Azen Jaffe: Hello my name is Azen Jaffe. Today is October 9, 2019 and I am with Garland Joseph in Portland, Or. We are talking to Vinh The Do. Thank you for being with us.
Vinh The Do: You are welcome.
AJ: Could you start just by introducing yourself and maybe telling us a little bit about your background.
VD: My name is Vinh The Do, I was born in Vietnam near Hanoi in 1946. Then we moved to Hanoi when I was about six or seven years old. Then I went to school in Hanoi. In 1954 after the battle of Điện Biên Phủ, the final and decisive battle between the French and the Viet Minh was over. The French lost the battle so we had to run away from the communists and went to Saigon in 1954. Then I grew up in Saigon. I went to elementary school there and then went to high school. Then I went to college and I went to the Faculty of Pedagogy, where I learned English as a second language. I became a teacher of English as a second language. At the same time, I went to the Faculty of Letters and I got a bachelor's degree in Western Philosophy. Then I went to Long Thành, it was a small district belonging to Biên Hòa Province. Right now they renamed it Đồng Nai province. So I taught there from 1968 to 1978 when I escaped from Vietnam to the free world. Now let's talk a little bit about when I was teaching at Long Thành I could go back to Saigon and attended graduate school at the Faculty of Pedagogy. Then I was pursuing a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. I completed all the courses required but then the advisor fled to the United States because the communists were attacking us day and night at that time. So that is why I could not present my final requirement for the thesis. So I couldn't get my master's degree in English as a second language in Vietnam. When I was attending I also went to some of the intensive training in counseling taught by an American psychologist. He was very interested in person-centered counseling, at that time it was called client-centered counseling of Carl Rogers. So after that training, I became a counselor at Long Thành high school. So that is why I did a lot of stuff at Long Thành High School. I taught English as a second-language there for ten years. I also taught philosophy there about two years. Besides, I was a part-time counselor for the school. After the collapse of Saigon in 1975, maybe you guys know that. Is that right?
I was sent to the reeducation camp for three months because I was in the administration of Long Thành High School. At that time because of my seniority, I was kind of like the assistant to the vice principal. After three months they got me back because they badly needed an English teacher. So I went back to teach. Initially, they allowed me to teach the American textbooks called English for Today. Maybe you guys don't know that but they used English for Today for a while. Then after that they said, "No, this is not good." So they started to create text- books themselves written by Vietnamese they were not very good. It was politicized but I had to teach that. The content was very ridiculous. The content had nothing to do with America or England, but about President Ho. Also about how they conquered the South and defeated Americans. The interesting thing is that when I was teaching there, the students supervised me more than even the principal or vice-principal. There were a few students in the class with red scarf on their neck. They were kind of like politically advanced students. They looked at my teaching and reported me to the principal and vice-principal. Then one time the principal called me to his office and then pointed right at me and said, "You are supposed to teach the English language of the progressive American people not of the reactionary American government." I did not answer but I was secretly smiling. “Which is which? It is the same.” They thought that the English language of the American people is different from the English of the reactionary American government. So that is why they kind of threatened to send me back to the re-education camp. It was very, very scary; it was tense. So in 1978, I decided to go. So actually one thing I need to let you guys know is that before April 1975 one of my friends, he is here. He is famous here too. He is Tim Leatherman. We were friends at that time. He came and said, "I could help you leave Vietnam.” Because everybody knew we were going to lose South Vietnam at that time. But my mother was paralyzed because of a stroke, like I got it is genetic. My two brothers were in the army and the navy. So I couldn't go because I was alone to take care of my mother. So I could not go. Then he left. When I escaped from Vietnam, I wrote a letter to him and you guys already saw those. You wanted me to talk about how I escaped or not.
AJ: Yeah, if you are comfortable.
VD: Sure no problem. In the summer of 1978 I thought I could not stay because sooner or later they would send me back to reeducation camps. Also, life was very difficult at that time economically speaking. We had to sell things to be able to buy stuff. Even my salary, which was relatively high at that time because they paid me the same amount of money like they paid other teachers in the north.
