ZM: This is Zoë Maughan and it is August 8, 2022. I am in Watzek Library and am meeting with Thuy Tran via Zoom today. We are so glad to have you here to share some of your story. I am wondering if you could begin by stating your name and telling us just a little bit about yourself.
TT: Hello everyone! My name is Thuy Tran, and I am a refugee from the Vietnam War. My family came over to the United States in 1975, April 30th—a little bit before all the madness happened in Saigon and in Vietnam. We settled in Westminster, California. I grew up there, went to elementary school, junior high, and Westminster High.
I went to undergrad at UCLA. And then I decided to choose optometry as my profession. So I came up to Forest Grove, Oregon, to go to optometry school at Pacific University, College of Optometry. Having graduated in 1994, I decided to open up an eye clinic in Northeast Portland, the Hollywood Neighborhood. And I've been here ever since. Along the way, I have been very blessed to be involved with our community and have fallen in love with Oregon, and all its neighborhoods, through the Portland Hollywood Lions Club, through Gresham Toastmasters, the Vietnamese Community of Oregon.
Such that when there was an opportunity to run for state office in 2012, I stepped up and ran for State Rep of House District 47. I lost, I did not get a win, by 550 votes about. But because I stepped out and said, "Hey, I wanna be representative and elevate the voices in my community.” When I was asked to sit on the Parkrose School District Board, I said yes, and so I was appointed. And then ran the election for the seat again. I think in 2013, and I won by a strong twelve percent. My term ended in 2015. Regardless, I was still engaged in the community, sitting on the Advisory Board of the Gateway Discovery Park. I'm a board member of Family Forward Action, a board member of Metropolitan Public Defenders, a board member of Main Street Alliance of Oregon. What else am I? Oh! And so recently, in 2022, I won the primary election for State Rep of House District 45. I won by a wider margin, seventy-two to about twenty-eight percent. So that's fabulous.
I am a single mom of three. Both of my children are out of the house now, my boys live with each other, outside my house, and are learning how to be independent young adults. My daughter wanted to be a ballerina, so during COVID, 2020, she said, "Mom, I want to go to this school." So now, she is in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and going to Carlisle Area High School there.
I am also a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, the 142nd Medical Group at Portland Air National Guard Base.
And what else am I? I'm a small business owner, I own Rose City Vision Care—two clinics to serve the folks in Portland. One in Northeast Portland, in the Hollywood District, and the second in Southeast Portland, in the Midway neighborhood. It's been a rollercoaster ride. I survived the ups and downs of the economy, and striving to thrive and support my staff through it all. It's been hard, because my office got broken into! [laughs] Not this Sunday, but the prior Sunday. And 5:32 was when the alarm company called me, saying my alarm went off. But it was so dark I couldn't see any imagery on my ring security camera. So the police didn't come out. By the time I had some of my staff get here, the front door glass was broken into, and some of our inventories and equipment were stolen. And we had to board up our office for a bit until we got something in the interim. But today, August 8th, I get to put the glass back into the front door. I get to decide whether I have to put bars on the front door, just to ease my staff and my self sphere that this won't happen again. Because this is not the first time. And I even contemplated putting those roll-down security doors that you see in Asia and South America. But I think I'm going to hold off and work with our city, our county, and our state, and help return Portland to its trust in humanity. And help our community be a safer place to live and to do business, and to raise our family. So that's a little bit about myself.
ZM: Thank you for sharing. And I'm so sorry to hear about that. What a bummer. But your approach to it is really admirable. If you're ready I'll go ahead into some background questions, to just talk a little bit about your childhood, and things like that. My first question is just to tell me a little bit about your family. Where did you grow up? Did you have any siblings? Things like that.
TT: OK. My family can be considered Boat People. Refugees from the Vietnam War. We came over to the United States in 1975. We arrived in Westminster, California. My Aunt and her family were our sponsors. I recall all of us: Mom, Dad, myself, three siblings, and a baby in my mom's tummy, all sleeping in my auntie's guest room until we were able to find an apartment. We made it work. On our way over here, I also recall arriving at an airport and sitting in a restaurant and the waitress brought out this whole platter of food—oh my God! So much Food! And looking back, it was probably a Denny's and it was [laughs] and it was one order with pancakes, sausages, eggs, and hashbrowns, and stuff like that.
