Interview: June 7, 2019
Interviewers: EJ Carter and Azen Jaffe
Azen Jaffe: Hello my name is Azen Jaffe and I'm here with EJ Carter, and we are interviewing Phu Nguyen on June 7, 2019. We are here at the Hollywood Senior Center. Thank you for being with us. Could you start by giving us a brief overview of your life here in Portland? Where were you born? When did you arrive in Portland?
Phu Nguyen: I was born on October 13, 1940, in Vietnam. I came to the US on March 8, 1992. After first I stayed in Sunnyvale in San Jose for a month. Then after that, I looked for a job, but couldn't find one. My friends said that here there are jobs that were available. So I followed them and came here. Then here I am thankful, I have a job. At first, I was a janitor at FMP medical center. Later on, I worked for a public school near there, for a man like me. So I got a job for the public school for maybe 15 years. After this, one night, the time was 7:30, I had been working at the school near Rose City Park, over there. I got out of school at 2:30 pm and at four pm I started working at the FMP medical center until two. Besides that, I got a job as a kitchen helper for a chief. Because I wanted to be involved so that I can learn something. Then maybe for one four hours a week, and they ate American Food.
AJ: Sounds like long days, you said you left Vietnam in....
PN: No no, I worked that before I had a job for the public schools. I worked there early on Friday afternoon.
AJ: You said you left Vietnam in 1992, is that right?
AJ: Why did you leave?
AJ: Why did you come to the United States?
PN: I had sponsored my sister who sponsored me. Because if she didn't, I sponsored me and the family to come here. I was sponsored by the US government because of work. But yes she [unclear name of city 4:14] for more than six years. I could come here.
EC: So after 1975 it was impossible for you to work? Because you had worked with the US? [00:04:38]
PN: No I will say again I was drafted into the Vietnamese army in 1962. I was not a live reserve. I was an official, I worked for more than six years and then got out of the army. I thought that it would be for Vietnamese to serve his country, but it wasn't enough for me. I requested to get out. After I got out, then I worked for the US embassy Asia in [unclear 5:40] for more than six years. Communist would put me in jail, but they called it the reeducation because I was an official. I decided to give all my people to the Vietcong official. He looked at my papers, and he said was [ unclear 6:24] Vietnamese official, but you [unclear 6:33] a long time. No need to be here because later on, I'll send you to a re-education camp. But actually, that is jail. Then they said that you went home and you waited. Later on when everyone calls you for going to school, every time. Then you give, The sick ones, after that they call us. I went to the camp in Saigon were they accept those who have a rank. If you major, even if you were discharged a long time. Some old man they were officials, but my rank when I was in the south was the second lieutenant So I was not heavy set. You are presenting yourself to the local police station. After the communist took over the country, two hours after that. They came to me, big person, to declare what did you before this. So they know all of us.
AJ: After Vietnam, you went to California for just a few months, and then moved up to Portland. Did you have family here when you moved?
PN: Yeah my sister lived there.
AJ: In California or in Portland?
PN: In California in Sunnyvale. You know Sunnyvale?
EC: No never been there.
PN: It's a small city next to San Jose. Yeah a mountain view, Sunnyvale, somewhere in there. If you want to know look at the map, you would know.
AJ: Is it much different than Portland?
PN: From what they say yeah.
AJ: When you came here were did you first move? What neighborhood did you live in when you came to Portland?
PN: I rented an apartment in Southeast.
AJ: Did you live with family?
AJ: So you had family members here too?
PN: Yes because of my kids grew up and came here. So I just stayed.
EC: How many children do you have?
PN: Four. Four of them are grown up.
EC: When you left Vietnam did you come with them or by yourself?
PN: I went there with my family, wife and four kids.
AJ: What were your first impressions of Portland, what did you think?
AJ: What did you think of Portland when you got here?
PN: That it's good to live.
AJ: Were there other Vietnamese Americans in your Neighboorhood?
PN: You mean here?
