EC Carter: This is E.J. Carter, I'm here with Tad Kumasaka. It is May 22, 2019, and we are interviewing Man Ninh at his office on Sandy Boulevard. Thank you, first of all, for being with us today.
Man Ninh: Thank you for coming and the opportunity to talk with you today.
EC: Could you start by giving us a quick summary of your life here in Portland?
MN: Well, I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1960. I finished high school, and at my time, it was torn apart by the war between the North and South. I was very young. I didn't know precisely what the war was about, but in 1975 when the North took over the South. We thought that the country's unity was better for everyone, but only a few years later, our family found out that the new government did not keep their promise. They had something that they promised, but they didn't do it. It turned out that they were terrible. Myself, I found out that I could not get into the university. So my family said, "You need to get out, get better for your future." That is why the idea came up. And then we were looking for a way to get out. This is the history if you go back and you know the Boat People of 1980. A lot of people, not only my family, a lot of people didn't believe in the new government, so they started to escape.
We tried to escape a few times, but successfully in the summer of 1981, by boats. We got to Indonesia. Finally, we got into Galang Camp. It's a long story, but this was short [laughs] about how my trip was. And from Galang, I stayed there for three years, and one day I got the letter from an American. I read it, and he introduced himself, and he said he's my sponsor. So, I understood that I had this sponsor to sponsor me to come to the United States. So I came here in March 1984. First, we took a plane to Georgia and stayed there for two years with my sponsor, and I had an excellent friend that I met at the camp. His name is Huynh Sy Nguyen, and he invited me to come over [to be his best man] [laughs]. That's when I had a chance to come to Portland. First time. So, when I came here, I saw that there were more Vietnamese in Portland and the city is very [unique]. It is because I fell in love with the Willamette River. It reminds me of my city, Saigon city. Downtown, they have the Saigon River. It's very similar. I don't know. Maybe that's what made me decide to move over here because I had my friend and the city looks like the city where I grew up. So, that's when I came, in the summer of 1987 to Portland, Oregon.
EC: Was your sponsor working for a religious organization? Or another refugee resettlement program?
MN: Okay, my sponsor, his name is Larry Major. He introduced himself to me when they brought the letter to the camp. He said, "Man, I read your biography," he said, "Accidentally." He came to church service. He wanted to sponsor an African man because at that time he worked for the organization that sends the college students overseas… What do they call it?
EC: Peace Corps.
MN: Peace Corps! Yeah. He worked for Peace Corps in Cameroon. He, with the association of Cameroon, they got along very well, so he thought that he would sponsor him. So he came to transport service to tell who he wanted to sponsor, but the lady who worked for the transport service said, "Sorry, he already has a sponsor to France. But we have a lot of Vietnamese refugees now. They are in the camp, and they are waiting for a sponsor. So, do you want to take a look?" And he said, "Well, give me some, yeah." So, he read it, and I don't know, maybe something caught on his mind when I wrote about my biography and said that I wanted to come over here. I would like to study medicine. I would like to become a doctor. At the time he worked for the C.D.C., which is the Center for Disease Control. So he was very much involved in medicine. So he picked me and said, "I want to sponsor this young man." That is when I got the letter for the plan at first to meet him. I found out that he took a single person and that he wanted to help a refugee.
He wasn't working for anyone. I came and stayed with him for a while. We became a good friend like family. He is like my brother now. We keep in touch. Every two years, both of our families get together and go somewhere. He introduced his family: his mom, his parents, his grandmom, and his children. There aren't enough good stories about him. About fifteen or sixteen years ago, he said, "Man, I want to sponsor a kid in Vietnam." I said, "Wow! This is good, but for what reason?" First, he was married and didn't have children, but he said, "I want to sponsor the Vietnamese kid because of you. You make me so proud." I introduced him, so he went to Vietnam. He adopted one Vietnamese kid. Two years later, he said, "I want to have another one." But at that time the adoption of Vietnamese kids stopped. There is another story about corruption between the Vietnamese government and the U.S. Consulate, and they ended it somehow. So, he said, "Well, I don't want to wait for Benjamin (that's his first son) to get old. I need to look for another young child." I said, "Well, maybe you have to look to Korea or China." So, they went to China to adopt another girl. Now they have two, one Vietnamese and one Chinese.
