E.J. Carter: This is E.J. Carter, Hannah Crumme, and Azen Jaffe. We’re here at the Happy Valley Public Library interviewing Thuy Dam on September 14th, 2018. Thanks first of all for joining us today.
Thuy Dam: Oh no problem, my pleasure. I never do this, but let’s see.
EC: Could you start by just telling us where and when you were born, and a little bit about your life in Portland?
TD: Oh, I born in South Vietnam, so I stay there our life was really good before 1975. After 1975, course I would be refugee to California first, and then when we went to California we live there about 15 years. My son grow up with some kind of like problem with the heat, so he have to [move to somewhere that has the cold weather]. So then after that I go to the doctor. The doctor say that, well I afraid he have something serious you know. Finally the doctor say, just find a place cooler, so that's why we come here. But before we come here, my sister already live here, and she love it, so that’s why we come to Oregon -- 2004. But before we went there, from Vietnam to California is nine years from my life. Good thing my sister already lived in United States, in California. So, my sister sponsored to us to go by airplanes -- which is better than my husband. So we came to Thailand for a couple of weeks. We have no money, we have no food, no nothing. And we stay in one of the camps, whatever they give to us. I remember, oh my god, I just want a little bit of soy sauce, and I don’t have money to buy the soy sauce, and we would cry all day, all night because it is so little food. And we were starving, and we could not eat. And back in Vietnam, we are wealthy family. So really turned 360 degrees. By the time we get out of Thailand for couple of weeks, and we thought we land into the Philippines. We thought it was better, but no, getting worse and worse and worse. So we have to stay in the Philippines for six months to learn English, and learn the culture of the people living in the United States. Make sure we do not ask them how old are they. That’s what they were teaching us [Laughs]. And make sure when we come -- because Vietnamese tradition, we welcome people with our clothing and with touching -- and they say make sure you do not touch people, because they defend it, and they don’t like you okay. And stay away, far away. Like two hands far, they say. So I say woah, United States is kind of terrible. We signed up for something terrible. What is going on in here?
So we stay in the Philippines for six months. To learn English, to learn the culture of the United States. And we are terrified in there too, because we don’t have enough food. And the house we have to live in look like in the forest. You know the kind of little leaf house, and no water to wash clothes nothing. And we have no money, of course. And good thing at that time we have friends in Vietnam, they send a dollar U.S. to us. They don’t send a lot, but when you mail it sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t, so we get about a forty dollar -- luck -- the rest of them gone, somewhere don’t know. So we get that money, we can eat a little bit, and we have some friends in Manila, and then they take us to the forest to pick up some trees, some fruit, so we can cook at home and eat. You know you were up here [points hand high] and now you all the way down here [points hand low], you have no idea what you’re doing, so kind of really a depression and we did not want to come to the United States at that time at all. We want to go
back home, but we can’t go back home either. Because our house, the Communists already took the house. They tell my parents you have to sign up, and give up the house before they can sign the paper for us to come to the United States. So then I say, okay now we don’t know what to do. We’re stuck. So six months get by, we doing a good job, learn English, and learn all kinds of stuff good, so we qualified to go to United States. When we come to United States, we thought oh, yeah good, great we can be in heaven. No. Worse than what we have been going through.
So we came to the United States, we don’t speak English very well, and my age is kind of middle age already, so we need to go looking for job to get money. So by the time we live in California, we aren’t driving, so we walk. I walk everyday for about fifteen miles, whatever it is, looking for a job. And by the time we are looking for a job, any store we put it in the job, they were calling us, and I don’t know what they talking about, because we don’t know English. So we play the answer machine about twenty times, we still don’t understand what they are talking about. One of them they wanted to interview, but we don’t know, so we keep looking, looking, and finally we stop. We take walk only, no money nothing. We just eat only chicken. But the not the best chicken, not the breast. The cheapest chicken of the United States. No one wants to eat this. So we have to eat that because we don’t have enough money. So we survive that for four or five years, we survive like that. And then in the house we are renting, the house just a small room like eight by ten. We have four of us in that in that room. So the table was upside out, you know we stack them up. We have enough room for one person walk down and the other person have to wait for that person to walk out first, and then we walk out, so.
EC: Were your parents with you?
