Bart: Who are you?
Tru: My name is Tru Phan and I was born in Viet Nam on May 30, 1955; born in the middle to upper class.
Bart: What did your parents do?
Tru: My mother is a teacher in an elementary school; my father was a captain in the district.
Bart: Captain of what?
Tru: Captain in the army; like something close to the governor here because South Vietnam is controlled by the military ‑ so we don’t use civilian people; the army controls.
Bart: How long had he been in the service?
Tru: My father had many jobs; one time he was a teacher, another time he was a businessman; another time he just enjoyed farming; the last job he had , he was a captain.
Bart: So he didn’t have military training?
Tru: He had military training from the beginning for many years. He had experience. In South Vietnam people need experience in the army. My father was one of the many people who had it. So he went back in the army and he got the rank of captain. At that time there were about 50,000 people to one or two captains. My father was one of these two people.
Bart: And your mother was a school teacher?
Tru: A school teacher for 33 years until she retired. Bart: What age did she teach?
Tru: She taught from age 6 to age 9.
Bart: What about your family situation ‑ brothers, sisters, etc. Where did you live?
Tru: When my father was still alive, I lived with my father and mother in the city, in a big house 40 miles south of Saigon. We had plenty of everything; a big place, very comfortable.
Bart: How many brothers and sisters? Tru: Thirteen. I was number 11. Bart: How many boys?
Tru: Two girls and eleven boys.
Bart: And both your parents worked? Who cared for the children?
Tru: My mother.
Bart: During the day?
Tru: Yes, she went to work and came home, because in South Vietnam when you go to work you go at 8:00, at noon you go home and you come back to work at 1:30 to 5:30 when you go home.
Bart: But what about the little babies?
Tru: My family had a babysitter; we had a maid. We had two people work for our family. One was a chauffeur and one was a cook.
Bart: Did you have grandparents living in the house?
Tru: No. My grandparents lived separately, not far away, just about 10 miles. They owned a business.
Bart: Did you have a close family?
Tru: We had a reunion every year, like Happy New Year. Every member had to go back home together and every member talked together about any one who died in the family. We had a happy birthday party in memory of those who died.
Bart: DId all of your brothers and sisters live ‑ survive? Tru. Right now I have three left. one older brother, a
lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army. He went to a Communist concentration camp for 7 years and he was released because he was blind. My sister is a teacher. I have one young sister, a teacher, too. And right now she lives temporarily in Malaysia. She escaped and is on refugee status. I have one younger brother who died in early childhood. He was the only one who died in childhood.
Bart: Would you say you had a close relationship with your brothers and sisters?
Tru: When we were little we were close. Bart: Who was the one that you always looked up to?
Tru: No one. I looked up to my father. Bart: What was it about your father that you liked?
Tru: He travelled and he was like a hero to me. He could live under any conditions. He came to become a teacher; he came to become a farmer and a businessman; he came to become a military man. He could get along in any condition. It didn’t matter. He didn’t need skills; he just got along. And right now you can see I can get
along with any condition. I went into the restaurant business in the United States with no training. I mean, I knew nothing; I just did it. And when I came here, I
didn’t know your culture, but I still got along. So maybe I inherited it from my father.
Bart: What is it about your mother that you like? Tru: I still love her. She is a very strict lady, old
fashioned. Do it the way she says. She loves children. She gives the children the best she can, but she gave the children quality; she didn’t give me money; she gave me education, quality to know right and wrong, how to deal in business with good people or bad people. My mother taught me you have to deal with every level of people, good or bad. If the bad people are robbers or have a bad reputation, I will still be friends with them, because I understand that person. That person has a bad reputation with the public, but not with me. They treat me nice, I treat them nice.
Bart: Do you have any important memories of your childhood that you can think of that really stick in your mind?
Tru: You know I was born and grew up in the war, so every day of my life I was hiding from bombs and guns and it didn’t surprise me, and I saw people die right in front of me everyday. I learned from my father to try to become a general or try to serve the country, to be loyal to the country ‑‑ and it just sticks in my mind, just freedom,
not communism. My uncle was a colonel and the more our family belonged to freedom, the more we didn’t like communism. We fought against it for three generations. After my father got killed by the Communists I was put in a special school ‑a junior military academy, something like West Point. The government paid everything ‑ clothing, shoes, books, pants. I stayed there for 7‑9 years.
Bart: When did you start? Tru: At age 11.
Bart: Did you live there?
Tru: I lived there day and night. We stayed there nine months; we had a two and a half months vacation; so I just stayed with my mother at home during that time, but I always wore a uniform, even at home. We got paid ‑ not much ‑ it trained my mind about the military. In my school we had nine classes, the same level, classes of 40 students and we competed to be best in the class, to get rank and be paid more ‑ like lieutenant. Whoever studied and got a high level didn’t have to work.
Bart: Did you learn other things than just military things at school?
Tru: Like the regular public school, but there we learned a strong spirit, to love the country, and we had the best profession.
Bart: How long did you stay there?
Tru: Seven and a half years. I left at age 19. I had a chance to go to f irst year of college and I had two choices; one to go to college for four more years ‑ for military training for a better career, to be a general. If I didn’t go to that four year college, my career would just come up to colonel, no further. After 7 years in college I could become a military doctor. This was in a civilian school. I went here f or one year but didn I t like it. Seven and a half years was too much. My career was to be a general ‑ to have power. I didn’t go there to figure out how many cells in the body, to study blood pressure ‑ it was boring ‑ so I went to the war. I got hit ‑ wounded ‑ right here (ankle).
Bart: A bullet?
Tru: No, shrapnel. It was a booby trap. It went right through my shoe and heel.
Bart: What happened to you after you were wounded?
Tru: After I was wounded, I still could go back to fight again, but at that time my mother was scared. I was 20 and had just gotten out of school.
Bart: Where were you when it happened?
Tru: Near Saigon. My mother began to get scared and began to talk to my grandfather who had a relationship with the Vice President; they were like brothers. When the Vice President of South Vietnam was young, he taught in high school and at that time my grandfather was the principal.
So, when he was young he didn’t have a place to live, so he lived with my grandfather in his house. Both would play together, go fishing, like 20 year‑old friends. Later on their families accepted each other. My mother talked to the Vice President ‑ I call him grandfather, too ‑ and he suggested that I work for him. I liked it because I could work with power.
Bart: What did you do for the Vice President of South Vietnam? Tru: I went around the cuntry. Sometimes I travelled with
him; sometimes I went by myself; sometimes I went to different places to investigate the military to see how corrupt they were, how they treated people. I even investigated civilians ‑ my boss gave benefits to teachers ‑ looking to see who was doing a good job ‑ to give them a promotion. I would report to my boss and he would decide. I was at that time very cocky.
Bart‑. It was a powerful job?
Tru: Yes; I controlled the guys, like colonels in the war. Bart: Were you in uniform at that time? Tru: I was a civilian.