Tadao Kumasaka: I'm sorry, do you mind if I close this door?
MN: Sure. Yeah.
EC: And so, you started studying at Georgia Tech when you...
MN: How did you know? Oh! Well, yeah. Larry helped me first. Before I could get to college, I needed to have my document to Phoenix High School. At the time I said I didn't have it and also at that time I couldn't contact my family to get the paper. In one week, I had to finish the G.E.D. -- do you know what the G.E.D. is? -- to get the diploma so that I could get into college. In one week, I get that. Because my English was not sufficient to get into Georgia Tech, Larry helped me. He put me through the program to study before I got to college. So I studied there for two years and then I moved over here to get into P.S.U. But I did not finish at P.S.U. Degree. My life started upside down, it got another tragedy. My first wife, Hong Le and she was very sick when she born my first son, Brian Ninh, She did not survive. So I had to take care of my son. I had to stop everything.
EC: Did you meet her in Georgia? Or did you come together from Vietnam?
MN: She was also a refugee in Galang Camp at the time, but we did not see each other. I met her when I was the best man for my best friend's wedding reception, so we had to talk. I found out that We knew we were there at the same time, but we didn't see each other. There were about twenty or thirty thousand refugees at the camp. It was a big refugee camp. And then we fell in love, and later I married her.
EC: In Portland?
MN: Yeah, in Portland.
EC: So when you arrived in Portland, you stayed with your friend in his basement?
MN: That's right. You know my history now!
EC: What part of Portland was it?
MN: Southeast. 120th. Southeast, near 122nd and Powell area.
EC: Was he also a student at P.S.U.?
MN: PCC. He started at PCC. first. Later on, when he got an associates degree, he worked for Intel. A brilliant guy. To design new […] at Intel. Intel helped to finish his Bachelor degree from PSU.
EC: What did you study initially?
MN: As I said at first, my dream was to become a doctor and to study medicine. But, I didn't know that it was so hard to get into the school of medicine in the U.S. I didn't realize that you had to finish four years and then apply to medical school. Also, it was the computer age at the time. Everyone, when you go anywhere in Vietnam, we always say that when you grow up, "Nhat y nhi duoc tam duoc bach khoa bo qua su pham tam tam kinh te." What it means: "When you grow up, you have to study medicine. If you can not go into medicine, you go into pharmaceuticals. If not, you become an engineer." So, it's like, in my mind, you always go the track your parents want you to. The computer science field was like a new field study for everyone, and to everyone, it's popular. And so I thought, "Maybe this is a good chance to learn a new thing." So I resumed at PSU to become a computer engineer.
EC: And then after you had to stop, did you…
MN: Yeah, somethings, you can dream about, but you can not achieve it because something happened in the middle. I could not continue my dream because my wife passed away. My kids were young, so I had to stop. At that time, we were thinking, "You need to study something for your survival." It's not for your dream anymore. You survive. The only thing that was open for me at that time was Concordia University. They allowed you to go there study on the weekend and evening classes. You can consider when you have time, as long as you complete your program. So I work full time, take care of my son, and go to classes in the evenings and at the weekends. I finished this. At the time, they only had nursing and management programs. So I picked to study a management program. I wanted to start working so that I could get promotions. I had a perfect job in college. I worked in a lab. In the lab, they loved me. They trusted me because I built up the lab. I became the lab manager. The only thing is that my boss, my manager, now she became like my adopted mom. She said, "Well, I want to give you a promotion. I want to give you a raise, but you don't have a degree." I had to get a degree to have a guaranteed salary.
[00:14:11 Interview interrupted]
[00:15:20 Interview resumes]
EC: So what was it like raising your son here by yourself? Did you have
people helping you?
