Interviewee: Kim Roberts
Interviewer: Nancy Tran
Date of Interview: March 11, 2005
T: This is Nancy Tran on March 11, 2005, interviewing Kim Roberts. Can you
please tell me where you were born and what year you were born in?
R: I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1965.
T: When did you arrive in the United States?
T: What age were you?
R: [I was] ten.
T: Do you have a lot of recollection of your life before you came to the United
T: Can you tell me a little bit about your family life in Vietnam?
R: As I can remember I was a carefree child. The last thing that I remember was
when everybody was evacuating. That's the only thing that I remember.
T: Did you have any education?
R: I think I was maybe in the fourth or fifth grade, but I cannot remember that much.
T: You say that you have a recollection of actually leaving.
R: Actually leaving, yes.
T: Do you have any recollection of the war?
R: Yes. What happened was, all I know of course when you are ten years old, when
things are happening around you it doesn't really matter as long as you are under
the comfort of your parents. So, I think that they made me feel comfortable; as
long as I was with them, I was safe. All I know is that my dad was away for a very
long time, and then all of the sudden when my mom said that we needed to pack
so we can leave, I was just, okay. Next thing you know there was a big army
truck that went through our neighborhood and she basically got out there and
stopped them and we were able to go in the truck back to ..
My dad was in the Navy, he was a captain in the Navy, and basically we
were able to get to the base. Of course, I was probably still playing. At one point I
remember, when you hear the adults talk, they hear of take some money with
you. But of course, Vietnamese money, you think that you are okay to use it, but I
heard one time that this other gentleman said that, hey once you get on that boat
this money is no longer good. We were able to get on my dad's boat and sail for
about a week, but of course when you are ten years old you don't remember
details of what happened. I remember everybody getting seasick, not [having]
enough water, that was a main thing. Finally, an American ship basically rescued
us. Then we were on there [the American ship] for a while. There were a lot of
people that were sick because of no water, and if there was water, there would
be gasoline or some stuff mixed in the water that you have to drink because you
are so thirsty. There was also a shortage of food, but more of water than food. It
was just hard. The whole thing was hard.
T: So what could you take along with you as you were leaving?
R: I think it was just the clothes on our back. Shoes, flip flops, that is it. It happened
so fast that you weren't able to take anything.
T: Did you realize a war was going on as a child? Did it effect you in any way? Did
your parents restrict you from going out late at night or playing in certain areas?
R: Well, I knew that there was something going on, but again you are only as safe
as your environment allows you. As far as my parents, I think they led me to
believe that everything would be okay, so as long as I am with them, I am okay. I
[did] see a lot of soldiers more often than normal, but I wasn't scared or anything.
I do remember at one point when we were on my dad's boat, I say boat, but it
was one of those military boats with numbers. I remember it being metal, it is not
one of those rinky-dink boats. I remember being out there, and it was dusk, and I
could see the bombs going off, and it was pesssh! It was quite a distance off,
but being a bomb you can see it from quite a distance, but when I see it, even
though I saw it, it really didn't make sense to me what was going on. I just knew
that something was happening. But again, I felt safe, because my parents were
T: There was really no fear?
R: No, not really for me.
T: Did you travel with anyone other than your family?
R: Nope, just my family.
T: Who was in your family?
R: My parents and eight kids. I think there were one or two other families that my
dad was able to take with us.
T: So your dad was in the Navy, so that means he was in the Vietnamese
Government. I don't know if you would know this or not, but was there any
difficulty in him obtaining the ship or boat in order to leave?
R: I was too young. That was all the adult stuff that... I remember one time my
mom told the story when everybody. . My dad had instructed for everybody,
there is a gate that you have to go through to get to the boat or ship, and there
was a time when all the kids were able to go out to the boat, but my mom
somehow got left behind during the commotion. There were so many people, just
jam-packed. At one point, without a military person with you, you're not able to
cross the gate, so my mom was left alone. She was telling the story, saying that
she was so afraid, here all her kids, her husband's over there, and she is behind
the gate. She was able to see this general, or some sort of high military person,
coming through the gate with his wife and other kids, so she kind of like
pretended that she was with that family and she was able to pass through the
gate. But at one point she was afraid that she was going to be left behind. You
know like, you come over here and you see a lot of movies about the Vietnam
War and stuff, it happened just like that. It is so real. Sometimes when, a few
years ago, ten or fifteen years ago, you watch it and it brings back really bad
memories. But that is war. It was hard.
After we got on the big American ship, I think that we were dropped off in
Guam. We were there for a while. It was like a refugee camp. I remember my
dad standing in line for food. To a little kid, it looked like miles and miles of
people just standing for food, or clothes, or whatever they needed. And of
course, when you are a kid, it doesn't matter, mom is sitting under the tree, you
will just go to dad in line, or you can sit with mom. I remember the people, we
were living in tents. It was hot. You stand in line for a bowl of whatever they had.