TD: Yes my parents with us too. My parents the same thing too. We are all working together to survive, the whole family. So then we go to... they called U.S. … one of the Vietnamese community in LA. So they kind of are looking for a job for us. Because we don’t know! We looking for job, they call us, and we have no idea what they are talking about. We have to translate by dictionary, and by that time it is too late. We don’t have an opportunity to go learn English. We are old enough and we have to support our parents and our family. Everybody have to survive, so actually I just learn everything by the dictionary book. I put it in the pocket, so if I go somewhere, they’re talking too fast, I say could you please slow down little bit, or could you write. So, they write down, and then I have to translate. When they write down I can understand -- scan -- a little bit. Just by that I learn English until today. I don’t go to school or anything. I just learn like that. And I still keep learning. So then after that what’s so sad, we want to send a friend a letter or something, and I don’t have even -- what is it that time it’s probably ten cents for a stamp or something? -- I don’t even have that money. And all my friends are sending me money, and I want to send a thank you, but I don’t have any money. So, day time we go to work the assembly. That group, they get me a job in assembly. They know we don’t speak English, so it was a good thing that they were a good company. They help all the people, you know when you come through the United States you have problems. So all the leader, supervisor, manager speak very slowly. I still have a dictionary, that’s all our family learning, like you learn yourself English. So we learning, talking, and finally they like us, and they put us to a leader. I said, “Oh my god.” I don’t know what to do. I work at day time for the assembly.
EC: What were you assembling?
TD: For the light, all the light. And then at night time, we get home at night time, and we are helping mom cooking dinner, eat dinner, and then we do another job to survive. To cut all the thread for the sewing machine they give it to us. The whole family. My mom, my dad, everybody go to work day time assembly, come home to more work to survive United States, because it is so expensive. Renting all kinds of stuff. I didn’t ever think about this. Because over there we have everything ready. We never thinking about it. Our mom and dad create our lives so easy. By the time we get there, we do that for I think a year or two years. Then we are able to buy the sewing machine, and also we can by the washer machine, and the dryer machine, usually it was by hand. Then we see our lives a little bit better. But besides that, for almost three years we don’t eat anything but the cheap chicken. We come home, boil it, eat with fish sauce or soy sauce and that's all we eat to survive. And very rarely, vegetables. After that my sister actually go to school a little bit to be able to do computer programming. Because they are young, we just support them. Even when I driving the car, because in two weeks I got the driver's license. We had to learn so hard to survive.
I took all my sisters to work at night assembly. The police stopped me. I said, “Oh my god, what’s going on in here?” I had no idea. They turned the light on. I don’t know, I keep going. They say, “Stop, Pull over!” I say, “What are they saying? Open the dictionary! What does that mean, pull over?” One of my sisters opened it, they said, “Pull over, that means we have to stop!” I say, “Oh my god.” And then we stop. So the police come over, and say, “Why you keep running?” I say, “Excuse me, can you speak slowly? I don’t understand.” He say where you come from? And I say Vietnam. They say how long? Two weeks. I had no idea. After that guy was so mad, so irritated, so pissed off, and I say oh my god what were we doing wrong? Maybe we go to jail, because we learn in the Philippines that when you do something wrong you go to jail, and that’s a tough life. We were scared of that. One of them, I think it’s an Asian police, tell the white police you stay out, and I’ll take care of this. He is a very nice guy, he say how long you been here? Two weeks. Where? Vietnam. I don’t speak like this, I just speak very slowly, and he say do you know why I stopped you? I say no. I still have the beam light on, because I don’t know. He say how long you learn the drivers license? I say just two weeks, and I got it yesterday, and today I get stopped. He showed me the light like that, to never turn on. I really appreciate it. I’m not angry with them, because I am learning. The guy say no that’s okay, go home carefully okay. And learn more, because it’s tough in the United States but you can do good. This one, turn it off. And he showed me, and then I never ever my whole life make that mistake again. Never ever. I learn that, and I teach all my kids the same thing. So kind of, life really bad. After that we just survive for a little bit. Then I get promoted, and after that I get a different company, and I do stocking. Then I learn the medical assistant, so then I go to school to learn the medical assistant. In the morning I work full-time assembly, six o’clock go home, cook, do dishes, eat something quick fast, go to school, get home about eleven or midnight. Starting study from midnight to three o’clock in the morning. I’m starting English, so of course I have to translate from the dictionary. Sleep from three o'clock to six o'clock, get up and go to work again. That is all year round for two or three years.