PN: Yeah but in my area right now there are no Vietnamese. They are all Americans.
EJ: But when you first moved here there was more of a community in your neighborhood of Vietnamese people?
PN: The Vietnamese community was here before me. Some organizations, army, or civilian associations were there too. But not big, not like nowadays.
EC: Did you take part in the Armies meetings, the organization of veterans?
PN: At first I was working, but then I came here for the senior center association. There was the Vietnamese Senior Association, and there was an old president. Later on, they elected me to be the president for maybe 15 years, until now. I had to go home, but nobody came to replace me so I have to do it. Later on, I founded the Former Vietnamese Army Officials Association. They elected me to be the first president. Now we have seven years from the day we organized this association.
AJ: What does that association do?
AJ: What do you do with that association?
PN: Because we met with one army officials, we knew someone would come in. We exchange, we record the time, and we serve Vietnamese food. We get some information from other organizations, that we then inform our organization to know.
EC: So the Rose city park school you were tutoring Vietnamese students?
PN: I was the translation assistant.
EC: What kind of work did that involve?
PN: I would do the translation and enter information from the parents and the school. I worked with 75 teachers and helped them. Help the students.
EC: So you would be in the classroom itself?
PN: Sometimes the teacher would allow me to take five, four small groups out. To help them with the plan that the teacher gave to me to help them.
EC: How many students at a time would you work with?
EC: How many students would you work with at a time?
PN: It was a small group, maybe four, five, or three. But most of the time I was in the class with the teacher.
AJ: Helping translate for Vietnamese students?
PN: Sometimes they needed me to do the interpretations. I would call up to the office, to the basketball office or the teacher. They had something that I could do. The translation they gave me, and then I would go somewhere so I could do the translation.
AJ: Did you like working in the Portland Public Schools?
PN: Yeah I had to. I needed to like it so I could get some money for leaving.
EC: Where had you first learned or when had you first learned English?
PN: Most of the time I study English by myself. During the time I was in the army I was in alteration. I had a small dictionary, I took one piece and put it in my pocket. Then when I was free I would learn and copy.
EC: You never worked as a teacher in Vietnam?
PN: No because after the communist took over my country. Then I taught a Vietnamese student and their parents paid me something. So that is how I lived.
AJ: What did you tutor them in?
AJ: What sort of subjects did you tutor?
PN: English. But I knew some English but after that, I got a scholarship from the Australian [unclear 19:07]. So I went there to learn English for a year.
EC: How old were you then?
EC: How old were you when you went to Australia?
EC: So that was near the end of the war then?
PN: Yeah I went to Australia in May 1974. The course finishes in December 1974.
EC: How long were you in the reeducation camp?
PN: No because like I told you before, the communist officials said that you are a puppet official then you had to wait. Then you would go later, but you know later on they call those [invade Asia 20:44?]. But because of that, I think that my case is a special one. My other friend, because they lived in another location, they are somewhat like me. They said, come from in.
AJ: Right now do you participate in any religious organizations?
PN: Yeah I belong to a church, no name. Some call it the truth or some call it the way of that. Have you ever heard that?
AJ: I haven't could you tell us a bit about it?
PN: Yeah the Preacher we call this is the worker and honor of the lady. They preach the gospel. They go two by two, man with man and female with female. They don't get money from anyone. They don't have houses. Elijah said before, you read the bible you know, they go to hell. She said when [ unclear 22:29]. Later on, she was just on 72 or 73. [unclear 22:39]. We met at home, like this. We were about five or eight families. We live ranging from twenty living in a simple house. Own by, we call him, like an elder. I like that organization because when we got there in the house we took turns praying to god. At first, we lift him together. You know him right?
AJ: Him? Could you explain?
AJ: Yes okay.
PN: We wrote them together, and after that, we picked her brain. Thank god for the things that he does to us, and to mankind. Then we sing hymns together. Then after that, we give testimonies. That is like a pastor, only the pastor speaks. But he is everyone, sharing what they know. The worker, they may know better than us. They share a longer thing or interesting things. Then we sing hymns again after that. Have you ever attended such a meeting before?