The main thing that they used to feed us back then was cereal, pop cereal, I
remember that. And there was another cereal that had that [a] frog on it, I can't
remember the name of that cereal. That is the main thing that I remember, the
T: Did you go hungry constantly? Or was it enough?
R: It was enough, I don't know if it is because my dad or my mom would sacrifice
the food for us, or was it because they got enough for the whole family. I don't
think I remember ever going hungry. I do remember getting tired of eating the
same things over and over again, but I don't think we ever went hungry.
T: Did you interact with a lot of the other refugees there?
R: I played with the other kids, but I don't remember much at all. I remember in
some areas, we were in tents. But then somehow I remember this big
project-buildings to where-like a big apartment building--two-stories--and there
are so many people that can stay in there. But I don't remember if it was the
same camp, that you go from a tent to here, I just don't remember.
T: So before you actually arrived in the United States, were you ever in contact with
the American culture? Or any kind of western influence?
R: No, not at all, it was all new to me. In fact, when we were in Guam, you know
how little kids would say, there is a little American kid with blonde hair, and of
course, with us all with dark hair, we are all like, I want to see, I want to see. So
you would sneak behind the woods, and of course I think it was one of those
officer's mansions, all I know was it was big and beautiful. I remember me and
these two other kids that were telling me about this blonde child, so we went
behind the woods, and sure enough there was this kid. I couldn't understand why
their hair was yellow. This little kid was riding his tricycle and I was just looking
like, wow, because we had never seen that before. All we saw was black hair,
then all the sudden there was a different type of culture--person with different
hair, so it was different.
T: Did you see that in a positive light? Or was it kind of like, oh, they are weird?
R: No, it wasn't like a weird thing to me, I don't think, I think [I] was more like
intrigued. I don't know whether or not if, oh, we are just refugees, or a different
person than these people. It was a big beautiful house and this kid gets to ride on
this tricycle and we didn't have that type of thing, but when you are kid, what is
what you see is oh, okay.
T: Do you recall any mistreatment at the refugee camp at all?
R; No, not at all. Whether or not the adults did, I don't know, but with me, I was just
T: Do you remember how long you stayed in Guam?
R: I am just going to guess like maybe nine months, because we had to wait for a
sponsor because our family was so big that a family can't just sponsor us. It was
a church that sponsored us.
T: Do you remember what the church's name was?
R: No. I just remember that what they had to do was provide us with a house and
help us with expenses for a year, that is what I remember hearing from my
parents. But they provided us with a house with seven or eight rooms and it was
one of those duplexes with three stories. It was thirty-three Diamond Street, I
remember that. It was in Pennsylvania. At first my mom wanted to go somewhere
in California, but she was afraid of the earthquakes; she wanted to go South, but
she was afraid of the hurricanes. So she was always paranoid, but they didn't
have anything available except Pennsylvania. She didn't really want to go to
Pennsylvania either because of her arthritis, she thinks it is too cold. But either
we go to Pennsylvania or you stay where you are at in the camp, so she chose
Pennsylvania. It was weird, because when I went to Pennsylvania, I remember
riding in the car with the sponsors, and my sister saw like a barn, and of course,
us being in Vietnam, the houses were totally different from here, so we thought ...
I could hear them talking to themselves, oh look at that house, and then we
asked them if they lived in that house, and my second sister, she could speak
English fairly well back then.
T: How old was she?
R: She was probably seventeen, eighteen, something like that. She asked the
sponsor if they lived in that house, and they said, oh no honey, that is called a
barn and animals live in there. And we were like, oh. So we are thinking that the
barn is their house, but it was beautiful. The land was beautiful. I remember one
time when we went to the grocery store. . In Vietnam when you go to the
grocery store you shop outside, and nobody really trusts anybody in Vietnam
because they're so poor over there, people tend to steal and this and that. It is a
totally different culture than it is in America because the values are different and
how people live is different. So when we went to the grocery store, we were like,
okay, the food is all around us, what do we do? Of course, the sponsors told us
you just get a cart, and put whatever food in the cart, and go over there and pay
over there. We were like oh, wow, it was totally different. We weren't used to it.
From being so poor, even though we say poor, but in Vietnam we were pretty
well off, but it's poor compared to here. It was quite a culture shock. We couldn't
get used to it.
T: So, you flew over to the United States or did you go by boat?
R: I don't remember.
T: What was the first thing that hit you when you came to the United States?