MN: I have my wife's family side. My sister-in-law and my nieces were helping me. When I married, I couldn't dream that I'm a "father" a "husband" and I can buy a house. You can not do it now, I don't think you can.
EC: Too expensive?
MN: Yes, Too expensive and also... yeah, that is the thing. The price is so high, you can not afford to purchase a house while you are in college. But did it in 1988. So, in my mind, I can have my family come live together. We want to [be] close and help each other.
EC: Was that in southeast Portland as well?
MN: Yes, southeast. Ogden street. 72nd and Ogden. I still come and visit the house, the one I bought. I still remember it. Yup, that's it.
EC: After your wife passed away, you were working in a lab until you went back to Concordia?
MN: I finished my degree in management and raised my child. In 1991, I came back to visit Vietnam at a time when the Vietnamese government allowed the Vietnamese overseas to come back. I came back, and I met my first love, who I hadn't seen since high school. I didn't tell her when I left. Ten years later, I came back and said, "Hi." She was surprised, she said, "Where have you been? I haven't seen you." I didn't tell her I left, and it's already been ten years. "You disappeared, and you never contact. They don't know where you were, and you suddenly just come and say hi." So I sit down and tell her my story. I said, "Wow, that is amazing." So we start to have a relationship. I tell her everything. I tell her why I escaped. I don't agree with the government, their politics, and the way that they trick people like that. I thought that I would get on the boat and come to America right away. It's not like that. So I had to go through the process, then to stay in the camp. To get into the U.S., you have to study the new culture. You have to start over. The most important thing is learn a new language. That is not easy. The second thing is about the laws -- I will tell you why I got into the legal field. It was a big decision. Because my first wife passed away, there were some legal issues with the doctor. I didn't know, even the doctor, my doctor, couldn't explain why my wife passed away. They just know that it was because of him that she passed away, but no one can prove that the doctor made a mistake. To make the case, you have to have at least two things to convince the lawyer to prove that the doctor made something wrong and also the damage. We all said we see the damage, she passed away. But how can we prove that? You don't have the expert to review the medical records, they don't just sign. I remember the first lawyer. Now he became my colleague, a very famous lawyer downtown, Mr. Keith Tichnor. I come to his office, and he said, "Man, this is you," [makes a dot on a blank page with his pen]. I remember him saying at the time, "This is you," [makes another dot], "How could you fight for the whole system?" I said, "What?!" When I first came to the U.S., I trusted the government system. I thought that they were really trustworthy. That they believe in the truth, and for the fact, you have to help me to prove that they did something wrong. He said, "It's not what you think, Man."
So, here's what I learned. In Vietnam, [they say] it's the law of the jungle, but in the U.S. it's the jungle of law. They have all kinds of law, if you don't prove it, you can not. That's the world when I wanted to apply to law school. I say that. If I want to understand, to get my voice, and stand up, I have to follow the law. Now, you can not depend on anyone else. It's only you, and only you can help you. That's the thing.
EC: So, would it be different if that happened today?
MN: Man, time flies. It's almost twenty-eight years now. I'm getting older. I learn a lot. Of course, everyone wants to get rights to the best. That we have a specific law to protect the people. In my view, no, we can not do it, but we are getting to it. To compare with our country, we are in better shape than then. So at least we have something. That they have the rule, the regulation, and the law that they can protect the people. But, it's like politic law, no. No way. It's fifty-fifty. It's even fifty-one-forty-nine. I don't know what your side is, but because I am working in immigration law, so I feel protective of refugees. The 45th is against the refugees, so I am not happy. All my life is superior. I know where I come from. I know my identity, and I know what I am doing for now and for the future. I contribute my life and everything towards this country. That is why I appreciate that my brother is my sponsor, to give me a hand, to help me for the first time. So, every time what I do now, I always remember to appreciate it, what he has done for me in the past. I try to do whatever I can to contribute to this country and getting better. Yes.
EC: So, when you returned from your first trip back to Vietnam with your new wife, did you get married in Vietnam and bring her with you?