But as a child, I grew up in Southern California, Westminster. The elementary school I went to was called Wilmore Elementary. We lived in an apartment complex, sort of across the street from it. So as I look around Portland and its high density housing, the apartment complex low subsidized housing—my family were in those complexes. I remember playing marbles in the dirt patches in front of the apartments, and I had a really good childhood.
I remember being in a Christmas choir, and standing on the raised bleacher, trying to sing Christmas music and not getting all of the words, so that I can participate [laughs]. Even little things, like I remember my cousins, my Aunt's children teaching me to let the dog out. And it's hard to repeat a phrase when you don't know when a word starts and when a word ends. Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language, so each syllable is a word, so it's easy to know when a word starts and when a word ends. But English is not so.
I went through ESL. I was good in math. So in elementary school, I was able to walk up the street to the high school to take advanced math. And my success in math gave me the confidence to strive to do well in school. So that was the beginning coming to the U.S.
ZM: So you spoke to this a little bit already. But when did your family leave Vietnam? And can you describe what that process was like?
TT: So, we left Vietnam in April of 1975. My aunt's first husband was a contractor with the United States government. And he came one day, knocked on the door [knocks], and said, "I'm leaving tomorrow, does your family want to come? Bring one suitcase, and meet us at Vũng Tàu." It's a port city in Vietnam—and that was it. My mom and dad decided and off we went. I was young, so I cannot recall very much. But from the story, we got onto the fishing boat. It was one of those metal, open-back fishing boats. And we went off out to sea. Because we didn't have permission—I was told that we had to come back to the dock and then wait for permission before we left. The only image of that incident that I can recall is as the boat left, I saw my grandfather standing on the dock by himself, waving goodbye to us. But that's about it. As a young child, I do not recall the imagery very much, except for that. We went out to sea. We got picked up by a Chinese tanker, a big boat with a hollow inside. And the image that I recall was lots of mats. Mats right next to each other, and groups of people on the mats, just like us. We were given beef jerky, and crackers, so it was fun [laughs]. I don't think anything of it. On the upper deck, I remember a big cauldron pot of porridge. But that was it. That was my extent on that Chinese tankard. They dropped us off at Guam, and my mom recalls that they were passing out flip flops, and so I tossed my shoes away and got myself a brand new pair of flip flops. We were flown to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, I don't remember much at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. And then from there, we were sponsored by my aunt to Southern California, to Westminster, the city of Westminster.
ZM: Great. So what was it like for you to adjust to life in the United States?
TT: Mom and Dad always worked different shifts. Dad worked the morning shifts, Mom worked the second shifts, so there was always somebody home with us. I don't think I knew better. It was great. We had Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving. My family joined the local Buddhist temple, and I grew up not in Girl Scout/Boy Scout, but in Buddhist Vietnamese Youth Association, where we learned how to tie knots, do semaphore, Morse Code, go camping, and everything. So, I would say we had a very amazing life, because that's the only one I know. Elementary school, I did not have any problems, I did get called to the principal's office one time in middle school, because I got into a fight. It involved racial differences, somebody picked on me and said, "Go back to where you came from and eat your fried rice!" And I'm like, "Where are you from? What do you eat?" So I said, "Go back to where you came from and eat your fried chicken!" [laughs] Because I didn't know any better. Kids nowadays don't like cafeteria food. But for me, pizza day at school was just amazing. I don't recall what kind of pizza, but it was probably just dough, tomato sauce, and cheese, but it was my exposure to American food. The teachers were all great. I do not have any negative memories for that. I was expected to do well. It is always known in the family that you do well in high school, go to undergraduate school, and then become a doctor, engineer, some kind of profession that would take care of the family. And so that is what I did.
ZM: Can you talk a bit about when you came to Portland, and what brought you to Portland?
TT: So my immediate family came over to the United States in 1975. But we did not have very much extended family. And my mom's uncle—my great uncle—came over to the U.S. and he settled in Portland. And he hunted around and was finally able to finally connect with my parents. So he was our only relative. In high school, my family would all load up in the van and then drove up here to visit. And I was always amazed at how clean Portland was, and how the people were so friendly, especially downtown Portland, with its brick-laid streets, and "Oh my gosh! This is so gorgeous!" And the river. So when I had the opportunity to come up here to go to school, and I also had a relative up here to support me in Portland should I need it, it was easy to make the decision. But Portland has always been a big city with small town feel. Pacific University being a small college really attracted me, since I went to a big university in California, where a lecture hall would be a huge theater with a professor looking this small way up there [laughs].