HC: Where were you in California
TD: Rowland Heights. Yes, all three years like that. My sister, the same thing. We sleep about two or three hours that is it. I get certified as a medical assistant. Which is so funny. When I get certified medical assistant, I get the yellow all over, and I don’t know what that means. I cry, and I say how come everyone has white dress and white everything, and how come I have yellow on the top my hat, and yellow on my clothes? I have no idea that was honor. I don’t know. So I would cry so hard. I told my teacher, I say, “This is not fair, I learned so hard, and I learned so good, and why am I separate from all my friends?” My teacher say, “Thuy you don’t, but you are good.” I say no, my friends have white color, how come I have yellow? Now I am looking back and I feel like I am a dumb dumb dumb, but my life is so horrible. I am learning everything I have to learn myself. Finally I find out that, and I am so happy. After I get out of school, I get a job right away. I still don’t understand English very well, but I’m working in the medical field. I already know all the techniques, because I am a nurse in Vietnam. So I know all the techniques. All the things I know. Only with the language I have a problem. All the doctors, everybody, it’s a good thing I have a lot of people -- angels -- behind my back. They are all nice to me, they are all teaching me, and that’s where I learn English. From all my friends, my doctor, my coworker. It’s really nice. And then, get married, and then we working very hard, so now we come to our life right now, and it is very successful. A lot of people come from Vietnam, they cry, still now they cry. They say they wish their life like my life. And I say you don’t wish like my life, your life right now is much better. You come in, your family already settled, and you just need to go to school and go to work, and it’s awesome. You don’t want my life.
HC: You met your husband here?
TD: Yes, I met my husband here. One of my friends introduced us. When I heard his story, how he escaped from Vietnam, I feel like my life is nothing in comparison to his. Nothing. He was over there, they get him to the army, like communists. His family did not like that. But his family is a wealthy, wealthy family. They come in, they took the house, they took the gas station, they took everything. They look like they are targets for them. So then the parents have to let him go escape. When he escaped, he on the sea for thirty days. No water, no food, no nothing. Good thing he land in to Thailand, and when he landed to Thailand they have all of the pirates. You know like steal money, killing them, and all that stuff. Horrible, horrible. Raping all the women. And the men they take off everything. He say he had only the underwear, they take everything. Course he have some gold, his family give it to him to survive, so they take everything. When he come into Thailand, and they stay in the forest. He have no house, no nothing, so they have to cut the tree to build a house. He is a wealthy family, he never know how to do that. He even have a maid in Vietnam to help him, so he have no idea. Come to this one it’s really terrifying for him. By the time he build a house, he fell. He fell, so the spine was all collapsed for four spine. Even right now, he still have that injury. The cold, the hot, whatever changing the weather, his back will be stuck. But he won’t give up. He still works, we still work. Whenever we come to the United States, we never ever got any money from the government, the welfare or whatever it is. We are allowed the welfare, but no. My sister actually, the one that sponsor us say look, I understand you guys come in with problems, and we helping you for a year, or two years to survive, but you have two hands, two legs, the wealthy body, two eyes, ears, mouth. Go to work. My sister very tough. At that time I hate my sister. I say she’s killing us, and killing us. I just hate her. You just abandon us, blah blah blah. But now actually I look back, I really appreciate her to give us a hard time at the beginning, so now we can be successful. Now we have a house, we have everything that we want.
HC: When did your sister come?
