anxious-[sounding], where it is in their field, and kind of be part of the experience that they are breathing through it and letting emotions in the body's energetic field reset.
So I do those together, and also during the pandemic, I really was curious, "Would this stuff work online?" And I am finding that I am really enjoying working online. I do a lot of distance recorded audio sessions for my clients and I have them laying down at their home and I am doing the same experience on my table and I actually set up a proxy, a hologram, of their energetic field, where I use different colored stones for the chakras, and I imagine that they are there and they hear the recording of the tuning forks moving through their body and they—because energy is on a quantum level—they are receiving this treatment from a distance and some people, and I am finding it myself, find it actually more potent because we both are using our attention so strongly, me and the client, that it is stronger than when we are in person. So that is something that just happened during the pandemic for me. But I just call myself an energy educator because I am really melding a few different techniques and you can put my info if people are interested in working with me. I have a group, I am doing a really cool power-of-eight group. I like to work with people who are interested in intention-setting and it has been found that the number eight is a really optimal number for a prayer group or people who are masterminding together. So I am going to be hosting a program where I am teaching a full twelve-week healing of the biofield and the whole Chakra system and holding the intention with eight women who want to go this deep in healing trauma, in clearing trauma loops that are in their energetic fields. So I may be doing that this month or July, it starts on the 23rd of July.
So that is something that I am offering to the public, and it really integrates with my own experience of being a child from a war survivor, because our ancestral trauma actually is stored in our DNA. Even as someone who did not experience directly flying out of a war-torn situation or hearing shrapnel or whatever, it is part of my experience and it is something that I realized in therapy in my early twenties, that I feel a lot of things, grief primarily, that were not actually my own experience. And then when I started understanding that, I was able to do a lot of healing work with it. When I realized that you could really by-pass the mind and go towards the energetic field and it goes faster and trauma can actually be released in a not-so-cerebral way, I became very passionate, I made that my work. So that is how it ties into who I am and it is really beautiful stuff and obviously you can tell I am very passionate about it.
DK: Definitely, and we can put your contact information in brackets in your interview, no problem [firstname.lastname@example.org]. You talked a little bit about your conversations with your mom about your work—would you be willing to tell us a little bit more about what some of those conversations were like? No pressure, if it is a little too personal.
AE: Oh no, it is fine, I am really an open book. But a lot of the time, she says things to me and English is her second language, things are simple. "Why do you want to be weird like that?" "Don't do things weird like that." Or, "If you do things away from the church, that is a dark energy. You do not want to get involved with things that are not the church." And I think it is just such a weird concept because she never experienced like... [audio cuts out 00:35:57]... assume it is bad... I tell her I run an online business and that is fine for her because she-- I think a way for her to keep the peace is like, Okay, if it is going to be something I do not approve of, I would rather not talk about it. So yeah, she always references back [to] what is acceptable in the church and it seems like, with most Vietnamese people I know who are traditional, you really are good at following the rules. My mom follows the rules to the T. She likes to go to church every day and she does not question any of the parts of the religion that she is told, it is just, "That's that." And I am actually completely the opposite, I question everything. And I love the church too, but I also can make decisions outside of it and she cannot. So that is how it went, and maybe she will change but I remind her that, "Many people in the Bible, for instance, St. Francis, were using energy from their hands." And there was laying of hands happening, and Jesus said, "Anything I do, you can do better." So sometimes I come back with that, and just kind of snap, and she does not say anything.
DK: What is your current relationship to the church?
AE: Well, I love that people are gathering and I love to be in the energy of people gathering, so I am kind of nondiscriminatory where what that feels like, if the intention is good. So I have had my—growing up, questioning all the things I learned from the Catholic church, because I was in it since kindergarten and went through twelfth grade. So I had times where I was upset about the indiscretions that happened and there were times when I wanted nothing to do with it, and when I was very young, where I just had to go with my mom every Sunday and she was really into dressing me and my sister up into very fancy dresses, really showing up as a family. It was just a very important thing to her. But anyways, I have gone through all sorts of periods with it, and I can really love it right now for the fact that it is community and I like to go with my mom, it is fun to go with my mom, it is fun to go with her, it is fun all these old people that care about me. So I take certain parts of it that I like, and then there are parts that I am just kind of like, You know, that is what they are doing, that is not exactly what I am agreeing with. And so I will go to the local church with her in Sellwood often, and it is great. And my husband is real sweet, he likes to come, I have a three year old step-son and he likes to come, and I think that we all really need community. All humans do. So that is one way that I can get it and it is actually not fully been stopped during the pandemic, we were still going with a limited number of people, so I never had to not have those same regular folks that care about me, and to me it is not primarily about the dogma. So that is my Catholic church time now and it may change.
DK: Do you participate in any community organizations?
AE: The church there, like every year—so in Sellwood it is called St. Agatha [Catholic Church]—I help my mom do a Vietnamese Lunar New Year. Well, actually it is not specifically Vietnamese, but the Lunar New Year, which also incorporates Chinese tradition, a big party for the community. So we get dragon dancers, we have drummers, we do all the food, and Vietnamese people are really into the festivals, they love festivals, they love decorating, they love making paper decorations and making big garlands, and they just like festivity and colors. So it actually kind of turns out with all the people—I have cousins who help and stuff—to be like a really cool way for people here to feel that kind of energy because our priest actually turns out to be Vietnamese too at the church. Oh, maybe we could have him do an interview too! But Father Luan is really wanting people here in Sellwood to experience that kind of joy that a Vietnamese festival has. So we have been doing that for many years here in Sellwood. I used to be part of the Northwest Reiki Association—that is just something I do for the energy work—but currently, no, I am not, and it is always changing. I love community stuff and I hope that as things open we can do more things.