AJ: Who were you living with?
AJ: Were you living with your mother?
VD: I lived with my mother for about a year or so, and then she passed away in 1976. But then at that time, I lived by myself but sometimes I went back to Saigon. I kind of like helped my sister in law because her husband was sent to reeducation camps. He was in the army. So I decided to escape. Fortunately, I had a friend who was pretty rich and he could build a boat. So I connected with him and also my brother who was a navy officer in the former government. We decided to get out of Vietnam in a very small boat. You see the boat [Shows interviewers picture of the boat.] It was not easy. We had to kind of like to go through several kinds of short distances in a very secret manner. Because the police would have caught us any time if they had known we were trying to escape. So we finally got into some kind of sampan, very small boat you know. Then we launched to a place where we were waiting for a bigger fishing boat to come out. That is why there were dozens of small sampans they call it. Do you know sampan? Small boats you know. Then at night, the fishing boat went along and they kind of picked us up until we got to the ocean. We were in the ocean for about three days and nights. It was stormy, we thought we might die. Two ships passed by, they did not rescue us even with all kinds of alarm signals, SOS signals we sent. Finally, Commander Auer and his crews rescued us. You saw some of the pictures in there. So we went to Thailand and the Thai authorities said, "No, you cannot get in because an American ship picked you up. You are supposed to go to the US. Our camps are full, we cannot pick you." So the United Nations tried to negotiate with the Thai authority and finally, they let us get into Thailand but not into the camps. In kind of like a small cheap hotel they put ten people in a room to do paperwork there so that we could go. Because they knew at that time actually President Carter... Do you remember Jimmy Carter? He said that if the boat people were not rescued by any kind of ship, American ships will pick them up because of humanitarian reasons. So that is why the Thai authorities kind of like listened to that sentence and said, "Okay, now that's the responsibility of the American government." We were fortunate because of that we could go earlier. If not, we could have stayed in the camps.
Garland Joseph: How did you get established in the United States? Did you have family in the United States or were there organizations that...
VD: No no no, at that time many people wanted to go to France or some other nations because it was easier. To go to the United States it is a little bit more difficult, but fortunately, because of that sentence of President Carter, it was probably easier. That is why some of us, if there is some kind of church here that sponsors us we could come or friends we would come. Remember the friend that came to me and wanted to get me out, Tim Leatherman.
GJ: Did he sponsor you?
GJ: Oh, okay.
VD: I wrote him a letter. I can show you his letter. I wrote him a letter and my letter was lost [laughs] because it was written in 1978. But I still kept his letter. I will show you.
AJ: So from Thailand you wrote to him.
VD: I wrote him a letter from Thailand. Then you can read his letter, but you know it is confidential. I can share with you only.
VD: He was very nice and then they sponsored me in. I was living in his home for about a week or so. Then I tried to work to be on my own, to stand on my own feet. So I went around, because of my teaching career, I went to Portland Public Schools and I went to Portland Community College. Nobody wanted me because my degrees were in Vietnam. Even though most all of the professors that taught me in my program came from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain. Just a few Vietnamese professors but they said that was not good [laughs] so I ended up working as a busboy for one day. Then it was so tiring because they only hired me if I worked night shifts. I worked at Denny's restaurant. Do you know Denny's restaurant? You know during the night I had never worked at nightshift before. It was very tiring and also the supervisor said: “You cannot sit until you have the break”. So even though I cleaned up everything, I couldn’t rest. Then I was tired and I had nothing to do. I sat down and she came and said, "No, no, no [laughs] no break yet." Because of that, I was so tired so in just after one night, I had to quit. I went to Tim and said, "I could not do this job because it was so hard." So actually I got turned down by a few other places until somebody said to me: “If you show your credentials you are overqualified. If I hire you, you will try to get a job that is suitable to you. At that time I will have to retrain the new person, so that is why I cannot hire you. I started to understand what it means “being overqualified.” Do you understand what I am talking about? So at the next job I didn't show any credentials. I just said I wanted a job. I got the job with the Winter Product company, kind of like shining the doorknobs and I did that for a while.