R: I remember not understanding anyone. When they put me in a private school, I
remember seeing the first blonde kid in the camp, and then all the sudden I was
put in a school that had different color eyes and different color hair, and because
I was in a private school, it was a Catholic church, they are very strict in manners
and things of that sort. I wasn't used to that. I was kind of the center of attention,
because they had never seen an Asian person before either, and the
communication was weird because I can hear them trying to communicate with
me saying things, I could tell that they were being very nice, but I didn't know
what to say back to them. I remember this kid saying, do you want to? Do you
want to go over there? I was like in my head going, one, two, this kid is counting
to me. It took time for me to understand what they were trying to say, but when
you are a kid it is easier to learn English, than like my parents, they have a very
heavy accent and it is very hard for them to speak English. Even to this day, I
have a communication barrier with them, I can't speak Vietnamese that well, and
they can't speak English that well. But what do you do?
T: You said that the sponsors helped your family. What are the ways that they
helped you get acclimated to the American culture?
R: They introduced us to their church, they provided food for us, I remember that. If
we needed to go anywhere, they would take us. Eventually, I think, I don't know
whether or not they had a car donated to us or if they helped us buy it at a really
cheap price, but I just know that we had cars. Just things like that. Anything that
you needed you would call them up and they were super, super nice people. I
don't remember all of them, but I think that a lot of them chipped in whatever this
family needs, then they would help.
T: Did they help your parents find jobs?
R: Yes, that too. They helped my dad. He worked at Granite Knitting Mill. My mom
worked as a seamstress. She has always liked doing that, even in Vietnam. She
is a self-learned seamstress. She just basically picked it up in Vietnam and then
when she came over here, she was able to pick it up. She can just do anything
from scratch without any patterns. All she has to do is measure you and she can
just look at an outfit and she can do it exactly like that. She wanted me to do it,
but no. They helped them with jobs, and I think with my oldest brother, his first
job was at a restaurant as a busboy.
T: How old was he, do you remember?
R: He was probably in his early twenties.
T: Did he speak English?
R: Yes, he did. In Vietnam, my older brother and sister learned English as a second
language, but I don't know if my third sister did. I think the oldest two learned, but
I don't think the rest of us did.
T: When you went to Pennsylvania, were there other Vietnamese families nearby or
were you the only one?
R: I think that we were the only one, and then of course, as the years go by there
would be more. I know that my parents eventually opened a Vietnamese
restaurant, the very first one. I remember us being in the newspaper and
everything, and of course, I helped with waitressing. I was terrible at it. Of
course, I was only about fourteen, too young to even want to do stuff like that. I
didn't like it. Eventually they closed down because there is not enough people
that wanted to go, I don't know if it is too different. My sister still lives there now,
in Pennsylvania, but I noticed that the people are different. I don't want to say
that they are more stuck-up up there, but I think that down South, where we are,
the people are much nicer, more hospitable. But up there for some reason, they
are very rude and just, I don't know, I would not want to live there again.
T: Did you feel that way when you were younger?
R: You know that is the one thing, when I first came over, a lot of people weren't
used to the Asian culture and I was teased very much as a child because of,
number one, my language barrier, and I looked different from other people. I
remember going home crying to my parents all the time-mommy this kid teased
me, he made fun of me, and this and that. That was rough back then. Now I
don't think it is as bad, because my daughter, even though she is half-and-half,
the culture now can take that, but not when I was a child. Kids are mean anyway,
because they see something that they don't normally see, they make fun of you,
whether or not it is your language. I was very hurt as a child.
T: Did your parents or older siblings warn you or give you any advice about America
before you started school?
R: No, because they were just pushed into it the same way as I did. It was just a
different level of maturity, I guess. Because when they were in school, they
were teased too, but in a different way. They don't complain; I don't know if they
felt the same way I did, but I just remember coming home crying all the time to
my parents. And another thing is that I had a hard time in school because I
couldn't comprehend or read. I was held back a grade or so.
T: What grade did you start with?
R: I think I started in third grade, and I should have been in fourth or fifth grade. It
was hard, plus, the way they had their homework, if I couldn't understand, it was
tough luck, because my parents couldn't read English, so they couldn't help me.
It was pretty rough. I didn't go to my older siblings a lot, why I don't know. It was
just, in my mind, I needed to go to your parents and your parents can't help you,
so why go to your brother and sister, you know? So I struggled when I was a kid
in school too. I remember having a tutor because of my English, and that helped
T: Was it a private tutor or did you have one at school?
R: I think that it was somebody that the school provided. Her name is Mrs. Crumb,
and she has always, even to this day when we go back we try to find her and get
together with her. We always say, because of you.... Mrs. Crumb helped us out a
lot as far as English. She helped all my brothers and sisters, so I don't know if the
school asked her to come, or if it was the church stepping in and saying, hey they
really need help. She was a great help.
T: Did you have an easy or difficult time making friends?
R: Very difficult, because again, with the language barrier, the different cultures, a
lot of people don't want to play with you because you look different. It was rough
for me, I remember.
