E.J. Carter: Okay this is E.J. Carter speaking with Davis Truong on June 29, 2019, at Lewis and Clark College. Thank you for being with us.
Davis Truong: You are welcome.
EC: Could you start by telling us where and when you were born, and how you made your way to Portland.
DT: I was born in 1973 in Phan Thiet, Vietnam. I think Saigon is the capital and so it is a little bit northeast, close to the ocean. So I was born in 1973 and left Vietnam in 1978 and came to Portland in September of 1979. I lived in Portland most of my life. I went to George School there. I went to Whitaker and then went to Roosevelt High School, but then later on Benson High School. Then Oregon State University. But the first memory I have when we first arrive in Portland was in September. We arrived in September, and then in December and January, I think there was snow. That was the first time we see snow, we thought it was somebody throwing cotton down. It was so cold. That was my first recollection.
EC: Your family left by boat from Vietnam in 1978?
DT: '78 yeah, yeah my parents left. I think the reason why they left was for us to have a better life. My dad was military police for the United States. We took the boat and I think we ended up to Malaysia. Then my dad’s best friend sponsored us to Portland. If that was my aunt then we could have ended up in California.
EC: Do you have any memories from the time you were on the boat?
DT: Not that much, all I know is that it was loud. Everybody was fighting for everything. We were below. Everybody was under the… I don't know what you call it. Not the top of the boat but the bottom. So once in a while you would get fresh air. You go up then you see, there is a boat but, all you see is water everywhere. You don't see land. That is my recollection. When we arrived they have to throw you off, and somebody would catch you. There was no ladder going down. So my dad jumped down first, then my mom jumped, then my grandparents, then me, and then everybody else.
[Break in recording due to technical difficulties]
EC: So I started first grade in elementary school, it close to the University of Portland. It is like a mile north of the University of Portland. You know where that is yeah? So I go to school there. The funny part was that September there was snow. So that was the first time we experienced snow and we thought somebody was throwing cotton down at us. Then it can't be cotton because when we felt and touched it in our hand. So we didn't know what it is, then, later on, we knew it was snow. But that was really cold. So I was there, I went to George Middle School, and one thing is we didn't have any help much. We had my dad's best friend, but he doesn't go and help us much in our day-to-day life, school lives. So we have to learn ourselves. Plus, he lived in a different part of town, you know? But it was close by, he lived still in North Portland. So you know, like in fourth grade, for example, it was kind of funny because my dad won me kind of like pajamas. He didn't tell me to wear it inside because it was pajamas. I never knew what pajamas are. So I took that to wear it and I was walking outside. What I did was, you know how you sell calendars and you collect money for the school function. So that is what I did. And they were all like oh look at this guy he is wearing his pajamas outside. I didn't know what a pajama is, so I was walking through the whole neighborhood basically collecting money and giving them the calendar. So then at school, everybody was like oh look at this guy he is wearing his pajamas outside. At the time I didn't know what a pajama is.
Anyways, I excelled in math. My biggest problem was English language and reading, but I always excelled at math. I always had problems with reading and pronunciation, because I have a speech impediment. So some words in Vietnamese I couldn't pronounce either. So then they corrected and then I went to the Chapter 1. The tutor said “ I knew the English exercises and all my verb tenses and sentence structure, but the problem is I know it, but I couldn't write it. So there was a problem because I knew all the English rules, But when it came to writing I didn't write like that. So there was a disconnect. Then we had somebody who was Vietnamese come to the school and we went for two hours, learning that, and writing that. Then I was put in a chapter one program, which is for reading and language. Because every year we would take the score… the poll or achievement… I don't know what they call it now. Oh well, I forgot the last one.
EC: Yeah I can't remember the “something” test.
DT: Yeah, so you do the reading, math, and English. No wait. Reading, language, and English. No wait reading, math, and language.
EC: Does it have science?
DT: No there is no science.
EC: No science okay.
DT: So there is language, reading, and math. Those three scores. My math was high, so the problem was I went there and I learned. So when I am done with chapter one, a year later, I was in eighth grade mathematics. So I was a little disappointed because I didn't know I would exceed in math. But then when I came back I was doing fourth grade math. Nobody said, "Hey, this guy is good at math put him in pre-algebra or something.” So I am repeating fourth grade math, which I already know and have mastered. Then, when I went to fifth grade, I was like the teacher's pet because I would go around helping students doing mathematics in fifth grade. I had mastered all the way to eighth grade mathematics. So I was repeating that until I went to eighth grade, I get to do pre-algebra. I was wasting those whole three years doing nothing in mathematics when I was in grade school. So if I think about it, I wish I had a program where I could continue on with that education as a fifth grader, maybe taking an algebra class or a pre-algebra class, rather than going back to normal class and repeating the mathematics. Then I went back because my reading score and my language score were up. Then the next year that I take it, every year was better and better again. But then, one of the disappointments was I could maybe be a mathematician or a math major. Instead of going and becoming an engineer, because at that time I was really into mathematics. I loved math, you know? So I would take it outside of class, some math classes. I was in grade school but I had a class at PSU that I took for the summer. I took a week of a college on abstract algebra.