MN: Five years later.
EC: Five years later. Okay.
MN: Five years later. Yeah. She's there. She's my boss now.
EC: Oh, okay.
MN: She sits at the front desk, that's her.
EC: Oh, I see.
MN: That's her right there. That's my photo.
EC: Oh, okay. And you went to law school then?
MN: I applied, but I didn't go to it. I applied but...
EC: But you started studying law.
MN: I started studying law, and I worked with a Vietnamese lawyer. He was one of the first lawyers to work with us back in 1996. My mom, my adopted mom, she was a lawyer. We operated in the consulting firm. We called it "J&M" Her name is Judy, and I am Man. "J&M Consulting." We worked with the law. To practice it, you have to pay the P.L.F. (Professional Liability Fund). That's for professional liability insurance. You have to have that. Otherwise, you can't practice. We wanted to get away that she doesn't have to pay for it. She a lawyer but she hates to practice the law! I said, "You can not hate it! In my situation, I need you to help me because I need someone to know the law. You are not going to win any case, but at least you can interpret the law to new people, the refugees. They don't know anything!" So, I said, "I learn by myself. I know that if I have a problem with the law, all the refugees, they will have the problems."
EC: Where did you meet her? Judy, is her name?
MN: Judy Grant, yes. She's my boss, she's my manager at the lab. And then we get into a relationship, and she finally says she considers me like her son. That's why she agreed with me to open the office to help. We started in '91, until '93. Two years. I said, "It doesn't work if you are not a licensed lawyer with P.L.F. You can not present it. It's a demand that in some cases we have to file the lawsuit and to go in front of the judge and make an argument your kind story to help them. If you don't help others, even the judge knows you, but the judge has to follow the rule of law. You can not do that. That's why we met another Vietnamese lawyer in California. His name is BJ Kanalie. He's Vietnamese, but he's from Garden Grove, California and he wanted to associate with us. And then also we get Mr. John Humphrey on the board. After that, BJ Kanalei, he is a lawyer, but he practices in California and California is totally different than Oregon. They are so aggressive. Boom boom boom boom boom! Oregon, they are slow. We like slow, we don't go. We're glad it's easy and relaxed. So, I said to him, "I like you, I like you, but I don't want, I don't like people in Salem or lower here." So, he went back to California. Now, I stick with him since '96 until now. We fight. We are happy. In the end, we just want to help the Vietnamese people. My job is just to analyze, help him to translate, interpret. Is this law, okay? It's like you're learning from doing things. You're getting into it more, and you get more experience. When you were young, you were very [...] You're always, "Win, win, win, win." Any case that you want to win, you want to go to the court. But, later on, I learned: winning in the court, that is not winning. Winning the case means you made the people understand it. Compromise before you get into court. You will succeed. I learned it. Because after you get into the court system, this makes your life miserable. This is terrible. Even the judge. You think he's happy to sit there and listen to you tell the story? No! That's his job. After that, you talk to him, and he says, "Oh, this terrible," but he can not do anything. So I learned this a lot when I am doing that.
EC: Do you work mostly with businesses? Or with families and individuals?
MN: First of all, because I am a refugee and I know about immigration law, and because I know it myself and I learned it, and the law changes, but it has the standard. So, that is the main thing. We work for immigration. Second is: he specializes in personal injury. So that is the two things that we focus on. To help in the Vietnamese community. Most of them. We have some other minority and even caucasian, but most of our client is Vietnamese. If we have time and then we are looking for something like business, will-trust, or we have done some family law and criminal. But, it is complicated and very headache. If you are happy, you are stand up, leave everything on your desk, go home, and you want to be with your family. You don't want to bring anything from your office in your mind. When you get a family case, it gets into you. Sometimes you don't know. Because the thing is Vietnamese culture, when they are into the fight between husband and wife, it is terrible. It's not like your society. Americans, I like better. Even when they are not husband and wife anymore, they treat it like friends because one thing, they want to work it out for their children. They want to continue their love for their kids, so they give up their pride and hate. But Vietnamese, when they're not together, they're enemies. Nobody can tell them that you have to forgive and forget. No. So I learned, and I said, "I better just stay away from that."
