[Interview takes place inside Rose VL Deli, which is closed but still busy with family commotion. People are cooking and eating in the kitchen. Some walk around the dining area cleaning tables. One of William’s sons takes photos throughout the interview.]
E.J. Carter: This is E.J. Carter, Hannah Crummé, Azen Jaffe, and Jordan St Peter and we’re here with William or Hanh Vuong. We’re at the Rose VL Deli. It is August 4th, 2018. Thanks first of all for being with us today.
Hannah Crummé: And for the soup!
William Vuong: Thank you very much for coming. I’m very glad you came here. It is my very great opportunity to talk to all of you here today.
HC: Thank you.
EC: Could you start by telling us about your childhood in Vietnam? What part of Vietnam was your family originally from?
WV: I was from South Vietnam. But I was born in Phu Yen Province, central Vietnam. But most of the time I was in Saigon and Nhatrang, Khanh Hoa Province, SVH.
EC: How old were you when you moved to Saigon?
WV: I moved to Saigon in 1953.
EC: And you said earlier your father was a doctor. Is that right?
WV: Right, my father was a doctor. He studied and graduated in France for ten years. He worked with the French government for ten more years. That made twenty years in Paris. He tried to come back to Vietnam to get married to my mom. My mom, his wife.
EC: Did you ever live in Paris?
WV: We just visited over there only.
EC: Could you describe your early education in Vietnam?
WV: Early education in Vietnam? I was a former professor of English in many universities in Saigon. Linguistics center in Saigon after that. I was released from prison, from North Vietnam, many universities in Saigon invited me to be an English teacher in their university.
EC: When did you first start to study English?
WV: I learned French in the beginning. English was my second language in sixth grade.
EC: Did you continue on and study English in a university?
WV: Right. I did. I got the Bachelors of Linguistics in Saigon University, 1973, 1974.
EC: So that was after you had already spent time in the military?
WV: During that time I was a teacher too. But I continued to get my degree, a master’s degree of education.
EC: How did you first get involved with the American Special Forces?
WV: 1962. You had no choice because the South Vietnamese situation was in a crisis. They needed more soldiers. So if I were drafted to military, I’d have no choice. I had to join some kind of the military branch. So I [joined] the Special Forces in 1962 as an interpreter translator. But I was assisting the commander.
EC: Presumably that was because of your strong knowledge of English that you were recruited for that work?
WV: Right, because not many people speak good English so they recruited me right away.
EC: Were you involved in intelligence operations during the war?
WV: Intelligence? Long, long story. I worked from 1962 to 1964 and was supported by the US Embassy in Saigon. They selected me to become their employee. After that they moved me to the 22nd Infantry Division. I was the office manager for the 22nd Infantry Division. After that they moved me to the sector of Kon Tum province, to become the office manager too. Everyday I had to translate all kinds of manuals. From many kinds of weapons, for support in the field outside. I had one typist. [Spec. 5 Jerry Becket now living in Virginia states.] He was very good at typing, he could type 120 words per minute. He would sit down, I would translate, he typed. We made copies. Huge. All kinds of manuals. I translated almost fifteen hours everyday!
EC: Wow. After the war you were sent to a prison camp? Could you describe your experience there?
WV: That is a good question and meaningful. After 1975, I was persecuted by the communist officers. They said, “You are supposed to go to a reeducation camp for ten days.” When I reported at the Gia Long High School in Saigon, they said to me, “Ten days only.” For ten days, not ten years! That is the way they talked. But many people are very innocent. They just follow the orders and come to the camp. And after that, one year in South Vietnam in Saigon in Bien Hoa province. After about six months, one officer, his name is Bink , [police captain], he escaped from the camp. After that, they made fences surrounding the camp. The first one, second one, third, fourth, five, and the seventh. Surrounding. To stop people escaping from the camp.