TD: My sister came in 1975. Right at that time the communists came over to Vietnam, took over. My uncle is a captain, in the navy. He a captain, so he have a boat. My sister came to visit him at that time. Did not know before that. So then my sister with my uncle. My uncle came to Vietnam to pick us up, but my dad is [stuck in his office and can’t come home when the communist took over]. So we did not want to leave without my dad. And then my grandma said no I am not leaving without my son. All my uncles, my aunts they say I will not leave without my brother. So it wound up, everybody stayed. And everybody suffer. Very very suffer when we stay in Vietnam, very suffer. They took the house, they take us to the forest. I live in the city Saigon, and they tell us either you go to countryside to grow trees, and rice. We didn’t want to do that, but then we have to do that, one of my relatives go over there. They give us the house just a few trees, nothing covered, it look like a shed, nothing covered. We stay there for a year, or two year. After that I say we have to stop, to go to the school for high school. The whole life I looking back I cry more, a lot more. But right now I really appreciate it. Before I hated the United States, but now I really appreciate the United States. Actually have a big heart, and welcome us to United States. My husband too, we all appreciate every single day, every single minute, and we see people do not want to do this thing and I say you got to do it, and I say you got to do it because you need to appreciate it. You do not come in here to sit down, or wait for the money. No, you have to do it and then you will be successful. It’s not easy for the wealthy family to come all the way to the bottom, and you don’t have any food to eat. We even eat the one with toxins. Like tofu. [ … ] They make the tofu. They press it out, they get the liquid, so that one is kinda like trash. We have to eat that to survive. That is where the toxins are, and if you eat it for a long time you might get sick, but we were so hungry. We get that and we put in the pan, and fry it. Just eat to survive because we have nothing to eat.
HC: How long were you in California before you came into Oregon?
TD: Fifteen years.
HC: Were your children born in California?
TD: Yes, born in California. We get married in California. We came to Oregon in 2004.
Azen Jaffe: What were your first impressions of Portland?
TD: The first impression is kind of like the weather very nice, and beautiful. I never forget the tree changing the color, and then also life is not too crowded. Everybody look like even. Treat each other with respect. California is different.
HC: How is it different?
TD: California is a lot of people rich, a lot of people wealthy. They look at all the people low different. Kind of like they don’t care about you. If you die in the street and they don’t care. Portland is different. It’s touching my heart a lot when it snows, and I see all the teenager standing on the street and helping. And actually when I get help, I will cry. It doesn’t mean I am sad, but I am so happy. I never see in California, if I have broken car, nobody is going to help me. Oregon, I see a lot of young kids from college, and they are coming to help all kinds of stuff. They helping change the tire, helping a lot. So that’s why it is touching me. Oregon is really good state. A lot of my family live in California, and they want me to go back, I say no I don’t think so. I want to stay Oregon. They say Oregon snow and everything, and I say but we have a warm heart here. Right now I am involved with Vietnamese Community of Oregon. Helping the people, helping the poor people. Helping everything -- access. I put myself in their shoes, like before I have no access, I have no one helping me. Right now I try to help people. I will find out a way to help them pass all the hard times at the moment. For them to be successful instead of in depression and kill themselves.
HC: What are the most common problems that you see from recent immigrants? How are you helping? What are people encountering?
TD: For example, right now I have some people just say they over there it was so nice. The mom over here send them money to use. They never work in their life, and now they come here, they have to go to school to [learn English and try to look for the job]. They say I never ever have to do anything. I talk to them I say, you know what to think about it. Think how hard your mom has been working, and you have to appreciate that. Right now it is time for you to do. This one is nothing. I tell them about my story, they say oh my god really? I say yes, I walk fifteen miles, not only one mile, fifteen mile every day. To go to work, to looking for job, to survive, to eat the food I don’t really want it anymore, but I still have to eat, because I want to stand up, so you need to stand up. Right now your life is very good. It’s nothing in comparison, it’s very nice. Your mom already ready, your mom give you a car. Come on. You already go learn how to do the car, you do this, you do that. Everything on your plate. You need to serve, and you need to go to get this money, to have fun. Your mom, your dad don’t even need that money, and they still work. Your life is in heaven right now. Talking to them, and telling them our story, and they really appreciate it.
HC: What jobs did you and your husband do when you arrived in Portland?
TD: I do the medical assistant. My husband have a hard time. My husband came, at California he do the technicians, and he get wealthy money. When he came to Oregon he, I don't know why, but he kept saying that they are discriminating me. Actually, I see that too. Oregon has a lot of discriminations, so he say well they are discriminating me, so he can't get a job. I say keep applying, keep applying. He say no I want to go back to California to get my old job back. I say you can't, I live here with Bryan, and you go over there. No I can't, we have to sacrifice for our kid. Finally he apply one of the job, and they make the food, Harry’s Food company, He apply that job, and they really discriminating a lot.