EC: That's interesting because it seems like the family is so important in Vietnamese culture.
MN: Very important. Yeah. They can die for one of them in the family. It's very nuclear. I think maybe that is history. Even me, I am still learning about Vietnamese history. Way back. Why we are so sacrificing in the family. Here, I never see that three generations of a family live in the same house, but in Vietnam, that is normal. When you become grandpa or grandma, you take care of the younger children's kids, and they are very bonded together. Back in 1960, remember when Martin Luther King? The history in our country, like Vietnam, they teach you a different perspective. A different view. They say that the American when the parent gets old, the kid just lets them stay in a senior home. We think that the kid did not do the duty. They didn't love them, so they put them in the nursing home. But here I come across the difference, and also the way they treat the colored people. They say that the black people at the time, they can not stand in the same sun. I said, "That is terrible. That is terrible history." So, even Vietnamese people, I had to go back a long time ago. How has become the family close? They have the history to tell. Very important.
EC: How have the legal challenges that immigrants face changed between, say, the 1990's and today?
MN: It was back in 1980 when the wave of refugees escaped from Vietnam and to govern I know that in Washington DC, my senator, they understand the situation, the politics between the U.S. and Vietnam. So, they say that they have to accept people because they are on our side. They work with us. We can not turn back and not help them. And so, in order to help the refugees, they have to introduce the bill to the Congress so they can get the fund. I think that President Ford, or whatever he is, so they have the law decide to agree for the Vietnamese refugees to come to settle in the U.S. The refugee's issues did not keep them forever. At one point, the U.S., with all the countries in the U.N., had to come to the conclusion that they want to close the refugee camp. That is in 1995, 1996. Every refugee camp in south Asia had to be closed. People then, now, they tell similar people they escape not because of a political issue, it's because of the economy. And they have the proof. So that is the main reason they stop. So they send people back. They have another program called ODP (Orderly Departure Program), Humanitarian Operation (H.O.), and the ROVR program — "Resettlement Opportunities for Vietnamese Returnees." People have got tired with Vietnamese Refugee Issues... all politic problems and because one of the agreements with the U.N. to close the refugee camps, but you have to have some solutions to help them to resettle in a third country.
I think if you are in that situation and they are some tremendous controversial issues, and you have to sit down and find the best solution. It's not always the best, but at least they help the significant people. This is the issue for international, not only the U.S. Even though the U.S. likes it, but hey, England or France or China or whoever says, "No, you are not my boss. You can not." We are kind of in the global problem. How is it they decide for us? The Vietnamese government, this is another thing, the Vietnamese government, they are -- how can I say it -- I don't like communists. But that is the way that they trained and raised by communists, somehow. I don't have a chance to sit down and talk with them, but I see them, the way they do. They are cheating people, and they are not very fair to the people in the South. Of course, you are Vietnamese escapees, so you are what they call the betrayer of your country. You are the enemy of the Vietnamese government. They don't think that you are Vietnamese anymore. So, of course, they don't care. Also, the country at the time, they need to build up the economy because the country is still weak and they have a lot of problems. Not only the people in Vietnam, but they have the issues of the fact with other countries in diplomacy. Well, you don't obey the agreement that they call The Paris Peace Accords, officially titled the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, was a peace treaty signed on January 27, 1973, to establish peace in Vietnam and end the Vietnam War. They close it. They don't have it. They thought maybe they have support from China and Russia, so they just wanted to occupy, and they declare their own winner. They want to do anything.
