Diana Ly Interview: November 14, 2017
Interviewers: Hannah Crumme and Azen Jaffe
Hannah Crummé: This is Diana Davis and it is November 14th, 2017. Ok, so tell us a little bit about you yourself, your family, and your life in Portland.
Diana Ly: I came from a family of seven on one mother. Because there are other siblings that are our half. I moved to Portland in 2004 from California. And I have four girls of my own.
HC: Ok. What do you do in Portland?
DL: I’m a real estate broker currently. Before that I worked managing restaurants and I worked in a supermarket.
HC: Great. What part of Vietnam was your family from?
DL: They’re from Saigon, Ho Chi Minh. Which is the South.
HC: Ok. Do they have a particular religious identity?
DL: Yes. My mom and my dad are both Buddhist. Most, well I shouldn’t say most. Some of the Vietnamese, I think from different areas are Catholic. But we’re Buddhist and the majority in our area are Buddhists. So in South Vietnam there’s a place called Cholon which is Chinatown. That’s the translation. That whole area is all Buddhist. And it’s Chinese that migrated there during or after the war for another way of business. Some went to Vietnam some went to Taiwan, Hong Kong … you know different parts of the world. Singapore, stuff like that.
HC: Did your family come to the US directly from Vietnam?
DL: No. We left Vietnam on boat. That was right after the war. And they [the Vietnamese Government] thought we were going on vacation, because nobody is allowed to leave. So, we didn’t bring anything with us. That’s why they thought that we were going on a day tour of the ocean. And then when the guy got close to the border that you’re not supposed to pass, he just took off. And they chased him, but we were already quite ahead. And we ended up in Thailand at a refugee camp.
HC: So this brings us to the next question. How and when did your family leave Vietnam? You've told us a little bit just now. But is there anything else that you want to add to that?
DL: So ‘76, was when my sister was born. So we left near the end of ‘76 or ‘77. Because I remember we there about nine months in Thailand. That’s how I gauge the timeline. Being that I was only four, it’s hard to have the memory of a four year old be accurate. What I do remember is, my sister - younger sister - she was born in ‘76. And she was [a few] months old, not even a year yet. So when we left, it couldn’t be ‘77. Has to be near the end [of ‘76.] That’s how I gauge it. And we were there for nine months before we came to the US in ‘78 when my brother was born in December. So between that time and his time was when we were in Thailand. That’s how I figure where we’re at.
HC: And all that time was in the refugee camp?
DL: Yeah. And the refugee camp, I do recall the dark bathroom. I had to go at night. It was in a hole, like a little closet door.
And you would get soup or porridge. People lined up for porridge or soup with a bowl. It was rationed. My dad had business connections in Thailand. He used to do textile business with neighboring Asian countries. So he was able to contact somebody in Thailand and they came and picked us up from the refugee camp. That helped. We were fortunate enough to have that. That’s when I was able to remember my first -- either mint chip or peppermint ice cream. Because I had never had it before. That stood in my mind because I remember, the first thing it was spicy and it had speckles. I thought it was chili ice cream. But you look back and see the peppermint or mint-and-chip with black speckle.
They would come and pick us up quite a bit. They would take us to their house. We would hang out at their house and eat and play and all that. Then we would go back to the camp to check in. Days like that. And I remember the raisin bread. When we got there, actually, I remember the boat. We were probably sleeping on the beach for a little while. I remember sleeping in mosquito tents for a little while. My dad would give us a dollar, or their Baht dollar, not a dollar here. I remember a coin, to go get raisin bread. And that was my morning responsibility, ritual -- was to go get raisin bread. Then, we were in the refugee camp later. And we would make seaweed that was the other thing. We would get the leaf off the beach and squeeze out, pound it and make gelatin. So, when we have jello here I thought it was that stuff. But it’s not. It’s made of animal product. Where in Thailand, it’s made out of vegetation. So different gelatin.
HC: Who ran the refugee camp?
DL: Don’t recall. But it was just the government, or whoever it was. But I don’t recall.
00:05:53 [Diana’s phone rings, and the interview is briefly interrupted.]
10.18 [Interview resumes.]
HC: Were there any organizations or family members that helped you establish yourself in the US?
DL: Yes. So how we got over here was, my dad had a friend that knew someone in the US that had our same last name. He sponsored us, my dad, our whole family as his brother. They lived in New Orleans. So I moved to New Orleans after Thailand. Then we went through JFK airport. And took a bus down to New Orleans when we came in. It was just a tiring, trekking trip. And I remember throwing up on the bus, because I had never sat on a bus. [Laughs]
HC: How did you find the US when you arrived?
DL: I remember the airport being very long. Very far. We kept walking, walking, walking … Now I’m older, I realize that’s just JFK Airport. That it is humongous. By that time I was five when I got here. So the place looked different. And I remember clothes were different. Shoes were different.
HC: How were shoes different?