ZM: That is the perfect transition. I was just going to ask you about how you decided to attend UCLA and what your experience at that institution was like.
TT: My home in high school was near Santa Ana, which is now Little Saigon. And then we moved—my parents tried to keep my life very stable, so we stayed in our apartment complex from 1975 to almost 1985, then we moved into a rental house in Santa Ana. And if I went to UC Irvine, I would have gotten a car. UC Irvine is very much a commuter school, but I wanted my independence. So I applied to UCLA, I lost the car [laughs]. And had to take mass transit—the bus—everywhere in UCLA. But I just wanted to be on my own and experience independence. So that's why I chose UCLA. At that time, in 1985 to 1990, a single one bedroom apartment around UCLA was over $1100 a month. So if you walk into my various apartment[s], you would see tables, because five girls would share a one bedroom apartment, to make it affordable. You go in, you see the sofa, and then desk, desk, desk, desk. And then go into the bedroom and it would be like the old hospitals, where the beds were right next to each other. But that's the only way we were able to rent an apartment near campus.
ZM: Right, right. That's really interesting.
So we were talking a little bit about UCLA, but moving forward with that, if you wanted to talk a little bit about your decision to attend Pacific University and the differences between UCLA and Pacific.
TT: We drove down along 26 Highway to go to Pacific University, and it was all farmland at the time, going, "Oh my God! What did I get myself into?" Pacific University is a very well-known optometry school, focusing, at that time, on functional and behavioral optometry. And taking care of the patient's eye/vision need as well as health need from where they are coming from, so that they can function optimally. But that was a strange first drive down there, "Oh my God, where are we going into? There's no building!" Coming from L.A. But I just loved the environment, and the support that Pacific University gives to its students. Yeah, you just go through the graduate program. Your class cohort, you work with them through the whole four years. It's not like undergrad school at all. So I found it very supportive.
ZM: And could you talk about the space that you first settled? Where you lived? I don't know if you live on campus, or what your experience with that space was like when you first came.
TT: Let's see. I don't think I was able to get into the dorms. Getting to the dorms at UCLA, and even at Pacific University was challenging. At UCLA, I lived in the apartments, like I mentioned previously. But also in co-ops, where the student takes care of the cooking, and the cleaning, and maintenance of the building. At Pacific University, in Forest Grove, I stayed in apartments, and just walked to school. It was a very safe town. People were lovely. Nothing much to do, so I got really good grades [laughs]. And at that time, there was one coffee shop. I did get seasonal affective disorder, where I didn't wanna do anything because of the weather, right? And so I went to see the counselor, and she said: "Oh, that's OK Thuy, just go and do whatever you need to do. And over time, the joy or liveliness will come back." Because I came from bright and sunny Southern California to Forest Grove. And rain or shine, just go and do your stuff, go to the market, go to the school, go exercising. And adaptation happened.
ZM: That's good. That weather shift can be a real shock, the first time around. So finally, do you want to talk a little bit about your experience attending George Fox? I know that was a bit later, but what your experience was like there as well.
TT: A philosophy that I learned about was the law of the lid. So a company can only grow as high as big or as accessible as its leader, right? That's why when the company got taken over, the leadership has to be dispersed and new leadership has to grow and be put in. So I wanted my business to grow, and at that time, I had support from my family, and so I signed up for the part-time program at George Fox University. And it fit the schedule. George Fox is different than PSU, and U of O, in that it is more faith-based. And having gone to schools that were not faith-based, I wanted to experience that environment. It wasn't much different, they're all loving. The only thing was during the first few classes, we prayed for each other, but otherwise, it's all the same. They want the student to be successful, they're supportive as much as possible. The concentration at George Fox is how you can take care of your community. And it's not all about making money, but working together. I think because of that influence, once the program was over, that I dug deeper into organizations like Family Forward, that wanted to move forward family values, fight for family and medical leave insurance, so that you can be there to take care of your family in time of need. You get to define who your family is.
I also am on the board of the Metropolitan Public Defenders, trying to support that system. It's very broken right now. Not enough public defenders, lots of folks are not being represented. Not being assigned an attorney to represent them. So, it's all about how you can serve your community, so that together, Oregon will be a better place to live.
ZM: I think that leads really nicely into my next question, which is: what motivated you to run for the legislature? Can you talk a little bit about that process?