The law is changing time by time. I think that at the time they said, "Okay, they will stop refugees, but they will open for the ODP. That means the Orderly Departure Program. It means you have to apply, and you have to sponsor, and you can go by the law. And that's another thing. Also, they agree for who is Vietnamese, but you have U.S. citizens, with the immigration law, you can sponsor the family. It makes the citizen, refugee camps are less, and then, at the time, similar people now say, "You can not escape and go to a refugee camp because no one will help you." So they stop it. Also, in the meantime, the Vietnamese government is getting better. They do help people. If you are a leading country and you don't support the people to survive and get a better economy, that is not a right way. Somehow, people can live with that. They say, "Okay, maybe that is not my time anymore." At the time, because it's early, they had a program called H.O. The Humanitarian Operation program sponsored by Senator John McCain and Senator John Kerry, a lot of people come to Vietnam. Also, this is my opinion, I learned more about Democrat and Republican in the U.S. These are the two big parties in the U.S. Most of my own generation, because before they became the communists, they were the Republic of Vietnam. Because of the name Republic, "Yeah," that is the old generation, they say, "Well if you are Republican, you are my friend." So lots of the past generation, why they don't listen to anything the Democrats say. They just stick with Republicans. Whatever the Republicans give issues, they go with it. That is another issue of our community we will talk about later because they just argue about how to pick the party to vote for.
They opened another program to help people to come over here by H.O. One H.O., they can bring their family, wife, and children. Maybe, one family, they have like twelve or fifteen people. That's another open gate for the Vietnamese to come over. But most are older people. Also when people come here... I don't know, maybe you can tell me, but I don't see it very good. Vietnamese, they like to marry Vietnamese. I don't know, perhaps that is because they are culturally different, or because Vietnamese men feel that they don't fit in with American girls. So, it's like a trend that the Vietnamese men go back to Vietnam to marry. By immigration law, if you're married, it means you can sponsor your wife. She can come over.
EC: So you can help them with that?
MN: So, yeah. With that, we can help. Just fill out the paper. And of course, your duty is that you have to prove you're faithful in marriage. [Laughs]
[00:42:00 Interview Interrupted]
[00:43:35 Interview resumes]
EC: So you said that you're involved in an organization of people who were in this refugee camp in, was it Indonesia?
MN: Yeah. Because I stayed there for three years. At the time, I would take care of the minors. The unaccompanied minors. This means the children who are under eighteen, but they go by themselves, no parents. So I stayed with them. After I left, some kids are in contact. When I came here, I wanted to bring them, to keep close, but it's not easy because every kid, they have their sponsor. I didn't know that here there are so many laws and rules. That's why I say here, it's like a jungle of law. Some are in contact, but they grow up, and they have their own way. That's the reason, not only the minors who lived with me in the camp but also by people who escaped, on the boat was 128 people. When I stayed in the camp for three years, I met a lot of refugees. We like to connect with each other.
The people who work for the UNHCR, (the United Nations for High Commissioner for Refugee), people who teach English and the people who work as social workers, everyone is everywhere, but they like to get together. Because of Bill Gates, they have the internet, they have Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg. It's just a genius. One time people came to Portland, and people somewhere just say, "Hey! Now I got you!" That's a surprise. One teacher and one of the U.N.s, they contact, and they say, "Hey Man, you better be getting back to the camp." I said, "I would love to, but I don't know how." They said, "Now it's easy. The island now, they built a bridge to connect it. So it's is easy to access from Singapore, to get the ferry to go to Batam, Indonesia. It's a province in Indonesia. Then to get on the taxi, one hour, you can get to the camp." I said, "Really? Wow, that is amazing." There was a group of people that always took groups of refugees back to visit every year. I asked, "What is now in the refugee camp? What do they have? What do they have there?" They said, "Well, all the barracks." That is like a house. A big barrack can stay over a hundred people in there. They all collapsed. They're all in the jungle now, but the church, the pagoda, and one thing is the museum. The museum is still there. When you here a museum, you think maybe a fancy museum. It's just a barrack, but they keep all the stuff. A terrible situation. The first time I saw it, I said, "Wow if you say museum you have to make something to protect the thing for a long time so the people