Bart: How long did you do that?
Tru: Just a year, until South Vietnam collapsed.
Bart: Before we go on I would just like to find out what was the most important thing that happened to you between the age of 6 and 16? What do you think it would be?
Tru: Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think about it. From 6‑
16 years old we don’t think about what happened. I remember that I was a very strong young man, ambitious; I looked at the future like a colonel or a general, saying, “Hey, one day I’ll be like that.” This was my dream ‑ to be a general of a military army, to make the country better for everyone.
Bart: Were you interested in politics as well? Tru: No, just the military.
Bart: Outside of the family did you have any close relationships with anybody?
Tru: Interesting question. Actually, my childhood wasn It much. My father died when I was young; I was about 7 years old and when I went to military training school, in my mind was just revenge ‑ revenge,, revenge, revenge ‑ for my father’s death. And I know who killed my father ‑ the Communists. When my father got killed, he had 300 men with him in that area and got attacked by Communists. My father got wounded and at that time the main medical was not advanced, so he died. He had good treatment. He had a helicopter bring him back to the French hospital ‑ the best ‑ but because of a rain storm, the helicopter could not land, so he lost blood and died.
Bart: So your teenage period was spent thinking about your father’s death.
Tru: Yes. I thought about revenge for my father’s death and no more communists in my country, because at that time I
saw Americans in my country and how they treated us. They did a good job; they gave us a new world to know; they brought us meals, everything was new; it was very reasonable to learn this new culture. Only the Communists did not accept the Americans; that was the problem.
Bart: What did you do for fun as a teenager? Tru: Well, I began to be a bad boy when I was 11 or 12. 1
played soccer in a national competition. And when I was 11, I was ready to be an officer and was very cocky with many of the sergeants who trained us. In class I jumped over the fence and went to the town and drank coffee and listened to music. During class! I was a bad boy!
Bart: Didn’t they punish you? Tru: Yes. They put me in a small room ‑ no blankets, cold.
The punishment was very heavy. Bart: Did you stop or keep doing it? Tru: I kept doing it quietly. Sometimes I would get away with it; sometimes I would get caught. You knew that just a half a mile away there was a town and a coffee shop and beautiful girls there. What could you do? Jump out and jump back. We took taxis into town. My school was right at the bottom of a mountain, right near where people planted their gardens ‑ vegetables and fruit ‑ we jumped out and stole from them. Bananas. We just had enough money to buy coffee and candy and when the fruit season came, we stole it. Bad boy! What could they do to us?
Bart: Did this go all the way through your seven and a half years at school?
Tru: No, when I first got to school, I was a very nice boy for three years. But the fourth year I became bad.
Bart: And there were girls in the town? Were you interested in girls?
Tru: Yeah, but I didn’t know how to start.
Bart: What happened to you when the Communists took over?
Tru: April 27, 1975. I was stuck in a town near Vung‑Tau City, just about 50 miles east of Saigon. Saigon didn’t collapse until April 29. We listened to the radio. They said drop your guns and go home. Vung‑Tau City was where my school was. There was an island where every unit used to go to relax ‑ the Tigers, the Marines, the Parachutes, the Police, The M.P. Is, Communications ‑ all lived on the island. Vung‑Tau was the training area for all these units. So I joined with a couple units ‑ about 300 people, but they didn’t know what to do. I became their leader.
Bart: Were you a civilian?
Tru: They knew me. I knew the area. A couple guys, like the lieutenants, knew me. So they gave the leadership to me immediately. So I connected with the marines, a very strong unit. They suggested blowing up the bridge which connects Vung‑Tau with Saigon. If we blew up that bridge, the communist tanks would not be able to get to our
island. I talked with the marine and parachute units and we estimated that there were 10,000 troops on that island ‑ South Vietnamese troops. We still hoped that the United States would come and rescue us because we were on an island, on the ocean. The boats would come and get us. But we couldn’t because the Communists used 122 millimeter artillery which dropped on the vessels so that they couldn’t come and pick us up. We saw the boats and the helicopters going back and forth. I still had good communications with the United States navy ships. I couldn’t speak English at that time but had an interpreter. We controlled the ocean, but people from the other island came in ‑ the older people, children, animals ‑ we let them all in. But the Communists came in with them.
Bart: Disguised? Not as soldiers?
Tru: Yes. I had underestimated. What could I do? I still believed that the United States still supported us. I believed that South Vietnam would give up some land to the Communists, but the Communists took advantage; they took everything they could; they didn’t care about compromise. That’s why the United States won’t pay for damages for the war to North Vietnam communists because they didn’t keep their word. In South Vietnam at that time, the leadership was very bad, corrupt. Thieu was president. There was a very big drug system in South
Bart: Was he involved?
Tru: Oh, tons and tons. There was a convoy from Cambodia to Laos, mostly cocaine.
Bart: You were on this island with Communist infiltrators. Tru: Yes. Two days later I got caught. I was in the hotel on
the sixth floor. We knew that not many Communists had come in. We still had continued to have a strong connection with the marines because they were very good fighters. I took care of my unit in this hotel and the marines were just about a couple hundred yards away. And we fought and fought. Out of my 300 men I had about 20 Communists.
Bart: Were they strangers?
Tru: Yes. I’m still sick (thinking) that they almost shot me at that time. Everyone was giving us ammunition on the top of the hotel and we fought from there, but many of the guys didn’t do it. I threatened to shoot them if they didn’t. And two days later, I got an AK 47 pushed right here against my head.
Bart: One of the soldiers in your 300?
Tru: No, not one of these but from the outside. They connected with the people in my unit and were actually from North Vietnam. They treated me differently; they were not local. If they had been local, they wouldn’t care. The North Vietnamese who came to the South treated
us differently; they followed military orders. So they checked me out, but I still had a handgun, which meant that you were an officer. Not like here where a Colt 45 is easy to get. The troops only had rifles. Those who had handguns were officers who had a high function. So they sent me to be investigated more and the others were sent home.
Bart: If you had not had the handgun, would you have been freed?
Tru: Maybe killed.
Bart: Did they kill many of your friends?
Tru: Yes, a couple. They had a B40 bazooka and shot my building; the sixth floor. They blew up the building; it moved! I was moved out. Later on, the people loyal to me said they almost shot me, too.
Bart: Were the Communists friendly?
Tru: No, they were just doing their jobs. They told me to raise my hands and said that if I didn’t, I would die. I had to put my hands on top of my head, walked three miles to the camps and from there we lived in the camp for a couple days. It was OK. I knew Vung‑Tau City well and I escaped. I still believed that the more you moved to the South, the more you could rebel again. I hoped to join with a group to fight back. We got on a boat that was going by, and f rom Vung‑Tau we went on the ocean about 30 miles. I then got the news that the general in
the South committed suicide. First he said he would fight until the last, but he committed suicide, so we lost everything. In South Vietnam we had four generals. Three lost and now the fourth committed suicide.