T: Did that affect your view of American culture or American life or life in the United
R: I don't think so, because I am the type that don't like to generalize people as a
whole. I try to say to myself, if they have a problem with me then that's their
problem. But of course, when you are a kid it is going to affect you. It is up to you
to make it a good thing or a bad thing or just ignore the situation and go on with
your life. I think it did affect me back then really hard, because you go home and
cry, but your parents, how with our culture it is very insensitive. My parents never
really said I love you or this or that, but the American culture you are more than
willing to show that affection to your child, but I never got that when I was a kid.
That is the difference between the two cultures too. It was hard, but I always told
myself that when I grow up, if I have any kids, that I would more than show
affection towards my children. Now it is totally different. Asian cultures are
acceptable now in America, it is almost like a melting pot. I think kids nowadays
have it much easier than when I was a kid.
T: Did your parents try to teach you the Vietnamese culture when you were growing
R: Oh, yes, they were so strict. I couldn't have any friends, very strict. In fact, for
me,  resented them a lot of times because I would be stuck in a house doing
chores, or cooking, or doing whatever when other kids were outside playing, and
I can't have any friends over. It was very, very different because of how strict
they are. But as the years go on, they kind of eased off a little bit. They were
very, very strict.
T: Did they ask you to speak Vietnamese at home?
R: They did, but being that, growing up and going to school, you tend to not speak
Vietnamese as much. I can understand very well, I can speak to you in
Vietnamese, but it would sound as if I was ten years old. A lot of times when I go
to your mom's restaurant, I am speaking in English to her because it is easier for
me instead of trying to strain and think of is this the right way to say it. When they
speak on the microphone I can understand what they are saying. I always tease
them and say, you better be careful, I can understand you.
T: Did you have any Vietnamese friends when you were younger?
R: No, because when we first came over. We were mainly the only Asian family, I
don't remember seeing a lot of Asians back when we first came over.
T: Do you think you conscientiously tried to fit in more with the American culture
compared to the Vietnamese culture?
R: It is not that I am trying to fit in, only because, when you are over here, ten years
old, I am more raised over here in American and tend to have more of the
American culture versus the Vietnamese culture. I really don't care for the
Vietnamese culture because I think it is too strict. I have different views. I don't
know if it is because I have been here for too long, or if it is because I was really
raised mainly over here when I am older. Even when I grew up in my teens or in
my twenties, I have never dated an Asian person. Is it because of the culture? I
just never did. Asian men or boys never really interested me, I think it was mainly
because I was raised over here and I didn't like how the women have to walk
behind the men, they have to serve the men. It is just totally different.
T: Other than the strictness, how else do you think your upbringing was different
from your American friends?
R: If my mom didn't bring me up the way she did, I wouldn't know how to cook, I
wouldn't know how to have responsibilities. I think the American culture, and in a
way, yes, it is good to have freedom, but I think that with Asian people they are
harder working people, [and they have] more responsibilities as far as kids are
concerned. For instance, the kids nowadays-I was washing dishes and things
like that when I was eleven years old-but kids nowadays, they wouldn't even
think about making kids do stuff like that now because they are just not used to it.
In a way, I am glad that I have some sort of Vietnamese culture in me because I
am more responsible, I don't take things for granted. A lot of people in America
take things for granted because they have it great over here. Let them go back to
Vietnam and live for a month.
I remember in Vietnam, living in this village that we were living in. We still
had a house, one of those connected homes, but I remember the roof being tin,
you don't have a bathroom [inside]. They have this outhouse that we had to go
to. You don't waste food because there's not enough food to waste. Over here
you throw food [out] left and right. Money is no object to some people. They go
spend $20 or $30 on nails. Do you know how many people would die for $30 a
month in those type of countries? A lot of people in America, sometimes even I
am guilty of that, we tend to take things for granted and not think of how other
people live. So in a way I'm glad my mom raised me with two different cultures
because I feel that I have some of the old-fashioned culture in me, but mainly
T: Did you find it very difficult growing up at home because you were living in
America with American influence constantly around you, but at home your
parents were very strict and clinging to old tradition?
T: How did you deal with both?
R: I remember being a teenager they were very strict, and I have to admit that I
wasn't very obedient to them. At one point, I was pretty rebellious because they
didn't let me go out with my friends. Of course, when you are older and you think
back on what you did, you are sorry for it, but in the same way, I think I turned
out okay. But it was very difficult because you see your friends get to do things,
and you don't, and sometimes you wish you were not Asian or have this type of
traditional culture because we are in America, I want to be like my friends. It was
difficult. We used to fight all the time-my parents never let us do anything.
T: What other things did you do to get yourself acclimated to American culture?
Did you watch TV, go to the movies?
R: Some of my friends, if I am allowed to have friends over. Just mainly in school,
not really. . I remember people telling us all the time that watching TV will
teach you more of how to speak and this or that, but I think it was mainly friends.
With my mom, she is not a communicator. She doesn't really sit down and talk to
us about anything, so I think mainly it was my friends that I have learned anything
through. Just hanging out with them whenever I can I guess.