can see it." So then my idea comes out, I said, "Well, you need to do something. First, we can start talking to people." I said, "You can donate a dollar, five dollars, or even your idea of how we can keep the museum." We got people talking, and we came up with a few dollars to help. But I said, "That is not the right thing to do. Why don't we just open a non-profit so we can help better?" When we were doing that in 2015, we got with some other organizations from Australia, Canada, and around the U.S. We got one night of fundraising for forty years of the refugees. That started from 1975 to 2015. We raised about $40,000 US Dollars from the fundraising night. People were donating for one thing: that we want to restore the barrack because a group of the minors came to visit and they saw that only one of the barrack was still there. It was in a bad shape situation, it was almost collapsed. So I said, "Well, we'll try to keep the place, and we will tear it apart, and we will make it structurally longer and better." To keep it, the idea is I want to keep it reserved for history and also if refugees come back there they can stay there and remember when you were at the camp. That is the first time when we tried to convince people. Of course, when we talk about it a lot of issues, a lot of people said "Yes." Some people said "No" because that is not in view, that is not close. "You're doing something far away. It's a camp, how come we are controlling that? Also, Indonesia is not like the U.S. They're corrupt. It's the same thing. When you talk, and something is like 'money, money." Yeah! That is not an issue. But I said, "Well, what can we do? If you do not do it, you can not tell your children that there was a camp there." So I came up with the idea. I said, "Well, they have the museum. So the local people, they want to reserve some history. Also, they want people to return to visit. So why don't we work with the people who are in charge of the museum?" So this barrack is part of the museum there. Yes? But people... one day you are the president of the museum and the second day maybe you're gone. You agree with him, and the next day you're dealing with someone different. So that is another thing, another issue. But I am happy because the project is done. We got the construction, and we built it, and now, four years later, when I see the barrack over there, it's started to get worse because you don't have people maintaining it. And that is another issue that we have to deal with. Also, refugees are busy with their lives. Maybe yes, they can come back once. They donate some, then "Bye-bye!"
EC: Are there other organizations in Portland that you are involved in?
MN: That is my personal experience because I am a refugee, so that is the reason I founded the Galang Camp Organization. It's not big, but every year, on the Vietnamese New Year I have my booth. So, the main thing is that I connect people. To help to preserve the history of the refugees. The last thing is that I want -- this is my dream -- I hope that if I can not do it, my children can do it. It's called an e-museum. E-museum because we tried to help with the museum at the Galang museum, but it didn't work I don't think, but we are planning. So, E-museum, with technology. We can do it, we can store everything, the Oral history that is the most often thing we can do it nowadays. People tell their stories. Everything that we put in there when we divide, and how we are organized to make it so. Another thing I came up with. For the refugee story, you know about the pirates?
MN: That is another issue. Even now, the parents are still looking for their children because of the pirates. They don't know where they live now. And also, the victims of the pirates don't want to tell their story.
EC: Because it's too painful?
MN: Too painful and also culturally. Painful, but there is one thing that should happen after forty years. She should come out and tell the story. I think because she doesn't have much time in life. So she has to say, but how to say to it? That is another thing. You thought that you can remember forever, but by this time it's faded. There are some details that you don't remember. Also, it's about security. When you tell something that is really insecure to another person. So, my idea is a museum that I can protect the people. And also technology - with this iPhone you can make your own story, you don't need to tell anyone. You just connect it on the internet, and you store it. We have to reserve how it is, the technology is to preserve that. You know the story, the real story by the people, but you don't know anything else.
Because it's like -- I don't know if this is a rule or not -- the history, fifty years you open it. It's like something that you don't want to have shared, it will be complicated. So somehow they make it all common-law that after fifty years they open it. So I think it's forty years now for the refugees and my project is for another ten years. I know somewhere, someplace in Asia, some island or even Thailand or whatever it is, even now they can not speak Vietnamese. But, they know exactly what happened there. They can tell. And I like that in EMuseum.