After that, in June 1975. They sent us to their reeducation camp in the Long Giao, Bien Hoa province. We stayed there for one year. After Bink escaping, in midnight they said, “Ok! Everyone get up go forth to field operations.” Sixty prisoners were put on a Russian truck. Sixty. They keep moving and keep driving. The communist driver kept driving for twelve hours. Covered around the truck, nobody could see outside. About sixty people on the truck. They were running, running about twelve hours. We didn’t know where or about what was going on. At midnight, they arrived at New Port in Saigon. From the so-called “reeducation camp.” How can they re-educate me? I am a professor of English.
Everybody was very surprised. But from the camp to the new port, only thirty minutes. But they spent twelve hours driving around, driving around. We didn’t know. We couldn’t see anything because all the canvas covered our sight. Everybody got on the [Song Huong Fright]. [The] occupation [was] about two thousand prisoners in that freight. We kept going and we didn’t know what was going on. [ … ] About sixty people. We could not even move. Just shoulder by shoulder in the bottom of the [cabin]. We had a big hole here [motions up.] When our people need to go to the toilet, they pulled the can. They fed us twice a day, the same way. From big hole down to the bottom. Rationed. They gave us dry food of [9.52] China. After six nights and seven days we arrived in the center of Vietnam. Close from the north, at the pier. [Thanh Hoa] [ … ]
They used a ladder through the hole, to the bottom. Every prison was supposed to climb up. I could not climb. I got very tired, seasick after seven days. I tried to climb on the ladder and I fell down. They pulled me up to get out. As soon as I got out I saw about thousands of [armed policemen]. They were spaced by about two meters. Every two meters one police officer to welcome us. And they used big loud speakers, “You’ve come to the country of the communists. You should remember your reeducation so that you can be reunified with your family.” That’s the way they talked. After that, we kept moving on the train. Because we had the rail over there. Four of us handcuffed would get on the train, in the wagon. I think that wagon was made in 1789, same as the Revolution of Napoleon. No window, no anything. Just a bench only. And open everything. After four people got on the bench, they used a big iron lock through the legs. Four people and they lock our legs. When everybody was on the train they started moving. But the train shaked. The hands handcuffed, the legs locked. Made me very painful.
We kept going to the [Haiphong] Province. The Russian truck was waiting for us. Most of us, we don’t know where we are supposed to go. We kept moving to the north of Hanoi. To the [Hong Lien Son] Province. I was put in prison right there in [Vinh Phuc] Province. Most of the [prisoners] got very sick. Weak after one year starving from the feeding in the so-called reeducation camp. And how can they re-educate me and other [mixed officers from many branches]?
After that, most of us went to Vinh Phuc and dropped every prisoner over there in the prison where they put American prisoners. I didn’t know, but I went to the barrack and the big hole for the toilet to urinate was too high. I knew that was for Americans. Vietnamese are too short to use that kind of pipe to urinate. So I crossed over, I saw one American prisoner over there. I looked at everybody sneakily. I rushed to him. I said, “What are you doing here?” His name is [Smith, about thirty years old]. He said, “I’m here to work. To show the movie for the prisoner.” He was a prisoner. He said, how long have you been here, I said, “Oh many years.” He just said like that, ok. I was afraid the police would look at me, follow up on me, so I went back to my location.
At noon time, they tried to feed the prisoners in the big yard. But they feed us corn. Ground corn, yellow corn. The kind of yellow corn that we feed horses in South Vietnam, and that we feed pigs only. No people are supposed to eat that kind of food. We were very hungry. They put food in a big pan, cooking corn, yellow. My friend said, ok maybe today we eat [mung bean sticky rice]. Every prisoner could not eat this, they threw it away. Couldn't eat it. Smelled rotten. Very old. I don’t know where they got it. They come up to eat it, it smelled very bad all over. Used a big pan to [put] the corn. [We would not eat it.] We threw it in a corner under a tree. The communists came out and yelled at us. “Why would you do that kind of thing? This is food for people! If you don’t eat, you cannot eat, you let us know!” But they cursed us. You are the betrayer, you are not good, you are the lackey of Americans, all kinds of bad words they gave to us.