T: Do you think the lack of communication is a cultural thing?
R: Yes, I think it is more of a cultural thing, because I have some friends as growing
up, tells me that well, my parents didn't do this, or this, or this, and it is almost
like my parents did. So I think that it is more of a cultural thing because the adults
always think that they are right all the time, and to me, it's like no, just because
you are older doesn't mean you are right, people make mistakes, nobody is
perfect. They have a lot of pride to where they did make a mistake, they would
not come and apologize because it's underneath them. I don't know how you
would say it, but they are too good to apologize to their kids or whatever.
T: Do you think that time in the U.S. has changed them in anyway?
R: Yes, I think so. Not only me, [but] I remember every one of my brothers and
sisters had problems with them. I think the younger you are, the more
Americanized you are, and we all had difficulty with [our] parents. They tend to
be very controlling. For goodness sakes, my brother got married and they wanted
to build an attachment to the house so that they can live there. I was like, you are
not in Vietnam anymore, this is America. They get married [and] they move from
the parents. They just have this own little world and they think that the kids are
going to live with them and stay with them. But you don't do that [here], you have
to grow up and leave.
T: There is more of a sense of independence.
R: Yeah, I think that's what we wanted, but they were never able to give. I think
eventually, being that we... How we were raised, you don't talk back to your
parents, but there is a time when you have to say to yourself, enough is enough.
I am twenty-five now, or whatever age, and I think that they see that and they
tend to back off. A few times I remember hearing them say, Hell mom, we are in
America now and you can't stop them from doing what they want to do, which
they can't. It is totally different. I don't think in Vietnam you can call the cops
because they were giving you a spanking. Here it's like they are abusing their
children. It is a very different culture. It is okay for the teachers to hit you if you do
something bad in school and it's a natural thing over there, but over here it is not.
It is very different.
T: What part of the American culture did you find easiest to adapt to?
R: The strictness of serving. I remember when I was a kid, whenever there was a
party or I don't know what you call it in English, but anytime when the adult men
get together they will drink beer, they will eat whatever. I remember the women
always serving them, and I don't like that. In a way, though, now that I am saying
that, it kind of stuck with me. I don't want to say that I serve my husband, but I
find it easier, and all the time I say, can I get you anything? Is it because that's
how I am, or is it because of the culture that's deep inside me. I don't know, I
have always been like that, but not as bad as to walking behind them. But I still
have that sense of sensitivity as far as always being there for my spouse.
T: Did you try, in any way, to maintain your Vietnamese identity?
R: No, because I never liked it, I never liked the culture. I am being totally honest.
Being that I was raised over here, traditionally and emotionally I am more
attached to the American culture than Vietnamese. I feel that the Vietnamese
culture and how they live and how they are is very insensitive. I have to have
more emotional attachment with the people around me. Especially my kids now,
with my little girl, I kiss her all the time, I hug all the time, I tell her I love her
everyday, which I never got when I was a kid.
T: What part of the Vietnamese culture would you like to pass on to your daughter
that you do like, that you do agree with?
R: I think the responsibility. She is already doing chores, doing dishes. The stuff that
my mom taught me as far as cooking and things like that, I want to teach her at a
young age too. There is a time to play, but there is a time that if you don't learn it
now, you are going to eat fast food or frozen food for the rest of your life. That is
what I want to [teach her]. Also, the one thing that kind of stuck in my mind, I
don't know what you call it, but certain tradition. I don't know if you know it, but in
our culture you don't touch anybody on the head when you're older. If you're
younger you don't ever touch anybody on the head. When I see her playing on
daddy's head or grandpa's head or grandma's head, I tell her no, don't touch the
head. That kind of stuck in my mind, you don't do that. You don't step over
somebody, that is disrespectful. It's just little things like that.
[End of side A1]
T: As of right now, do you have any interaction with the Vietnamese community?
R: Not at all. In fact, I try to stay away from it as much as possible. This is just me,
and I don't know about anyone else, [but] I don't like to be around Vietnamese
people only because I think they are busy bodies. They like to gossip too much,
and of course I know that you have that with American people too, but they are
worse, Asians are worse. I like to stay away as much as I can. Number one, I
can't speak their language like I can English, so I have a language barrier. I know
that there are parties and concerts and things like that, but I don't go. Why go if I
can't even understand? I remember my sister taking me to a Vietnamese
Christian church, the whole service I could not understand one thing. To the point
where everybody was laughing, but I didn't pay attention. Then my sister turned
around and said, the preacher is talking about you, and I said, oh really? That's
another reason why I don't have a lot of Vietnamese friends, because I can't
communicate with them.
