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11.9.6 Interviews with Two Refugees from Vietnam

Interview with Le Huu Khoan. Interviewed by Michelle Le Pham. September 15, 2012. Garden Grove, California. The Grove Senior Apartments. Vietnamese American Oral History Project, University of California, Irvine Libraries, Special Collections and Archives. Interview with Alex Pham. Interviewed by Emily Stavros. February 15, 2012. Westminster, California. Vietnamese American Oral History Project, University of California, Irvine Libraries, Special Collections and Archives.
Vietnamese American Oral History Project
2012
Oral History (Transcript)

Vietnamese American Oral History Project, University of California, Irvine Libraries, Special Collections and Archives.

After the United States declared an end to the war in Vietnam and American soldiers withdrew in 1975, South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese communists. Le Huu Khoan and Alex Pham were Vietnamese refugees who fled Vietnam with their families to escape the communists. With no other option for escape, they crowded onto small boats with other refugee families in hopes of sailing to freedom in Thailand. The stories of their escapes revealed the perils of the journey. What dangers did they face along the way? Why do you think they were willing to take such risks? What do you think their experiences were like after relocating to the United States? How did the refugee experience differ from the experience of immigrants?

After the United States declared an end to the war in Vietnam and American soldiers withdrew in 1975, South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese communists. Le Huu Khoan and Alex Pham were Vietnamese refugees who fled Vietnam with their families to escape the communists. With no other option for escape, they crowded onto small boats with other refugee families in hopes of sailing to freedom in Thailand. The stories of their escapes revealed the perils of the journey. Ask students to discuss the oral history interviews, noting the dangers that Khoan and Pham describe. Provide context on the history of the boat people and why they would be willing to go to such lengths to escape Vietnam. Discuss the communist reeducation camps and the oppressive and cruel policies imposed by the Communist government after the United States' retreat from Vietnam. Ask students to consider what these people's experiences might have been like after relocating to the United States. Discuss how their status as refugees forced to flee their country might differ from the experiences of other immigrants coming to the United States by choice.

Interview with Le Huu Khoan

“We had to swim from Long Xuyen to avoid detection. When we got onto the ship; actually it was a small boat about 10 meters long crammed with 50 people, I called out for Le and Lim my two sons. They yelled back “Father I’m here”, once I heard that I was at ease. On the passage, it was wrought with pain and sadness. We were there for 10 days and were robbed five times. Thai fishermen who turned into pirates robbed us; they would block our boats and proceed to rob us and damage our engine in the process.”

Interview with Alex Pham

“We were lucky we didn’t get capsized. Because the boat could hold maybe up to 20 people and there was a hundred on it. The boat was going really slow cause it was so heavy. And of course the engine died because it was over working. So we were just floating out there for a week or two. And we were lucky to be picked up by a bigger boat. And they gave us organs. And we were so happy. They picked us up and took us to the Philippines. And they dumped us there to get processed. The US were agreed, because the US came to the ally country, like the French and Australia, that’s why you have a lot of Vietnamese there. Each country agreed to take in some. The US agreed to take in 7 thousand. We were the first wave so we were easily processed and brought over. Later on it was harder because the US stopped accepting so much people.”