After that we moved to the camp. Each barrack held about one hundred people. No toilet. The toilet was far away from the camp. About one kilometer. Each time that you need to use the toilet you had to go far away. We stayed there. We didn’t know what was going on.
The next day we were supposed to build our own barracks by chopping the high bamboo. We cut it down and laid it down to make the barracks, to make walls, to make beds for the barracks. We had very hard labor work. Chop the trees for wood in remote areas and come down to give to the communists. We sawed, cut down big trees did that kind of work and planted all kinds of manioc. You know the white one? Cassava, or manioc. Each prisoner was supposed to dig 85 holes. Four centimeters squared and one yard deep, 85. How can we do it? It’s impossible. 85 holes for one day. Most prisoners gave up. But we were pushed by the communists, “You have to do it!” Also [we] would have to plant some kind of veggies. Cabbage, corn, manioc. But after harvest, you cannot eat from what you planted. [For] the harvest, they used a military force to come to the camp to harvest. Before that night, at midnight, “Ok go to the field operation. You can have a new life. Good location. They have electricity.” (Our camp had no electricity. They used a kerosine lamp. One barrack, hundred people. If you want the toilet, you are supposed to go away about two kilometers) Stayed there, three months. The military came to harvest what we planted and that night, [we] moved to another location.
The way we talked, it [seemed to be] a very good facility for us. But when we came, it was just bare fields in a remote area of North Vietnam. The [Hoang Lien Son] province far away from Hanoi, about 273 kilometers away from Hanoi. But after three months we kept moving.
And what did we eat? Two pieces of manioc , four pieces of [sea salt]. No medication. The most they gave us was medication they made in China for a cold. To treat a cold only. All kind of sickness and disease, they just gave us two pills. Many people could not survive -- malaria, dysentery. People were starving and boney. But I can control my mind. I could not eat the bad thing. You know the rat? They catch the rat, cut it up to eat. They go through the stream, fish under your feet. They pick it up and put it in their mouth -- eat raw that way to survive.
EC: After you were released from the prison, your sons started to leave for the United States starting in 1986. But it wasn’t until 1993 that you were able to leave. What accounted for the delay between those times?
WV: Stayed in North Vietnam for another year. One day, they gave us a release certificate one morning. Right in the afternoon they took it back. Just it like that. Have you seen the movie Hancock? Everything was very surprising. We don’t know what was going on. They told us, because the government didn’t have enough money to buy the ticket for you, you are supposed to stay and wait. I’m thinking, “What kind of law is that?” We waited for three months. We don’t know what, maybe they were going to kill us someplace else. We don’t know what’s going on. Because most of the officers moved back to South Vietnam, but only 148 prisoners stayed back. Me counted. We don’t know what was going on. After that they said, “Ok, move.” Midnight operation. When they needed something, they did it at midnight only. Put us on a truck again. 148, about three trucks to Hanoi. They dropped us at [Hilton], where [they put American prisoners right in Hanoi]. We don’t know. Everybody was very surprised. We held release certificate but now they put us back in the prison. In a cell. Facilities were very bad. Only one toilet for sixty people.
The next day, about seven p.m., they role call. They said, “Ok, we go to [Hang Co Train] and you will be released.” We got to the [wagon], about 8:00 o'clock they put us on the train. Everybody sit down on the train. After that they gave us release certificate. “Go back to the South.” Go back to the South? Only 148 left in Hanoi. My camp had 1600 prisoners. How many camps? One hundred camps?