AJ: No I haven't.
PN: Do you want to attend?
AJ: I would be interested in attending.
PN: You give me your name and phone number, and then I will call the worker.
EC: How often do the workers move from house to house?
PN: The worker is by themselves, they have no houses. But if you are a believer, you have a vacant room. Because you are a kid who goes out on the weekend. They are invited to come and do what you do. What you eat they eat, and they study together with you. Maybe one day or a couple of days, and the other people invite them to go with them.
EC: So they move on after two or three days usually?
EC: Do they move from city to city, or do they stay in Portland?
PN: I think in Portland there are about 80 male and female. They were in Portland, I mean the whole Oregon about 80. Workers in Portland there are two workers. They stayed here maybe two or three years. Then they move to another city, Beaverton, Grisman or Boring.
AJ: Is this something you practiced in Vietnam as well?
PN: No I know this away from Vietnam. The worker from here went to Vietnam, and at first, they taught English for free. The worker ran out of there, they came to learn English at their home. They know the way that they live. They live on the [unclear 28;30] relation, and they lower them a couple of years they said that the way to worship the best. So they quit their job, they became a worker then. Whose age is the same as me.
AJ: The other people who practice are they mostly Vietnamese or not?
PN: Say it again?
AJ: The other people who follow this way, are they mostly Vietnamese or not?
PN: In here?
AJ: Here, in Portland.
PN: One and me, I think three.
EC: How long has this been going on in Portland, since Vietnamese people first started coming?
PN: One man, he was a worker. Preaching the Gospel, but after that, he had a family. He could not preach because he was a believer. That family they went after me a year. Every year we have a convention in Boring. One convention people attend I think from about eight to ten thousand people. We met two times for 40 the first days are Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
EC: Why do they meet in Boring?
EC: Why in Boring?
PN: They build a convention for the view sometime a long time ago, they told me but I forgot. The Convention there are houses for workers. If you attend the convention you can stay at the camp and become a believer. You have a camp to live in at night and they provide food for you. They do that at the foundations in Boring.
EC: Who organizes that? Who pays for the food?
PN: Everybody brings something you know, we can contribute. The man who owns the land, he takes about 15 oxens.
EC: Is he Vietnamese?
AJ: That sounds great. Are there any other groups or organizations that you participate in?
PN: No. I was the President of the Vietnamese Senior Association. I belong to the former Vietnamese army officials. Other organization, and they organizing something and I plan to attend you know. For example the Vietnamese AirForce Senior association, navy associate they are South Vietnamese.
AJ: What sort of things does the Vietnamese Senior Association do?
PN: We met here and I attend an organization. If I know something I pass my knowledge to them. We learn together, or they know something they tell us to know each other. We learn. We have a birthday celebration every month.
EC: Are a lot of the seniors in the community isolated or lonely, or are there lots of places where they can enter act with other people?
PN: Please say it again.
EC: The members of the association, are they lonely?
PN: No we have families. Right now we have about 40 senior associates. They organize and there are 40 men and women.
EC: Do many people live with their family members?
EC: Do you live with your children?
AJ: What do you think some of the differences are between the older and younger generations?
PN: Say again.
AJ: Do you think there are some major differences between older generations of Vietnamese Americans and some of the younger generations.
PN: I don't see much difference no.
AJ: Okay well unless there is anything else EJ wants us to ask, I think we might be reaching the end of our interview. Before we close is there anything we haven't talked about or that you would like to talk about? Is there anything you think we should ask?
PN: You asked me something if I know I will tell you that I know. If I don't I will say that I don't.
AJ: Okay, well thank you so much for talking we really appreciated your time.
PN: Thank you.
AJ: Once again this is Azen Jaffe, I am here with EJ Carter, and we are interviewing Phu Nguyen at the Hollywood Senior Center on June 7th. Thanks so Much.
PN: You are welcome. Thank You.