TT: An angry mother bear [laughs]. My friend Joseph from an organization called APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon), called me up one day and said, "Thuy, your state representative is not running for his office, would you consider?" And I said, "What does it all involve?" And it's good not to know [laughs] when you initially start. We met up with Jefferson Smith who was the current state representative there and I went, “What does this all involve?” You have to go knock on doors, you have to raise some money, and you get to serve and make folks in your house district better, right? By being one of sixty-two to vote on laws. Well that sounds simple, and it sounds to be a good way to serve. But what was so rewarding was actually going out and knocking on doors of my house district, my neighbors, and finding out what their issues and concerns were. I got lots of hands, I got a lot of door slams. But then I got to meet a lot of folks who were willing to share with me their concerns, their suffering, and hoping that the state will work to alleviate some of that: safety issues, work, job issues, housing issues. The same ones we have right now. But, again, I did not have a win. So I lost by five hundred and fifty votes. But that whole experience just created a deeper love for my community.
So one day, when I was picking up my children from Russell Elementary, one of the teachers who was staffing the crosswalk, she said, "Thuy, did you hear? They're gonna cut more school days from our kids! Budgeting problem! You should go and tell the school board to not do that!" I'm like, "They shouldn't do that. Not only does it affect our kids, it also affects the family, how are they gonna go work, right?" And basically our economy and community by doing that. So, I showed up that evening, at the school district board, and I said, "You shouldn't do that. We need school days, we need our teachers. Don't cut any more days." And they said, "Thuy, it's such a complex problem, you don't understand the half of it." But I showed up, and I strived to understand. And then when there was a position open, because I showed up, and asked questions, and wanted to support the school, they appointed me. And from there on, I rolled up my sleeves and strived my very best to be of service. One time I made a stink at the school district budget meeting, because I would not vote 'yes' to pass the budget, unless they gave our students more school days! [laughs] At that time, it was about a hundred thousand dollars, for a day, for a teacher. So I was just fighting for those dollars. We were ten short, and they said, "Oh, we'll give you one. And as soon as this happens, we'll give you another, and as soon as this happens, we'll give you another." No, next time I'm going to make a bigger stink because I only got one, instead of more. I believe in our community, and the school district is part of our community, and when Parkrose School District Board wanted to outsource their bussing services, that wasn't kosher with me, because those were my neighbors' jobs. And those bus drivers, they're not doing it for the money, OK? It's only part-time. But they keep an eye out for our children, and just because the school district administrator didn't want to administrate, doesn't mean that a whole service should be outsourced. So I fought to keep it in. At the meeting, I said, "Because of budget cuts, we have cut an arm, a leg, from our school district's functioning. And it hasn't worked. So now you're asking us to cut another limb off." And the superintendent was not very happy with my analogy, all I meant was to look at the situation holistically, cutting services doesn't mean we're going to solve the financial problem. But she said, "You said we are severing limbs and cruel and…" And I said, "No, no, no, just look at things from a different perspective. It hasn't worked." But that experience helped me realize how important participation can be. So I've stayed of service in my community. Making things work. Raising three kids. Keeping an office open, taking care of patients, as well as squeezing in all these evening and weekend meetings. It's all doable.
ZM: That's amazing, really. So shifting a little more to your current campaign—what issues have you been campaigning on and what has your experience been like so far?
TT: The issues of concerns in my neighborhood have been safety, and has been affordable housing. However, safety issues stems from the houselessness issues, not enough mental health support, and drug addiction treatment, as well as housing issues. So when there is not enough housing, when there is not enough living wage jobs, or access to healthcare, then the safety net is not there for our community members. And so, people fall through the cracks, lose their homes, have mental health issues not dealt with, health issues that needed more support, but instead painkillers were given and then addiction starts. And it is also education: if we take care of our kids, then less of them have free time and get into trouble, it's a simplistic view. But if we support certain aspects of our neighborhood strongly, then the safety issues will not be there, and the houselessness population will have the support that they want and need.
ZM: Thank you. Can you share a little bit more about your experiences as a small business owner?