DK: I am curious, when have you felt most at home in Portland? What do you like most about living in Portland and being a part of the city and the community?
AE: I am always home here. I just feel like it is me, I love it, I have been here forever. My husband and I are both really outdoorsy people so we spend our weekends doing whatever—paddle-boarding, hiking—so I feel like home when I am in the nature here and I love the landscape, I love the climate. What else did you ask?
DK: What do you like most about the city and the community?
AE: I love primarily the way it looks here. I love the beach, I love going to Mt. Hood, I love going down to Prineville Reservoir. I am a super nature person. And then the community, what do I love here? I love how passionate people are about what they do, in that you feel so much soul from people here. I have spent [time] living in Southern California and you did not get to feel that kind of passion, and in Portland you can. I love... what else? I love the diversity of it. It is not diverse, but it is, you know? There [are] certain populations [that are] here, and I think it is really cool that we do have a really big Southeast Asian population here. I love that people who live here are really focused on having a healthy lifestyle and a lot of people are interested in things that I am, like healing and being in the outdoors. So I just like the mellow-ness too, that people are not only about the rat race in Portland, of course there is that. But it is a good balance of people who are pretty down to earth and grounded.
DK: Conversely, I am wondering if you have experienced any challenges living in Portland. For instance, have you encountered any discrimination or racism?
AE: I knew you were going to ask that. Surprisingly in my life, I have not really. I mean, I have. But I think about how much it has been, and it has been very small. And it has not been a lot in Portland. I can remember in the '90s traveling around Germany, being in Berlin, and people making lots of Asian—saying things and being mean—but I never experienced that in the US. And then in Portland, I definitely do not. I think half, because I look half-Caucasian, that people do not really treat me like I am really different, and then I think because I do not have an accent too, and that I am comfortable in my skin, that I have not really experienced a lot of that. My mom does, more than me. She tells me stories, like when she first got here, people telling her they could not understand her, or I remember her telling me somebody would not accept a check from her and she had no other way to pay and they did not trust her because she was Vietnamese and how sad that made her. I mean, they probably did not know she was Vietnamese, but Asian. But it has not really been my experience, and I am fortunate for that, because—yeah, I am just fortunate, it has not been my experience. We are in a smaller town so the Asian hate things that people are experiencing in bigger cities, I have not had affect people I know personally or myself, so I am kind of neutral on that.
DK: I am curious, what are some differences you see between older and younger generations of Vietnamese Americans?
AE: Well, I really feel that they were fighting to just survive, and that is kind of their MO, as far as like—my mom came, fleeing a war, so she is really concerned about way different things in a survival state than I am. Like saving as much money as possible, following the rules to the T, really saving, thinking about money, thinking about giving money to others. And I am kind of like... not thinking about survival at all in that, and that is because she was able to give me a comfortable life and then I have been able to really flourish as an adult without the same struggles. So my mom does not how to hang out and relax, she does not know how to enjoy herself, she always has to feel useful, and it comes from this trauma-state she has been in and I find that my aunts and uncles, the other people I know, they are all very serious like that too. It was such a big deal to really be financially successful, to help other family members and sponsor them to come here. I think my mom has sponsored over twenty family members, starting in like 1980, to come to Portland, and there have been a lot of people so you are always thinking how can you help more people? You are thinking about your community, never embarrassing your community, always being exemplary. They are into things like always looking nice and telling everyone how your kids were doctors and lawyers and stuff. I laugh about that because Vietnamese people really want their kids to be in the medical profession because that is what is considered the best career and that your kids are the most successful. So of course I got that messaging and my other two siblings also got that messaging, but none of us ended up like that and my mom has finally stopped talking like that and is just happy that we are happy and that we have nice lives and nice families. But it is a very traditional mindset that this is what success looks like, and you should not be doing anything other than that, you know? Studying energy work, “why would you do that?” [laughs] So I am just different than her and it just all makes sense, because we have been through such different things.
DK: I have come to the end of my list of questions, but I am wondering if you have anything that you hoped I would ask or if there is anything else that you were hoping to be able to share for our oral history interview.
AE: I cannot think of anything, Dustin. We have talked about so many things. I wanted to tell the story of Operation Babylift because it affects a lot of people and it has been interesting. So, my brother was one at that time, in 1975, and through the years I have met so many who were orphans on those flights. Just through things on Facebook or just getting into a story with someone, so there are a lot of miracles around and most of the people came to this area. One woman I met moved to—or a family in Montana sponsored her—but I have met several in Portland, and it is just really cool, because that started with the president of Pan Am Airlines donating flights, and I think he actually was on the flights too, maybe not all of them, but helping escort these babies out of a war zone. So I just love that that is how my life began, that somebody being so generous and so brave and so kind, and then having this huge ripple effect on how many people that affected and how I can even still come in contact with them and it just something really beautiful and there are many stories online that you can read about Operation Babylift and you will get very teary eyed and there are so many beautiful stories but it is really amazing way of seeing people's really beautiful hearts during so much tragedy.
DK: Thank you for adding that, I appreciate that. Well, again, this has been Dustin Kelley and I have been chatting with April Eklund. Today is Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Thank you so much for listening.