HC: How so? What did they do?
TD: Everybody work, and can go home on time -- except my husband. They don't pay overtime, they pay a regular time, and they say okay tomorrow you stay home two hours in the morning, and then you go work late. You work two hours yesterday, and now today you have to stay home two hours in the morning, or stay two hours in the middle of the day. So he can't do anything. He go sit in the car for two hours and then come back to work. On Valentine’s Day, he was scheduled to work from 8:00 to 5:00 only. So we ready for Valentine -- to go out to eat or whatever. Suddenly about four o'clock the boss come over and say no, everybody go home, I need you to stay and work. He didn't say anything, he say this is ridiculous, but he can't say that. So I get a little upset too, and I say this is not fair. Quit that job, I say quit that damn job. I was so mad, I say quit that damn job. We don't need that, we can start from the beginning, we just eat chicken, Don't worry about it, we don't go to restaurants nothing. He say are you sure? I say yes, I'm sure. Quit that damn job, you’re looking for another job. So he quit that job, and he goes looking for Blount Company. When he go to apply, and he put working day shift, they tell him no don't put day shift, you put any shift so you will get hired right away. He call me and say, is it okay to put any shift? I say yeah just put it on, let’s see. If they discriminating you again, just quit that job too, who care. We are not here for them to discriminate. We have to fight our lives back. We are human beings. He apply for that job, and they interview right away. Manager right away. The next day he go to work. He still working until now, he still working that. He works like machine shop, and he really likes it a lot, because they trade, they are fair. You work for three months during the day time, and you work for three months during the second shift, and then you work for three months during the night shift. The night shift, nobody wanted to change the day shift, you stay in your shift, because they want to be fair to everybody. Which is fine, not too bad. We are happy with that.
HC: When have you experienced discrimination in Portland?
TD: My son went to the school, actually I make a big deal out of that. My son went to the Clackamas High School right here, and at the time he was only in the eighth grade, when he moved here, he was only done with seventh grade, so he go to eighth grade. Bryan, he is an active boy, he talking, he helping friends a lot. When I go home, he keep saying mom I don't want to go to school. I want to go back California school. I say why? He won't tell me. He say, no mom, I can't tell you. I say why? If I tell you, the teacher might punish me more. I say what? He was writing something, and he drop the pencil, so he picking up the pencil like this. That's when the teacher call [angry voice] Bryan! Get out of here, get out the door. Stay right there. I did not know until he told me. I say what? He say yeah, and then the white kid was talking and everything, and threw the pencil to the wall, and she just say [friendly voice] Brandon don't do that, behave. Any Asian kid will be standing out the door, standing the whole section, and I did not know for years, years, until he go to ninth grade. I was so furious when he told me. He keep go there, go there, so he not starting nothing, but he is an A student. I say what is going on? He say I don't want to go to school, I hate that, I don't want to go to school. And then I find out on that section, he was dismissed. The school call me, of course I know. So I keep asking, and he say mom, he call my name. At first I say well of course they call your name. No mom, the mean name. I say what you mean. Finally I find out what you mean "call my name." He not call me Bryan or whatever, he called, damn get out, or whatever. So I say how many times you been out of class? He say every single time in her section.