DL: Well it’s more closed shoes and you had to wear socks. We didn’t really wear socks in Vietnam. [Laughs] You know? It’s warmer, climate is different. And we were freezing down in New Orleans in the Winter. I remember the coats we wore. I remember I wore my coat as my shirt. It was cold. That coat you saw me wearing earlier, that would have been nothing underneath. And I was five. I remember going to school and it was getting hot. Because you know how weather changes from cold to hot during the day? It was so traumatizing, that whole situation that’s how I remember it -- a five year old. What do you remember in kindergarten, really? What I remember was that my teacher kept wanting my coat. And I wouldn’t give it to her. [Laughs] I was like, “You can’t have my coat.” And there was a language barrier. So she didn’t understand why. And then finally she figured out I had nothing underneath but just my coat. And it was a petticoat. It was a cute little coat that looked just like a dress. So it wasn’t a coat, coat. My mom thought that’s what you wear to stay warm. But it’s a jacket. So, we didn’t know what a jacket was. We just thought you wore clothes. And then shoes, closed shoes, socks, all that. We would wear shoes sometimes without socks or wear socks with sandals. It was just not culturally Americanized. I remember that. The whole culture of New Orleans, Mardi Gras. We were like, “Wow that’s like a party.” It was just different. Everything was just different. Learning English was another funny one. You’re speaking one language. Now, I grew up in Vietnam, but I only spoke Chinese. We were not allowed to speak Vietnamese. Where we lived was all Chinese -- Chinatown. So my dad only let us speak Chinese, we only hear Chinese. Only had people speaking Chinese. So when we came to Thailand, I picked up Thai. I remember a little bit of Thai. Nine months, but living somewhere that’s all you hear instead of Chinese, besides your parents. Then you pick up that language. Then when we went to America, New Orleans, we had to learn English and Vietnamese. Because people around us now were all Vietnamese. There was no Chinese. We were the only Chinese. And the person that sponsored us is Vietnamese. He’s not Chinese with a background of Chinese heritage -- just pure Vietnamese. Now we got English in school, Chinese at home, Vietnamese in the community. Then when we got to second grade, either second or first grade, we had to learn French. They give you forty-five minutes of French in school. So then we are not home that much to continue the Chinese. So we only know how to say “yes” and “no” to our parents. You know, your parent is like, “Did you do your homework?” Yes. “Did you clean up?” Yes. “Did you do your chores?” Yes. And then off my mom goes.
Among each other we tried to speak Vietnamese with the friends that we hang out with. We would play Kick the Can and stuff. So we were picking up Vietnamese. At school, they only wanted us to speak English because you’re not allowed to talk when their talking. So you hear a lot of English. Then you get the one class for French. So it was very confusing. In third grade, I remember Ms. Gallaher. I still remember all my teacher’s names. Ms. Gallaher was not nice. She only wanted English. She was probably… she would have been…. How do you say? She only believed in white. And if she heard you speak anything but English she would bench you. She was known. All the kids would say, “She’s coming!” We all knew who it was. She would be out walking during recess time. We would play jump ropes and if she was coming, everybody was like, “She’s coming!” And we would zip it, or speak English. Because if she hears one word other than English, she’s like, “Bench!”
HC: Which means, sit on the bench?
DL: Yeah. You cannot play. You’re benched. [Laughs.] That’s Ms. Gallaher.
HC: Why did your family enter the Vietnamese community in New Orleans as opposed to a Chinese community.
DL: There was not much out there. The person who sponsors is Vietnamese. The whole community, all immigrants were going through there. Whether you’re coming by plane, by boat, whatever. If you’re coming in to New Orleans area that area is the Vietnamese and then there’s Biloxi. So when we drive to go visit people, it would be the Biloxi area. And that’s where all the other Vietnamese. Either they live here five years and tend to move out of that area because it was more of a clutch to have help.
HC: Would you say you grew up in a traditional Vietnamese-American family? If so, in what ways?
DL: What do you mean? So in the community, it wasn’t all Vietnamese. We had one black family. Slowly as the Vietnamese were coming in, other people were moving out. They didn’t want to live near us. So it would just multiply. You can see neighborhoods with Italians, Irish, whatever. The more ethnic people move in, the others just kind of shifted out. It eventually becomes all of it. So I remember Ms. Jackson lived next door to us. We lived in like a duplex. The first house we was in was separate. When we moved here, by the way, it wasn’t like you guys have a house and you live in a house. We had a room. It was five kids with the two parents. So seven of us were in a room. Then the person that sponsored us was in another room. He was also living with another family that had kids of their own. So it was four people in that room. This house has three bedrooms and all of us were living in one house. So eventually, my dad and mom found a place where my dad started doing business. Now my dad is not one of those that is waiting to be told what to do. He is very self-motivated. You can give him a dollar and he’ll turn it into a $100. Give him $100, he’ll turn it into $1,000. He always had his own ways of doing business. So he went out and either borrowed money to do something. But he was doing shrimping. He got a boat. He was shrimping. My mom would sell it on the corner. That’s how we made our money. We would start rolling in money. We never went on government assistance because we didn’t know that even existed. So it was either survive, or go back. You know? My dad pretty much said, “We need to go make money.” And that’s what he did.