In the release camp they said, “Now you are supposed to go back to Kon Tum Province.” I said, “Why? I was in Saigon. I reported for reeducation camp as a prisoner in Saigon. So I’m supposed to go back to Saigon. My family and my mom is over there.” They said, “No. If you want, you stay back and wait for another release certificate.” Can you do it? Nobody is strong enough to stay back in that kind of situation. No way. No choice. You have to accept it. That means you are supposed to go far away from Saigon to Kon Tum, a highland province. I said, “Ok.” I reported to the police station where I reported in 1976. When I came to the police station I said, “Ok I’ve come here.” [Their response:] “Why have you come here to see me? You’re supposed to go to Kon Tum province. That’s where you are supposed to be.” I said, “No. I came, there is something wrong about paperwork. So I reported. You have to accept my report, sign here for me please!” I reported on time. But the police officer, very young in comparison with me. They could not. And he signed! That means I made a trick with him, so I stayed in Saigon. I did not want to go to Kon Tum. So I did that kind of paperwork to stay in Saigon. But they tried to push out. That’s the way I got back. I need your question. Another question from you.
EC: I want to make sure we have time to talk about your experiences in Portland. Maybe we can skip ahead a little bit. Can you describe when you arrived here in 1993, could you describe your first impressions of Portland?
WV: The reason I had been here since November 22, 1993 was because of one of my students in university in Saigon. His family reunited in Oregon and he wrote me a letter. He said, “Teacher Hanh I want to sponsor your son.” I was so happy. I had just gotten out of the prison, I didn’t know anything. My eyes were almost blind. In all kinds of situations, no how, no confrontation. The communists confiscated everything in 1975. Because that time my second boy, over there in the restaurant [Ha VL] he is the owner right now, he was the first son who fled the country by boat. After three days at sea he said he arrived in Malaysia. He stayed there for one month and after that he was supposed to move to the Philippines. But at the refugee camp, in order to resettle, the people had to learn about how to survive in the United States and all the people were supposed to stay there for six months. After six months, I sent all my paperwork through Bangkok. After that he was with my student. After that, my first son, after the first succeeded fleeing the country by boat, I sent him out. But he was that one that made me so worried. After three month I didn’t see any information from him. The first one [took] only three days. But it took me three months. I don’t know, maybe he was killed by pirates maybe lost in the ocean or something big had eaten him.
Every morning before going to the university [for] teaching I went to see the fortune teller. Every famous fortune teller in Saigon, I went to see them. To check if he was still alive or not. Most of them said, “No your son is ok. He will be in the United States in the near future, no problem.” After three months his first letter was sent to me. Said he was in [Kuku] camp [in Indonesia], isolated. But after that, always afraid. The people raised a white flag, “SOS” and they came to rescue, and moved to the Philippines in . The reason why I sent my children to flee, to seek for freedom, because of no choice. My ranking, I worked together with the CIA, my children could not continue their education in high school or university. So I had to send them out. He met his brother in the Philippines and he stayed there for six more months. [for resettlement in the U.S.A.]
Many families who fled our country by boat were killed by pirates. Many things happened to them, but I was so lucky because teaching English is a way to have a good opportunity for me. Because I asked the Chinese to look for a good boat to send them out. The owner of the boat said, “You are supposed to find six people so that your sons can go free.” But during that time [it was] a very good opportunity for me to ask student’s parents. They want to help right away. I continued for the third and the fourth boy. Busy with teaching in many universities in Saigon, I forgot the day that they closed the camp in Southeast Asia: March 14, 1989. All the refugee camps don’t accept any refugees anymore. So the third and fourth boy were stuck in that camp in Malaysia, [for] four years three months. One of my counterparts in the US embassy in Saigon -- he worked in Bangkok, he worked with the International Organization for Migration, IOM. You know about that?
HC: A little bit.
WV: A little bit? He looked like the king in Southeast Asia. Of American size. He knew that [I] was very famous in Saigon universities about teaching English. He flew from Bangkok, sneaky, to come to see me. I said, “Now we need one guy, looks like you, to open a big center for the Canadian government, same as the Philippines, a resettlement center.” But they learned, daytime only, not nighttime like Philippines. I said, “How? You see, I am in a crisis situation. If they know they will put me back in the prison right away.” And then [I] said, “No. I need some kind of paper. You and me are very good friends, but I don’t trust the communists. Ten days and they put me in prison for ten years already. How can I trust them?” After one week, I had an official document from Hanoi handed to me. It said, “Ok, you can recruit your staff and find a location to rent.” But I know why working like that, he sent a couple of the Canadian foreign government to work together with me. We hide the location at the French Linguistics Institution [at 29 Le Thanh Ton, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)]. I had half the building, enough for four hundred students at that time. Students who are qualified and who need to receive passports to go to Canada. Each course like that was about four months of training. I took all kinds of curriculum, created everything by myself and with the Canadian [staffers who were working with me].