Bart: You were still heading towards your home town?
Tru: It took me 10 days. My mother thought I was dead. it was lucky in my home town that no one knew what I had been doing: every time I went home with civilian clothes, my family had a tradition of teaching on both my mother’s and father’s side ‑ even my father as a captain never wore a uniform when he came home. The people thought I worked in education. The first thing I asked my mother was if she had burned all military pictures and my father’s and my documents. She had.
And them a month later I got caught out of revenge by the local people. They didn’t like the way my family lived ‑ an easy life. They said I was against the Communists. They caught me at about 1: 00 in the morning in bed. They put handcuffs on me. These were local Vietnamese. The stupid people took revenge on people who had an education ‑ they didn’t like education.
Bart: So the people who were the Communists were the ones who were not educated?
Tru: Yes. They said I was guilty because I had money; I was rich, even though I didn’t do anything. I had kept a real low profile.
Bart: How long were you held prisoner there?
Tru: About one month. About a month ‑ did you see my bathroom ‑ 40 men and women in one room. Everything happened in there: peeing and everything. Females didn’t care. My mother went to the local leader to give them some money for me to get out. It worked, but I got caught again. Nothing was secret. From there, I went to a concentration camp.
Bart: Was that nearby?
Tru: No, it was far away. They sent me to another town. About 40 miles away from home town. I went to a barracks with 200 people; my legs were put in chains, 20 guys to one chain.
Bart: So you couldn’t escape. Tru: No way.
Bart: How long was this?
Tru: I don’t know exactly ‑ about 4 to 6 months. They moved me around. It was terrible. We didn’t have food; we didn’t have anything. We had soup, just water with salt and f at. They woke me up about 2: 00 am to ask me questions ‑ where was my unit, how many were left, why didlt I tell them the truth. I had to learn my report because every time I wrote it down I changed it a little bit. I realized that the communists didn’t have a good education because they followed your sentences word for word, even where you put the comma or period.
Bart: So every night you would have to write reports of the questions you were asked?
Tru: This is how I knew about their education. They asked you the same questions every time. What I wrote first they kept; the second time I wrote it again; before long my sentences compared sentence by sentence. If I changed the sentences around, I would be in big trouble. They wanted it exactly as I said before.
Bart: What if it wasn’t exactly the same?
Tru: I’m not on; I’m lying; I’m guilty. So after 20 reports I remembered it word for word. I answered them “yes, sir; no, sir.11
Bart: What happened after 6 months in these barracks?
Tru: They moved me to another camp; they chained me; the same thing happened. Everything was the same, but I didn’t
see my friends anymore. Bart: Did your mother ever come to the camp?
Tru: Four times she came, but after that she couldn’t; she didn’t know where I was anymore. After three and a half years I realized that in the camp there was no one I could trust ‑ even the guys in my unit. The people in the concentration camp could be killed for buying illegal food ‑ like rice. The Communists would give us a little rice to others; I would be the dog of the Communists.
Bart: So, if you were hungry they would give you food and you would have to work for them. If you didn’t, they
wouldn’t give you food? Would they starve you if you didn’t work for them?
Tru: We were hungry anyway. Some people could not be patient with that, so they worked with the communists to survive. I was the victim. They would check our behaviour, check out our emotions and how we were dealing with the situation. If we didn’t do right, they would report me and I would need to escape. So I decided to escape.
Bart: Did they abuse you physically? Tru: Yes. A lot. Not every day ‑ 3 or 4 times a week. I
didn’t care. My body already hurt. Who cared? I didn’t realize how damaged my body was until I came here. In the camp we didn’t have any vitamins; we lacked everything ‑ even broken bones ‑ we didn’t care either. After 10 years my dentist told me I had a broken bone in my jaw. I never knew. (Tru has since had an operation)
Bart: All of this time did you communicate with anybody? Tru: No, not really. In the fourth year I tried to communicate but I found out it wouldn’t work. It was more dangerous, so I shut my mouth and did what the Communists said so I could have an easy life in the camp. I had a plan to play dumb until the Communists trusted me so I could run. I learned from my military school how to survive.
Bart: Do you think there were many like you in the camp?
Tru: A lot. Everyone was planning for themselves. No one trusted anyone.
Bart: Did it take a long time to trust people after that? Tru: No.
Bart: What kind of work were you doing in the camp?
Tru: Labor work: rebuilding roads, cleaning up the jungle, building houses, clearing the mines. The first year I really didn’t know the system; I didn’t know what they wanted; I thought they wanted to know what I was feeling, but the more I spoke about what I felt, the more doubts they had about me. They gave me a harder time. They gave us about 14‑16 hours of work, very dirty jobs, labor work with little food.
Bart: Did they trust you after three and a half years?
Tru: After three years they began to… not really trust me, but they thought I was just an idiot guy, not going to escape, just brainwashed.
Bart: When and how did you escape?
Tru: Well, as I told you they moved you around from one concentration camp to another every 6 months so that you don’t know where you are, and the people die for food. In the concentration camps, prisoners could kill prisoners for food. So we didn’t trust each other ‑ even captains didn’t trust captains, lieutenants didn’t trust lieutenants ‑ everyone kept to themselves to survive. I planned by myself for 6 months from the skills I learned
in the military academy. I looked at the stars at night to see where north, east, south and west were, to figure out where I could run to. In 6 months I listened to the guards ‑ when they went to the city and came back ‑ how they talked about activities in the city and how the people in the city would react to us if they saw us. So I had to prepare myself to deal with this if I got the chance to escape.
So, one day, when I was out doing my labor work, I asked the guard if I could go to the bathroom, over behind a tree. I was sitting there about 15 minutes; there was something funny which I had seen on the TV or in the movies, how the prisoners escaped ‑ they were supposed to shake a branch so the guard knew they were there.
Bart: So you were moving something?
Tru: Yes, the f irst few minutes I had to do that and the guard trusted me, so I ran. I had gotten to know the area for many months and I just ran through the jungle.
Bart: Was there a road?
Tru: Yes, but I didn’t dare go on the road; I had to go far away from the road. The further away, the safer it was. You had to cross the jungle to get to the village and to the city. When you escape, you have no food with you and that means that you have to survive by yourself, so the first night I was still okay ‑ I found water in the bamboo trees and picked up flowers and ate the roots;
the second day I ate worms ‑ I had no choice ‑ I had some salt; I ate the skins ‑ there was no meat. When I got near the city, I found out its name, and luckily, I knew a couple people who had worked for me before, so I waited for the night to come and went to the house, at the back door. I crossed my fingers ‑ hoping that my friend would be home and luckily he was home. I asked him to do me a big favor, (I told him I might get shot at any time) to go and see my mother, get me some money, buy some new clothes for me. I was lucky that guy was so loyal; he put me in the basement and hid me, leaving me some food for a couple of days.