So then we moved out to a separate house later. This house was connected to another house next door. It was like a duplex. Ms. Jackson lived next door. And then kitty-corner, diagonal down, I remember another family that was white. They taught us how to play game boards; monopoly, stuff like that. This might be normal to you growing up, you’d have this with your family. But for us it’s like there was no such thing as game board. I was playing on the floor with chalks and rocks. That was our game. Kick-the-can. And golf, I used to play. You’re going to laugh, but I played golf way before golf became popular. We used to be outside and I would dig holes, we’d make mounds, take the dirt and move it around. I would make courses. We would take a stick, with a marble or a ball, we would hit it into these holes. It’s like miniature golf. We would make our own course out in our front yard. That was back in 1979-80 when we did that. I don’t know when you found out about golf! [Laughs] We would take paper, scrunch it up into a ball. I remember that. We would put it down as our ball. And we would hit it with a stick. So game board was like, “Wow!” It’s a luxury. You actually have neat papers, boards, and everything’s cut up. You move the pieces and all that. Monopoly was a huge hit for us. And we didn’t know how to read English so we used to make up our own rules. We didn’t know they had rules. So when I met my husband years later, we’re talking about 1982 [when they started playing] I met him in 1995. I was still playing that same rule. He go, “What the heck are you guys doing?!” I said, “That’s how we play Monopoly.” He goes, “I’ve never seen this. This is chaos!” We would negotiate and trade properties and do all kinds of weird stuff. He was like, “That’s not in the rules!” We were like, “Well too bad.” [Laughs] But he likes playing that way now with us. It’s a little bit more fun.
HC: Yeah, Monopoly can be dry.
DL: Not with our family! Not with the rules we were playing with! [Laughs]
HC: So when did you leave New Orleans.
DL: We stayed there five years, so I was ten when we moved to California. My dad got upset that we forgot Chinese. We only knew how to say “yes” and “no” practically. Like simple words. We couldn’t have a conversation. What I’m doing with you? Could not have been spoken in Chinese. So I was ten by that time and long story, short he [her father] had an affair with another lady. My mom figured, “Well, if he’s not going to be home I’m going to teach you Vietnamese.” Because he hates Vietnamese. So she said, “You’re going to speak Vietnamese. No more Chinese.” So he didn’t like that. He came home and said, “We’re all moving to California where the Chinese live and you’re going to learn Chinese again.” So we left overnight. Like we were leaving for the war. No bye no nothing. He comes home, we pack up, we were in a big old Lincoln car. He has a little U-Haul attached to the back. By now there’s seven of us. He said that everyone’s allowed one box -- sparkling water box … that you put the two two gallon waters in … That was the box we got, the four gallon. So everybody fit whatever they could. We left our bikes, we left everything. By that time we’d get other stuff. I still remember that we didn’t have much, because the nuns would bring over day-old donuts. That was our treat. We didn’t know what donuts were. And clothes. We never bought clothes, people would give us clothes and bikes. We didn’t really buy anything. It’s funny looking back at how I lived. I actually share these stories with my kids and I want them to know the necessity of life. People don’t realize that. You guys probably don’t think about it. And then you see the fire on the news and I’m thinking, “That’s life.” You have to value what is important. Everything is fluff. Everything is luxury. I don’t really miss anything, I don’t really care. If tomorrow you were to say, “Leave,” all this stuff [gestures around house] means nothing to me. I could leave. And actually a lot of this stuff was given to me. It was something I would pluck down hundreds of dollars to buy. Even this [the table we were seated around] was given to us. Which is kind of weird this is rosewood, very expensive stuff. But I would get them as gifts. People give them to us because of our integrity. What we do in the community: we help. That’s their way of giving us back something. Some think it is like karma or repaying. They don’t want to owe us. The stuff with my dad, when we just packed up and left, it taught me that. My kids now are Americanized, the grew up the way you guys did. But they don’t get that part when I’m talking this way. They’re like, “What do you mean? I need my doll. I need my dress. This is all important.” I’m thinking I can’t change what they think because that’s how they live. I’m kind of stuck between two worlds. I get to see this and I get to see that … the more Americanized. My mom was stuck in the old world. She couldn’t shift. Whenever something I did that she didn’t like she would say, “You’re so Americanized.” But the Americanized part of me, what is that? What does that mean? I look at it and I say that’s not Americanized. That is just me getting smarter and shifting from here to here. In her mind that’s Americanized. The questions you’re asking, I don’t know if I answered that or if I went way off [Laughs]
AJ: We can try and redirect a little bit. So you packed up and where in California did you go to?
DL: Monterey Park. That was the first town in California … now you’re getting the history of California! California had a lot of Asians in San Francisco and that area. It didn’t really have [a lot of Asians] down South. The area we moved to used to be Jewish and Italians in that area. But the Chinatown that was in LA was becoming full and people that lived there longer didn’t want to hang around the immigrant Chinese because they have different habits or culture. I mean, they are still old fashioned but it’s just not as modern. They start shifting out to other areas of LA. When they shift out of other areas, the property was cheaper than Chinatown. Chinatown in LA has a lot of history, a lot, like way back. So from San Francisco to LA, that was the next hub. Now people are shifting out and Monterey Park is ten minutes from downtown. They start calling that the “New Chinatown.” Chinese, there are different groups. There is China, then there is Hong Kong. There is Shanghai, there is Taiwanese. A lot of the Chinese ethnic groups, and the ones that were more Americanized, and the Japanese … because there’s Japantown … they shifted out towards Monterey Park because it’s only ten minutes, so close. A lot of Japanese Americans lived up on the hill. A lot of Chinese shifted in and then little shops would start popping up, but not a lot yet. My dad moved us there because it was cheaper than living in Chinatown. A lot of Chinese were there with a Chinese school. We ended up there. But then he left again and left us taking care of ourselves.