DT: Yeah, when I was a freshman in high school. It was free and there were only two people. Nobody took it. There was just one guy and one girl in the class. Week college class it is kind of scary, it was kind of strange people. But he was a very bright professor. I forgot his name but he talked about wind theory and the abstract thinking of mathematics.
EC: Did your parents know a lot about math? Did they help you?
DT: Oh yeah yeah, my parents were hard. All my siblings, we did pretty well in grade school. I don't know about college, but in high school we did pretty well. I graduated above 3.5, I think all my siblings did.. The funny part was, my dad didn't understand English that well, so all he does is look at the grade. Did you get As? Okay good, you know. So throughout my grade school, I would get As. Once and a while I would get a B+ and he would question it but then you know. Then when I went to high school the majority of my classes I got all As. Maybe one B and I think one C, but that was because it was a Spanish class. I think the a D or C, I don't remember. The reason is because I transferred high schools, so I went to Roosevelt High School. This was the funny part because I got really in trouble with my parents, and my parents were really pissed off at me. So everyday they would tell me to apply to Benson, do not pick Roosevelt, apply to Benson. So the time comes around in eighth grade and I choose Roosevelt [laughs]. For some reason, I didn't pay attention and then my dad was really pissed. So I had to spend a year. So somehow in sophomore year I ended up in Benson high school. Then from Benson, I choose the electrical route, the nonmedical route.
EC: Did your siblings go to the same school that you did?
DT: Yeah we all went to Benson High School. But they didn't go to Roosevelt they only went to Benson. They went straight to Benson High School.
EC: Where in the order of siblings were you? Did you have older and younger?
DT: No I am the oldest. I don’t know if you interviewed Anthony?
EC: Oh right sure okay.
DT: I think you interviewed him.
EC: Yeah Lucy did. Is he your brother?
DT: Yeah he is my youngest brother.
DT: Okay yeah great.
DT: Yeah I have two sisters in between yeah.
EC: Your family had moved around you said? So when you went to Roosevelt you no longer lived in North Portland?
DT: No we still lived in North Portland. So we were living on North Kellogg Street. It is closer to Roosevelt High School and closer to the University of Portland. So University of Portland, we were like three or five blocks away from here. So we were much closer on Willamette. Before that we lived down over here, a lot of people didn't. So the perception of North Portland was that there were a lot of blacks back then. Oh, you are going to get shot, oh you live in Portland oh my god that is bad you are going to get shot. That was the perception in the eighties in high school. Oh, let's follow Davis because he lives there. Well, the neighborhood for the blacks was in the villa. Which is the North Fessenden Street, a lot more north. So it is like maybe half a mile or mile away. So back then the conception of the people, when they say North Portland they think it is a bad neighborhood. You know you can get shot there and stuff like that. So that is what it is. When I went to high school they were like, "Why do you want to live in that neighborhood? It is so bad." But actually a part of it was pretty bad.
EC: Were there many other Vietnamese families in that neighborhood?
DT: There was only one Vietnamese family. Well, they are Vietnamese-Laos. So grade school, then came to middle school. The elementary school went up to fifth, I believe. Then they had six, seven, and eighth grade. They wanted to be a middle school they remodeled, that is the term. So then I went to Whitaker you know? So Whitaker is on Columbia so I had to take the bus there. So I do sixth, seventh, and eighth grade there and then I went to high school. But my sister went to sixth and then came back to George Middle School for a year and then went to high school. So we took the bus and stuff like that. But when we were in elementary school there was a large Laos community and Hmong community. But there are few Vietnamese -- there is only one. When I went to middle school there was another Asian girl and an Asian guy, so there was a little bit more. But the majority was not, yeah.
EC: Were there other places that you socialized with other Vietnamese children? Were your parents involved in organizations?
DT: No… Well we were kind of involved in some kind of church. My mom had open-heart surgery in 1982. So there was a guy who prayed for my mom. My dad was grateful so we went to his church. We are Buddhists. He tried to convert us to, I think Christianity… I don't know. But we went there and stuff like that. But at that time the church community was white people, black people, and Asian people. We didn't get involved in functions until we were in high school. Then grade school, I don't think temple existed yet, I don't know I don't remember. But in high school, we had more activities. When I went to Benson, because Benson is a polytechnical high school, a lot of Asians were there. I was surprised by the amount of Asians that were there. A lot of them could speak a lot of Vietnamese. I can't speak that well.
EC: Oh is that right, you forgot it?
DT: Well I was six years old. So I was learning English -- not Vietnamese -- at home.
EC: You didn't speak Vietnamese with your parents?
DT: Oh we speak a little bit of Vietnamese, and a little bit of Chinese.
EC: Oh okay I see.
DT: Yeah, yeah, my grandparents would speak in the dialect of Chinese. However, we don't know how to read or write. My mom, she would probably know how to read and write. We just use basic communication.
EC: Did your grandparents live with you?
DT: Yeah my grandparents live with me. In 1982, and then they moved out to California. I think it is best for them because it is to cold for them up here. They can't do anything, when you go somewhere you have to drive. They live in San Francisco, nice weather, and they take the bus and go straight to Chinatown. They have all of their friends there. There are more fun activities for them. That is why they moved.