When he came back with the money and the clothes, I changed and asked him how to get from his place to my mother’s home town and how to get legal papers. The first thing he did was go to the local police and tell them I was his cousin ‑ visiting ‑ that I had just got out of the hospital (it was a big lie). My skin from the concentration camp was white ‑ not enough vitamins ‑ everything was skinny, like a skeleton body. He knew the policeman, who was a Communist and liked money. So he was friendly to him for a couple days, had parties, got him drunk and said that he wanted to travel from that area, so the guy gave him the stamp ‑ legal papers and wrote my name on it and I used the papers to travel.
Bart: Where did you do?
Tru: Near to my mother I s, but not to my mother’s house. About 10 miles away. There I began to work. My first job was building roads ‑ labor work again ‑ along with the local people. They needed workers, so I did this for about four and a half months. I was lucky; it was low class work and nobody paid attention to you.
Bart: Where did you live? Tru: Just around the area. I lived like the homeless people, but better because I still had money for myself. Sometimes I slept like on the sidewalk (courtyard) ‑ you pay a couple dollars a day. I found out that my mother was okay; she began to know that I was around. Because I was homeless, I used to hang around at the bus station and got to know the people who worked there and became
friends with the men who took care of the buses. So I worked with them for nothing and they liked it; I had to clean the buses every day, doing their jobs. I began to learn more; I found out how to get a driver’s licence. My mother was giving me support money so I had more chance of attaining a better social class. I got to know more people; I used to buy them drinks ‑ I was drunk every day. I just said, “I like you; you’re my friend.” I asked them if I could get a driver’s licence because I wanted to be a bus driver. One guy that I drank with f or 20‑30 days ‑ we were talking, laughing, joking ‑ he started to know I wasn’t dangerous ‑ I also gave him
money ‑ he trusted me and I got a driver’s licence and I became a dump truck driver. From building the roads by hand, now I was building roads by driving a truck, a much better function. I got more pay, but the more I was paid, the more I drank. I had no choice, because if you didn’t drink, you would lose your job.
Now I wanted to be able to move from one district to another, so I paid more money to get a bus driver I s licence. So I travelled from A to B to C to find out a good location to escape. I even drove to Cambodia ‑ I went to Phnom Penh ‑ I carried soldiers, young kids about 17, they had no choice; they had to go; if they didn’t, their families would get no food. So they were forced to go. I drove them there and I taught them how to escape. Before we crossed the border to Cambodia we had three ferries and at every ferry I taught them how to jump out of my bus. There were two guards with guns on the bus. There were about 50 young soldiers, and I told them to open the window and jump out just as the ferry was leaving; they could jump back onto the land just as the ferry was pulling away. The guards couldn’t catch them. When I got to Cambodia, there were only 20 soldiers on my bus, 30 had escaped ‑ the guy almost killed me. I told him it was his problem, not mine, I was just the bus driver. So then we went to Phnom Penh ‑ it was terrible; there were many people dying, terrible poverty, and I had
planned to leave the bus there and escape on foot, but I didn’t have a chance; everywhere I went I was accompanied by the army, so I went back.
I was using different papers now. They thought I was working for the Communists, so I went to Kan Tho City and from there to another city near Cambodia and made connections with people to escape by boat. One of my bus passengers asked me if I wanted to escape ‑ he was on the black market and had known me already, for the past few months ‑ he said it would cost a hundred thousand dollars ‑ that was cheap ‑ it cost one family $1 million to excape to the USA. They told me where to meet them and how to do it. It was an old boat, for the river, not for the ocean. At that time they required me to pay 3 pieces of gold ‑ 24K ‑ a value of about $15,000.
Bart: Pieces of gold? Tru: Yes; at that time we used pieces of gold ‑ we didn’t use money; it had no value. We dealt in diamonds and gold. I waited for the day; I took a vacation; I told them my mother was sick and I had to go home for a week. I wasn I t sure I would escape and I might have to go back to work and wanted to make sure that no one could doubt me. When I went to this small city, people were there waiting for me and brought me to a small boat ‑ for two people ‑ a canoe. I sat in the middle, covered up with a two days’ supply of food. Just about six o’clock, when the
sun was going down, the mosquitoes came out; they were terrible. When we got to the ocean, we had to swim to the boat. There were about 30 canoes coming from different directions. The boat was leaving at 7:00 and if you weren’t there, you would miss the boat, so all the canoes had to arrive at the same time.
Bart: Did everyone make it?
Tru: Yes, everyone made it. It was amazing; there were 41 people. It was a wooden boat, with oars. The f irst day we had a motor; the second day the motor was gone so we sailed by blanket. The water was always coming in; there were cracks in the boat and we had to bail all the time, 24 hours a day. If we didn’t, the boat would sink. The boat was about 18 feet long and about 8 feet wide, with 41 people in there: 39 men, one child and one female.
Bart: How far did you get?
Tru: Five nights and six days on the ocean. Many times we were attacked by pirates from Thailand, because my boat had a female, but she was so ugly that they didn’t rape her. The last day I thought we were all going to die. The water was almost up to the top of the boat ‑ we wanted to die, we were depressed. Suddenly we saw sharks ‑ four of them ‑ we just saw the fins, like in the movies. At that time we had no energy, but when we saw those sharks ‑ power ‑ superman ‑ came in! We started to row; we got the water out of the boat; we moved. I was
sitting in the back of the boat ‑ I knew nothing about sailing ‑ and I drove the boat all day; I didn’t know what I was doing. We sailed by blanket, with no experience of sailing a boat. The night before we had tried to escape from a fishing boat from Thailand or Indonesia; they were looking for us. In the morning we were lost completely and were exhausted, so we had all agreed to die; we were waiting for death. But as soon as the sharks showed up, we got up and we ran.
Bart: And where did you end up?
Tru: We ended up in Thailand. The first thing we did was destroy our boat, because if we didn’t, the first thing they would do would be to put us back on the boat and tell us to move on. We came up to the people in the village and they tied us up. One guy, who had gold teeth, they took his teeth out. They checked our bodies because they were looking for gold and money. We were harrassed every night in that village. They put us in an area surrounded by a fence. There was a guard.
Bart: How long were you there? Tru: Three months.
Bart: Why did they hold you prisoner?
Tru: They held us because they were trying to get our gold. If you didn’t show them gold, they wouldn’t let you go. Actually, the guy who owned the boat did have gold, but we didn’t know. After three months he gave them his gold
and they let him go. I almost stayed in that village because I had too many patients.
Bart: Too many patients? Tru: I had become the doctor in that village. They thought I was God. They all wanted to come to me; there was one person in the village whose body was paralysed for 5 years. He came to me. I knew accupressure; I worked on him for about 20 days and he got up and walked. That gave me power. More people began to come.