I remember at ten years old I got my first paper route to help out with the household to get money. My mom was like, “How am I going to pay for rent?” Because my dad took off. He would send home enough money for the rent, but there was nothing else. I wanted money, I don’t know why, but I think I wanted money just to spend or to do something. I was looking in the paper, so I must have gotten my genes from my dad -- I was just not one of those that sits still. I was looking in the paper and I dragged my mother from home. We walked maybe a mile or so to this bank that had the post in the newspaper. At that time, it wasn’t a bank yet, now it’s Bank of America there on the corner. My mom was like, “Where are we going?” I said, “Just follow me.” And so she followed me. When we got there, the guy interviewed me. I took it seriously because it’s a job. But that’s like newspaper routes. To me I was like, “That’s a job!” My mom signed the paper giving me permission to take the route. But she didn’t know what she signed because she doesn’t read English. So when we got back they started delivering the bundles of papers to our house. We were living in a condo at that time. I had to walk all the way up, our house was one to the end, and it is a long driveway. To the front was where they would drop of the bundles of papers and ads and all that. Every week I would go up there with a shopping cart. I had a shopping cart as my vehicle. I would park it in my carport and I would take it up, pick up all the newspapers, bring it back, go to the garage and start folding paper. Bundling it with the rubber bands. We got extra rubber bands so I made jump ropes out of it. We would play Chinese jump ropes with the rubber band. My mom found out that I was leaving the house to deliver papers. We were not allowed to the leave the house. My dad was very strict. He was like, “You got to keep an eye on those kids. You can’t have them be hurt. They can’t be hit by a car. You have to make sure they can’t be kidnapped.” Because we were in a country where they feel like strangers. We don’t really have a lot of friends, the kids. The adults they go out and meet friends. In order to contain the kids, they needed to stay in the house. My mom found out I was delivering newspapers in a shopping cart. She was like, “You can’t leave the house.” But I was like “I got to deliver these papers!” I did it for a few months and I would collect about $30 on average every month from about 30 homes. Each home would pay a dollar. It would be every week that I deliver the paper. She said, “You can’t do this.” I said, “But it’s a job. I need to do this.” And I was getting the $30. So people [who lived] behind us had boys. My friend, her name is Lily, but she had brothers. They had a bike, they would bike around. I feel bad that I can’t deliver and the papers are piling up. So I told my girlfriend Lily to ask the brother to help me deliver the paper and I would pay them. She says, “How much?” I said, “Tell you what, you guys get the newspaper, I’ll show you how to fold them, wrap them up. Then you deliver them on the bike. Then you collect the money from the homes. And these are the homes that pay” They said “Ok.” I said, “All you do is give me 10% from what you collect.” They would collect $30 and I would get 10%. Which is not much, but to me that’s still something! [Laughs] So that was at ten years old I remember doing that. Then my mom got mad at my dad again and we moved. She didn’t want him to know where we were because he wasn’t helping. We found a smaller place to live. That place was three bedroom, I’m pretty sure at that time it was too expensive for us to maintain. We moved to a small two bedroom apartment still in California. We moved probably five miles away. But it was not as nice an area as Monterey Park. It was still Monterey Park but it was on the edge of town. It was a smaller place, it had like fifty apartments in that area. It was one third the size of where we were staying. But the rent was cheaper. We moved there.
When I went to school there, I met a teacher that thought I was too mature for my age. And I didn’t want to be home because there was nothing to do at home. My mom wouldn’t let us go unless it was school so before school started I would join the choir so that I got to leave house early. During lunch time I would help serve food, because then I get all the free food I can eat. Then after school I would join a sport so I don’t have to go home so soon, because I would be bored to death at home. I would do that. Then my teacher, this one teacher that helps all the Asian kids in that school, she said, “I have a dance group I’m forming, why don’t you join the dance group and help me out?” I said, “Ok.” I did folklore dancing for the Chinese. She would take us to different schools during Chinese New Year or different times of the year and we get to miss class to do the dance. So that was a bonus. I get to do more fun stuff. She found out that I was very mature for my age. So she put me in charge of the dance group and then her dad had a donut shop slash Chinese food place in East LA. She said, “Do you want to help my dad during the summer in the restaurant?” I said -- “doing what?” She said, “Pack food to go, clean the table, package things, clean up. I said, “Ok.” She would pick me up from home, take me to her dad’s place. I would work during the summer from probably eight in the morning to six at night. Then she drives me home, because I can’t drive at twelve [years old]. Then my mom moved to another house -- she moves every two years. Because then my dad found out where we were, and she would say, “Nope, we have to move again because I don’t want your dad to know where we are at because he’s a bad guy.” So we moved again, then I picked up another job. I mean I can tell you all the jobs I did and you will be shocked. It’s not that I don’t know how to hold down my job, it is that whenever there was work to be done, there’s money. With the restaurant, besides the newspaper that was the only money I kept. Everything else I worked for went all to my mom to pay for the rent. So I grew up very fast and very responsible. So that’s why I have a different personality than most people on how to budget. And I never thought about money because I never thought I needed to worry about money because I always had a job. So any job there was to be done, my Mom always said, “Diana go do it.” I cleaned people’s house -- $5 an hour on the weekends. I did farmer’s markets … we were the first city in the whole US to do farmer’s markets. That was back in 1982 I think. I did it when I was either twelve or fourteen. I have to count back the years, but that’s young.
HC: When did you come to Oregon?
HC: Why did you leave California to come here?