EC: So in a place like Portland, the Vietnamese who are of Chinese descent, are there any kind of divisions or gaps between people who are of Chinese descent in the Vietnamese community and people who are not?
DT: Um in college?
EC: No I just mean, do people with Chinese ancestry, do they socialize often with people...?
DT: Yeah, well but you know each individual has our own group. So to be honest when I was in grade school I got picked on a lot. I was bullied. I got bullied and a lot of the young Asian kids got bullied a lot. Because they are much smaller than the white and black kids. They are much, much smaller. I don't remember but I think it was like four or five of us we formed a team [laughs]. If you can believe that. Because when we were in a team and when somebody bullied us we would all help each other out. But eventually, you can't fight five people [laughs]. So that is how it is, and first I don't remember who started the team. It was funny because we got bullied and we hated it. There was this guy... You can't go tattle-tale. So we formed a team, so we were like okay every time he tries to bully you we would all jump on him. So that was the key. We got in trouble, but you know that is how it is, I think. We were kids, so you know? At the being, there were only two people. Then another kid got bullied so we came up with five people.
EC: Were they all Vietnamese?
DT: No they are more Laos, Hmong, and others.
EC: Were there a lot of fights?
DT: No, no I mean after a while they knew, so they don't bully us anymore.
EC: That is good.
DT: Yeah because then when they are jumping on us and being in fourth grade, imagine when they are sixth-grade, seventh-grade. They are much bigger and stronger than a lot of the Asians you know. By the time some of them are eighth-graders they are more mature already. Once and a while you have some idiot who acts like an idiot and thinks that he is the big mess and all that. By seventh grade, we don't have that. Everyone was mature already. Once and a while we would have a clown or something like that.
EC: So your parents both started working at the electronics firm right away?
EC: What did they do there?
DT: They were operators yeah and worked there.
EC: What kind of products were they making?
DT: Well they do silicones. So they do bowl wafers for Intel and the German company, semiconductor.
EC: Do they enjoy that work?
DT: Well it was a job. A lot of the time they did want us to be moving up. So the point my dad would make was he wanted to focus on us getting a better education. He wanted us to go to school, go to college, get a degree, and have a life. Because he didn't have that life, so that was his main focus. But the one side is we have him yes, he is there to help us and guide us. But I don't have a big brother to look up too. I am the oldest you know, so I think that was good. He didn't even want to become the manager and he turned everything down. He didn't want to go back to school. He didn't want the focus on him getting an education. Not worry about that, but his main work was for us to get an education. Not for us to get in trouble. We come in and we are brought into society [ … ] So he wanted us to finish high school, make sure we finish college, then you know whatever you want to do. So that helped us in a way, but then I think if he went to school and got a degree than that would help us even more I believe. Then we know what it is like. He knows. He is just a helper. I don't know how to explain it. You know? Do you understand what I am saying?
DT: It is like I think we would get more guidance from him in that perspective. But that is the way my parents perceived. Everyone turned out great I mean I am an engineer, my brother is a pharmacist, and my two other sisters are nurses.
EC: So they were around a lot? They didn't work unusual hours?
DT: Oh they worked unusual hours.
EC: Oh they did.
DT: I mean they work all the time. I think we didn't have many grants because they work too much. Yeah, family of four their income in the eighties was eighty to ninety grand, but the parents worked. When we went to high school and college we had no grants because our parents worked to much.
EC: So they worked a lot of overtime?
DT: Yeah, yeah.
EC: Was it hard for them to adjust to life in Portland or life in America?
DT: I think so. I mean, I believe they are happy. Once they a get car to drive around and go places. Typically normal family, we have our family issues and stuff like that. One thing that is funny is that my parents don't believe in allowance. My parents don't believe in, what do you call it, grounding. I didn't understand because when I was a little kid there was the, "Hey come up and play some basketball." "Oh no I can't I am grounded." Grounded? What? So I could be in the biggest trouble of all and I could still go out and play. That was a difference.
EC: Why didn't they believe in that kind of punishment?
DT: They never did. Well, I got punished, I got spanked, and stuff. But then I could go out and play. I remember one time, it was funny because I went to school early. My dad goes, "Why are you going to school early?" So I was going to go to play basketball, but then when I get to school there is some guy bullying me. So when I retaliate, the teacher only saw my side of it, they didn't see the first side of it. So they see me attacking him, and that is all they see. But I told them no he attacked me first and I had to do defense. So I got pulled into the principal's or vice-principal’s office and said I was fighting. So then I got in trouble. I got suspended for a day. So I tried to explain myself but I can't win because the grown-up sees the retaliation, but not see the first one.
EC: How old were you then?
DT: I think I was in fourth grade or fifth grade or something like that.
DT: I don't remember. So I was pissed off because I tried to explain myself and my English was not good. So you know he started it but then the two of them said, "No, no, no, we saw you hit." You saw the ending you never saw the beginning.
EC: So did your parents react bad to that?