Bart: Were you still confined as a prisoner? Tru: Yeah, but I had more power. Everyday I had to see about 30 patients; they came from 200 miles around ‑ even from Bangkok. I didn’t know what to do ‑ I’m not a doctor. I didn’t have a medical background. I am just a master at Karate and Tai‑chi. What was I going to do? I was just lucky. It always worked; it was a miracle.
After that I went to Song‑la camp in Thailand ‑ a camp for Vietnamese ‑ a legal camp. There I helped another Vietnamese with a paralysed body, and a few doctors began to become aware of me; they said it was just black magic. I was at Song‑la for 6 months and at that time I worked with an American girl, a volunteer, who wanted to develop sports for the camp, for about 7000 people. But I could not speak English with that lady; she was about 22 years old, Maggie. Actually I was a coordinator for soccer, swimming and volleyball. We got along well despite the
lack of communication. I didn’t know much about sports, but I did make the people enjoy themselves. Then they moved me to another camp ‑ to Indonesia.
Bart: Who moved you? Tru: The United States; they approved me. Actually, it was
funny; the guy who interviewed me didn’t ask me many questions. He asked me where I was from, where I studied. When I mentioned my school, he approved me immediately. Indonesia had a better camp. They had a school; they trained the people to speak English and they were more active. It was better organized. I was there for 6 months and I got a job driving a dump truck for the camp ‑ for trash. They paid me $1 a day ‑ better than nothing. The pay was just right. This time I got the doctors against me and that’s why I still have the feeling that I don’t like doctors. The story is that I met a family who had a baby ‑ 6 years‑old. She was born with a crack in the back of her head ‑ like a Mongoloid Idiot. She couldn’t move. The camp leader knew that I knew accupressure. The mother told me that the baby was born early (premature) and by machine (forceps?) , and the baby could not move or anything. So she hoped that when we went to the United States with advanced technology, the baby would get better. I began to use ginger, hot water, salt, and my 2 fingers. I believe that everyone has this energy ‑ this power. I worked on the baby; the
first week, nothing happened. But after 20 days the baby began to react, to function, to move a little bit; she ate by herself. The family saw that she was improving and began to believe in me more. Now she got up with difficulty ‑ she stood up ‑ and she could walk holding on to something, but not by herself. The mother asked me to help the baby walk normally and I realized for myself that I couldn’t do that. I had a limit and I had to refuse. Fortunately, my friend, who was older than me by about 10 years and a captain in the Special Air Force and good at martial arts, knew accupuncture. I begged him to help me, explaining that I was doing this just to help the baby, not f or money, but that I couldn I t do any more. He said he would do it but he didn’t have any needles f or the accupuncture, so we had to cut the strings from a guitar to make them. We did this, but a month later we had a conflict between the family and us because we didn’t treat the family nicely ‑ we didn’t talk nicely to them; we talked grouchy.
Bart: Why? Tru: It’s old fashioned. If I treat you badly, you will hate me. I don’t want you to owe me a favor. I will help you, but I’ll make you hate me. After I do my job, I don’t want to see you anymore ‑ this is South Asian culture. You owe me nothing; I owe you nothing. So we put the mother and baby in a very bad situation. Every morning
at 6:30 she had to carry her baby about one and a half miles up the mountain as a punishment. We told her that if she wanted her baby to walk, she had to carry her baby; we didn’t want another person to carry her baby. I wanted to see how much she loved her baby. She cried a lot because it was very painful to climb the mountain; the conditions were very poor on the island. We also bought black market medicine: vitamins to make the body stronger ‑ and we put it inside the baby ourselves (injections) ‑ it was illegal. Actually, besides doing that, there was an army military doctor who learned from us. He didn’t work for the hospital, but was willing to learn accupressure and accupuncture from us.
Bart: What happened to the baby? Tru: It worked. The baby could walk about five yards by
herself. I said that we had done our job and the rest depended on the baby’s mother and family to support her.
Bart: Was that the last thing you did medically? Tru: Well, the doctors in the camp hospital didn’t like us and they tried to put us in jail because we didn’t work with them. These were Vietnamese and Indonesian doctors.
Bart: Was it shortly after this that you came to the United States?
Tru: Yes. When we heard we were in trouble, a week later they sent us to Singapore to a waiting camp f or about 10 days. We then flew to San Fransisco, and then to Pennsylvania,
ò small town, Elwood City. I lived there for two months, ò very small farming town of about 5000 people, and I was the only Vietnamese in town. My sponsor worked all the time, so I didn’t have people to talk to; just one day a week I went to the library to learn English; she was a volunteer teacher ‑ I’m still in touch with her family. She came to Portland to visit us, with her husband ‑ amazing.
Bart: Were you working? Tru: I couldn’t find a job. No one gave me a job because at that time the economy was bad. My sponsor was a manager for a Hungarian Club and he asked around, but there was nothing.
Bart: How did you earn money? Tru: I got one month welfare and gave my money to my sponsor, but kept $20 for myself. The rest ‑ food stamps and cash ‑ went to my sponsor because I learned in the camp that you have to be independent, and if you live with someone, you have to share the rent and food; it doesn’t matter who they are, you have to pay to be equal. I taught Karate for three boys in town who were friends of my sponsor. I asked them to do me the favor of buying me a ticket to go to Virginia. I had a f riend there ‑ a Vietnamese Navy General ‑ and we had a meeting talking about going back to fight, to get freedom back for South Vietnam. I stayed there for about 3 days and went back
to Pennsylvania. A month later I couldn’t find a job and felt useless. So I called Portland, Maine, to ask a couple of friends about jobs and schools for English. They said there were plenty. My sponsor didn’t let me go because he was worried I would get lost; I was just new with no experience. I said I would go by myself with no help. I asked the three boys and they bought me the ticket and gave me $10. It took me 2 days and 1 night to get from Pennsylvania to Portland; I had to go to Pittsburgh, then to Washington, DC and then to Portland. It was very difficult because I didn’t speak English. I knew how to buy food, but with my poor pronunciation I could not make Americans understand what I wanted; so I bought Pepsi and food from the machines. I sat on the bus with a magazine covering my face. I didn’t dare to speak to the person on my right or left, in front or behind me. I was hungry!
Bart: And you arrived in Portland with less that $10? Tru: When I arrived in Portland, I had $4 left in my pocket, but I had to call a taxi. I was scared to death that the taxi would drive me around and get more money from me. I told him 648A Forest Avenue and told him please don’t charge me over $4. He dropped me of f and charged me $3.25. I had 75 cents left in my pocket.