DL: I had that experience in that neighborhood for a long time -- over twenty years. Then my husband, we had three kids, I was pregnant with the fourth. I was supposed to run for office in Hamber. Because I became an activist without knowing. I was questioning the government. I was questioning why they were doing things that didn’t make sense. They want you to pull permit, they gave out 400 low flush toilets -- this was way back when low flush was just starting. And I was the only one in the whole city area that went to get the permit. Can you imagine? And then they gave me a hard time for pulling that permit. And I was like, “Why do you even bother? Why do you put [make] a rule that doesn’t make sense, and then give the resident a hard time?” I said, “I have kids.” I would never tell my kids, “Don’t do drugs. By the way if you do drugs, hide it from me. And I’ll pretend to look the other way. But by the way you’re not supposed to use drugs.” So you want me to pull permit, I come to you, you tell me I need to upgrade my electrical and all this other stuff. I don’t have the money, or you’re not going to improve my permit. Then why do I come to you to get the permit?
So the lady, it started with City Hall. She said, “Well the city council makes the rules.” I said, “Well who’s in my city council? I don’t know who’s in city council.” I didn’t know how to vote. I didn’t know anything about politics. Then I started asking my husband, and he was like, “You need to vote, you need to do this, you need to do that.” So he knew how to vote. So, now I know looking back, most immigrants who become citizens, they don’t vote. They don’t know how to vote. If somebody tells them vote some way, they might do it because they were told. But they wouldn’t know. This was me. I was educated and I didn’t know how to vote. So let alone someone who was new to the whole system. By the time I learned all this, another lady saw me with my third daughter. I was holding her, I’m still questioning stuff. Of all people, she was a black a woman, and she’s telling me I needed to stay home with my kids because that’s what a woman does. I’m like, “Are you serious?” That got me, pardon my language, ticked off. I was like, “I’m ready, and where do I sign up?” I ran in August I signed up, the election was in November. I had like two months. I asked all my friends and family to donate. We got $5,000. We almost kicked butt. We almost won. Somebody who was planning all this like ten years, in the Democratic Club, in the Republican Club, you know. These two guys run and I here come in. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. And I almost won the whole election. So they got mad at me because the guy that was supposed to win, with the good old boys next door, I messed him up because I was in the party he was. Because some people vote by party and I didn’t know that. So I split his vote. But I almost won the Democratic one because my vote almost beat him too. So somebody’s like, “Who is she? We want to know more.” So then they started educated me: “Don’t run unless we tell you.” I was like, “Why?” I wouldn’t listen. They said, “Because you messed up our election.” So the guy they didn’t think would win ended up winning insteady of the guy they thought would win because I split the vote. I’m like, “What are you supposed to pick?”
I got more educated again. When I was more educated, we cleaned house. We took all the bad guys out, in the community. And they said, “Diana, run.” Because if I almost won then with two months of no experience -- this was just me walking house to house asking. They said, “We’re going to back you up. We want you in there.” But then, I was volunteering for a non-profit group. She said, “If you ever want to visit Portland” -- She’s an assistant principal of Park Rose -- and she said, “If you ever want to visit Portland, it’s a great city for families, because you have kids.” And she gave me her card. And I was volunteering again just everywhere. Learning about the whole system of American politics. The Democratic System, or whatever you call it. We were about to run. So I came up here with my husband to visit in May. May 17, 2004. And I was supposed to run in November, 2004. So from 2001 to 2004 I learned all this stuff. When I came up here I was like, “Wow, this is so nice. It is peaceful.” Literally, the high school where we were, the toilet was so bad. It was nasty. Worse than prison. We were trying to find bond money to fix that. And here they were spending it on stupid things. “Beautification” of the street. I was like, “Is that more important than our kids and the toilet?!” I couldn’t decide, that was the other thing. I couldn’t decide whether to run for city council or school board. Because both sides said “We need you.” But I can only run for one seat. I was torn. The city stuff was bigger stuff because I’m living it. I have kids, I had kid problems too. So I couldn’t decide. I thought if I get away I’ll have my brain a little bit clearer, I’ll know what I really want. So I when I came up here, I found everything that was so perfect nice and people were polite and people pushed the cart back. There was no rat race. And I was pregnant with my fourth child. My husband said, “What are we doing honey? If we run for office, literally, we’re going to be dedicating all our time to everybody. How about our kids?” And our kids were very patient. We took them to city council meetings, they would sit quietly for three hours. I mean how many kids would do that? Our kids did. And they were asking wonderful questions like, “Why is the city being so wasteful with our tax money? What are they doing with our tax money?” They were little kids asking these questions. They went everywhere with us when I was campaigning. I had them in my wagon with me. It was always together. My husband’s like, “If we run for office we weren’t going to have this time.” But we didn’t know anybody in Oregon except that one gal that we visited. So she invited us to her house. We booked hotels, she was like, “Cancel your hotels! You’re staying with us. You’re visiting, we’re hosting you.” This is what I grew up remembering. She didn’t even lock her door. When we got up, there was a little sticky note that said, “Please put the alarm on when you leave.” Who invites a stranger -- we don’t know her right? -- into your home. Leaves me and my husband in the house, and says, “Lock it when you leave?” This would be refreshing. Where we were living in LA there was crime everyday. There was killing everyday. There was all this theft. We were like, “How are we going to teach our kids about the good of humanity if that’s all they’re going to see.” Even if we’re fighting it you see the bad all the time. In May I went back, returned everybody’s money they already donated for my campaign. June, we flew back up here. I sold my house in a day. I told the lady, I can’t leave yet. She said that’s fine, get paperwork. We came up here on the weekend and bought a house. Then my husband sold his business in July, in a month. August we moved up here. That was it. That’s how fast we moved.