AJ: Where were you living? Where was Tim?
VD: Right in Portland.
AJ: In what neighborhood?
VD: After I got a few things I moved to.... kind of like let me remember. We moved to Weidler, North East Weidler in an apartment. I remember that I had to pay a $170 a month for one bedroom. We lived there for a while and then we moved to South East thirteenth place. Where we could rent a very very old apartment. With about sixty or seventy-five dollars a month. It was very dirty.
AJ: Who were you with?
VD: At that time I was with my fiance. Then she became my wife. Initially I was with my brother. Remember, the person in the navy and his wife? Eventually, they moved out and lived somewhere else. Then we lived there for a long time. We lived on the thirteenth place for a long while, probably seventy-eight to eighty-six, eight years in there. So I got the job at the Indo-Chinese center. Remember that place? That was in October 1978.
AJ: What were you doing there?
VD: Counselor trainee is what it is called. Because I had a lot of counseling experiences. Remember that in Vietnam? I spoke English pretty well at that time. So when they hired a person named Christa Wagner, she wrote a proposal [helped by a Lao named Chareundi]. Because at that time refugees badly need mental health counseling. They were very depressed and stuff like that. They come here, they had lost everything and then everything changed. So if you study psychology or counseling you know that under changes and losses people are stressed out. People come over and many of them were depressed at that time. Because of that, there are three things that I think I was lucky. I could speak English pretty well, I had some counseling training in Vietnam, not a lot but some, and also external factors. Many refugees need mental health counseling. Number two in the 1960s, Wrenn, that is a American psychologist, started to throw out the concept of the culturally encapsulated counselor. Do you know it?
GJ: What is the culturally encapsulated counselor?
VD: The culturally encapsulated counselor is a white male counselor. That counsels other people, women, Black, Asian, and etc. the same way that he counsels a white male. He does not take into consideration the differences, women are different, Blacks are different, Asians are different, and Native Americans are different. Even among Asians, Indians are different from Vietnamese, Chinese are different from Vietnamese. If you are encapsulated you only use your culture to impose on other people you can not help them. Because you deduce everything from your own experiences rather than try to understand them from their perspective, so because of that, there was a movement advocating multicultural counseling and cross-cultural counseling. I was, at that particular period of time, so I was lucky. Because even though I came from Vietnam I could not compete with any regular counseling here but head the cultures. I have the refugee’s experiences, so that is why I could get the job.
GJ: What did you do, specifically, for the counseling research position? What information did you provide or gather for them?
VD: When I was hired as the counselor trainee I was supposed to work twenty hours a week. Then, I got the training twenty hours a week. I was trained with Dr. Kinzie, the psychiatrist up at OHSU, psychologists like Dr. Leon [Fine] and Anthropologists like Dr. [Spero] Manson I learned a lot from that, but then at the same time in that project, they wanted to do some research about the refugees. That is why there was a depression scale. I worked for two years in that particular area, just to go out and interview people. Then we got together and we did that. So that was the research to establish the Vietnamese Depression Scale (VDS) but at the same time, I had to provide counseling services to refugees too. So I did both okay. We were there for a while working. I could tell you a lot of stuff that I did. Let's talk about some of the relevant stuff, okay so that you can have a picture of the refugee there at that time. Mostly people were depressed because of losses, changes, language barriers, and cultural barriers. It’s a lot, they were overwhelmed. Let me give you an example of me, myself, so that you see the cultural differences. When I got to Seattle from Japan I was coughing at that time. There was a Laotian social worker, because they came in seventy-five, and I came in seventy-eight. So we went out and he saw that I coughed a lot. He said, "Here is five bucks, you go over there and buy some cough medicine." I got the five dollars and I got into that store, and I was standing there. All of the rows in the store were so big for me, and I was so embarrassed that I could not ask questions. There were people there, but I could speak English. But I didn't even know how to get the coughing medicine. I got into the store and felt ridiculous to ask people. So I went around and tried to find it, but it