Bart: Did you find people at this address? Tru: I found it but I didn’t know how to get in. There was a
bar downstairs and I went through from front to back and back to front and I didn’t recognize it to be a bar; I thought it was just a bus stop with people waiting for a bus. Back and forth, back and forth with people looking at me very strangely. Everyone was looking at me as if I were an alien. I went back and forth six times. I couldn’t find 648A and I was right beside it. It took me about 10 minutes to get up to the f irst f loor ‑ there were no lights and I was afraid that people would attack me. I had heard about robberies and bad people in the United States in places where there was no light ‑ it scared me. So I came up and knocked on the door, but it was the wrong door. An American showed up and when I asked for the person I was looking for, he said that they were all outside. So I slammed the door ‑boom! ‑ and I said to myself, “Oh boy, that was not friendly behaviour”. I knocked at another door and a young American female showed up, the girl friend of my friend. She didn’t speak Vietnamese, but she had heard information from her boyfriend about me. I asked where the kitchen was; I just said “kitchen” and she understood. She just pointed. I went there as if it was my kitchen ‑ rude ‑ and I cooked some rice and ate it. She didn’t react.
Bart: So now in Portland, what did you do? Did you find it a difficult place to be? How did you eventually learn
English and what did you do to make money? Tru: My friend was a social worker for the Refugee Resettlement Program and I insisted that he find a job f or me immediately. I couldn’t believe what I did. I lived in that building with 14 refugees ‑ three bedrooms for 14 people ‑ we slept on the floor every night; we shared everything. Two days later I got a job working for Hu‑Shang, not speaking English, but willing to work. The owner told me what to do but I couldn’t understand; I did what they wanted; they were happy and I was happy because I was making money now; I didn’t care how much they robbed me or took advantage of my labor as long as they gave me money and food. So, for example, one day Ken (the owner) asked me to give him a cabbage; I thought he said “garbage”, so I brought him the garbage instead of the cabbage. His behaviour was too strong for me ‑ he was Oriental and I was oriental and he treated me badly. It wasn’t fair and I said I would rather go work for an American. They had paid me well but were treating me like a slave. They gave me an apartment, one room with shared bath and $1000 a month in my pocket after tax. And I quit! I went to work for Century Tire on St. John Street where I got paid $3.35 an hour. The first check was $100; I got $250 at Hu‑Shang. How could I live? I was going to school, too. I got f air treatment; my American supervisor was very nice and helped me everyday,
but because I didn’t understand English, all the guys took advantage of me. I was rebuilding tires and one guy wanted me to do his job. Usually we each did ten tires a day, but after two weeks he gave me two more ‑ he did 8 and I did 12. It kept going up. I said (to myself), “Wait a minute, you earn more than me and I work harder than you; it’s not fair.” I didn’t know how to speak English to my boss and said, “I quit! I cannot work with that guy.” But I couldn’t speak the way I do now.
Bart: You said you were going to school at this time? Tru: I went to school at that time at ABLE (Adult Basic Learning Exchange) at that time on High Street,, and I studied how to get the GED, which I found very difficult. I mowed lawns for someone who paid me $25 for one day. I loved it and I worked there near the store that sold muffins, but I still didn’t know how to buy either, even though I had lived there about 4 or 5 months. I still couldn’t buy the food because my pronunciation was bad.
Bart: So you were still very worried about your language and communication?
Tru: Scared to speak and I lived with my ex‑girlfriend, Kate; now she has changed her last name. Actually she tried to help me a couple of times, but later on she let me free; she let me learn by myself even though she was a teacher of ESL. Maybe it was because she said to me, “Tru, you and I are equal, boyfriend and girlfriend.” She couldn’t
bear to teach me how to speak English. I went to teach Karate; Kate found me a job; she introduced me to the Portland Adult Community Education and she told my boss that I had a talent to teach martial arts: Karate, Judo, Tai Kondo. I have three top black belts, which can be compared with about five black belts. I have proof of my skills. That school let me teach but I didn’t last long because my English was so very limited. Fortunately, my students were very smart; they understood what I wanted to teach them.
Bart: So you didn’t have to use many words. Tru: No, we learned by emotions, by body language and we got along well. Actually, my boss said to me, “Amazing, Tru. I don’t know how you go through class, how you just seem to communicate by body language.” But what I do, they do the same as me; so they did exactly what I wanted them to learn.
Bart. So this is another way of communicating. This is probably similar to what your fingers do with your accupressure.
Tru: Yes, except the body language is what I know how to do, working with my body. Then I worked three jobs a day: 7‑ 9 am I taught private Karate lessons; 10 pm to 6 am I cleaned as a janitor for Falmouth High School; and 7‑9 pm I taught Karate. One day a week I mowed lawns. Everything was hard for me. Later on I taught a couple
more private classes for adults in Falmouth; and I taught Ken the owner of Hu‑Shang. He paid me well.
Bart: Did you become his friend? Tru: I had more power than a friend. In 1987 I began thinking about what I could do. I couldn’t go on with three jobs a day. I was getting old and was worried about the future. Actually, I wanted to challenge my future, go on an adventure. I thought I should gamble. I have done a lot of gambling.
Bart: Ever since you were young? Tru: Yeah. I like to gamble, but not at cards. I gamble my life with the job. 11 Can I do a restaurant”, I asked myself. I said I could. This was the biggest gamble of my life.
Bart: The biggest one? Aside from escaping from a concentration camp?
Tru: Yeah. But you can’t really compare that because at that time I thought it was just a small gamble, but now I can see that this was a big gamble. I was such an idiot at that time; I was inexperienced at retail; I did’t know how to keep accounts or bookkeeping ‑ everything was a shock to me ‑ I had to learn it all together. I was willing to learn and didn’t see it as difficult, but now I sit back and look at this and see that in four years I have learned to become an accountant, deal with the retail business, be a cook, and learn the whole
measurement system. Actually, I needed to go to school for small business ‑ I knew nothing.
Bart: Did you go to school? Tru: No. I learned by myself, by my mistakes. I told you that I gambled and at that time I didn’t really gamble. I said to myself, “I was so stupid, such an idiot. I am lucky to have got out of trouble so easily.”
Bart: Did you buy the building? Tru: No, I rented the building and I had to buy equipment. Luckily, in my sixth year, I was getting along better in American society so I was going up in social class. I moved from lower class to upper middle class and people were more willing to help me.
Bart: With some of the expenses? Did you borrow money? Tru: Yes. I borrowed a lot of money. I borrowed from my friends; I borrowed from one of my students ‑ a florist. He co‑signed for me for $15,000. Can you believe it? Would you dare co‑sign for me?
Bart: If I had $15,000 I mightl Tru: But he didn’t have $15,000. He had just known me for 5 years. I was willing to do hard work, so he co‑signed $15,000 without asking about repayment; he gambled too. I borrowed $15,000 from another friend. I owned a house at that time, right on the water, and made 100% profit in 3 years.
Bart: So you still had the house and that was collateral?