HC: When you moved here did you enter the Vietnamese community?
DL: No, we moved here and we were in Happy Valley. We didn’t know where to go when we first came up here. We took the Max. We went all the way to Beaverton and we asked people, “Where do you live?” Everybody kept saying Clackamas. And it was the strangest name. I remember. Clackamas, it sounds like a duck. All these people were saying Clackamas. And so, we were like, “Where’s Clackamas.” We found it. It was Happy Valley. Then my friend who I visited, she lived in Happy Valley. And her brother was a real estate broker. So he ended up helping us find a house in Happy Valley right near her. That’s all we knew. So we ended up living there. And that’s how we ended up in this area. But not because it’s a Vietnamese community.
HC: When did you get involved with the Vietnamese community when you were here?
DL: I moved up here. Then my husband got a job in LA. But way far away from LA. We moved back to -- I say LA because that’s like easy for you -- but Malibu area. We moved to Malibu area where his job went down. That’s when the economy hit. We were the first ones to know about that because they pulled millions of loans that he had to repay back, the company. It was a trickle, we were the first ones to get that hit. When we got that, we had to move back. 2006, we moved down there in November, November 2nd. 2007 we had to move back here in July. So we moved over here on this side of town because we had already sold our house in Happy Valley to move down to Malibu. When we moved back up here, my sister had bought a house that was over here. So we moved over there to be in her house. The tenant of that house decided to move at the same time that we were moving up. We thought what best way then for me to pay the mortgage to my sister so she doesn’t have to worry. So we lived there and then all the kids went to school over here. In this area there is a lot of Vietnamese people. I didn’t know that. So when I went to school here with the kids I noticed that they were there. So I signed up to be a TA in the school, as a translator. To help the kids. When I did that then my husband said the house was getting him claustrophobic. He likes space. It was a tiny little house. We ended up finding a house where he was working in Tualatin. So everyday from here he would drive to Tualatin. So we moved back over to Tualatin. In one year we moved five times. We moved into Tualatin. He was three miles from work then. And the kids all have to shift down there. My youngest who was at that time three years old, didn’t matter. But when she hit kindergarten there was a school over here that teaches Mandarin immersion. I have four kids, none of them speak Chinese. I’m thinking, “Come on! One more, last one, let’s have her speak Chinese.” She ended up getting accepted in a lottery at the school over here. So I drove her to school here for about two, three years and I was getting tired. We had to get up early. Can you imagine kindergarten being on time everyday? It was hard on her. So we felt bad for her. At that time, my husband said, “We’ll move back to this side of town so you don’t have to drive so much.” And then he’ll drive to work back to Tualatin. That’s how we ended up here.
HC: You now participate in the Vietnamese community. You seem to know a lot of people.
DL: Yes, because I was translating for the school and I got to know more families and more things. And my other friend was doing community services and she said, “Diana you know a lot of people so why don’t you help me with the community?”
HC: When you talk about potentially running for office in the future, are there any political issues that matter to the Vietnamese community particularly that you’re aware of?
DL: I think it’s not just Vietnamese. All people that are not being heard or understood. I do believe that it’s good to have English as a common thread to understand. As much as I didn’t like Ms. Gallagher, I actually appreciate what she did. Miscommunication is so easy to not like each other. And if we have a common thread to understand each other better, we should try that. America has so many resources that are free. It’s not like you have to pay. I can’t get my kids to go to Chinese school for free. I can send my kids anywhere to learn English for free. You have Goodwill. You have all these ESL programs. You’ve got libraries. If the people who come to America, I don’t want to sound racist -- some people might say I’m racist now against my own ethnicity. They’ll say, “You don’t like immigrants.” I say, “I’m an immigrant.” They say, “No way. The way you’re talking you don’t like immigrants.” But it’s not that. Just because I am an immigrant doesn’t mean I’ll protect immigrants blindly. I need to look at the whole picture. Are we here to survive, coexist with each other? Or are we here to say we’re better than the other? And if we think that way than we’re not going to be better than the other because we’re all going to kill each other. If communication is so important, then why do we make it so difficult? Why do we allow so many languages to have so many translations? That costs money. If people can learn the language without costing society money, I’d rather use that money and put it into the roads, put it into the school.
That’s why I was running in office to have the efficiency of our tax money. If you’re trying to efficient, but you’re allowing somebody to get away with not being efficient, then how efficient are you? The city with permit, it’s the same thing as us saying, “We want everybody to help each other, but by the way we’re going to make you handicapped.” So if you don’t have to learn English because I’m always providing you translator, you don’t have to speak English, then why should you learn? Why do you need to learn that? I agree in hospital, emergency, certain things you need to have a translator. But to have a translator at all times, at whatever times? Some people now think they are entitled to a translator. “I’m entitled, you need to give me a translator.” But then, when do we draw the line? When do we draw a line of 300 languages? Some people will say, “You had it for that language, how come you don’t have it for my dialect?” That’s the part where it could be politically incorrect how I say that. But again, I’m thinking as a whole. Where do you draw the line of we need to be efficient?
HC: So you participate in the schools, providing translation for some of the children. Do you participate in the Vietnamese community in any other capacities?