TT: Again, not knowing is very important [laughs]. So when I graduated from optometry school in 1994, I got a job in an ophthalmology clinic with Dr. Gerald Rooksby downtown in the dental medical building, he has since passed. And while working there, three days a week, I started my practice—in Hollywood. It was near my great uncle's house. I would drive up and down there and I said, "Oh, that's a nice building. Let's start." And so I worked part-time, and I opened my own business part-time. When income from caring for patients at my office exceeded my salary at the Dr. Rooksby’s office, then my accountant said, "Thuy, you can work at one job now." [laughs] and then that's how it began, one patient at a time. Anybody who walks through my clinic door, I was grateful for, that the universe sent them to me, and that I get to provide the best eye care that I possibly can for them. It has been hard. Staffing has been hard. Take right now, because of supply change issues, everything is increasing in cost. However, as a healthcare provider, and as a medical clinic, we still have to follow certain guidelines. I still have to wear a mask everyday, eight hours a day, and so does my staff. But also, even as our supply costs increase, because of how insurance contract is negotiated, our fee is the same. So over time, since 1995, that I've opened my clinic, I've been working harder and getting paid less. But you strive to take care of your staff, you strive to take care of your patients and customers, and you strive to be open for your community. I don't want—I [don’t] care to be like an eye care desert, right? And so small businesses, small neighborhood clinic providers like myself need to be able to thrive in order to stick and stay. That's why I'm very passionate about the single-payer health care system, as well as access to health care for all Oregonians. So, if you're listening to this right now, there will be an IT-17 on the ballot in November, please support it.
ZM: Thank you. That sounds ideal. [laughs]. Can you share a little bit more about your experience working with the Oregon Air National Guard?
TT: One of the best decisions I ever made! I am what is called an "Air Guard Baby," which means that I did not come through the usual recruitment path, start with active duty and then go into the Air National Guard. I went straight into the Air National Guard. I was at a Christmas party, and I met a man who was a recruiter for the military. And he asked if I would consider, and I said, "Oh, I'm too old. They're not gonna take me, right? Because I've been out of school for quite a long time." And he said, "No, no, you're not too old." That's the best way to recruit somebody, give them a compliment like that. And so he said, "Well, I'll give you some numbers, and you can call." But I called those numbers and they didn't have a position available. I belonged to the Portland Hollywood Lions Club, and so at that time, we had weekly lunch meetings and I would show up to the lunch meeting. After attempting all of those calls, one of the Lions Club members—Lyle Olson—who never comes to the meeting, he never comes. He showed! And I tell him the story of how I met this recruiter, and he said, "Thuy, I was a recruiter for the Air National Guard, let me get you in. And I'll get out of retirement, and I'll see what I can do." And Lyle got out of retirement, recruited me, and that's the short of the story. Really funny—so on the day I got to show up to the Portland Air National Guard base and get sworn in, I did. The next room that they sent me to was the life insurance room, "OK, where would you like to have your life insurance policy if you should die? Who will get it? Who are the recipients?" And I'm like, "Oh my God, what did I get into?" The next room that they sent me into was finance. And they asked, "Where would you like your bonus be sent?" So I got recruited under an incentive program, I think it was about forty-something-thousand, or something like that. And I'm going, "Wow, what a surprise! OK." My friend Lyle did not tell me anything about the incentive program, so I got into the military so I could serve my country and my state without monetary incentives, so it was a very pleasant surprise [laughs]. I'm like, "You kept it from me, Lyle. You didn't tell me!" And he said, "I-I did it on purpose." And I'm very grateful for him to do that.
ZM: That's great. So I'm going to shift to our more community-oriented questions, we've definitely spoken about this already, but I think it'll be a good lead in. So do you feel a connection to the Vietnamese American community here in Portland, and can you share a little bit about that?
TT: I feel a deep connection, because I am Vietnamese American in Oregon. I was the vice president of the Vietnamese Community of Oregon for a few terms, and so I helped set up the Harvest Moon Festival, and the Tết Festival for our community, and connect our community with resources that are in the community at large. The Vietnamese community is such a hard working community. We add, we want to build businesses, we want to have stable jobs and work hard at in, so that we can support our families. Currently, one of my projects involves collecting oral history from Vets. American vets of the Vietnam war, as well as Vietnamese American Vets from the army of the Republic of Vietnam, my parents' generation, because they are passing. One of my friends, his dad was an officer in the army of the Republic of Vietnam, just passed recently. So his story was not collected. I have ten stories so far. Only one is from Vietnamese American because there still exists a fear. And most immigrants and refugees, I feel, want to leave all of the sadness behind, protect their family, and move forward. But Americans, America, has such a short memory, and we repeat the same mistakes over and over again. And I feel that collecting these stories will help us remember and not let the Vietnam War be a few paragraphs in a history book. And also, as history unravels itself, we need to learn from lessons as well as respect what has been done. And our children need to know, at least Vietnamese American children, my children, need to know where they came from, so that American consumerism, capitalism, won't detract them from being contributing members to our society. In Portland Public School District, there is a Vietnamese language immersion program, yes, so through the language retainment [sic], kids will be able to connect more deeply with the history and why they're here. My children went through the Van Lang Vietnamese language program, so since they were in preschool, every Sunday, during the school year, they would go there for about three hours and learn Vietnamese. And two of them use their language skill to test out the language requirement at the high school level so I'm very proud of that. And now they're able to communicate with their grandparents.