They paid me $1200 every month which was, during that time, that was very high. But the communists, they changed it to $800 only. They said, “You’re supposed to pay $400 taxes for the government.” The communists?! I don’t know what happened. But no, no way. I said, “You can confiscate from me as many as you want. I don’t care.” Because I had communications with the US Embassy in Saigon and the US Embassy in Bangkok already. I didn’t care.
One day, I was at home. They sent the chief with seven police officers. Came to my house, knock the door. “Where is Mr. Hanh?” “I am here.” “You are supposed to report to the police headquarters in Saigon.” I said, “What for?” “Just go!”
My wife, my children, cry. I might be put back in the prison again. When I got to the headquarters, you know what they said? “We need your interpretation for the foreign convention. 278 foreigners will come here to invest.” I don’t know what happened, but I said, “Ok, with conditions.” I was released by Hanoi. I had all kind of paperwork. I don’t want to work with the government, teaching in university only. They just paid me lump sum of the money. I don’t want to work with your government. I paid the debt for ten years already. They said, “Ok. If you agree to that, with conditions.” I didn’t want to show up at the conference. Because at that time, nobody could speak good English. All of them looked stupid, ignorant. I said, “Ok with conditions. If you need something, the key meeting of the conference, we should ship delegation. Sit down and talk and do interpretation for you. I don’t want to show up on the tv, I don’t want to show up on video. And they agreed.
Every morning we had a staff meeting with the delegation, 278 foreign people but about twenty people worked. We had a key meeting first. I came out, I saw four Americans. I used my foot, I kicked them. I asked if we could have a coffee. I had them put it on my side of the foreigners. I got the coffee, I got one piece of the paper under the saucer, I tried to write here. I said, “I don’t want to stay here. It’s not a good place for me.” I stayed close with the Americans. I pushed the piece of paper back under the coffee saucer. I said, “I feel so bad. Would you mind coming to Bangkok and letting everybody know I can’t survive here. I want to be released from Vietnam as soon as possible.” [Kocker was informed of my situation by Canadian coordinators.]
I did not disclose that my four sons were in the refugee camp for four years and three months. I said to Kocker, I had one question. He said to me, “What do you want?” “I want to release my two sons in the camp.” He looked at me, he stared at me, and I looked at him “No problem.”
They had been stuck over there for four years and three months. No way. To get out of the camp, you were supposed to be sent back to Vietnam to reunite with me on the Humanitarian Organization Program. After that, he sent his men to come over together with me. Canadians, their names were [Jeff] and Louise. He said to them officially, [ … ] Tony he said, “Go to inspection the camp in Malaysia.” He said, “Hanh, would you like to send something for the children. You know that in Malaysia they don’t want to eat the pig right? It is a violation to eat the pig.” I sent sausage, $200, and one radio for my two sons. They called it an inspection camp. But it was not. They went to the camp to prepare all kinds of paperwork to release my two sons. But they didn’t let me know. On the way back, I saw some guys picture of my children over there. “In two months,” he said, “Hanh your children will be in the United States, without being in the Philippines for six months. They will go straight from Malaysia to here by special airplane.” I was so happy. Unbelievable. Nobody can do that. So they arrived here September 1993. I arrived here November 1993. But very hard work. They saw my two children go here, it was a very special case. They asked me, “Were you a friend of Clinton? Is your wife a friend of Hillary” I said, “No.” This is officially the policy of the communist government. Everybody can leave Vietnam for the United States you are supposed to stay in prison at least three years.