DL: Yes. I help them understand other things that American culture is doing. Because sometimes they don’t understand. Besides the school, it sounds simply, even just testing in Vietnam. You have to pay for schooling, you have to pay for books. Here you don’t. Different culture. Then when you want to test a child you have to ask permission. In Vietnam, it’s like “Oh my God, you mean you’re going to test them for free? You kidding me?” Here it’s like we have to ask permission, “may we test you?” And they’re like, “Why do you need to ask me? Go, go!” And so they don’t get that. But we have laws, school laws. We need to ask permission with vaccination and all that. They don’t get it. “You kidding me? If you’re going to vaccinate my kid, vaccinate them. Why do you need to ask me?” So that kind of stuff, and then in their communities, same thing with the rules like permits. They don’t know you need to go get permits. When I said, “You need to go get a permit,” they would say, “I do?” Things are very different. I try to educate them. I say, “Pass the word. Pass the word out.”
HC: Do you notice that the Vietnamese community in Portland is any different than the Vietnamese community you lived with in California or in New Orleans, if you can compare New Orleans.
DL: I think that here it is more advanced. They know a little bit more. They are more Americanized here, the Vietnamese. And then the ones that are not… The Vietnamese in New Orleans I think are much more naive and sweeter. Pardon that. But they seem to be more honest. The ones here seem to be more like the city type. They are more advanced.
HC: What do you mean by more advanced?
DL: They are quick to know what is out there for them and they’re quicker to use the service and all that. There is more information out there. Where in New Orleans we didn’t get all the service and information. I didn’t know there was WIC, all this stuff. But now, here and in California, there are more services so there is more networking. In New Orleans it was like you just self-survived. You help each other but there wasn’t all this information where they help get you the help. So there is good and bad. But the bad is that people take advantage of the system and that’s what I don’t like. I translate for one of the families in the school. The teacher said, “If you need food, come in and fill up the pantry with what you need to eat and take home.” I had to tell her, “Do you mind if I translate a little bit different?” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I have to tell them, “Only take what they eat.” It’s like they take home a whole box. Like they’ll take everything and then give it to all their relatives, you know? The school meant that it was for you. That’s the kind of difference. That’s all.
HC: How do you know the Buddhist clergy that we are going to meet with next week?
DL: I was helping them. I don’t go to the temple. I’m Buddhist but I don’t go to temple because I don’t know the right ritual ways. I know you’re supposed to light incense. Because you go in, like a Catholic church, you go in there is protocol. I don’t know the protocol. I don’t want to offend anybody. All I know is you are supposed to take off your shoes at the door. You are supposed to bow your head and you know, be nice. Other than that I don’t know much. My mom goes to temple a lot but she didn’t teach me. I was looking for people to help …
[Interview interrupted by a phone call that Diana answers.]
DL: That’s another person I’m helping. But she speaks Chinese. Her English is not that great, it sounds ok, but she can’t understand everything. So I’m helping her with another problem. The monks, I’m helping them with another problem. They hired a lawyer for a year and the lawyer couldn’t clear it. So they met me by accident. I went into the temple asking if she had Vietnamese people. I said, “do you have Vietnamese people I can interview because I have to do some survey?” She said, “Sure.” She helped me get some people together. And then as we talked a little bit more she said, “Diana, I need to ask you something, if this is true.” She found out I am a real estate broker and she asked me about some kind of real estate stuff. And I said, “That doesn’t sound right. Something is not right. Either your story is not right, or the information you’re getting is not right.” So as I dig in deeper she had hired a lawyer to help with this problem and the lawyer hasn’t finished the problem and it’s been over a year. So they’re getting antsy, they’re worried. The monk was just nervous about the whole thing, why it’s taking so long. Then I made a phone call. Got rid of all the problem, and said done. We don’t need it.
HC: Oh great.
DL: Yeah. He’s like, “How can it be done? The lawyer is not done.” So I called the lawyer, lawyer said, “It’s not done.” I said, “It’s done now. I already put it back where it should be.” The lawyer said, “How did you do that?” I said, “I can’t tell you but you can pay me if you want.” [Laughs] The lawyer said, “I’m almost done here, I might as well have them sign it just so they can’t go back and later do it again.” I said, “That’s fine if you want to do that.” So the lawyer ended up doing whatever he needed to do -- which I already did. He had them sign. So they were just grateful. She’s been offering me food. It’s more of a Buddhist thinking. They don’t want to owe me. I’ve been taking their food to eat so they don’t owe me. They believe you do good deeds, if you don’t pay them back in the next life you will somehow bump into them again and you will owe them. I don’t need them to owe me. But if it makes them feel better. I just feel bad because I’m not used to people giving me stuff. But it makes them feel good, so I’m ok. That’s how we do it. She’s been very kind. I was like, “No don’t give me any.” But she was said, “I don’t want to waste it.” And I don’t like to waste things either. That’s how we do it.
HC: Final question. Is there anything else you think we should know about the Vietnamese community in Portland? Particularly its structures or its political concerns?