ZM: That's really wonderful to be able to maintain that connection.
TT: Yes. But the immersion program will help them read and write at a higher level, so that's very important. And once, when you're young and you learn the accent and tonality, those children will learn Chinese, Japanese, Korean at a much easier level.
ZM: Right. Yeah, that's wonderful. Are there events in particular that bring people together in the community or places in particular that are gathering spaces?
TT: There's no headquarters for the Vietnamese Community of Oregon. So there's no community center. However, three holidays, or three events that comes to my mind as being of significance: one is the Tết Festival—celebration of the new year—honoring what we have and showing appreciation to our elders. The second one is the Autumn Festival—Vietnam was very agrarian, and so celebrating a good harvest. The Moon Festival is very important and it's catered to the kids and so it makes understanding history and culture in a fun way. The third event is April 30th, or Black April, I think there's another name for it—but that is the fall of Saigon—and that is to remember what was lost and to honor the freedom flag, a yellow flag with three stripes. Folks who have left the Vietnam War do not accept the current Vietnam communist flag, as representing them, so the freedom Vietnamese flag is very important as the declaration of freedom and not willing to give into the oppression, and the cruelty that was the War and what was communism post-war.
So you've spoken to this a bit already, but do you participate in any religious or community organizations?
TT: I am Buddhist. So my ex-husband's family helped build the Nam-Quang Buddhist Temple that is on 148th, near Sandy. And so, I would go there. But currently, I attend the KCC Tibetan Center on Skidmore, and 50-something. [ZM: Great]. I believe in Engaged Buddhism, which is a philosophy espoused by the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. We control our action by lovingly taking care of our community, ourselves, and our loved ones now—we create Karma for the future that is of the same. So my being engaged at the community level and soon at the state level, will be an extension of how I can serve our community that way.
ZM: Wonderful. What local public or political issues do you think are most important to the Vietnamese community in particular?
TT: Safety is very important. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The cause of it is wage disparity, housing, livable housing, accessibility, mental health support, addiction treatment, all that. But, on the surface of it is safety. For example, if you travel down Sandy Boulevard here, a lot of the small, micro, Vietnamese, women-owned businesses, they would have their front doors locked. And when the customer or client show up, and they look familiar or safe, those doors open. OK? Mai Floral, which is a shop down here, on Sandy Boulevard, she has been tagged so many times. I've gotten the support of the Portland Hollywood Lions Club to help her paint over her graffiti, but it keeps on happening. And she's all by herself, her husband is sick, and so it's hard, it's very hard for her. My office, women-owned, Vietnamese. Sometimes I tell my staff, "Just lock the doors if you're here by yourself and you feel unsafe. And then if they look safe, then open and greet." But that shouldn't be how business should function.
Another issue that is very important to the Vietnamese community but may not be local, but it's turning out to be local, is human rights. Vietnam may say certain things, Vietnam the country, the communist government, may say something, but people are still disappearing over there. If you write a song, a piece of literature, poetry, give a sermon that doesn't agree with the party, you may disappear. Folks over here might know about it, but because news media is suppressed over there, folks over there might not know about it. And so, there's still deep love for the cultural history of Vietnam as a country with its depth. But there's a mistrust of the current government at this time. And so fighting for human rights over there is extremely important. And currently, with the rise of Asian hate crimes in the U.S., that is like a needle that is pricking your skin, reminding you of the evil that exists. When you're [sought] out because of your party affiliation, or the color of your skin, or just anger in itself. So human rights issues—I think the rights to just be Asian American, Vietnamese American, living in the U.S., and feeling safe. Because you don't have that in Vietnam, the country, under the communist rule. You have to think about why people leave a country, all that they know. And this applies to what's happening in the U.S., at our southern border. Why would you leave everything? Right? Go into the vast, dark ocean on a rickety wooden gas boat, into the unknown? The evil that exists has to be pretty scary, right? Why would people send their children south of our border on the [unclear], knowing that they may be harmed, raped, killed. Right? To cross over into the U.S. So it is very sad to me that the evil exists elsewhere in the world and that folks are seeking hope, freedom, asylum in the U.S. I hope that we here can help create, support the creation of not just an environment of love and compassion here, but also extend that outward, globally. So, people don't have to leave their home and come here. Risking everything, life and limb, for something better, even though they don't know what better is yet. So folks in the U.S., not just Vietnamese American or immigrant, but all of us, can be the catalysts, the voice, the vote, that will make our space better. And when we don't have to worry about how we're gonna live, how we're gonna eat, how we're going to take care of our health. Then we can start thinking about others. And not just in Portland, but in Oregon, in the U.S., and then outside of the U.S. We have such great opportunities here.