But they tried to blackmail me. Give them 200,000, 400,000 Vietnamese money for them to make paperwork. But they delayed my trip one month. I had to blackmail the money. After that they put on schedule one month later. I was supposed to leave Saigon about September but I had to wait until November. And I worked with the IOM [International Organization for Migration] in Saigon. All kinds of races in the office, [ … ] Cambodians. Many people. Each country worked together with us.
EC: So when you first arrived in Portland, what part of the city did you live in?
VW: Right here, until now.
EC: At this very address?
VW: No I moved a lot, bought many new houses. Just kept moving, you know?
EC: So what were some of the neighborhoods that you lived in?
VW: Neighborhood now? I’m living at 110 and Market, right on the corner. A very good neighborhood, safety.
EC: How long have you been in that neighborhood?
VW: Five years. Before that I first lived on Holgate. I bought a house over there. And kept moving, kept moving, six times already changed houses.
EC: And when you first arrived, it seems like you were teaching English as a second language, but you were also working with the Lutheran family services. Also, you had a janitorial company. How were you able to do all of that at the same time?
WV: Because I think I can help my … people, who are like me. Former prisoners. So, I decided to open the janitorial company. But, I had to learn from Beaverton, [Company name]. I learned from A-Z how to clean. I opened a big company with twenty four [accounts]. Every night after teaching, my family cleaned. I inspected every night until 3 o'clock in the morning, then go home. I worked eighteen hours everyday. While learning English, and continuing to get my B.A. in bilingual pathway program license to teach. I spent five years [instead often years].
EC: What did you do with Lutheran family services?
WV: The family services? I ended up teaching in the new [Vestal commerce] center [for PPS]. Many people and Lutherans asked me to work for them. They said “you have a lot of experience with the community, we need you to become the [Gang] transition case manager.” I had about 80 of them in Portland. So I worked that time, I remember, very stressful, very nervous every single night. Because, after  o’clock they have to report to me. What they are doing. Every night. Most of them skip. I remember one time, one guy named Hung He’s the son of the owner in Pho on 82nd. Long time ago. In a gang. The court in the city let me know, and referred him to me. But, after three months he didn’t come to report to me. So I was so stressed. I said “okay, now I have arrived to control it” I took out an APB. In twenty four hours they are supposed to arrest that guy right away. Whole police officers in the street all over. Portland and Vancouver. And I’m so worried because he’s asian and I’m asian, it’s hard to help families. I talk to the parents, they were very concerned about him. The family only had one girl and one boy. The girl worked in the bank and he was in the gang. 3 o’clock in the morning, that day, the police called me. “We did arrest him already. In Vancouver with his girlfriend. With 1 kilo of heroin.” I’m so happy. My conscience, you know? I tried to help. But APB had to arrest him and I’m very concerned. Because he’s very young. All my life to help the students, and help to find many jobs, in school and in society. I feel guilty. But since his arrest I’m so happy.
AJ: How did you help students in Portland public schools? What did you do with them?
WV: You know, I had the presentation at PSU. I had the presentation at OSU. I helped the guy. The one here [gestures to family photograph], the black [blouse] one here is my grandson. Three more years and he will be a doctor.
HC: Oh, Mazel Tov.
WV: He asked me to come to his university to give a presentation about the Vietnam War. I said “okay.” They sent me their own kind of document. This is $250 for a hotel, for me. If I present over there, one hour is $400. I present 1 hour. But after that I gave back the ticket for the hotel to the University. The money I earned from the presentation I gave back to the university. They said “you don’t want the money?” I said, “No, because my grandchildren earn. He is here. You helped him a lot. I have to pay my debt.”
HC: What work did you do with students in Portland public schools?
WV: Many pictures over there. I have a lot. Every year we had a multicultural [event]. Each school. I’m the coordinator.
HC: What did that involve?