DL: There are political groups. I have to admit. But they are also Catholic and they are very big on political. The thing with Vietnamese or Chinese I’ve learned is that they are not [the] loud protesting type, but they are very political deep down. They are just more subdued. I wish that it would integrate in with the American instead of putting “us” against “them.” Unless they need “them” then they try. But at that time I think it’s not as good. I’m not born here but I talk like I’m born here. To most people that’s what they think by the way I’m talking. Again, I’m trying to think unbiasedly. If you want somebody to help, you don’t wait until the last minute, knock on the door and say, “Help me.” You want to understand them. I translate, my husband is white. And it saddens me to hear them criticize like how dumb we are as they say, the Americans, for being so honest with their tax. Why we’re so stupid, they literally say we’re stupid. Here I’m translating for them to help them with their problem and they will say, “The Americans are so stupid. They’re honest, they’re paying.” But I’m looking at this and I say, “How can you say that? You’re living in a country that you are taking from. You have a nicer world than Vietnam.” I mean when I was over there, driving [motions that the roads are bumpy] it’s not smooth. Roads have traffic, chaos and all that. You don’t like where you go. But then you come here and you say we’re dumb for providing all this. So that kind of stuff you won’t hear from them. They will never tell you. But only because I’m translating, I’m helping, doing stuff. They’re thinking I’m one of them. But in a way I am, but I’m not to a point where I would betray. I don’t think that’s right. I have a couple friends, really rare, that I see them thinking like me. They’re like, “Hey! Stop talking that way. If it wasn’t for the tax money, where would you get the free school? Where would you get the roads? So pay up your tax and stop lying!” They would say, “Well that’s why they’re stupid. They’re paying. I don’t have to pay.” That’s how they get ahead. And then they get all this government help. So I’m not against help. I’m not against welfare. I’m not against all this stuff. I’m just against people who are lying. If you don’t need it, don’t take it! The funny thing is, when I was working in the supermarket -- that’s kind of why I hesitated earlier when I said what I did for a job -- and I talked about this to our politicians too -- because we’re trying to make laws and all this. If you go to Salem, ask those people how many jobs, what kind of jobs do they have? Do they honestly work with the working people? Do they honestly know what it’s like to be honest and survive? The laws that they passed, the people were … [pauses] … I went into a WIC office, I’ll give you an example. I was working at supermarket checking out people. They would yell at you, throw money at you, and they would have jewelry all over, they will drive a mercedes. But they’ll come in with WIC, and you’re like, “How does that happen?”
HC: What is WIC?
DL: WIC is when you have children under five and you get milk, cheese, apple juice. It’s wonderful to feed these kids. The problem is, these parents are selling them or giving them away. They’re not giving them to the kids. If they don’t know how to manage their money and they’re on these government assistant programs, what makes you think by handing them another two more thousand that they all of sudden know how to take care of their family. I’ve seen people use food stamps to buy stuff to sell in their store. They own a store, they own things, right? And they’re using our tax money. When you see all this stuff, you wonder like, how are we helping each other? The WIC one is the most amazing because I wanted to understand how these people yell at me. They wanted Sunny Delight. Do you know what Sunny D is? Sunny Delight is a washed down, water, artificial flavored drink. It has no juice in it. They’re getting Minute Maid, 100%. Any 100% juice for free. Those are usually in the $3-$4 range. They get a budget. They don’t want these, they want the Sunny D. We say, “I’m sorry, it’s not on the check.” “Well why can’t you give it to me? Just pretend you don’t see it.” We say, “You can’t because if we give it to you it’s federal money, I can get fired.” So they yell at us. And I’m going to the WIC office like, “what do you guys teach these people?” I’m trying to understand, and I’m doing more than what normal people do on their job. I went to a WIC office and I said, “Can you show me how you qualify someone?” And she thought I was trying to get qualified. I said, “No, no, no. I work at a store. I get people yelling at me. I’m trying to understand why they’re yelling at me. Like are they not getting the information that they’re supposed to get?” She said, “Oh you just want to know how the system works?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Do you want to be on WIC.” I said, “No.” She said, “Do you have kids?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Well why don’t you want to get free food?” I said, “Of course I want free food, but I don’t qualify.” She said, “Why?” I said, “My husband makes money.” She says, “We can leave his income out.” Do you see? This is coming from the government worker. Because this is what happens: they don’t get enough people signed up, they don’t have enough cases, they don’t get a job. So they’re worried about their job. So what they do, they go out and recruit people to sign up falsely. They teach people how to live off assistance. That’s what makes me mad. I go in this thing, and i’m watching this people watch the video and they’re falling asleep. I’m like no wonder they have no clue. 100% juice is healthy. Why would you want Sunny D? They didn’t know that because culture and language barrier, right? If the kids drink Sunny D and they’re happy all this time. Now they get something free for good, they don’t know the difference in nutrition values and they’re not being educated on that because they’re falling asleep when they put the videos on. Another guy comes in with food stamps, and he goes, “What can I buy for $360?” At Safeway over in Sunnyside. I go, “Why do you ask me $360?” He said, “Because if I don’t use the $360 by tonight, they won’t give me more money by tomorrow.” So somebody said, “go get lobster.” He bought $360 worth of lobster on food stamps. Now, this is just some of what I’m telling you. Imagine all day long, this is all we see coming through. For thirteen years I was doing that. I only saw one person that I saw that actually contemplated what they should buy. One. This is not just in the Vietnamese community. I saw it in the Chinese community, Armenian, Hispanic. Everyone that I check out. One even had a cart full of free food. All on WIC. Hundreds of dollars. She’s giving them out to her friends who are shopping with her. You want milk? Get it. She had four gallons, she couldn’t drink all four gallons. Because she qualified. Any kids under five. You have three kids under five, each one gets their own set. You can get two carts full of food for free.
Again, when you help the community you see more stuff. Do you really want to know? [Laughs] Do our politicians who are writing the laws know about this stuff? Do you honestly think they go shopping with these people or hear all the stuff I’m hearing?
HC: Ok, I think we have to end the interview. But thank you for speaking with us. This was great, we got a lot of information. Azen will work on transcribing it.