And also the main thing, my philosophy I say is, "Nhat Kien Nhi Kien Tam Tien Tu Tien." Number one: that you have the idea. Number two: you have to maintain patience for your idea. Number three: Funds. Money. [Speaking Vietnamese] Number four: and then it will happen. Besides that, when I came here in 1986, I was young. Of course, I had a family, and I studied, but we always wanted to have the community together. My idea to work with another young, like myself. To knock on the door of the religious leaders. Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Cao Dai, and I said we need to sit together. We need to form the community together so we can help each other. I'm the secretary of the group. Before that, they didn't have like the Vietnamese Community of Oregon. No. No matter. It's just a group of people together. So I am convinced the religious leaders would agree to come and to make it happen. At that time I invited Father Vincent Minh, Monk Minh Thien, Pastor Hanh Trinh - I think he passed away - they are all in Portland. With the old generation that has more experiences.
EC: Does that group have a name?
MN: It's just the Vietnamese Community Association. And later on, it became the Vietnamese Community of Oregon. That was the start. Even now, I am still running the advisory board for the Vietnamese Community of Oregon.
EC: The VNCO?
MN: VNCO, yeah.
EC: Okay, but it started as specifically a religious group?
MN: When we started, it was just all Vietnamese in Oregon. The first meeting was in IRCO. We officially voted to have a leader. We still try to form together and help each other, basically. Of course, everyone has their own opinion. One thing that we have to face today is political. I tried to avoid it, but I say that it is very nasty when you sit down and try to talk about politics. But we can not prevent that. I said, "Well, we can argue, but at the end, when you get out of here, we are still friends." In the end, we need to have the best solution because everyone has their own experience. You can not make something look bad by saying bad things to the people. That is not a good thing.
EC: When you say political, you mean Republicans and Democrats, or attitudes toward the nation?
MN: So, in my experience, I can see that most of the older generation love the Republicans. I try to explain, but my experience is limited, and maybe my voice is limited too. They can sit here, they listen, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," but when they get out they do they're own. I say, "Well, the only thing because of my experience, Democrats, the way they are doing things is like Communism. Very cool. That is the thing that makes people think that they don't like Communists because they suffer there. Because of Communists they left. They almost died because [of] freedom. But I say, "No! Democrats do it because they are helping people. You have to be patient with them. They are not Communists."
EC: Do younger people in the community have more varied opinions?
MN: Yes, That is the thing. The younger generation -- because of the system of education -- they have free choice. They easily understand. But, because of the community, when they sit down, they have more voice. They use the power in the family. It's like, "I'm your dad. You have to listen to me." That is another strategy in the family. The kids are innocent. They learn what they thought was right, but when they come home, they talk to their parents. They're like, "No, no! You can not listen to them, you have to listen to me." The kids say, "Why?! This is its own thing, you can not make me think like that." So that's another thing. Young generations are very open. I like it. That's the thing I want. The new Vietnamese, VNCO, has to be led by the young generations. You can not live forever. [Laughs] Life moves on. They are young. They are the owner of the future, so let them do it. I say I talked to them. [ … ] Even if we sink, we'll sink together, but you have to trust them. Let them be leadership for the community. Hopefully. So I picked a few very young. Successful in the education field.
There's another thing I say. It is what our people say, "Tu Than Te Gia Tri Quoc Binh Thien Ha]." It means first when you're born, you're young. You have to get an education. You have to finish your degree. You have to educate yourself. Next, you are with you're family, so you have to be a good father, a good mother. Take care of your children. If you don't do it right, you can not go out and help the people [laughs]. After you've done that, then you work. It means you can go and have your office in public and do something good for people. You can help other people. You can not help other people if you can not help yourself. [Speaking Vietnamese]. And after that, when you're famous, people know you. You're educated, you help your family well [...] And they will trust in you! You can become [a leader and] a famous person!
EC: That's very nice. Well, I think we've come to the end of our questions. Thank you so much for meeting with us, talking with us, and sharing the details of your story. Again, it's May 22, 2019. We've been speaking with Man Ninh. Thank you again for meeting with us.
MN: Thank you very much for letting me have time to share my story. [Laughs]