was hard. I got panicked and I said, "Wow. How could I survive here?" I didn't even know how to buy the coughing medicine. I went around and I didn't see anything until finally I was asked, and I said I wanted it. Then I got that. Then they had to tell me to go to that counter to pay. Because in Vietnam when you go into the market people will ask you what you want and then they will get it for you. Okay it is small, kind of not impersonal like here. So that is just one thing that was different and that gave me the feeling of being helpless. That is just my own experience even though I could speak English pretty well at that time. So that happened. Where were we? A lot of stuff people came here and then there was kind of like a reversed role. Wives pick up English pretty well, husbands speak English a little bit slowly. So there is a reversed role, wives went out to work and the husbands stayed home and took care of the babies. Right now it is no more, your generation, you know, very normal. At that time it was not normal. It was not normal because the men seemed to be so ashamed because they could not perform the role they used to do in Vietnam. They became dependent. Then there was some kind of conflict and emotional conflict. There was a lot of separation and a lot of divorces. Then a lot of child abuse. Also there was a misunderstanding between the systems and the Vietnamese families. We have a traditional method of helping people in terms of using the coin. Then we rub on the body of a child or a person so that we can get all of the bad stuff out of the body. In Vietnam, we call it “Cạo Gió”, but here people think it is child abuse. When a mother tried to help a child that way. He went to school and then the teacher reported that the child was abused. So I had to go to the court and tried to explain that was not “abused”. That was helping, trying to help people. So those kinds of things happened very often at that time. People did not know how to buy stuff; how to register their children to school. So I had to help them, but I was not going to do the interpretation or to help them register. I was not going to do that because I was there as a counselor, and I had to take them there, then tried to teach them to do it themselves. Kind of like getting into the market, and I had to say: “No, no I am not going to pay for you. You have to pay yourself, I will stand behind you and whenever there is a problem I will help. But you have to try and do it, because you will be here for the rest of your life.” So that kind of thing, but when you are overwhelmed you always want other people to help you. “Please do it.” “No no no [laughs] I will be with you but I am not going to do it for you.” I had to say that all the time. Just a few months later they could do that. So a lot of things happened. So let's stop there. What else do you want?
AJ: At that time do you think the general Portland population was welcoming to the new people who were arriving?
VD: That you have to put it in perspective. When you work in the social service area.The people who you know, they are very very good. Actually, they are really good helpers. But those people don't know anything about the refugees. Then it is kind of like a little bit reserved. Not hostile, I didn't see any hostility. But it is just kind of “being ignored.” You see what I mean? That is my own experience. People in Portland were pretty good at that time. Especially those who were in social services, in a school setting you know teachers and things like that. But outside, let me explain to you some of my own experiences. I can not generalize. When I worked as a busboy at Denny's restaurant I did not know anything. When I finished the jobs the two waitresses came to me and said, "Here is your money." They gave me and shared with me their tips. So that was very nice. I did not know anything about that. I am sorry, I worked as a counselor for a long time. I have to restrain my emotions. So when I talk about something I really appreciate I usually get over-emotional.
AJ: That is okay.
VD: That kind of thing happens.
AJ: Yeah that is good. Good to hear.
GJ: Did your job help connect you to the Vietnamese community in Portland? Were there other ways that you were able to find the Vietnamese community or reach out to them?
VD: Well it was just my job because, to tell you the truth, at that time everything I focused on was what I had to do for my jobs. Also, I had to go to school to get credentials so that I could work in the United States. So during that time, I went to school at night and on the weekends. Just three years after that I did A1, I got my master's degree in counseling, yeah. So that is what happened on the Vanguard. So I had to focus everything on my jobs, the people I worked with, and my education. So is there anything else?
AJ: Yeah I am curious to hear what some of your first impressions were of Portland when you first moved here?