She really young, she about I think twenty-something year old. She very young. Only her. The other teacher is very good, love her. I have a conference with her, and I do not want Bryan go with me. Bryan did not know. After that I telling her, and she say oh, you are Mrs. Dam? I say yes. I can sit down, and she tell me oh your son blah blah blah blah. He need to this, he need to that, and I was crying. Finally I say okay, are you done? She say yeah, do you have any question? I say yes I do. Then I tell her straight forward, I say you know what, don't ever pick on my son. All the white people can do whatever they do, but the Asian kid, you punish Asian kid. You have a problem with Asian kids? I tell her that. She say no, because Brian keep disturbing. I say how? My son dropped the pencil. You thinking he not allowed to pick up the pencil? But the white kid can throw the pencil at the wall. And you think that can be okay? To me, I don't think that’s okay to throw the pencil at the wall, or each other. No. So I talk, and she was surprised as if, oh I didn't really pay attention to that, but I always see Bryan do something. I say because you pick on my son. You better knock it off. Don't do that anymore. Before I talk to her I already report to the superintendent. I report to the principle already. I didn't want to do it, but all my American friends say do it! You do not let them walk all over you. I say you know what you better stop. If I find out anything, you know what going on, you can lose your job, and I don't want that to happen to you, but you better learn more, because you too young. You out in the world too short a time, because that was the first year she was working. I said, you just graduated, you come out, you don't know anybody, you just want everybody to have to be good, or listen to you, and that's not right. And especially if you're teaching the kids, no you don't do that. After that, I go home and tell my son. My son was shaking, and did not wanna go to school. Oh my god, mom, she will punish me today. She will make me kneel down. I say no she not. Yes she will, I don't wanna go. After that, I find out more how she was punishing. She get him out the door, and kneel down the whole entire one hour, two hour. Oh, I was pissed. I tell him, I say okay, you go with mommy. You go to school. I don't let her see me. No mom if she see you she will punish me more. He was so scared, so I tell the superintendent, and I tell the principal too. After that, they follow up with her, so she knock it off. After that, I don't go further, but I tell the superintendent if you don't do anything, you will hear from my lawyer, and I do not appreciate that. After that, it's good, and I think they transfer her to different school. I think they transfer her out to Milwaukee, because it was not only me complaining. They say they receive a lot of Asian parent complaints. Must be she not like Asians or something. Before I move here, I already get warning from my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law is American, but he lives here before in Tigard. When he get married with my sister, then he move back to California, because they really discriminate a lot, so he didn't like that. He told me, do not move to Oregon, but I need to for my son's health. Every single time we go back to California to see him, he say do you see what I said? I say of course I did. But I straighten it out. I stood up for myself. Beside that, I love Oregon. I think I see a lot of them, the company or anything, they on top of that a lot. It is changing right now, because a lot of different cultures are here. Oregon is a beautiful state to stay in. I love it, I love Oregon.
HC: Where did you move, when you moved to Portland? What neighborhood?
TD: I moved just right here, stayed here. Always Clackamas. My sister live in Happy Valley, and I have another sister that move after that from San Jose to Clackamas. So when I come here, I tell my sister okay, why you have to be here? Because out here is so expensive. She say no, believe me, you stay here. You live here. I say what? Why don't we go somewhere, like look in the Milwaukee area? She say no, do not stay there. You stay here. So finally I bought the house here, and this is a beautiful city. Very good city. That is why we have stayed here since 2004. I work at the same company, Providence. When I came from California, they interviewed me over the phone, and they hire me right away. I have very good skills for my job, so they hire me right away. I told my husband, don't worry if you don't have a job, you stay home, I go to work! We are pretty good right now, you know, so kind of nice to appreciate, really appreciate everything.
EC: Is there a Vietnamese community where you live? Are a lot of your neighbors Vietnamese?
TD: No, I live where nobody is Vietnamese. All mix: White, Black, Cambodian, Filipino, all different, Russian. Everybody, mix. No Vietnamese. Vietnamese go down a little bit, 152, there's a lot of Vietnamese there I heard.
HC: Do you engage with the Vietnamese Community, how? You work with the VNCO.
TD: I join in the board member of the VNCO, Vietnamese Community of Oregon. I join with Thao, and I join with other presidents before. They want me to do the president, but I say no, no, too busy, no. I just helping, so I can back up for them to do all kinds of things. Every single time we have an event, we do a lot of events. This weekend, this Saturday, we have an event in Vancouver. That is our neighbor community in Vancouver. Next week we have an event, please come.
HC: What is the event?
TD: For the mid Autumn festival, please come. Take your kids, come over. I probably send you email for that poster.
HC: Please send it to us, that would be great.