T: What about your siblings? Do they interact more with the Vietnamese
R: Yes, because they are older. I am the youngest out of eight, and the younger you
are, the more Americanized you are. My sister, who I am very close to, who still
lives in Pennsylvania, she is married to an American right now. It's really weird-
my oldest brother is totally [into the] Asian culture, and then as it goes down, my
sister in Pennsylvania who I am close to, she is like half-and-half. She has in
some ways Vietnamese traditional culture, but at the same time, she
understands where I am coming from. So I can relate more to her, rather than
my oldest brother. For instance, if you were going to take someone out, or say
hey, let's go to whatever restaurant. Normally in Asian culture, if you ask
somebody out, then you are responsible to pay for that person. But in America,
hey, let's go hang out, let's go to the restaurant, it is Dutch. It's more natural, you
don't feel hurt. But in the Asian culture, it's like oh, well, you don't do that. I don't
like that type of being uncomfortable. However, with my sister, she is a little
different. I am able to say, look you have a big family, I have a family of my own.
I don't expect you to pay for my family if we go somewhere, like for instance
Disney World, anywhere. So when you come down, it is enough that you pay for
your own family and I will pay for mine, and she is okay with that. I am able to
communicate with her as far as that, but with my oldest brother, I am a little
uncomfortable saying stuff like that to him because of how traditional he is. Is it
because of that I don't have a lot of Vietnamese friends, because of the culture.
I feel that I am more free and more Americanized than they are, so I tend not to
have friends that are Asian unless they are Americanized like me and they can
understand how I think and things like that. I don't get offended. That is another
thing with Asians, they get offended so easily. It is like lighten up. You make one
comment, they take [it] personal. If I make food for you and you don't like it, you
tell me and I am okay with that. I don't like the fakeness of, even though it tastes
terrible, they say oh, it is so good. No, it's not, just tell me you don't like it and we
will order pizza. That's how I am. That is why I don't like to have a lot of Asian
friends, because I don't like the fakeness of it, and I don't like that you have to
T: Were there any objections to your dating out of the Asian culture?
R: Yes. My parents big-time wanted me to date somebody that was Vietnamese.
Again, I never dated anybody in my culture, because of the culture. I didn't care
for it, so that is why I have always dated American people.
T: Back to what you said about your brother and your sister, do you think it is a
gender thing, that males are more likely to cling on to tradition because of the
emphasis on the male line in the Asian culture? Or do you think it was because
he was just older?
R: I think it is because he was older. Well, I don't know. Because my second sister,
she is in her forties now, she has always dated Vietnamese. But now, being that
we have been in America for a long time, she is now dating an American guy. I
don't know if it is because they want to try a different culture. I think now it is
easier for people to have interracial relationships. But my brother, he is still very
traditional, which I don't care for. I don't know if it's a male or female thing, but I
know that a lot of the females in my family are not as strict or into the culture as
the male, now that you mention it.
T: When did you apply for American citizenship?
R: I never applied because I was too young. I became a citizen through my parents.
I think you have to be in America for five years or something to that effect before
you can apply. Of course, my parents had to study and do whatever. When you
are young it doesn't really matter because you were not old enough to take the
test, but they were able to take the test and passed the test, and because they
passed the test and became citizens, therefore I became a citizen.
T: Was it a big deal that they passed the test?
R: Very. I mean we couldn't be deported-I don't know the legality of it, like if you
didn't pass you get sent back. I don't know. All I know is they took the test, they
passed, and they became citizens. I still have the certificate. It says Kim Chau,
and then it says my dad's name, father of so and so. But it is a certificate saying
that I am citizen.
T: Did you feel any different once you obtained that certification?
R: No, I was a kid.
T: How old were you?
R: Probably fifteen or sixteen, something like that.
T: Have you or your parents ever visited Vietnam since you left?
R: Yes. In fact, they built a house there and they are mainly there 80 percent of the
time. They will come back for maybe a month or two, and then they go back to
Vietnam and live. They say now that over there it is very cheap, the food and
everything is very cheap over there.
T: Have you gone over?
R: No, tickets are too expensive. I would love to go back, but I feel that I would be
totally lost if I was to go with my family because of the language barrier. My
parents and a lot of people that had been there before, say that the people, the
natives, know if you are from America because the language is different, how
they speak. Even though my sister, the one I am close to in Pennsylvania, she
can speak Vietnamese perfect, but when she goes back to Vietnam there are
some words that she can't understand. If she says something, they know that
she is from America. I would love to go back and visit, but it would be with
someone, my parents or whoever. I would be totally lost [without them].
T: You obviously feel very American, but do you ever feel differently, like you're the
only Asian there? Do you feel you are Asian or does it not even cross your mind?
R: Nowadays it doesn't bother me as much as maybe fifteen years ago. I used to be
very self-conscious when I go somewhere. I have always been with an American,
and anytime, say if we go to the mall or something, people would stare. I would
say to my husband, do you see those people staring at us? I would think that it is
me, and he would say no, they aren't staring at you, they might be staring at your
hair, or Ashley, or something else. I was always conscious back then. I'm more
conscious of prejudice people, that still bothers me a little bit. It is not as bad as
when I grew up, but it is still out there. I can tell when someone is. Is it paranoia?