VD: It was huge even though this is a small city in the United States. But when I was on the plane I talked to my fiancée and I said, "We still have three dollars here." Because we had five dollars or something in Hong Kong. Then we came here and I got three dollars. "If Tim is busy and he can not come to the airport we can use three dollars to take the bus home [laughs].” Then I got out of the airport and said, "Oh no no way, we can not take the bus like in Saigon." You see what I mean. There were all kinds of speculations but it was not right. So, that happened. So yeah the city was huge. It was very very beautiful and less hectic like it is today. Few cars on the streets, everything was good. Not like now, now the city is jammed, too many cars.
AJ: At the time it was called “The Indochinese Cultural and Service Center, now it is called Immigrant Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). How long did you stay with them?
VD: I worked there and then I worked at the OHSU psychiatric clinic together, until 1986. Then the program was defunded because at that time the federal government did not fund for mental health anymore. So up at OHSU they picked us all up there and then we worked in the psychiatric clinic. But, over there we could not serve all the clients like we used to, but only people with mental health problems or mental illnesses. So it is just kind of like a concentrated population with schizophrenia, depression, and you know etc.
AJ: Was it still cultural specific care or general?
VD: Cultural specific yeah. Because we have a socialization group where we get kind of like twenty or thirty people who are schizophrenic or depressed. We help them with all kinds of support activities. It is still now, actually, it has expanded. I think in 2001 or 2002 they invited me to come back to work as a cultural consultant for them. I taught to other new counselors from the Middle East and from South America. You know the refugees coming? So I taught them the culture stuff for what they call the Child Post Traumatic Syndromes. The children that were in war zones and they panic. So I went there and worked for them for a few years, two or three years. But in 1986 when we got there I worked over there just a few months. Then because it was heavily psychiatric I didn't like it very much, I wanted to go back to a school setting. So I went to work for the Portland Public Schools as a multicultural specialist for four years. Then in 1990, I became a counselor at Portland Community College. I worked there until 2007 and then I retired. I did teach a lot of time. I taught ESL for Portland Community College. I taught multicultural counseling for PSU graduate course. I taught “Vietnamese Heritage” for PSU. So I did a lot of stuff. When I worked for PCC in 1998 I got a sabbatical leave. So I went back to school and went to OSU and got my Ph.D. degree in 2001.
AJ: What was your Ph.D. in?
VD: You can look at that.
[Vinh The Do shows Azen and Garland Ph.D. Diploma and Dissertation on his computer.]
AJ: Oh, your dissertation.
VD: Yeah this is my dissertation, “Understanding How Vietnamese make Career Decisions in the United States.” Because I worked at Portland Community College so that was why I wanted to do career counseling. Because we did a lot of career counseling at PCC. I will share this with you. Here is the introduction. Maybe you guys want to read this.
AJ: Yeah that would be lovely if you shared it.
[Garland and Azen skim over Vinh The Do’s Dissertation.]
End of the first recording
VD: So you can say any questions you want to.
AJ: Yeah I also was curious to hear a bit more about your family. How did you and your wife meet in Vietnam?
VD: We taught in the same school so we knew each other. Then when we escaped we were fiances. Not married yet and we got married here. I can show you some of the pictures but not to publicize either [laughs].
AJ: That's alright and you have some photos of your grandchildren. Do you have other family here in Portland?
VD: I have one son and he has two children, that is it.
AJ: He lives here?
VD: He lives there. That is one I don't want to talk more about that, because he may not...
AJ: Yeah we don't need to cover that.
VD: We just talk about myself, too self-centered [laughs]. Have a seat yeah.
AJ: We can go back over there.
VD: Sure. Do you want to look at some of the pictures?
GJ: Which pictures?
VD: Did I show you some of the pictures?
GJ: You showed us some of the pictures in the scrapbook.
VD: Already, is that right?
GJ: But not on your computer.
VD: Here let's go see some of the pictures here.
[Vinh The Do shows Azen Jaffe and Garland Joseph photos and his research on his computer.]
AJ: When did you say that you retired?
VD: I retired in 2007.
VD: So it has been about 12 years already.
AJ: What has life been like since retiring? You have talked a good bit about your work.