TD: It is so fun, and everything is nice. Pretty much everything is free. We set up all the events for all the kids and the familes. They know our culture, so they are teaching that every year. We have a lot of businesses that engage with us. We engage with American or Vietnamese, doesn't matter who. Go to all those businesses, because all those businesses sponsor us, so we can have money to do the events, because it is a non-profit. We do all this as volunteers, so all the businesses are helping us. We are helping them for the business. The next one we have they call fundraising. We sell the tickets for dinner, music, and everything. Usually we sell about thirty-five dollars for the ticket for the good dinner, with the seafood restaurants. We have music, dancing, and all kinds of stuff. We do the fundraising, so we can have the money to spend on all the stuff. The Vietnamese New Years, we do a big event for the Vietnamese New Year. Usually we have a convention center, but that is too expensive for us, because we have to pay about thirty-eight, or forty thousand for renting them. Just renting them is so expensive. So now we get the Holiday Inn, so smaller. We downsize a little bit, so it's a little cheaper for us. When we do the festival, the New Year festival, we have all the booths, people purchase the booths. Which is great for advertising. Because they have like thousands, and thousands people coming in.
HC: We came to the Tet festival last year, and it seemed really good.
TD: Oh you did, you came last year?
HC: That's right.
TD: I didn’t see you. Last year I came in just a little bit, then left about eleven o'clock because I had to go present for another one. I had to present at Tambo City.
HC: We came just briefly, we didn't set up and record. We just came, and attended briefly.
TD: Oh I see, yeah. They really good. They do a lot. If I see a Vietnamese, and if they depressed, or they do something. I have another volunteer group. They called Vietfan Club. That one is for dancing, for entertainment. Music and dancing. I do that volunteer also. I volunteer a lot, because my life before was a lot of suffer, and nobody engaged, or helped me out. Now I know everything, so I engage and help everybody, so they can get out of depression. So they can enjoy the second country they live in. I do the Vietfan Club, so we rent the space at the Hollywood Senior Center on Sandy. We are renting that space, and we create a nice ballroom. We usually have some people volunteer to teach dancing for free. Now they get married, and they are gone, so we know, so we can teach other people. They can have entertainment after work instead of going to the bar. Sometime a big show, and of course we have a license to sell beer and water, so people can enjoy. The small show we don't do that, because it's needs too many volunteers, because we are all volunteers. We do the tables, decorations, everything. After they have fun, they go home, and we clean up the whole ballroom. I like that, because I make people's life happy. Enjoy life, instead of being sad, and sometimes kill yourself, or whatever. A lot of teenager they come over here, and they used to do a lot of dancing over there, and they come here and don't have anything. Or the elderly too. I do a lot of volunteer. I also do another volunteer to go pick up all the cans and bottles for the church. Me and my husband -- every event they throw away the bottle -- I will pick it up and recycle it. Doesn't matter that I wear my nice clothes and everything, I don't care. We put that money on the side, so we can keep helping all the poor people. Doesn't matter what country. Vietnam, United States, or whatever. We do charity like that. We have the whole group, so we want to see who really need it, and we share something like three hundred, or four hundred or whatever we have. I just love it. My life is very very busy, but I love to do all this stuff. To be able to help out, I just love it. With Thao it is the same thing. Sometimes we are working until two o'clock in the morning. Like this morning to prepare for the event coming up next week. But we are happy. That's why he told me, do you want to do this? And I say yeah why not? Put more on my plate, why not? Add one more, that is ok.
HC: Are you involved in any religious organizations here?
TD: In Portland? No. I do my company, but I do diversity in my company. I come out to help a lot of people. I did that for fifteen years, and now cut it out, because I'm way too busy. I have no time for my family. So I better cut out a little bit, otherwise I'm never home. I do that diversity too, I go to Good In the Hood, I do all kinds of stuff like that. Cancer center, I do all that kinds of stuff. Looking for everything, and I help with vaccination, or sport physical. I do all that stuff before, but now I cut all that stuff, because I think my plate is a little full. I will find a little hole, and I will put in, but not too full.
EC: Do your children still live in Portland?
EC: How are their lives different from yours?
TD: Very different. He is spoiled brat. [Laughs] He is twenty-six. He studies at the Beaver, I call Beaver.