I don't know, but I don't like it when people look at you in a different way. I
remember the neighbor next to me came out, and he was talking to my husband,
and he didn't see me, he's never met me before. My husband was out there, and
they were joking around, and he said to my husband, you better be careful, there
could be Japs behind the bushes or something like that. And lo and behold, here
I am, I came out of the house and he saw me, and it kind of caught him off-guard.
Then of course later on he came over and apologized to my husband. It's just
things like that. American people, a lot of them, are ignorant, childish, and very
prejudiced. I think being made fun of when I was kid, I don't know whether or not
that carried over to my adult life, but that still bothers me a little bit. You don't
have a lot of it as I did when I was a kid, but you still have it.
T: Do you warn your daughter about the possible prejudice out there that she could
R: You know, I never did. No, I never told her what I went through as a kid, partially
because I don't want it to effect her and I don't want to put it in her mind that you
may get made fun of. Nowadays, because there's a lot of Asian culture around,
mixed marriages, interracial, people aren't as bad. Maybe it is just me that it
carried over into my adulthood. I don't think anybody has made fun of her, at
least she has never come home crying to me [saying], mommy, that boy said I
was Chinese or Vietnamese and made fun of my eyes. She has never come
home and said that to me. But when I was a kid, yes, a lot of people made fun of
me because I looked different, I talked different.
T: Did you resent that, that you looked different? Did you think it was your fault that
you looked different or did you resent them, that they were doing the teasing?
R: I resented them, yes. Let me give you an instance. When I first came over here,
in my twenties, I worked at Publix. There were other cashiers. I was one of the
first one in line, and then there were other cashiers, maybe two or three others,
but all of them had customers. I remember this old guy wanted to check out, and
I didn't have any customers in my line at all, and I remember him rolling by. He
saw my light was on meaning I am opened, and he took one look at me and he
was going to turn in until he saw me, and then he kind of got out of my line and
went into the other line that had customers. I thought to myself, you know what,
that is your problem, you deal with it. But it still bothered me. It is their ignorance
that they have to get over, so there is no sense to let it bother me, but it really
did. Nowadays, that I've gone to a Christian church and gotten to know God and
know how much he loves me-so no matter what, if you don't love me, then I
know he does. I try not to judge, I try not to generalize people, because you
shouldn't. Just because one person is bad doesn't mean the whole culture is
bad, there is some good in there. I always try to judge case by case, not as a
whole. Yes, it bothered me back then, but I grew out of it. Only once in a while, to
where if it is really obvious, then it is going to bother me.
T: Do you usual confront it or do you keep it to yourself?
R: If anything, I will go home and talk to my husband about it. If I am joking around
with my friends or whatever, I make fun of myself. It is nice to have some sort of
sense of humor. But when I hear other people say it in a malicious way, that's
when it bothers me, but not as bad anymore.
T: So you are saying that your religion helped you become more comfortable?
R: Yes, very much.
T: When you were confronted with discrimination, if they made fun of your physical
appearance, did you try to change yourself in any way?
R: When I was a kid, I remember, because I was made fun of so much, I didn't want
to be Vietnamese. I remember going home crying, why can't I be an American, I
don't want to be Vietnamese, I don't like being who I am. That ran through my
head; not any more, but it did. I can't lie, that's what goes through a kid's head.
If you go through everyday with people making fun of you, your self-esteem goes
down really fast, and if you don't have somebody to go to and talk about it-I
couldn't go to my parents because they didn't understand the American culture-
so there is no one to talk to. I felt all alone. I couldn't talk to any of my sisters
because they were older than I am, I was too young, I didn't understand. It was
just things like that. I really didn't have anybody to talk to about stuff like that. But
yeah, it did bother me. It made me wish that I was not Vietnamese sometimes.
Now it is totally different, now that I am older, but as a kid it affected me. I do not
wish my life as a child on anyone because of the culture shock.
T: When did it last till, the teasing?
R: I think in high school it started stopping. But once you get out of high school,
there are still kids, per se, there are people in their twenties or thirties who are
still ignorant only because of how they were raised. Believe it or not, my husband
that I am married to now, was prejudiced not to Asians, but to the blacks. He was
raised in Iowa, and he was prejudiced only because he was in that surrounding.
His friends were like that, his dad was like that. I remember him opening up to
me and saying, you know Kim, when I was little, when I was growing up, I was
very prejudiced. I said, why are you with me? Well, you know, I grew up since
then. I learned that once you get to know people, that they are actually the same
as me and that you shouldn't have that prejudice. I was very surprised when I
heard that, I was just like wow, really? People, how they grow up and how they
are brought up is how they are. I think he got to a stage to where he can make up
his own mind and make his own judgment, and good thing that he did or he
wouldn't be with me.