WV: Involved all kinds of youth. When I was teaching in the Franklin high schools, many students could not continue. I go to PCC, to see that some officer was there to help him learn English and get a job. Many of them were very poor. I contacted the parent, I said “He could not continue his education anymore. Let him go to the military. He’d have a good job He has a good future. Bright future over there.” But, the parents, they worry. They worry that their children will be killed. From the battle. I said, “No, there are all kinds of military branches he could join.” But most of them want to join the Marine Corps. Every student I recommend, they’re happy to join the army. Luckily for me, most of them go to Afghanistan, but none of them were killed by the battle, I’m so happy for that.
HC: Oh, good. When did you decide to open a restaurant?
WV: Sixteen years ago. After janitorial, I felt very stressed, after working very hard. I was looking forward to working in the minimart. At 82nd and Holgate I opened a mini mart. But everyday I would come at 7 and stay until 10 o’clock pm. Many people come to steal stuff. While I was out teaching, my wife took care of the mini mart. I said, “Stop cleaning, stop [...] and look for something you’re qualified to open, for sandwich and coffee only.” At first we opened over there a shop selling sandwiches and coffee, but we didn’t have enough money. Okay, sandwich and we’ll try one soup. Because, my wife is a very good cook and she learned from my mom. We opened one and many customers came because of the home style cooking. Completely different. I made a big revolution. On my menu, only two a day. Only Sunday we have three. I got involved with a restaurant, where my friend is the owner. I looked in the kitchen and they had a big broth there that they used for every soup. One big pot of broth for everything. Just put ingredients in different kinds of dishes. I don’t like that way. So only two. Very special. Open one more. Our restaurants, the customers are eighty-five percent white Americans. You can see in the Instagram and Facebook every single day they are talking about us. But I’m getting too old. I need to retire. I retired from Portland Public Schools when I was seventy-five. Three years ago. I am seventy-eight now. Still working twelve hour days. No way!
[We have been getting the James Beard Award three years in a row at Rose VL Restaurant (6424 SE Powell Ave, Portland OR 97206 and another one in HA VL on 82nd Ave.)]
HC: So are you going to retire?
WV: Sometime. My fifth son is taking care and my wife is working here. My grandchildren, some help their grandpa. See over there? [Motions towards one of his grandsons who is wiping tables.] Two years of university.
EC: Would you say Portland is a good environment for Vietnamese small businesses and particularly restaurants?
WV: I think it is good for them. But now, the economic situation is not too good. Most of them close their restaurants down. Especially Chinese restaurants. Many Americans boycott Chinese restaurants.
HC: Is that true? I didn’t realize that is happening.
WV: That happens.
HC: Americans are boycotting Chinese restaurants?
WV: Because of food poisoning. Too fat, everything. Many restaurants from Chinese people close. Don’t have enough customers to survive.
HC: Has that affected Vietnamese restaurants?
WV: Some. But not too many. But many Chinese restaurants close.
Azen Jaffe: Do you think Vietnamese food has become more popular? What restaurants have played an important role in popularizing this cuisine?
WV: In Portland? Here.
AJ: This restaurant?
WV: Yes [Laughs]. No MSG. We cook very, very clean. You can see here, everything in the corner. No more hide in the kitchen. The restroom, I myself am supposed to clean every hour in the restroom. So most Americans like it that way. To see that everything is very clean. But I could not continue, I am very tired.
HC: Are there political issues or other important issues to the Vietnamese community at the moment? Are there, in the Vietnamese community at large, political issues that are catching people’s imagination?
WV: Very, very effective. Because, my country, the government is run by a group of people only. No freedom. Everything. No human rights. Everyday, street demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of people in Saigon street demonstrations. You never, never hear that before but now is the time. No choice.
HC: Is that affecting the Vietnamese community in Portland as well?