Tru: I carried on and I’ve been very fortunate ‑ on the right side of the business boom. You can’t believe it! Every night I made $3500 for 9 months. I had the business for three and a half years. The first 6 months it was so‑so because people didn I t know. Suddenly the paper wrote about Vietnamese food, and boom, after a year I had 15 employees. My payroll was $5000 a week and every night it was $2000 ‑$2250 that came in. I laughed. It was a fortune. A year like that! It was great. I paid off the older people; I paid off everything and when the Tai Village went down, I said, “OK, stop right here.” The economy went down and someone was willing to pay me $50,000 for my business. I said “OK”, but that person was younger than me and he didn’t realize that the economy was going down, so I said, “No, I cannot hurt you.” Actually that boy has a Vietnamese restaurant now on Congress Street; he had cooked for me. He was ambitious and he liked me, but he had no knowledge; he didn’t know the American society; he didn’t know what was going on. He just saw my background, me making money, driving in a fancy car, going out to eat 3 or 4 nights a week; he thought, “Tru makes money easy ‑ so will I if I buy his business, I will make a lot of money too. ” I said, “No, I don’t want to take his money; I don’t want to be responsible for the future of this boy.”
Bart: Do you think you’ll go back into the restaurant business
Tru: Yes, I will, in 2 or 3 more years.
Bart: As a primary job or as a secondary job?
Tru: My goal is to go back to prove to people again that I can do it, that I can do it at the right time. I want to prove to people that if you want to do business, you have to know the right time and you have to know this not because you just see money right there and you jump in ‑ no, you have to analyze how, when and where you can collect your money.
Bart,. Now that you’ve stopped the restaurant, what are your plans?
Tru: I began to realize that my English needs to improve more and that I need to go back to school to study how to speak correct English. The economic recession came at a good time for me to go back to school.
Bart: So now that’s your plan? To get a degree, is it?
Tru: I’ll try. I’m not sure if I will get a degree or not, but if I had the chance, I’d get a degree.
Bart: Do you know what you want to study; where you want to focus?
Tru: That’s a problem. I’m born out of my culture. When I have a goal, I don’t let people know; that’s my problem.
Bart: You don’t tell people your goals?
Tru,. Yes. I’ll tell you the reason why because here if I don’t get it, I’m a liar.
Bart: You feel you’re a liar?
Tru: Yes, I feel like a liar and I’m born with my culture. What is in my head already says that here is my goal. If there’s nothing in my head, I won’t tell anyone what my goal is.
Bart: So you don’t want to tell people in case you don’t get it ‑ you might look bad to yourself and to the outside.
Tru: Actually, my goal is making money, being happy and travelling. And right now that you asked me, what is really important is English.
Bart: Is it just English or are there other things too?
Tru: If I can understand English I can relate it to all other things, like politics, social life.
Bart: Once you get your English, what is next at the University of Southern Maine?
Tru‑. I want to go higher in education.
Bart: Once you get a degree, what do you want to do?
Tru: I’d like to be an advocate for the poor people ‑ for people who don’t know where to go to talk, who have been intimidated by the system.
Bart: Poor people meaning immigrants and refugees or poor people meaning everybody?
Tru: Everybody. Everybody has a right to ask about what they don’t understand, and in this system a lot of poor people don’t know how to deal with that, and that causes discrimination between the poor and the rich. Poor
People don’t know shere to go so they are just angry and you and me are the victims. The rich people couldn’t care less because they know that the poor people cannot catch them, and you and me understand the system and we don’t know what to do because we are in the middle between poor and rich. So the rich hurt you and the poor hurt you and we’re stuck.
Bart,. Do you think you will work for the rest of your life? Tru: Yes. I’ll work with pleasure. I see work as fun ‑ a
challenge. Bart: What do you think is your most important achievement so
far in your life? Tru: So far. I have come here not speaking English and now I can talk to every level of people. I’m scared of nothing. I can even talk to government officials at a high level in the United States if I want to . I can even write a letter to the President if I want. But the psychology of South Asian people they don’t dare to talk to the government. But I do I express my opinion to anyone who is willing to listen to my feelings, my ideas.
Bart: So this is important to you ‑ you like the communication aspect and one of your goals is to become a better communicator between people.
Tru: Yes, between people. Actually between East and West; we have to open the doors together.
Bart: Do you think this relates back to your parents at all? Tru: I believe I got this from my father more than my mother.
My father would have a party every two or three weeks ‑ about 100 people in the house ‑ we liked social life; we liked more friends; we wanted everyone to be friends and not to be enemies with anyone.
Bart: Does this idea of communication give you a sense of power?
Tru: Not really power, but I know what I can do and I know where I can find justice. If you don’t know where it is you will be in a corner; people isolate themselves and they can’t improve their lives.
Bart: This idea of power keeps coming up. You talked about it when you lived in Vietnam, working for the Vice President. You must have power when you control with your Karate; if you have black belts, you must be a very powerful person anyway. Do you think this is related?
Tru‑. I don I t think of it as power ‑ I think of it as knowledge ‑ important knowledge; power won’t work.
Bart: Do you still feel that now? Tru: I feel it is knowledge. Bart: So that is a change? Tru: Yes.
Bart: What do you think your life will be like 10 years from now? What will you be doing?
Tru: Maybe I will be a businessman maybe in an organization
to develop business for the people. Bart: Do you think you will stay in Portland?
Tru: I hope so, because I plan to travel if I can get a degree ‑ to learn more experiences to bring back to my home town to show small businesses what we should be doing. For example, when I went to Halifax, a small city, I compared it to Portland; but they have developed a very excellent tourist center. Portland doesn’t have this. I think Portland is going backwards, not forward, because they are too old fashioned; something new has to be built. Portland has such a beautiful harbor, but no one knows how to develop it; it’s corrupt ‑ we have to be able to attract tourists to give Portland a name in the United States. We call it a vacationland but it is not a vacationland.
Bart: How do you think you’ve changed since you were 21? You are now married, you are an American citizen ‑ how do you think you are different?
Tru: Interesting question. I was born and grew up with power. I learned that everything was black and white; if you are guilty, you are guilty ‑ we do not forgive; you get punished. We don’t ask why you are guilty ‑ that’s my culture. I grew up with a real military government and I worked for a civilian man and I came here and saw that the system goes very slowly ‑ to find out why it is wrong and why it happened that way ‑ to think. In my country
we don’t think.
Bart: So this is a cultural change? Tru: Yes.
Bart: Do you think it is an age change as well?
Tru‑. Yes. People become more mature, more careful to react. Bart: Do you still gamble then or do you think that has passed? Tru. Yes, I still gamble. I like gambling. Bart: Has marriage changed your life?
Tru‑. Yes, very much. I have become more responsible ‑ to both sides. When I speak, I speak carefully to everyone because I realize I have a family. When I was single I spoke what I wanted to say and think, but now I have to think before I say something.
Bart: Can you imagine what your marriage will be like in 10 years?
Tru: In 10 years we will take care of our grandchildren and will try to build the family close together and develop a business where everyone in the family will have a job to do.
Bart: What was the happiest time in your life?