DT: Oh my dad was pissed. Yeah he just grabbed me and pulled me out and threw me into the car. I didn't even walk. He just dragged me and threw me into the car. “What you came early to school to fight? Is it that you do?” So I got suspended and I got yelled at, and stuff like that. Came home and then after I got yelled at for an hour, this is when my parents would be easy. They yelled at us about a bunch of stuff. Then I go out and play basketball. I play until the kids go home and come out. They say, "Hey what are you doing?" "Oh I am playing basketball." "You still are what?" It was like, "Oh I thought you got grounded." I said, "No I got the lesson learned." If we are enemies then I will fight you. That is how it is. They didn't believe me in sleepovers.
EC: That was not allowed?
DT: That was not allowed.
EC: Why not?
DT: I slept over one time. Because I had tried to nag them for months and months. They allowed me to a slumber party. My sisters were not allowed, but they can come over and sleepover here. So she can't go over to a friends house to sleep, but her friend can come over and sleepover. That is one of the things. It was my buddy’s birthday. My dad goes no -- that was last year. This year, I nagged and I think he caved in and said yes. So I was so happy. We stayed up all night. I never had a sleepover with a friend. So there are like eight of us. Their parents normally just let us out till like ten, eleven o'clock.
EC: Oh really?
EC: At what age?
DT: I think in sixth grade or seventh grade. We came in and sleep and the next morning we went home.
EC: But your parents wouldn't let you stay out that late?
DT: My parents?
DT: Yeah, typically by ten o'clock I’m in bed. So the rule of thumb was weekdays, nine o'clock. So you would be in bed by nine o'clock for school. Weekends it probably depends. If there is a TV show going on or something then ten o'clock. Yeah by ten o'clock you would be in bed. My dad was really strict on that. So in high school, each year he would become better and better. You know, adopting the culture. Right now he is very liberal. He was like into news and into politics. I was like wow dad okay.
Before he was looking at my grade. In high school, you have grade report right? But you also had absolute report, right? Before he would look at your grade. A’s? Okay good. He didn't know what subject it is. As long as it was an A he would say it was good. Then he would look at another and say it was good. Then when he understood the format that it was in, this is A, this is tardy, this is absent. So in high school, senior year, I miss so many absences then you can't graduate. But then there is some limit. So I cut school a lot in my senior year. One time, wow he shocked me. I was like oh my god better not get yelled or big trouble. Usually, he reads my report card and that is it. He will read it and look at it like there it is. “Wow. Davis, eight absences! How come you were absent so much? What are you not going to school?” It was like I didn't know what to think. I was like shocked because all he would do was look here and that'd be it. I was like I didn't even know what to say. I was like father I don't know, it is some kind of mistake or something. Oh okay [laughs].
EC: What were you doing when you cut school?
DT: Oh, I don't remember. We used to go play tennis, a lot. We cut school because we had exams and we weren't ready so we cut school. Mainly tennis or bowling.
EC: Were sports important to you? You mentioned basketball earlier.
DT: Yeah actually, if I were a little bit bigger and taller, maybe six foot I could probably play college ball.
DT: Yeah for college ball. I was good, I played every day. I mean to the point that on a day with snow, we went under cover to play basketball.
DT: I had to bounce a ball. If I don't bounce that basketball within a day or two, I don't feel well. We took bus seventy-five for an hour to have better competition. To go to Franklin High School to play basketball. Because there are big people there and a lot of people play there in the summer. So every weekend we would go there. Four or five of us we form a team and go down and play.
DT: Yeah, but I hadn’t played in a team sport. So that is why I could be a lot better. I got the skill set. But then the reason that I wasn't on a team was because I was very skinny looking. In high school, I was 110 pounds. When I graduated high school I was 115. I mean, I was very small and skinny. A little bump and I would fall, you know. I remember it was so embarrassing on turkey day. Every Thanksgiving when your children go out to play football. We all just went out and played so hopefully some TV cameras would catch us. That is what we hoped for every year. Every year and oh my god nobody came in here. Finally, we find someone. So I think it was KT2 and one of the guys wanted to play football with us. They were filming and I was not good. I am not great at sports. So I would catch the ball. So I was running this way to go to the endzone and the other guy went the other way. All he did was grab the ball out of my hand, went the other way [laughs]. I was so weak. So that is how scrawny I am. But I have all the skillsets to play and stuff. Then in high school, I was really a fanatic. Then college I am still, and then after college... In college I would finish my test early. I would ask the professor to reschedule the midterm or the final so I could watch the Blazer games in the playoff.
EC: Oh really?
DT: Every time when there is a playoff I would try to be the first one done. I would try to finish the test as soon as possible. I didn't even want to go recheck or anything. I would just finish, turn it in, and then go. I was that into basketball. It was always meaningful. That is why I got into trouble in my first quarter. Because I was playing with my cousin and we loved basketball. I mean we looked at the college classes and they were kind of stupid. The first one we forgot the application, no one told us about college you know. So we were like okay. So then we thought about high school from eight to six o'clock we have to have our classes. We filled our schedule with whole classes. From eight o'clock to five o'clock or whatever the time is, eight to three or four. The counselor was laughing, "No, no, no twelve credits. So you need to take three or four." So we thought wow college is so easy and simple. One class here and one class here, no time in between. So what we would do is play basketball. So I didn't really care what I looked like. I just would play basketball than go to class, play basketball, go to class. I would smell, I would sweat. Play in the rain and things. That is what my buddy and I did, the whole quarter. Then two or three weeks would go and then, oh shoot we would have a test. We hadn't opened one single book or read anything [laughs]. Then we have to cram and finish the test. So then we realize that those are times that we should study instead of going and play basketball. That is what we did, and that was probably good so I learned a little bit by the first quarter. After that it was okay. I think it took me about a year to adjust to college. Because I was in that mode already so I had to get out of the basketball mode. Everybody is like Friday nights oh I'll do this or oh I'll go play basketball. I think I played basketball more than I put in study work in the first year. Because all the free time I had during classes, I was shooting. Then Wednesday, or something, they had a tournament. Not exactly a tournament, some guy went out in the gym and then we would go and play basketball. My first year in college was all about basketball.
