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California

By Josie D.
Grade 8, California
Country of Origin: Vietnam

Even before we were assigned to do this little project, I was always interested in my parents’ stories about immigrating to America. It was a whole other world for them, moving to a totally different environment at such a young age. For my interview, I chose to ask my step-dad a few questions about his journey from Ming Luong, Vietnam to America. This is how it went down…..
Me: Why did you and your family decide to immigrate to America?
My dad: We decided to come to America for a better life, away from the Communists who ruled Vietnam at that time. My parents also decided to take my siblings and me to the U.S. for a better education, and for more freedom and rights.
Me: When did you come to the U.S.?
My dad: We arrived in America on July 19th, 1979, after a year or so of staying in a refugee camp in Malaysia. I was just 12 years old. You can just imagine how afraid and curious I was.
Me: How did you get here; what was the trip like?
My dad: My family of ten split up, got on two boats, and half of us went to a refugee camp in Malaysia. The other half, including both my parents, went straight to Indonesia. After a year of living off canned foods at the camp, we got on a plane and that was how we came to America.
The trip by boat from Vietnam to Malaysia was an utter disaster. There were about two hundred people on one small fishing boat, and many of us got seasick and threw up the entire four days it took the boat to get to the camp. I was unable to eat anything since I would just throw it up, and being only 11 or 12, I got easily uncomfortable and would start kicking my legs out. I remember quite clearly that the old lady sitting next to me would pinch me every single time I accidentally nudged her with my legs. One other thing that also comes to mind about that trip was the Thai “pirates” that stopped us in the middle of nowhere. They robbed us of anything they thought of as valuable, including any jewelry or gold. The plane ride from Malaysia to America wasn’t half as bad as the boat, but it still made me throw up a bit. I had never been on a plane before, so I did not know what exactly to expect.
Me: How did you feel when you first arrived?
My dad: The minute I officially stepped onto American soil, I felt as sick as a dog. But as the bus I got on started to roll, I was overwhelmed. Coming from a small village in Vietnam, I was completely amazed at all the skyscrapers and streetlights I came across in San Francisco.
Me: Where did you live when you first came?
My dad: I lived in a small “studio” in Chinatown of San Francisco. My uncle was living there, so that was the reason why my family stayed there as well. In the studio, we shared a bathroom, a shower stand, and a kitchen with other people living in the building. There were eight people in our tiny little bedroom: my three older sisters, my one older brother, two aunts, my uncle, and me. My parents and other siblings were still in Indonesia.
Me: How long was the process of getting your entire family from Vietnam to America?
My dad: It took about two and a half years to get my entire family over to America. My parents and other siblings arrived from Indonesia a year after my older siblings and I arrived.
Me: When you finally attended school, what was it like?
My dad: Going to school wasn’t all that bad. During class, we had a bilingual teacher who spoke both Vietnamese and English, so communicating with our teachers was not a big problem for me. But the worst part about school was the kids. The ones who happened to be born in America made fun of my clothing and the fact that I could not speak English half as well as they did.
Me: Is everyone in your family that came to America, citizens of the United States?
My dad: Yes, everyone in my family is a citizen of the U.S. We all took the test at different points in our lives. I just happened to take mine when I was about 28 years old.
After interviewing my father, I felt so proud to call him my dad. He went through so much trouble just to come to the U.S. for better rights and liberty. I was lucky that I was born here, which meant that I was granted freedom right away, and the Constitution guaranteed it. I truly do admire all those people who were brave enough to come to the U.S. for justice and liberty. My dad’s story was just one tiny little part of it all. There are millions of others who immigrated here, and I would love to hear their stories too. I really enjoyed taking some one-on-one, father to daughter, talk with him about what he did to be where he is today.



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