WV: I am the organizer against the Communists and against China. Street demonstrations in downtown last month to speak for the human rights in Vietnam. Everything like that, I am involved because I was in prison for ten years and I stayed in Saigon seventeen, eighteen years. I know what is going on. I received Marxism training in Saigon before teaching in the university. My goal is to brainwash students in university to speak for the freedom and human rights. So I had to learn about Marxism before I accept teaching in university. If you don’t certify, you cannot. But my goal is to ruin the education of the communist students.
EC: Is there a particular organization in Portland that organizes those demonstration or that you work through to organize the demonstrations?
WV: Organize with the Vietnamese Community. Tu Thao referred you to me? He is the son of my friend.
HC: Can you describe the Vietnamese community in Portland? Is it unified or is there a unifying character
WV: Very unifying character. Washington? No. Many, many Vietnamese community leaders speak that way. Should be one only. Here we have one only. We are very tight.
HC: Who is the leader of the Vietnamese community here? What has unified the community here?
HC: How is that it is so unified here and not as unified in Washington?
WV: You should be unified to be strong. For the media, for the people.
EC: And is it the VNCO that makes that possible here?
EC: Vietnamese Community of Oregon.
HC: Thao’s organization.
WV: Thao’s organization? I am an advisor [Laughs.]
HC: Do you think the Vietnamese community in Portland is different than other Vietnamese communities in the country? Have you visited the Vietnamese community in California or elsewhere? Is Portland different or is it similar?
WV: California, very, very big forces against the communists. If some activity is involved with the communists, they boycott and they street demonstration right away. 50,000 people [in the] street demonstration.
HC: Is that similar in Oregon? I mean Oregon is smaller, but is that similar or do you think it is less politically active.
WV: Less, not more, in comparison with California. They have very strong view of political because one senator, the female over there.
HC: I think we are almost to the end of our interview. Students, do you have any other questions that you would like to ask?
AJ: I don’t.
HC: Is there anything that we haven’t asked you about that you want to tell us? That you think we should have asked?
WV: I want to talk about many things but time is limited for you. I presented in many universities in here. But very, very, very few students had a question. I don’t know why. I said, “Come up with all kinds of questions you have.” Every year I was invited by Reynolds High School, presentation over there. I will promote American heroes twice in that high school already. We talked about veterans. I met First and Second World War, we met Korean, Vietnamese, Philippines, all kinds of veterans. About three thousand veterans. Meet every year in November in Reynolds High School and I had a presentation over there. I wore a military uniform to get over there. All kinds of students liked me so much, they came to me and hugged. All kinds of pictures. It was a very emotional picture from the students after the presentation.
HC: I guess one more question I have is do you think the Vietnamese community in Portland is changing since you’ve been here for twenty five years. Do you think it’s different now than it was before?
WV: More population. More even. They depend on how communities do it in Vietnam. The community is very tight here. The street demonstrations in the media, in all kinds. I read one article that said “no Chinese food,” it was written by an American. Because it’s poisonous food.
HC: Well, I think that’s all of our questions for now. Thank you very much again for meeting with us. EJ, do you want to tell us who we all are again?
WV: One thing. Each school should have the community of multicultural students in university. They should have one room, separately in university. Decorated with all kinds of the multicultures. So you can come there and see the culture of each country.
HC: That’s a great idea.
WV: We should have that kind of pictured: unified. Because in university they are separated, they are not yet united. We need that kind of organization in order to limit crime. And work together.
HC: That’s a great idea. We’ll do what we can to help with that. We are trying to help with some amount of mutual understanding by building a Vietnamese archive, but it’s a slow process.
WV: The children are supposed to play together. For example, on one soccer team, they were made up of twenty-two people. Try to find out, [that they are] divided. Each country had two players. That means we had ten countries on the same team, who worked and played together. Basketball, volleyball, ping pong, all involved. Each leader of the students worked together to create some activity, to unify. The game, the play, the movie, the history. Every year. Before their summer vacation. We have a lot of activities but we could not reach through that wall yet and we have to.
EC: Well, thank you again for speaking with us. We’ve been speaking with William Vuong on August 4th, 2018. It’s been a real pleasure.