EC: Did you know right away that you wanted to study engineering? I assume you studied engineering from the beginning?
DT: Yeah well I started engineering, I was learning electrical in high school but non calculus. If we went back in time and did it right I was supposed to be in medical, not technical. But then I missed a year, I don't know why I couldn't be in medical. Even though in my mind I think I can not be in medical. Two reasons, the first reasons is the hardest medical terms I can not pronounce. Every time I pronounce something it is wrong. So when you go to a doctor you have to tell them. So there is a lot of terminologies. The other thing is, I didn't know if I wanted to finish four years of college, let alone committing myself to eight to ten years. So even though I read a lot of medical because I was involved in the surgical realm. Which is like every Saturday you go off to OHSU and learn everything about medical. So one day you can learn about the eyes, one day you can learn about the brain, and one day you can learn about the heart. So it was called the surgical realm.
EC: This was at Benson or at...
EC: At Benson okay.
DT: No no yeah, well I was going to Benson but the program was through OHSU.
EC: Right right yeah, but while you were a student at Benson.
DT: A student at Benson yeah. So then my sophomore year I went a month or two weeks -- I forgot -- learning about dentistry at OHSU. So I was going, and they have this lecture and they talk about it. I stayed there, and they paid for room and board. I got a scholarship. No wait it was only for a week [laughs]. So they called Davis you are number one you got it so he asked me to go. So I stayed there for a month, living in the dorms in the night. So I was like a college student, then I went to class. Each section you had to be there and you had to read in class, day class. Then when it is done then I went to see a guy who was finished already, he needed to go work. So I needed to learn how to drill, and we had a class that teaches you how to drill. I did the drilling on the tooth. Then I went to watch him work, and then I see this old lady open her mouth and the guy put his hand in there. I said, "Oh no, dentistry is not for me." At that moment that was it, dentistry is gone. I learned about the industry. I did learn, I see you have to do that. Then I said, "Okay dentistry no, no I am not going to do that. I am not going to put my hand in somebody's mouth." So that was the other option, medical was not an option. So then I go okay engineering. So I am going to do engineering. So then I had a friend, my dad’s friend from Australia came over. He was like two years older than me, so when I was a sophomore he was a senior. So he was going to go to college to become an electrical engineer. So then I was like okay I will be an electrical engineer. So when I went to college they said, "Who do you want to be?" Electrical engineer. So when I was in college everybody was like Davis don't be electrical, you will have no job. I was so scared I go”No Job? No job? Oh okay.” Shit, I am going to a four-year college and I am not going to get a job when I get out. No there are no jobs.
EC: Why did they say that?
DT: Well the people who were in electrical that year, in that time period, the high tech was not doing well. So there were no jobs.
EC: Oh I see.
DT: So it goes up and down. So then I went to my professor like, "What? I am going to a four-year college and I am not going to have a job when I come out?" They said, "Oh you will you will." “Well everybody says there are no jobs out there.” “Don't listen to them you will get a job.” Then I went out and they go, “No, Davis no don't go into electrical no jobs, no jobs.” Then I went back to my counselor again, and everybody told me not to choose electrical because there are no jobs. Oh don't listen to them, you will find a job when you get out. [Laughing] Then I was like okay I trust you. So it was so funny. We had this chemistry class, and the chemistry class was taught by Doctor Loveland. I still remember his name. But that was the hardest class I ever took. It was multiple choice, but the class was hard. I worked really hard to get a B+ out of that class, almost an A. It was funny because he was on probation. So not so many are on probation. So like okay, chemistry nothing else. Well, I wanted to get a good grade. I didn't want to get chemistry, and fail all the other classes, and get bad grades. So one of my friends goes chemistry, nothing else. I can take some Chinese classes, some liberal arts, literature class, and so then history classes. So to get the A you know. So imagine he is not suspending. We worked so hard and he was on probation as a professor. Now that he is off of probation he is going to be talking to us. So like oh my god [laughs]. So then I walk home one day and me and my buddy walk home. We saw a friend of ours, “Like man that 203 class next term is going to be tough. Doctor Loveland, man he is going to kill us.” “Oh I am not taking 203 I am taking 103. I was like no you have to. There is a prereq for each student. Yeah it is not a requirement they would like you to take it, but you can take an underclass.” Really? So we both ran to our counselors and asked, "Do we have to take 203?” They go, "No you can 104 you can still get into engineering." Okay then I would like to make some changes.