ZM: Yeah, thank you. So when have you felt most at home in Portland? And what do you like about the city and its community?
TT: I love walking by the water, it soothes me. And we have lots, right? There's beaches, Broughton Beach Park has a beach on Marine Drive. There's such natural beauty. Earlier this year, I attempted to summit Mount Hood. I got to attempt it with my son, he was able to summit Mount Hood, but I was not able to. Altitude sickness got to me, I have to train better next time. But as I drive down the roads and freeway and I see Mount Hood, she taunts me. She said, "I'm beautiful, look at all of my snow as it melts, it goes into the Bull Run and takes care of it all. But I'm tough, it's gonna take more than how you train to summit me." So she taunts me [laughs]. And like anything, it's gonna take work, OK? Solving our problems, our situations that we have right now: with safety, houselessness, mental health, addiction, health care, affordable housing, will take work. And as Mount Hood, she taunts me, I will still train to summit her next year. [laughs]. Our beaches are beautiful too! We have it all. Our natural treasures are to be enjoyed. And the majority—no—almost all, of Oregonians, I feel take care of our natural resources, natural treasure. Our parks are always so clean, and well taken care of. The philosophy of what you bring in, you take out. Yeah, just take care of it as if it was your home, which Oregon is our home.
ZM: Kind of on the other side of that—do you want to share any experiences of racism, or discrimination that you've experienced in Portland?
TT: I am in a position of privilege, in that I have not experienced a lot. But, as female, as Asian, I've been in a lot of meetings where I'm the only person. And to look at me, and have me represent the diverse group of Asians that are in our state, that's unrealistic expectations. This year, there will be five Vietnamese Americans who will get to go to Salem to be state legislators. And it took a whole community. The community of Oregon to raise us, so that we will be able to do it. And so I'm grateful for all the privilege and the support I have here. Did what happen to me, with my office being broken into, is it racially motivated? No, it could be what is happening to all of the small businesses that line Main Street of Oregon right now. However, sometimes I walk down Sandy Boulevard and I would get my coffee cup smacked out of my hand—is that racially motivated? Or is it a mental health issue? I can only come at it from my view. But the incident where a man attacked the Japanese man and his daughter on South Waterfront, that is racially motivated. The Asian crimes that are happening on Division and Powell to Asian-owned businesses is racially motivated. One of the constituents that is in my house district, she was walking, or crossing the street on Fremont, after coming out of a yoga class, and a car with a bunch of young white men, stopped and pulled out a gun on her. Did that happen because she was Asian? Or could it have happened to anybody else? Why didn't they pick somebody else but her? That could be racially motivated. But, hurt people hurt. And they look at folks who feel they are less strong than them to hurt. Right? Bullies are hurt. And they look around and find the weaker, somebody who appears weaker than them, to hurt. And so, if we want to end this, we need to find and support the folks who are hurt. And give them the support that they need. So, are racially motivated people hurt? Financially? Emotionally? Spiritually? Within their family? Their community? And they're just expressing the inner hurt that they have, outwardly, by hurting others. And so how we can affect change is to support everyone in our community. Not to feel that deeply hurt that they must project that hurt outward.
ZM: That makes a lot of sense. [TT: Easy to say, but not easy to do.] Oh, certainly. Much easier said than done, certainly [laughs].
TT: Just like reproductive health care right now. If we're willing to bring children into our society, let's take care of them with education, with health care, with childcare. And as they grow up, help them with their mental health, help them with their schooling, help them with their career choices. Help the family that supports those children. You cannot say you care without doing all of that. So, let the individual women, their family, and their religion, and their doctor, make the decision. Politicians shouldn't do it, because there's so many individual circumstances that one rule won't solve the problem and may create more suffering. [ZM: Yes. I think you're spot on.]
