Interview with an Asian American Woman The Long Journey Towards The American Dream The Vietnam War ended in 1975, which caused many Vietnamese people to be driven out of their homes and immigrate to America, seeking a safe life away from the affects of war and political turmoil (Ojeda-Kimbrough Lecture June 7, 2012). My family was a part of these refugees searching for a way out. I interviewed my mother, Huong Carter who was born and raised in Vietnam and came to the U. S. with the second wave of immigrants after the war had ended.
The second wave of immigrants, including my family, could not speak English very well and traveled by boat, which was one of the most dangerous ways of travel during this time (Ojeda-Kimbrough Lecture June 7, 2012). With the threat of pirates, theft, illness, and drowning, my family faced these dangers in order to gain their freedom. Analysis of interview My mother felt frustrated throughout the interview, trying to get her point across but maybe couldn’t find the right words.
She wanted to make sure that I knew everything that happened was because of how brave my grandfather had been to leave absolutely everything he had worked his whole life for behind just to keep my mother and her siblings safe and provide a brighter and safer future for them. I was trying to focus on how she felt during these times, and how she felt about being Asian in a predominantly White culture in America. The issues that we had learned in lectures did come up, but she didn’t want to focus on that.
She wanted to focus on how hard her father had worked, and how hard each of them had to work, in school and in their jobs so that they could succeed in America where they had freedom and were safe from war. They saw coming to America as a great escape from the dangers of the political turmoil in Vietnam and worked hard every single day to obtain better jobs, more money, and a decent and safe future for their children. The interview gave me a better insight of how the “boat people” traveled and what kinds of dangers they faced, as well as the challenges faced absorbing life in America without fully understanding the language and culture.
Early Life For some people, life was easy and comfortable in Vietnam. Huong was brought up in a wealthy family with four other siblings and had a maid and a chauffeur. As kids they didn’t have to do too much to help around the house and usually got what they wanted. Her father was a business man, and owned his own business. They lived in a big house an hour outside of Saigon in South Vietnam. Huong and her four siblings went to a nice public school in the area, and attended private lessons in Math and English. However the war brought on hardships for everyone.
The effects of the war and the bombings happening all around where Huong’s family lived made her father decide it was time to leave. With it being much safer to live in the city, Saigon was their first choice, and the whole family made the move into Saigon. The Long Journey to America After the war, the communists took over Vietnam. In my mother’s words they “brain washed” children into believing in their way of communist life. The government started recruiting children to test out the mine fields from the war for any remaining mines.
Huong’s oldest sibling ended up on this list, and it was at this time when their father decided it was time to leave Vietnam. He did not believe in the communist theory and wanted his children to grow up in a safe, free environment. Of course he knew that this meant he would have to give up everything he had worked for in Vietnam, and he knew the difficulties involved in moving to America, but after the communists won the war, their normal way of living was over. Huong’s family started their travels to America with the second wave of immigrants or the “boat people” (Ojeda-Kimbrough Lecture June 7, 2012).
Her father had decided to give up everything they had in Vietnam to move to a safer place for his family, and most of all he wanted freedom. The proper legal papers were signed and their cousins in Georgia, USA who had immigrated earlier were their sponsors. They gave all of their money to guarantee space on the boat that would take them to America, and they had to pay with gold bars. The money used was just passage out of Vietnam; they had no idea where they were headed to. They were also told that it was a passenger ship, but it was in fact a freight ship.
The government had lied and misled them, took all of their money in gold bars to only send them as far as Hong Kong. The boat ride was long and treacherous. Luckily my mother’s family had paid to get onto one of the bigger boats, meaning it was less likely that they would be attacked by pirates on their journey. What they did endure was extremely cramped conditions and rough seas. For freight ship that could have held maybe 1000 people, 3000 people were squeezed onto this ship. Their journey to Hong Kong took about one month. During this time, people would commit suicide, die from sickness, or starve.
The captain of the ship ordered people to toss over their only possessions and the food they had brought in fear of capsizing the boat during storms. After this, some people would try and steal food from their neighbors. When the boat reached Hong Kong, the government there wanted to send them back to Vietnam. They were not supposed to be there, and they surely didn’t want to take them in. After a month of consideration and more waiting on the boat for the passengers, a camp was set up by the harbor for these thousands of passengers after their long travel on the sea.
In this camp, my mother and her family would stay in Hong Kong for an additional 8 months before going to America. For her family of seven, they were given one bunk bed to share. Conditions at the camp were as cramped as on the ship, and very dirty. The refugees would be given rice and water every day for food, which they had to line up for. However, they were allowed to get small jobs outside of the camp, so my mother, all of her siblings and her parents would get these jobs so that their family could save enough money to buy a little extra food. After doing even more legal work and consulting with their relatives and sponsors in the U.
S. , my mother and the rest of her family all finally got to leave Hong Kong, straight for America. The American Dream My mother arrived in Georgia, USA in 1979, at age 17. She left all her friends and family in Vietnam and the comforts of their old home. She was always so excited to go to America because everyone would talk about this rich land and when they finally got here, it was very overwhelming. At first she was confused. What my mother found in America was not what she expected. There was a lot more poverty and not at all like she had dreamed.