So we took 104, and 104 is like okay. So then we took 104 and it was just like high school chemistry. When we find out that [laughs] my buddy and I, we never went to class. We had somebody who went to class took notes for us. Then we just borrowed the notes. We never went to class and we never went to the labs. We went to the last lab to do all the other labs. I think we showed up three times out of the ten weeks. I think we showed up for the lecture the first day and we kept the syllabus, midterm, midterm, and a final. So it was high school chemistry. So then the RA [ … ] was kind of worried about us because she never sees us in class [laughs]. It was like, this high school chemistry is pretty easy. We did pretty well. I mean I never attended the class and we went in to take the test, and I got As. I mean [snaps] that is high school chemistry. So it was funny because everybody was struggling, and they were just like oh man, oh my god this first test is going to be so terrible. We were like no we are fine [laughs]. What chemistry are you taking? Oh, we are taking 104. Oh, you can do that? Yes you can do that. So people didn't know that kind of stuff, but oh well.
EC: This was at Oregon State?
DT: Oregon State University, yeah.
EC: Were your parents okay with you leaving Portland for college?
DT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well I first would have liked to go to the University of Washington. I think there is better engineering. But then my SAT was not high enough. My mathematics was pretty high, it was a little bit above average. I think, I don't know about now, but eight hundred was the most you could get in math and eight hundred in language or whatever. So I had like a six or seven hundred, something like that. Really high in math, I remember. But my reading, it was really bad. So a tutor was not enough. I had to take the TOEFL, the foreign language exam. So I think aw man. I already committed to OSU already I will tell mom and dad. So it is a lot tougher too, and out of state I don’t know if my parents could afford it. So I said, "I was just dreaming." So I went to Oregon State. One time when I was going to Oregon State, one of my professors was so bad. I thought I was in trouble because I had never seen two professors fight before. So I still remember his name Professor Manana. He taught control, a tough class differential equations. So every movement everything is by a differential equation. Freud's Theory, all of that. But then the test was hard. We took the first test I did okay, but I failed. If he doesn't curve everybody fails [laughs]. Everybody failed, and we were like okay. So we needed his class, it’s called a pre-requisite. So we need to get a good grade in order to apply to the school. At least get a pass. If we get an F or something then we have to wait until next year to take the class. So we can't get into engineering school. So he determined not to curve it, and if he doesn't curve it everybody will get an F. So in order for me to get the final and a passing grade, I need to get above ninety percent. In order to get a passing grade is a D not a B or a C. So in order to get a passing grade, my friend he needed to get a one hundred percent.
So, we went to see another professor and at the time our counselor was not there. So we went to see our Electronic 202 professor Doctor Plant and tell him that [ … ] we are kind of worried about our grade for the class because Dr. Manana is not grading on the curve for the test, and all students and us are going to fail. Because everybody is failing the class. You can't have everybody failing the class. They did really bad on the midterm. We said we need pass this class to get into engineering school. So then Dr. Plant said “let me see what I can do”. So all of us went over and talked to Dr Manna. It looks like my friend and I were okay. Next thing I know that both of them got in an argument. They were like shouting at each other. I was like, oh shoot I can kiss my grade goodbye now [Laughs]. I was like oh my god man I think I am going to fail, man he is definitely not going to like it. He is going to fail us. They were both going at it. They were like, no you can't fail the whole class! No what is he doing? You know that is not right. He was like,oh this is my class. My friend and I were like, "Okay we are going to get an F [Laughs]. We were like, "Oh my god we are going to get an F and we are going to have to retake this class next year and we are going to delay our going to engineering." They were going on and on about it. Some were going on like okay, "I think we are going to get an F for sure." So we were like ending the course with an F. Finally at the end he curves it. For some reason he curves it. So then my friend passed. He got a decent grade, and I got a decent grade.
EC: He was just trying to scare you maybe?
DT: I don't know about that. No he was determined not to grade it. When those two were going at it. I mean it was like, oh my god. My friend and I were like, this is not going well.
EC: So after you graduated where did you first start working?
DT: So I went to PSU for two terms. I got an internship at TriQuint semiconductor. I got like three classes left, so I worked as an intern for the whole nine months. Then I finished the three classes and I graduated. They all gave me a position then I got hired on. Yeah I worked there for a couple of years than...
EC: Oh so you went to engineering school at PSU?
DT: Oh no, no. So I went to engineering school at OSU.
EC: Oh OSU okay.
DT: Yeah so I was going to graduate in the fall or the summer. I forgot, no wait in the spring. But I had three class, and in the summer I had an intern. It was funny because my parents told me to get off my butt and find a job. Like dude, I just finished college. You know I just want to spend a couple of weeks relaxing [Laughs]. So it was hilarious because my dad goes, "Are you going to find a job? Are you going to go to work or are you going to sit here on your ass and do nothing." I said, "I am going to sit here on my ass and do nothing for two weeks." I just finished school, you know? So I was out for two weeks. And finally, when that got on my nerves, I said ok let’s go ahead and look. I called my friend and we went and looked and we didn’t know where to look [laughs]. So everybody has a job before summer and we don't. So let's go to PSU Library and we said, "Oh no we are not from here, we’re OSU." But OSU and PSU we are still in the state. So the lady said, "We will let it slide." So we were there, in the job placement and they want you to send an email with your resume. Then they called and did the interview. Then they offered me a job. An intern, so I was there for almost nine months.