ZM: So, in your mind, what role does being Vietnamese American play in your life? How does that inform your life? I know that's a really big ask.
TT: Yeah! [laughs] I cannot be anybody else, but Vietnamese American, female, me. When I look into the mirror, that's what I see, and that is who I am. My skin color is not as blatant as if I was a darker tone. So the racism may not be as apparent. Because Asians as a group are harder working, because we have to, we've been raised with the belief that education is important, that community and families are important, it identifies you. It contributes to companies wanting to hire Asians because of our work ethics, how we raise our kids—how we help them have a better future. But those are stereotypes, also. Not all Asians, not all Asian Americans, not all Asian American Pacific Islander, not all Vietnamese Americans are the same. And so I hope that I can be different enough that people don't glomp me into the stereotype. But, being Vietnamese American and showing up as I am, will add to the diversity, the colorfulness, the difference in thinking, that we will need in order to solve our community's problems, right? Because if you only have a group of rich white males in Salem making the decisions, they will solve problems that will fit the life of rich white males and their families. But, having the diversity in gender, in ethnicity, in Salem will add voices to the lawmaking body—at whatever level. I'm just talking about Salem and the state legislature because that's where I'm going next January, as an example. But at the state, the county, the community, the business level, the education, all levels that inclusiveness will help us solve problems that reaches all lives. Open doors for discussion into issues and concerns, and perspectives that individually we might not be able to have experienced. Right? And so the richness of the conversation, the richness of possibility, will be there when we are inviting diversity and have inclusivity [laughs].
ZM: So I just have one more question for you, and that is: what, if any, differences do you see between older and younger generations of Vietnamese Americans?
TT: Just looking within my family, I know how hard it is to get my mom and dad to talk about history: what happened in Vietnam, how they were raised. They strive to protect us, so we're not traumatized, have PTSD from the War. They lived the War, so their current beliefs in—let's just say our political system, Republican versus Democrat—are based upon history, how they feel that the Democrat did not support the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. So older Vietnamese may tend to lean towards more Republican beliefs. Younger Vietnamese, like myself, did not experience that per se. And we look forward to how can we make things better, what needs to be made better to take care of our elders, to take care of our children, to take care of our workers, our businesses. How do we contribute our voices as well as elevate everyones’ voices? I feel that the older generations, my parents' generation, had to live through the French colonization, and then the U.S. government during the War bought a lot of things out, and leveraged their weapon power, their money to get what they wanted. So that history of oppression—there's a fight in there. There's a fight against that oppression. But to have fought all your life against the Chinese, against the French, against the US—do you want to fight more? And it is up to my generation and that of my children to continue that fight for freedom, justice, and the Vietnam that was oppressed by communism. So yes, there is a difference in thinking, and it will all hash out as history progresses or is created. But there is such a deep, I don't know, I wouldn't say anger. But how would you feel to be in the country of the folks who made the decision to withdraw from Vietnam, where you end up losing everything? Right? Even though you're able to create a new future for yourself, for your family, but the U.S. was supposed to be an ally to South Vietnam. And to just withdraw, and let everything drop, the U.S. government does that a lot, you know that, right? Yeah, they do that a lot [laughs]. Iraq, Afghanistan, you know, all that, we do that a lot. But I think my parents' generation has to reconcile with that. Whereas my generation, it is our job to move forward, and take care of not just our family, but the family of our community here. Because we're all connected, we're all interconnected. So you look at the person and how they act, and you ask them, "Where are you hurt that caused you to act so?" And so involvement in voting, there has been an increase in Asian American voting. More engagement, less fearful of participating in government. Because there is a trust now, that the U.S. and its political vehicle can be an agent of change, not just an agent of "Want some money? [laughs] We'll come in and do this and we'll support you." But then we leave when we don't think we're gonna win. So, I don't know, I'm just explaining it simplistically, but there is depth to the hurt, and the healing journey is occurring, and will take time.
ZM: Thank you for that answer. That was my last question besides: is there anything else that we haven't touched on that you'd like to discuss?
TT: Nope, thank you for this opportunity for me to share my view.
ZM: Thank you so much for taking the time. Yeah, so I'll close us out, and we can discuss any logistics if you have any questions. Thank you so much, again, this has been Zoë Maughan speaking with Thuy Tran via Zoom, on August 8, 2022. Thank you so much for being here with me.