Tru: I don’t think my life has been very happy; just happy. Bart: Isn’t there one point in your life that was the happiest? Tru: When I got married. I’ll tell you why. I was a lonely
man; I lost my f ather when I was 7 or 8 years old. I didn’t have that love. I went to a private government school; I went to war ‑ fighting ‑ I saw blood everyday;
I went to a concentration camp for three and a half years; I escaped around the country two years before coming here to the United States. I came and worked like a dog again. So I wasn’t really happy ‑ just OK. My psychology just said “OK, just do it”. Like a robot. So when I got married I thought this was happiness ‑ the life I now have. I have a mother in Vietnam but there is nothing I can do, but now I have my wife ‑ a person who talks to me everyday.
Bart: When did you realize you became an adult? Tru: When I decided to close down my business; when I saw the recession coming. I looked at what I had done in the past 10 years and it scared me. What will happen in my life when I am 50 or 60 years‑old? You have to be more mature; you have to find your partner and share with your partner ‑ this was the last one hope I would have. Bart: Did you meet Donna before you sold the restaurant? Tru: Yes, I met her 3 years before.
Bart: So this is really the beginning of your adulthood. You mentioned once that you felt old. Do you still feel old?
Tru: I didn I t mean because of my age, but, as I mentioned, when you talk about success, you should be 20 to 35 years old ‑ that’s young. Over that age you are old; you’re not new anymore over 35. Every star has to be 20‑21 ‑ there are rules; if you want to play volleyball, there’s a certain age. After 32 you’re over the hill ‑ you have
to get out of the game.
Bart: You feel that, but you’re not getting out of the game. Tru: No, I still play the game, but I play quietly. I look
Bart: What advice would you give to your grandchildren or the younger generation ‑ perhaps young refugees or immigrants?
Tru: I don’t have relations with Vietnamese anymore. Bart: But what would you tell young Vietnamese kids in high
school if you were to meet with them? Tru: The first thing you have to consider is equality. They still remember their background ‑ whether they have respect or not. If they are Americanized, forget it; don’t give them advice. They will go against what I say. So I have to talk to them very carefully. If the person respects me, then we can talk. If the person has little respect, I cannot talk to them because it is the American way. I grew up with respect; I knew what was right and wrong. I listened to what the older people said to me and I considered what they said; but American young people don’t consider what you say ‑ they talk back to you immediately. That’s good, but also that’s bad. It’s bad because you have broken off a relationship with the people in f ront of you and good because you show your ego. You know what is good, but you still don’t know if you are right or wrong ‑ so you have to think before you
talk back to someone who gives you advice. Bart: So it’s hard for you to communicate with young people at the moment because they are so Americanized? Do you ever work with people new who have just drrived?
Tru: Sometimes I volunteer for Human Services in Portland ‑ I work with the police department when they need me to intrepret.
Bart: Do you find it frustrating? Tru: Yes, I do find it frustrating. Sometimes the Vietnamese community calls me up and asks me to help and they demand too much. They think I am the power. For New Years Day they wanted a policeman to protect the party. If you are American you have to give at least two weeks notice ‑ they wanted me to arrange it in 3 days; they want things immediately. I don’t have enough time to contact the Chief of Police or the department to ask them the favor. I couldn’t do it and they say I’m useless.
Bart: It must be difficult. Tru: Yes, very difficult. They demand a lot and I can’t do it ‑ II m in the middle. Some of them have lived here longer than me 15 or 16 years. I have tried to bring them out into the community to talk with Americans, but I cannot.
Bart: One more question: if you were to give this story a title, what would it be?
Tru: STRUGGLE ‑ a struggle of my life, dealing with both sides, East and West ‑ the struggle to get East and West
to shake hands together. They are not honest. I began to realize that many of the South Asians who came into the United States become criminals ‑ very hard people ‑ not so much in New England, but in the South. There are many South Asians in jail and they don’t talk about the lack of communication ‑ lack of orientation. When you lack orientation or communication what happens? Discrimination! They isolate themselves; they hate you ‑ very much. Like in Portland, the Amerasians had been prostitutes, but no one admits it. Who cares? Society doesn’t care. I know it but I cannot get involved. The Vietnamese community could care less. The American Refugee Resettlement Program cares less ‑ they don’t care! What can you do? It’s the law; you don’t complain. As long as the refugees don’t complain it’s OK. I bring you here and dump you there ‑ you have to live the best you can. Don’t blame us. They are separate and don’t work together, so the refugee community is angry and it’s easy to become criminal ‑ to attack you back. Or they join in groups together; for example, in Westbrook, the police department said that there are no gangs in Portland, but actually they had an Asian gang here. And they didn’t care; they just said that the Asians could do nothing. But it did happen ‑ the Westbrook story: the Chinese and Vietnamese were gambling; they brought automatic guns ‑ M16’s, shotguns, hand guns it’s
shocking! What one guy does, the whole community gets a bad name ‑ they say that the Vietnamese are robbers and I am a robber, too, because I am Vietnamese.
Bart: Do you think there will be any change? Tru: Not until the Americans provide a good orientation and work with the Vietnamese ‑ when they begin to work together. It depends on knowledge. If you are willing to work, it works; if you are unwilling to work, it won’t work. If you are narrow‑minded, forget it. If you have your way and I have my way, if we don’t talk together, we bump together. I know one person who is narrow‑minded ‑ he is the Director of the Refugee Resettlement Program ‑ he’s narrow‑minded. He doesn’t talk to the community ‑ he just wants the Vietnamese community to comply with what he wants. He won’t listen to people who won’t comply. When I complained, he cut me off ‑ shut me out. Unfortunately, when he went to the police department, he saw me again and didn’t know how to deal with me. He thought that when he chucked me out, no one would use me. He works with the low level ‑ the people without education; they do what he asks. They don’t analyze whether it’s good or bad. He didn’t analyze how this could affect the psychology of the Vietnamese community ‑ how people think.
A good example so that you might understand it more clearly: the Amerasians came to Portland. The first thing
in their mind they are taught that the Refugee Resettlement Program was the government. If they don’t do what they say, the Refugee Resettlement will cut their money. The refugees don’t understand that that money belongs to us. We pay taxes to give to the refugees, but the refugees think that the money belongs to the Catholic Diocesan who gives it to them, so the refugees don’t care about the government in Maine; they don’t care about Governor McKernan; they don’t care about Rollin Ives; they just believe that the Refugee Resettlement are GOD They do what they say; if they don’t do what they say, they don’t get the money. I tried to explain that: “Look, you came here; you earn money by us; we pay taxes and they need to make a proposal to get money from us to help you; they are not a GOD ‑ they are a helper; they will explain everything to you so that you can get along with a new culture.” The refugees say that they didn’t explain anything to us ‑ just put us to work after six weeks. I said that this was not right. After this I sat back and I thought: I need more practice in English before I can speak out again.
Bart: And that’s what you are going to do? Tru: Yes!