EC: At PSU?
DT: No at a semiconductor.
EC: Oh okay.
DT: Yeah, yeah. But I was taking classes at PSU now. So I had three classes left. So in the summer I was working and I said, "Well can I continue working and go to school part time here?" She goes,"Yeah Yeah." So I worked full time and take classes at night.
EC: I see.
DT: So one semester, one quarter, one class and I am done. So by the time winter was around I was done. Then officially the transcript. But once they saw me graduate then he offered me a full time job.
EC: What was the name of that company?
DT: TriQuint Semiconductor.
DT: Similar to Intel [ … ]. So silicone is a base wafer. Wacker, they have a base wafer. Then intel puts in chemicals to make it, what do you call it the terminology? Oh shoot it has been fifteen years. IC they put in IC, integrated circuit. So you look in there and there is a whole bunch of circuits. So if you open up a computer and you look at a motherboard, right? The motherboard is the whole circuit tracers. But then we open the chip and you can still see a whole bunch of circuits that are much much smaller. So then you build everything to size then your computer will be huge. So they will make it smaller and smaller so each has its function. So that is what they do. What we do is a different type of base chemistry, I don't know what. GASESI, in the paradox of tables, it has been a while. So that one was real high tech. So we had more wafers coming from a factory somewhere else. But we created the wafer, no wait we ordered it and we turned it into. We then put IC stuff on there. Then I worked at a Japanese company before and they did the same thing. So one company does [ … ] and then slice and build a wafer. Another company does the integrated circuit.
EC: Okay and were you helping with the manufacturing process or with the testing?
DT: No I was in product engineering. So I was in the [ … ] division. But I was in the telecom division, so more multiplex and more repeater types of product. I was there for three years.
EC: Then did you move to Seattle at that point?
DT: No, I did not. I just recently moved to Seattle. So I was there and I got laid off and then I got a job then I got a job doing intercepting but on the other side. So I am doing wafer, nothing is put on it and we ship. Then a freight liner offered me a position. Then I was like oh this is kind of funny because then after the freight liner, then I moved to Seattle. I have been on the Freight liner for ten years. Then I got married, I was not into traveling anymore because I was in manufacturing and traveled quite a bit. So the way out was to find another position and and get out. Then my wife wanted to move to Seattle because all her relatives were in Seattle. My wife is from Australia.
EC: Oh really, Where did you meet her?
DT: In Australia.
EC: In Australia.
DT: Yeah, yeah.
EC: On vacation or were you traveling for work?
DT: On vacation, yeah. Then when we got married, I had been traveling a lot. So then there was an opening and I applied and I got it. I said okay. Usually, I drove home every weekend or every other weekend. Now, not anymore, except for the special occasion then I drive home.
EC: Are you involved in the Vietnamese community in Seattle at all?
DT: No not really I am just working there. I do a lot of involvement when I was in college. But I think now, one thing I see now growing up as a little kid was... So I get this a lot. Anything happened, like somebody does a shooting or a robbery in the southeast area of Portland. So I would be walking. I didn't know anything about it, I would go to the Plaid Pantry or the 7/11. When I was walking around the white folks they got scared. They grabbed their kids and said, "Oh save them from this guy. Stay away from this guy." That was when I was like thirteen or fourteen years old.
Then another thing I experienced a couple of times was when I took the bus. This is when I was still young about fifteen years old or fourteen. When I took the bus to school, I think Benson High School, I don't remember what grade, oh yeah sophomore. A lot of the old homeless, I think he was homeless, but he was like, "Oh go back to your own country. You started all this shit with the Vietnam war and all that." So I was like okay [laughs]. So that happens, but not frequently, but that does happen a couple of times. Now I heard about... when you use the word racist and you use the word prejudice, growing up I never think about that. I knew there was something wrong with that guy when he says something like that. Oh the guy is insecure but it never crossed my mind. Now you hear a lot about it in social media and about prejudice, racists. The thing is now oh the kids got hurt, it is a kid right? You have to be serious, whether it is a black kid, a white kid, or an Asian kid. You know we used that to distinguished the identity of that person. But then it can be helpful or it could be either way. For example, if you are a hero you save a person right? Oh yeah, this guy saved a black person, a black kid or something. Does it matter? Black, white, or Asian. He is a hero, he saved a person. So in that whole mix of that, I think by doing that, it stirs up a lot. People may think. Back then it was like, I don't know maybe for other people it was different but I never feel in a way prejudices or racist. Even in the company wise. I know there is a lot of prejudice going on. But I have never seen that. I have never feel that. A lot of people feel that. But for me I just do my job and go home that is it. But then I do believe that it is important to distinguish. There is a difference between black kid, white kid, Asian kid, or a Japanese kid, so you can distinguish. But then by doing that you kind of like label them, and they are kids. But I never feel any kind… Because Portland is a small community of Asians. But in Seattle a lot of areas are big… I think Portland could be more involved in politics in the future -- the Asians. I know once and while they say, is it congressman Wu or whatever.