VD: Actually, I live the way a typical Vietnamese lived when we were in Vietnam. This is a philosophy that many Vietnamese of my generation or maybe a generation before usually do. When we were young we were supposed to go to school, study, and try to get a good position in life then when we get out of work. We worked very hard to serve other people in society. But at a certain age, we are very different from the Americans. We kind of like, withdraw and stop continue working. But we will focus more on the inner world and try to detach from life. It is not kind of like, involved in life all the time. But I am Americanized enough to be very interested in helping you for example. If you know to come in and ask me to share my experiences with you, I am very willing to do that. Maybe Vietnamese are Americanized enough to do that too. The point is that traditionally after we retire from work we are supposed to live for ourselves, to focus more on the inner world, to do meditation. We work that way rather than… because we feel like we already shared and paid everything back to the society when we were younger. So that is a philosophy that is maybe not good for Americans. When you work and help other people and serve the community and society until you die, very different. But neither is better than the other, it is just a philosophy of life.
GJ: Do you participate in any religious or community organizations?
VD: No, let's talk a little bit about belief. Okay?
VD: I am like my father. We don't believe in a particular religion. But we believe that we have to conduct a good life with other people. Usually, we combine all the good stuff of religions to try to follow. In Vietnam, we have three teachings that are relevant besides Christianity and Islam and everything like that, not a lot. Christianity, maybe it is a growing population because of the French influence over there. But traditionally we believe in the three teachings mainly Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Buddhism, you know Buddhism is that right? So I don't want to talk more about that. But it is just kind of like trying to be enlightened and focus more on the inner world right rather than the outer world. Confucianism, on the other hand, tries to focus on social activities. You are supposed to help other people and you are supposed to serve other people. Taoism is somewhat, on the other hand, it is kind of like, domestic. If you just focus on yourself and help yourself then you help the world. Other people don't need you to annoy them or you think you may help them but I believe you will hurt them. It is kind of like that. So if you can be observed and try just to focus on yourself you help all the other people. So I kind of like, believe that when I was young I had to be a Confucian. Remember in on my dissertation I talk a little about Confucianists and trying to learn stuff okay, educated and try to serve people. But then after that when you retire from work you are supposed to focus on your inner self, more of a Buddhist and Taoist type. So that is how I am, and I believe that religions are very different from spirituality. Remember that guy that I just mentioned about. He said that, "All of the religions are stories." Because actually Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and Lao Tzu, they just talked, they did not write anything by their hands. All the bibles and the kings and stuff like that were written by sense, followers, and disciples. So every story is beautiful, but only certain amounts of people believe in those stories. How do you say that? When you believe in a story you think that the other story is wrong. That is the problem. When you believe in Christianity you think that the story of Buddha is wrong. Not Buddha but the disciples are wrong. When you believe in the disciples of Buddha, you think that the James Bible is wrong. So that is why there are problems in monopolizing your beliefs. You don't know, and you just believe that is okay. But the other people might believe something else. So I do think we need spirituality. But when it comes down to the concept of religions, it is kind of like very good in one way, but it may turn bad in the other way.
AJ: I think that unfortunately, we are running out of time today. But before we rap up I wanted to ask if you think there is anything we should ask you. Is there anything more you want to talk about today?
VD: Anything else I want to talk about today, yes. Our nation is composed of immigrants and refugees. I think that the constitution is a beautiful story that all of us share, all of us believe in that. Some other people in other countries may not share that. But I think that it is very beautiful. The sentence in the constitution that makes America, America, is that all men are created equal. That is a beautiful sentence. That’s all the Americans need to keep and protect. That is what I want you to see. Anything else you want to ask?
AJ: Do you have any further questions Garland?
GJ: I don't think so.
AJ: Well it was so great speaking with you, thank you.
VD: Thank you, yeah it is very nice for you to come in and talk. But some of the things that are related to other people can you just delete it?
AJ: Yeah so let me just close. Today is October 9, 2019, and we are speaking with Vinh Do. My name is Azen Jaffe and I am with Garland Joseph.