T: Other than, you say some people are ignorant, what other aspect of the
American culture do you disagree with, or you do not like?
R: Sometimes they are too easy on their kids. I think that freedom is good, but when
you let it go .. American kids have very little respect for their parents, I feel. In a
way, I am Americanized, but I don't like to be disrespectful to my parents, and I
don't like my kids to be disrespectful to me. If American kids get in trouble or
argue with their parents, they slam the door on their parents. Oh, my goodness,
my butt would be black and blue. That is the one thing, they are too lenient on
the kids. If you try to discipline them or something, then you go to jail, or you get
in trouble, or you get a reputation. That is something that I don't like about it.
T: So the American culture is not strict?
R: There's no middle. Americans are too easy and then the Vietnamese culture is
too strict. I just like to be in the middle, you know, not too easy. I still want that
respect from my kids and things like that. People say to me all the time, are you
going to teach your child Vietnamese? Well, yeah, she knows how to count and
stuff like that, but if I don't know it myself, how am I going to teach her?
Sometimes I will tease her and I will speak Vietnamese to her, and she will look
at me with a blank stare, uh, what are you saying? But it's just teasing her. I don't
think I will be teaching her a lot of that only because I am so Americanized. In
some aspects, you don't touch the head, you don't do certain things, but I don't
know a lot of... Another thing with Asian culture is that they have a lot of
superstitions. I am not into superstitions, [but] my parents are so into
superstitions it is not even funny. We believe in different things, my parents and I.
This is how I am, I am now a Christian, and I want to raise my daughter as a
T: So you were not a Christian before?
R: I was raised Catholic. There is a lot of Buddhists in Vietnam, a lot of temples and
stuff like that. I remember burning incense and stuff, but I was raised a strict
Catholic. It didn't mean anything to me because of how Catholic churches are. I
didn't really learn anything. Now I go to Countryside Christian Center. It has
taught me a lot as far as the Word and the ways that I would want to raise my
daughter. Hopefully, I can only pray that she knows and gets to understand what
Christ went through years ago. It is not something that you have a guarantee on,
it is according to that individual, so you can only to do your best to raise her
T: Considering the [Vietnamese] culture, can you cook the food?
R: Yeah. I can make very few. I can make falla, mansell, gagoo. I can do sautes and
soups and things like that, and I can cook the meat. But not often anymore, it is
more like, mommy doesn't have the time, let's order a pizza. Or, ask your mom
I can cook a little.
T: Is that something you want to pass on to your daughter, the Vietnamese dishes?
R: Eventually. It is funny because my husband, with his first marriage, his daughter
is eleven. She is so much like him, and my daughter is so much like me it is not
even funny. Like I eat weird stuff. My husband and his daughter are like meat
and potatoes people: steak, mashed potatoes, whatever. And with my daughter,
it's like, here, eat some pig's feet. We just eat the weirdest stuff, and she loves it.
To me, that's another thing too, a lot of the food I eat, I remember being in
Vietnam eating it. Like she will try anything that I would eat, she would eat, and
she likes it. But the eleven year old, she wouldn't even try it. Like the seafood, I
love seafood, my younger daughter will eat seafood, but not the older, and my
husband won't even touch seafood. There are some types of fish you can make
the Vietnamese way, my daughter would eat it, not the other two. At dinner-I
don't [know] about your family-but at dinner time, when I was raised, you do not
drink. When we eat dinner, you drink after. I have always wanted to raise my
daughter, teach her that, when you are at the dinner table I don't want you to
drink. But at the same time there's a clash because my husband, because he is
American, and his daughter was raised that way, every dinner there is always a
glass of drink. I remember I can't make my daughter not drink when the other two
have something to drink, so it is unfair. So I say, fine, if you want something to
drink, drink a little. Me, I can go through dinner without drink and drink something
after because my parents always say, if you fill up with liquid then you are not
going to eat your dinner. The other two are like, it gets stuck in my throat and I
can't get it down, I have to have something to drink. I tend to keep some [stuff],
but not the traditional ones. Some stuff stuck with me.
T: Usually with the third generation of Americans, they tend to seek out their roots
more. Would you want your daughter to seek out her roots?
R: It would be unfair if I make her because I don't because I am so Americanized. I
have never, and I don't know why, and people say, don't you want to know where
you came from? [And I say] no. Is it because I resent what I went through? I
don't know, I can't answer that, but I just feel that I am more Americanized. Being
that I live in America, if you want to, more power to you, I will let you. But if you
don't want to, I'm not going to make you. It will be up to her. I am not going to
make her, but if she wants to, yeah. It would be unfair if I make her, being that I
myself don't do it.
T: Do you have anything else to add?
R: I would never go back and live in Vietnam. I will stay here. I am more used to
over here. I would go and visit, but I would never live there like my parents.
T: Thank you for the interview.