DT: I don't know a long time ago there was one of them.
EC: Yeah David Wu.
DT: David Wu yeah yeah. But I want to see more and more people of Asian descent in Portland.
EC: So the Asian community in Seattle was more active politically?
DT: I don't know if it was active politically.
EC: It is just bigger.
DT: Just bigger and they have a lot more Asian. But I was not here long enough to see, I think I have seen one or two, running for mayors or running for this and that. I am not sure. I know I have seen a lot in California. Yeah because the community in California is much bigger. They are running for, not mayor, but one of the cabinet or a government position. That is what I meant.
EC: Are there specific political issues that you think need to be addressed that affect the Vietnamese community or the Asian community more generally? Are there issues that you think deserve to be more prominent?
DT: I mean, no. I feel we are just like other people. I mean it doesn't matter if you are Asian, black, or white. My main concern is my social security. Will I have it when I get old? The other concern is the school right now. The lack of funding for schools, I mean that is sad. I mean cutting school, finishing early, you have millions and millions of dollars flowing into college program football activities. But you don't have enough money for grade school to finish their year. Oh we have to cut you ten days, because we don't have the budget. That is BS. But you know that -- to me -- means somebody needs to get fired. I mean, I am serious. I don't know how the structure is or how the budget goes. I mean you can't offer ten days of more school and you have to cut it short because you ran out of the budget. I mean, what? To me that means somebody is not doing their job. But you see college, a lot of money goes to football and basketball. In grade school, it is like what you can't add another ten days? You gotta be kidding me, you know. But I know because each budget will allow, and so you budget for that. But if you don't have that in the budget you can get it from somewhere else and put it in. I mean it is just… [baffled] not fair for those kids you know? Ten days more, I mean I don't know if it will help them. But the money is coming from us. That is something I am more concerned about. The racist and all that is you know. But my kids can go to grade school. My nephew his school is cutting off ten days short, five days, or close to two weeks. Oh, we don't know we have to budget and we have to cut this and cut that. But with colleges, wow. I mean a lot of funding is going to athletes. That doesn't make sense to me. I know it is because of the booster and all that, but come on. You got to at least have something for the kids. I don't know how to word it I don't want to get in trouble. But in my opinion if somebody says well I am going to budget for the school for the gym. Whoever is doing that budget should get fired. That is it. I mean no questions asked. I mean those kids ten days is more important than anything else, and you cut them short. We pay for the school, the money is not coming from whoever is making the budget, the money comes from us.
EC: Well I think we have come to the end of our time. Is there something else that you would like to add that we didn't get too.
DT: Um do you have any more questions for me?
EC: I think I am at the end of the questions that I have. Unless there is something else that you wanted to bring up.
DT: No the one thing I would like to add is that Portland is a great city. In the eighties, I don't know about now, but in the eighties you can leave your car door open and you can unlock the door in the back. Now it is like you can't do that anymore. People are stealing and people do that. I don't know maybe somebody can do something about it. I mean when I retire I am going back to here and I am going to live in Portland. I love the city of Portland. I lived in Portland all my life. When I travel everywhere I go, I mean it is fun and it is exciting it is everything. There is no place like home back in Portland. It is where I grew up. The best thing I like about Portland is not the outdoors, not the scenery, and not the food or anything, but it is the people. I have gone to many cities, many towns, and many countries. Portlanders they are very, very nice people. Maybe I am biased because I am from here, but I am more comfortable living and talking to people in Portland than anybody else.
I went to Los Angeles and it is a fun city and bars and I went to San Francisco. In my opinion, we have a unique city and I would like to keep that for the generations to come. It is not too big and it is not too small. I think it is perfectly right. I don't know what the political issues are. The one thing I did like, is my dad get into politics. It’s a good thing, but he votes and he gets involved in talking about Trump and that. That made me happy. So he always is amazing me, the stuff that he reads and we talk about it. So he is more recognized [laughs], but you know it is good you know.
EC: More liberal than he use to be you said?
DT: Yeah in a sense. Before if he saw two guys kissing or two girls kissing he is like, [shocked] "Ah!" And now he is like, "Oh yeah whatever." You know the first time my parents see two girls kissing, they freaked out. But you know, now it is okay. I mean the reason why I am doing this is not just because of the Vietnamese culture stuff, but the city of Portland, the people of Portland is amazing. I really like living in Portland because they are much much friendlier than other places, trust me. They are much friendlier. I mean I have been to Los Angeles; I went to North Canada, South Canada, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. I haven’t been to Europe. I don’t know what the people of Europe are like. I hear it is pretty bad out there they are not really friendly. But there is nothing like the people in Portland. Everybody says that too. I believe I was; I don't know where I was at, I think it was in North Carolina. I was invited to a dinner and we were talking, and I said I was from Portland. They love the city they go, "Yeah Portland is a great city I wish I could live there. Maybe one day we can live there. They say the people there are very nice." I say, "Yeah."
EC: Great, well thank you so much for speaking with us. This is again E.J. Carter and I am talking with Davis Truong on June 29, 2019. Thank you again.
DT: Oh you are welcome.