TD: Yes, I call Beaver! [Laughs] He studied there. He did that, and he is done, and now he is working. He live alone before, but he said oh mom, I am short money to pay my rent. So I said why don't you just come home to live. I'm happy with that, because I have big house. Come home and live. Save that money for something else. Why not? Come home. Because Vietnamese culture, we live together. Doesn't matter. Parent always love kids to live together. Even if you get married, I don't care. You get married, you bring wife, you bring kids all home, and I still take care of them. That's what I like. I love it. I told him, you single, you stay home. He move back home, but he is working in the medical field right now too. He is working in the medical field. Just come home, don't worry. You just stay home, and I take care of everything, and we still do. So that's why he is a spoiled brat. I do everything. My husband say, oh he has no more gas. Okay, I'll go put gas for him. That's why usually parents are different. With the Vietnamese and American a little bit different. I have some friends who are American, and they say oh my kid is eighteen and I kicked them out. I say what? You do? American and Vietnamese totally different, we are bonding together. We stay together, helping each other to success. Another way I can look at that is wrong too. Because spoiling the kid, and the kid don't know what to do. American is good too, because you go to get on your feet.
AJ: Do you live with any other family members in your house?
TD: No, just only me, my husband, and my son. Usually I live with other people too, but now I don't think so. If some people just come to the United States and they are single and struggling and I know them very well then I let them stay in my house. Or they come to visit, I let them stay. But, I have to know that person. I get scared nowadays. Before not really, but now I hear a lot in the news that is scary. That is why I have to be careful.
EC: Is your son interested in Vietnamese culture?
TD: He is. He speaks Vietnamese. He went to the Vietnamese school when he was five years old.
EC: Sunday school?
TD: Sunday school. Until he go to the college. Then he stop of course. Right now he speaks Vietnamese really well. He can translate Vietnamese and English very well. Writing, he is missing all the symbols. Sometimes he's writing, and he puts the symbol wrong. He can read, but not very well. He likes the culture. He come to American friends, he uses American culture. He come to Vietnamese family, he uses Vietnamese culture. He have to bow, and greet all the elderly people. He come to America, and say hey, hi. He respects both. I'm teaching him like that, you have to respect. Even when he goes to an American family, he still respects all the elderly. He brings that over from Vietnamese culture. I hope he still keep like that. He very good. He come in to the house, and I teach him: you go into the house, anybody house, you don't like the food, actually you hate the food, but they cook for you, they invite you. What do you do? He say don’t smell, I say that's right. Don’t roll your eyes, that's right. Eat, that's right. I taught him that, just eat. The food won't kill you. Even he went to my family and did the same thing. All my family didn't know him very well, and he hates the white noodle. They come over, and they ask how is it, and he say good. He finish his bowl. For me, I hate people who smell the food, and say, oh I don't like that. I don't know, that one really bothers me. Doesn't matter, food is food, doesn't matter. They can eat, and we can eat. Some of them, I can't handle it, seriously. I can't handle smell. I look, and I say oh my god my stomach is upset, but I still eat. I still just eat. Not much, but I eat. After that, they ask me is it good. I say, it's okay, but I prefer something else. That's okay. You have to respect. Main thing respect. Our family, our culture.
HC: Are there any political issues? Or larger issues in Oregon that are a problem for the Vietnamese community that you've noticed or faced?
TD: I don't exactly know. A lot of people say, that if our name is Vietnamese and we apply to a job, it is still hard to get. I don't know if that is true or not. We have to look at both sides. One of the guys, I still introduced him to the job, but he can't get the job. When I see something is an issue, I try to help out, but I have to see both sides. I can't just listen to one. This guy, I say go to that company, they don't even need you to speak English, and he still don't get the job. So maybe something is wrong with you. You better learn how to talk. So far, I don't think so. If I see something, I usually address it right away. I usually go straight to the higher-up people. I don't teach them how to do their job, but I tell them they should look at it again. Build a good communication. Oregon, a lot of people know me. A lot of people know my name. When they see my face they say, oh my god, that’s you? Yeah, that’s me. I do a lot of stuff helping everybody equally. In work, or outside in my life. I try to get everybody together. We are together, bonding together. Do not separate. I want the best for everybody.
AJ: Is there anything else that we haven't asked, that you'd like to discuss?
TD: Not for me, I don't know. Whatever you are thinking, whatever you need.
HC: I think that's most of what we need for now, so thank you so much for meeting with us. This is a great interview, thank you.
TD: It was the first time, but I think I passed this interview, right? [Laughs]