Here they were immediately put into high school. Her father held back his children in school to allow them to catch up and make up for the year they had missed. He did this, so that his children would also have a chance to catch up on their English language skills, and do well in school. Their education was a priority and he wanted them to do their best. The language was the hardest part of coming to America, everything was new and unfamiliar. They only stayed in Georgia for two months before my grandfather contacted some of his old neighbors from Vietnam who were now living in California.
He didn’t like the weather in Georgia and felt California would probably be a better fit for him. So after only a few months, my mother finally got to California. The children were put back into high school immediately; however times were tough for my mother and her siblings. Their high school consisted of mostly white American, Hipic and African American children. Her English was not very good at this point, so it was hard communicating with other kids, and socializing. Everywhere she went, she had a dictionary with her. She took beginners English class, where it consisted mostly of Hipics.
This class she felt was the nicest because she was with other kids who, like herself, could not speak the main language very well, and had difficulties expressing themselves. Luckily my grandfather’s old neighbor had a daughter, Phuong, attending the same high school, who became friends with my mother and her siblings. Phuong helped make them to make friends and understand American society and culture a little easier. Phuong had been in California much longer than my mother, having come over with the first wave of immigrants. Her English was much better, and she already had a small close group of friends.
Huong didn’t have a long high school career, and she often felt isolated, and alienated from other kids. She would be ignored because they knew that she didn’t speak English very well and didn’t want to bother. She was the only Asian besides her siblings and always felt different from everyone else. Going into stores, the clerks would follow her around because they thought she would steal something. Huong felt cheated from having a real high school experience. She never got to go to prom or buy a year book because their family didn’t have enough money.
She also felt she didn’t accomplish as much as she could have with her grades due to the language barrier, even when she would spend most of her time studying instead of making friends. However, she still obtained A’s and B’s through her hard work and perseverance, but was disappointed as she always had straight A’s in Vietnam. So she never felt like she was achieving as much as she potentially could. She was too busy trying to understand what everything was. College Getting into college was Huong’s and her sibling’s first priority.
Most of the children actually got scholarships, and financial aid to help finance their college funds. Even though, Huong was actually embarrassed to ask for financial aid and have welfare and food stamps, it was the only way to attend college, and further her education. By this point in their lives, college was much easier because they understood the English language a lot better and there were more Asians in college than there were in high school. My mother got a job in the Financial Aid office at her college to help support her family.
Her family was still struggling to make ends meet, so everyone had to work. Huong felt frustrated sometimes with her life, she wanted to accomplish as much as she could, but also had to help pay the bills for her family and work. Life was easy in Vietnam with their maids and chauffeurs, and here they had to work hard for everything they had. They lived in a small apartment and took the bus to school because they couldn’t afford a car. Everyone in the family had part time jobs, and would work and study hard every day to help better their careers and education.
My mother felt she would study even harder than everyone else because of the language barrier. She had no time to party or date, or to buy nice things, because their lives only consisted of work and studying. Towards the end of her college life, my mother was hired as a data entry clerk with a local Real Estate company. She always felt like she was being treated nice, but maybe not necessarily equally. Management would yell at Huong for mistakes that were not her fault. She was never trained for the job, and was expected to do things that she needed training for.
She felt that she wasn’t given any respect what so ever, and had to try her hardest to learn from her mistakes when they were yelling at her. Despite the disrespect and the yelling, she managed to earn a promotion to Assistant Controller with a raise from all her hard work. Huong didn’t have a lot of friends in the work place, but was always nice to everyone and tried to get to know each colleague. When my mother met my father Jeff in college, things became easier for her. Jeff was from England, and also immigrated to California. He came from a poor family, and also had to work hard to provide for his family and help pay the bills.
With all of the things they had in common, Huong felt like she could relate to someone else, and he helped her understand more about American society. He would help her with her homework and her English. With this, life became much easier for Huong, because she understood a lot more about the American way of life. With the extra help, she had more time to go out, have fun and do things that Americans do, like going to the movies, dancing, and eating out. Life Now After being here for 33 years my mother is comfortable with life in America. She never got to go back and visit Vietnam yet, but she wants to when life isn’t so busy.
She still misses the food, the culture, and her family in Vietnam, but not only is she living easily, her parents and all of her siblings are also living comfortably in California now. Her parents have a small house in Garden Grove, the center of the Vietnamese community, where they have retired next to other Vietnamese people. She realizes now just how much her father had given up when bringing his family to America, but she knows it had to be done, for their safety and their freedom. She is more than grateful of her father’s decisions, because she got to live in a free country and become a citizen.
The main thing is they got to come to a country where there is no war. Her entire family still keeps close to each other by calling one another often, even the relatives still in Vietnam, and they have many family gatherings throughout the year for holidays, birthdays, and also to celebrate Vietnamese traditions. They keep up with their culture, and how they prepare their food, and when they are all together they still primarily speak the Vietnamese language. Their old customs and traditions are important to everyone in the family.
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